Music

Here are a few of Rob’s musical compositions – some contemporary classical and some jazz – from his life before Dharma teaching.
Amāra Vigil (for solo piano, 2000)

Almost as soon as I finished composing this solo piano piece, I wrote a short poem, Amāra, which turned out to be a meditation on some of the emotional and spiritual themes that had occupied me in the composition of the music. Because the poem and the music seem to me to reflect and to complement each other in various ways, I’m including the poem here as a sort of programme note for this piece. Amāra is a Pali and Sanskrit word meaning ‘the Deathless’ or ‘That which is beyond Death’ – the Unconditioned or the Unfabricated, the Uncreated, the Timeless. The piece is dedicated in memoriam Thomas Merton – Trappist monk, writer, activist, poet, and beautiful soul – in gratitude for his life and work, and for his vigil. The piano player on this recording is Geoffrey Burleson.

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The Circle of Darkness and Fire (octet, 1998)

The Circle of Darkness and Fire is a more programmatic piece, less abstract perhaps, than Amāra Vigil. In the course of its long opening, three musics appear in succession, each with their own characteristic musical language: a music of mystical contemplation (transcendent and timeless, a sort of ‘alpha and omega of creation’); a ‘Dance of the Earth’; and a music ‘of demons’. As the piece unfolds, each of the three musics takes its turns on the stage, affecting, and sometimes infiltrating, the others in the process. The ‘demonic’ music – which, while always retaining its own essential harmonic vocabulary, manifests over the course of the work in various and sometimes quite gesturally disparate guises – keeps interrupting and trying to overcome the other two. Only the transcendent contemplative music remains essentially untouched, unperturbed by the battles that play out.

The piece was actually featured in a music festival in London in 2001, performed by the London Sinfonietta in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. But I much prefer this version, performed and recorded live in concert in 1998 by graduate students at The New England Conservatory, conducted by Daniel Frankenberger. Though the players made a few mistakes in the performance, they really entered into the spirit of the piece and gave it their all, for which I’m very grateful.

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The titles below without dates or instrumentation given are jazz pieces. Performing and improvising on these jazz compositions of mine (most of those here written and recorded between 1993 and 1996) are: Greg Sinibaldi, tenor and soprano saxophones; Jeff Hudgins, alto saxophone; Rob Burbea, electric guitar; Tim Luntzell, bass; Jamie Moore, drums. Together we formed a jazz band for a little while based in Boston (Jeff played with us only occasionally) mostly playing my compositions, which was a privilege, and lot of fun.
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