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Regina Variations

In a month, I’m releasing a new album of mostly instrumental works, called Regina Variations.   It’s coming out on LP and online, and features chamber commissions from over a decade, from groups such as Bang on a Can All Stars, Continuum Contemporary Music, and Orchestra 2001.  More about the album:

“Every few years, I rewrite God Save the Queen—which is the same tune as My Country Tis of Thee–for what instruments are available: a theremin, kitchen utensils, maybe a piano. I’m interested in how that tune becomes, each time that I rework it, both unrecognizable and relentlessly familiar. The tune has been, at various times, a patriotic anthem for Barbados, Norway, New Zealand, the U.S., Liechtenstein, Korea, and many others; its borrowing extends far beyond British colonialism. Like me, it has ambivalent patriotism and multiple citizenship.

The tune is quirky. It’s almost all stepwise, making it easy to sing. The first part is oddly chopped into 3 phrases, and in the U.S., lyrics have winking meta-reference (“tis of thee” “of thee I sing”). The tune goes up, then slowly down, but avoids one note of the major scale—the 6th—until the last dramatic moment.

Everyone has mashed it up. Beethoven, Hendrix, Queen, Debussy, Liszt. In the same cryptic fashion that jazz musicians have traditionally hidden “yankee doodle” in their jazz improvisations, there has been a multinational desire to scramble this tune, perhaps more than any other.

On this album, the tune is barely recognizable, except in a few places, yet the fabric of the pieces is made from its threads. In Double, the tune Rock of Ages morphs into the patriotic tune over two movements. In Variations, extended techniques and prepared piano turn the tune into something else entirely; in the piece for Korean gayageum, the tune is admixed with the accelerating tempos of sanjo.   In Mass, the tune, recorded on a music box, becomes the framework over which the text for Cage’s Lecture on Nothing is hung.  In the final piece Menace, for the Bang-on-a-Can All-Stars, the tune’s not there; instead, the band breaks into a patriotic, Carl-Stalling inspired Sousa medley.

Much of the CD was recorded during the pandemic, so the instrumentalists (which include player pianos, harmoniums, and celestas) exist in disparate spaces, a sound quality I’ve kept here. I’m often inspired by the iconic sound of mechanical instruments such as the orchestrion, which make each instrument sound like a disembodied limb. The cover image is of a disc to the American Regina, a popular music box.”

The album will be out in early March!  Here’s a sample of the first track, Variations.








Image: Jonathan Kline