Scott Allen Miller, composer

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At that point (again)

Nebula Ensemble will perform my piece “At that point (again)” on their upcoming concert: VERSE//CHORUS//NOVA

“At that point (again)” is a quartet for the unusual instrumentation of tenor saxophone, trumpet, viola, and cello. Much of the material was drawn from “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars. Specific elements of the harmony, rhythm, and phrase structure were considered along with broader stylistic and idiosyncratic aspects. The most conspicuous of these is the recycling of the song’s bombastic opening: three repeated chords with a distinct harmony that announce the start of the music. “At that point (again)” takes this idea but does not allow the fanfare to relax into a groove so readily. The chords progress forward, each new sound heralding its own arrival. This is the first meaning of the work’s title: we continuously relive the opening even as the context and details change.

The harmony follows the song’s chord progression, but is manipulated to create complex sonorities based on overtones and microtonal inversions. These chords reflect the natural microtonal inflections in the melody as performed by Bruno Mars, which are taken to an extreme and produce a comparably expressive progression that shares the original’s characteristic momentum.

Eventually, the repetitive energy dissipates and the texture becomes as intricate as it is delicate. With the opening fanfare escaped, the music takes on a more melodic character, stretching and distorting a single line of the song, which taken out of context and restated continuously, takes on an unexpectedly gloomy significance: the desperate desire to escape something. As the fanfare reappears and dissipates again, a frustration emerges: we’ve had this argument, this fight, this protest before. The details, the characters, the circumstances have changed. But the cycle continues. I don’t understand why or how, but we are at that point, again.



pdf: At that point (again) 

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Moment(s): Varioius/Concerted (for the Omnibus Ensemble)

“Moment(s): Various/Concerted” (2016) is for 10 players and was written for the Omnibus Ensemble, especially for the “Omnibus Laboratorium: Peabody – Tashkent” and was premiered by Omnibus Ensemble in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 12 March 2017.

Program Note:

Moment(s): Various/Concerted (2016) for ten players:
[nay (alto and soprano) – oboe – percussion (suspended cymbal, crotales) – chang (or santur), –tanbur – two violins – viola – cello – contrabass]

     The starting place for this work was a collaboration with the incredible Omnibus Ensemble, who combine Western instruments and style with the traditional music and instruments of Uzbekistan. Members of the ensemble guided me through an exploration of Shashmaqam, particularly the incredibly beautiful and precise ornaments indicative of the genre. The specificity to which these microtonal embellishments are executed inspired me to connect this music with the newer microtonal tradition of spectralism. By deriving the musical lines from Uzbek ornaments and the harmony from the overtone series, the pitch content ties together these two otherwise disparate musics while also establishing a historical relationship to the Uzbek instruments and to timbre more generally.
     After a sonorous introduction to the sound-world, the main body of Moment(s): Various/Concerted presents short phrases constructed with contrasting sounds within the ensemble, often repeated two or more times to establish them as consolidated moments or ‘sound-objects.’ Throughout the piece, these musical ideas are developed with a focus on texture and timbre, always increasing in length and complexity.

Peruse the score here:…variousconcerted_-_s

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and passes, leaving behind – for solo percussionist

My solo percussion piece, “and passes, leaving behind,” explores simple metallic sounds. It was written for Nate Gworek in the Fall of 2015 and we worked quite closely to find some very specific instrumentation that I was interested in. One item that came from our collaboration is what I’ve been calling a ‘prepared crotale tree,’ which Nate figured out how to rig with paperclips to add some buzz. I treat this like a deconstructed bell tree, because in the context of this piece, the timbre lives somewhere between the triangles and the bell tree. Another important sound in the piece – the very first thing you hear – I could only describe to Nate as ‘muted and metallic.’ After some more particular discussions about what I was after, Nate sent me a clip of the opening bars being played on a metal saucer (from a gravy boat, I believe). It’s perfect. The final quirk – and perhaps my favorite – is that the whole piece is performed with knitting needles as mallets. This was Nate’s idea, entirely, and provides an unexpected grace and sensitivity which permeates Nate’s performance overall. Here is the premiere performance:

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“Portrait” for two trumpets (with one melodica)

“Portrait” was composed in the spring of 2015 and received it’s premier at the beautiful Evergreen Museum and Library along with ten singular photographs by Stefan Reichenstein. I recently recorded this ‘demo’ of the first 3 minutes of the work in order to share it here. The instrumental set-up is a unique one so I’ve copied my notes to the performers below, which will explain the ‘preparations’ and  techniques being implemented to those interested. Cheers!

The first trumpet player performs the entire piece with the mouthpiece of a melodica inserted into the bell of the trumpet such that the air can only escape through the melodica. This is best achieved by using a handkerchief or similar cloth around the tube to block airflow through the bell. In this way, the melodica will sound whenever the player buzzes into the instrument. In the score, an X-notehead is used in the melodica part to indicate a note being depressed without sounding. This occurs (m. 7) at the beginning of a crescendo when the dynamic is too soft for the upper note to speak; the effect should be similar to slowly rolling a chord.


This setup will transpose the instrument up (approximately) one whole step. Therefore, read the C score as if it was in B-flat (i.e. written C is open). Since intonation tends to be low, alternate fingerings are occasionally provided in parentheses. From mm. 7-15 the low A-flat should be the natural tuning. It is meant to be tuned to the 7th partial of B-flat and is approximately 1/6-tone lower than A-flat.

The second trumpet player performs the entire piece with a cup mute. The multiphonics notated on the bottom staff are to be sung into the instrument.

Demo/sample recording (both parts performed and recorded by the composer):

First Trumpet’s performance score in C:

ScottAMillerII -Portrait- PerfScore1TrumpetC -15April2015

Please contact me at if you would like to play or program this or any of my other compositions. Cheers!

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“…washed out to sea” on Artworks

I’m very proud to have an excerpt from my piece for solo double bass, “…washed out to sea” appear on Maryland Public Television’s series Artworks. A short clip of the full work runs over the end credits of episode 336, which you can watch for free here or at this link!

Below is some additional information on the program that I grabbed from their website. Please check it out!  

Maryland Public Television is excited to launch the third season of Artworks, MPT’s weekly arts series. The lively series is hosted by Rhea Feikin, a cultural icon in her own right. The show features intriguing profiles of established and emerging artists from across the country working in all creative categories: musicians, performers, visual artists, writers, designers, artisans – and experimental others who defy definition. Each program gives viewers insider access to outstanding artists they would never see otherwise, including many from our own area.

What’s new this season for Artworks? There are innovations ensuring that every episode includes works by creative talent from across the Greater Baltimore- Washington, DC area and Maryland. These include “Pop-Up Exhibits” showcasing compelling visual and performing artists. And viewers might recognize a favorite band or musician playing under the closing credits – an inventive way to showcase regional musicians by exploiting existing video “real estate” each week.

Artworks is made possible in part by the People of Baltimore County, and by the generous contributions of MPT Members.

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“Pillars, erased” – for orchestra

“Pillars, erased” is a ten-minute work for orchestra. From the start, monolithic chords are presented simultaneously with scattered, manic flourishes. Out of the chaos, comes virtual stillness. These juxtapositions continue throughout the work as the texture oscillates between clarity and amorphousness. A single descending melody gradually emerges from the gestural landscape, at times blending in, at other times revealing itself explicitly.

Many thanks to the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Teri Murai for a wonderful reading of a very demanding work.

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Nocturne – for solo piano

This work is my first significant composition for solo piano. Completed late in 2013, it was premiered by the incredible Choo Choo Hu at the Peabody Conservatory on 5 February 2014. This is the live recording from that premier in Griswold Hall. I am so grateful to Choo Choo for the time she spent on this virtuosic piece! Thank you!

Program note:

“Nocturne” began as a short compositional étude but it grew quickly into something far more substantial. Over the course of about 10 minutes, this virtuosic work assembles and explores melodic and harmonic motives in hopes of creating an expansive musical space.

Scott A Miller II – Nocturne for piano -Score

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Writing Randall’s Leaf, II: The Expressive-Object

This summer I’ll be posting some thoughts and observations on what I’ve learned from writing Randall’s Leaf, a 38 minute chamber opera in one act. The second installment investigates what makes opera opera.

In this post I’d like to discuss some ideas concerning text and development in Randall’s Leaf. My main goal concerning this topic is establishing relationships between text via what I’ve loosely termed ‘musical equivalence:’ different texts set to the same music become inextricably linked. In order to explain how such a seemingly unsophisticated procedure can generate interesting and useful results, I’d like to discuss an example from the opera.

One of the most distinctive motives presented in the Prologue is the setting of the line ‘his paintings were too large for his skill.’ The soprano and mezzo sing slightly different versions of the motive to clearly distinguish their characters, but the sympathetic mezzo’s easy-flowing pentuplet version is the more discrete (and, for me, definitive) version. During the first scene the mezzo sings to Randall the line ‘not satisfactory at all’ in reference to his neighbor Becket’s damaged roof. The text is set to the inversion of the motive from ‘his paintings were too large for his skill,’ creating a thread between the more abstract world of Randall’s artwork, where the prologue is (ambiguously) set, and the ‘real world’ full of inconvenient duties and responsibilities. This thread continues into the final scene, where the initial motive ‘paintings were too large…’ is used to set Randall’s line, ‘I need help and advice.’ This musical recapitulation (I consider the Prologue to be musically expository as well as dramatically so; see my post on ‘extra-dramatic form’) is reinforced by a dramatic resolution: Randall has learned that in order for his vision to become a reality, he must have Becket’s help. In opera, the text and music form a single unit; what, at the local level, may be called an expressive-object. Just as a purely musical object can be tweaked, manipulated, and contorted for dramatic and/or developmental purposes, an operatic expressive-object can be altered for the same purposes. Typical musical procedures can be applied to staggering effect, of course, but so can textual and contextual variations. In this case, the text is one parameter that is changed, making the expressive-object obviously different, yet recognizable. More subtle alterations have also occurred: the context of the musical material is appreciably different since Randall delivers the line. And it is the first time he sings that music. He was the subject of the idea when it was first presented (‘his paintings…’), but now he is instituting the development of the idea himself (‘I need…’), which places him in control. 

The idea of ‘musical equivalence’ is actually just part of this larger idea of an ‘expressive object.’ I think of this concept as simply added elements into the mix. In other words text or context or a key visual component can all be weighted equally with musical components such as melody, rhythm, harmony, timbre. That isn’t to say that every element is important all the time, of course. Certain elements can be brought to the fore, or pushed into the background just as a musical passage may concern itself chiefly with a specific element. I find the expressive possibilities are vast when all of these components are treated as equals, to be manipulated and shuffled around in importance. In writing Randall’s Leaf, this approach freed me to explore the potentials of instrumental musical development in a dramatic form without bowing to the text. My view for this chamber opera was that keeping musical and non-musical elements as equals, I wasn’t forced into anything. Just like I could have a passage of music that was all about rhythm and essentially ignores melody, I could write an operatic vocal passage that is primarily about harmony, moving the focus away from the text, where it would typically be centered. I also want to make clear that my intention is never to sacrifice the intelligibility of the libretto! It is true that at its essence, opera is the elevation of text, but my goal is to reconcile drama as musical form. I think of music dramatically to begin with. In this sense, I would define drama as a series of interactions and relationships. I see this as being very distinct from a programmatic, cinematic, or narrative mode of conceiving musical form. Like so many others before me, I believe the key to dramatically and musically engaging opera is equality between all elements, musical or not. I also believe, however, that by taking steps to ensure a powerful musical form is in communication with the elements of storytelling like plot, setting, characterization, theme, etc., that this new layer of dramatic/expressive complexity will make every part of the opera essential.