Welcome to Adamsworks, devoted to the music and writing of Robert Train Adams. I’ll be providing an overview of my compositions, primarily for small- to mid-size chorus and instrumental ensembles, with a number of solo instrumental works as well as larger and more extended concert works. In my blog I’ll share some of my thoughts on things musical, as well as offering a behind-the-scenes look at some of my current compositional projects.

Thanks for dropping by.

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New Music for 2015

2015 has been good, compositionally. I started right off on January 1 with an arrangement of a work I wrote for Christmas 2014 and have written something every month since. Here’s the list through early August. There’s sure to be more coming!

From the Orient – arr. trumpet, bassoon, piano

How brightly shines the morning star – handbells, handchimes

Glory, Laud – 3-octave handbells, harp

Improvisation on O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded – 3-octave handbells, harp

Opening Acclamation for Easter – cantor, congregation

Psalm 118 with Hosannas – cantor, congregation

Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor – satb choir, organ

Holy, Holy, Holy – 3-octave handbells

Spring Carol – oboe, bassoon, piano

Greensleeves – oboe, bassoon, piano

Across the Water – oboe, bassoon, piano

It is quiet – satb choir a capella

Two-part Invention – trumpet, trombone, organ

Five Hymn Preludes for organ and piano

Prelude I: Dix

Prelude II: Holy Manna

Prelude III: St. Anne

Prelude IV: Slane

Prelude V: Maoz Tsur Y’shuati

Road Triptych

The Crossroad – satb choir, piano

Road Trip – satb choir a capella

Reflection on the Road – satb choir, piano

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Road Triptych

The composers’ community on ChoralNet had a friendly competition this past week: write a choral piece based on a given theme. The theme I worked on was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken–not the actual poem necessarily, but any connection that one might wish to make.

Two contemporary authors offered texts that tied in with Frost’s poem in one way or another. I’ll add sample pages later. For now, here are the electronic realizations of the three movements.

The Crossroad


Road Trip


Reflection on the Road

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New Music for Fall 2013

It’s been a productive Fall, compositionally speaking, even though there was some personal downs among all the ups.My new compositions include:

  • Two pieces for Handbell choir
  • A new work for trumpet and organ
  • Three sets of pieces for organ left-hand and pedals (this is the bad news/good news of the season)
  • New choral works for Christmas: Introits, antiphon, and anthem

Music for Handbells

We have seven dedicated ringers. While that’s fewer than I would like to have (another four would be welcome, thank you very much) I’m quite pleased with the group I have. These pieces continue a string of works from last year: basically working four or five ringers against the other three/two. This allows me to contrast playing techniques, or timbres (chimes versus bells, or standard ringing versus mallets, or even high versus low). My smaller group is more comfortable doing ensemble-type playing so their parts can be more adventurous than the rest of the choir, providing another element of variety.

The two works are for the Advent/Christmas season. One is based on the hymn Let all mortal flesh. It’s somewht atmospheric and modal. The choir took to it immediately and will easily be able to play it with only four or five rehearsals.

let all mortal fleshWhile the melody is presented in the top line, a middle line presents a repetitive countermelody, with a rhythmic element added by the lower, malleted bells. The excerpt starts in measure 17; the first 16 offer hints of the melody, building up to its statement in measure 17.

The other work is based on Go, tell it on the mountain. My group wanted something that would challenge them. So I did just that. In order not to make the challenge too complicated (this is still a level 2+ to 3+ choir), I set up a characteristic rhythm that occurs in almost every measure, and did my best to alternate between new material and the return of familiar material.

go tell 1Here’s the basic rhythm. The trick for ringers: gotta damp on beat 2. My people don’t like to damp. But they’re giving me the benefit of the doubt, and it sounds great!


go tell 2A contrasting section features the melody in the upper bells, with the lower bells malletting a rhythmic counterpoint. In this section, the basic rhythm is at first absent, reappearing later as things become more involved (somewhat of a one-thing-at-a-time approach).

go tell 3As the piece moves toward its conclusion, the basic rhythm recurs, while the melody is presented in an improvised fashion, as though a jazz musician doing variations on the theme.

It’s a fun romp. That said, we may have run out of time for this year, and may keep this in our repertoire, to present next Christmas. (Or, in fine Episcopal fashion, play the piece in early January when it is still liturgically Christmas!)

Music for Trumpet and Organ

I’ve been blessed to have a gifted trumpet player, Phil Sullivan, in residence twice a year at St. Stephen’s Orinda for the past six years. When he’s here, play a lot of music, and I usually write something new for us. This Fall I wrote Through the Night, based on excerpts from Divinum Mysterium and Silent Night. It’s a reflective work, intended to be played on Christmas Eve. I wrote it after hearing some instrumental music of Alan Hovhanness, so it has some of the flowing melody present in many of his works. I’ll have more to say on this work as our presentation date draws near.

Music for Organ Left-handed

I managed to fracture my wrist in late September. As an organist-choir director I normally play a lot of keyboard, but found myself rather limited for a few weeks. I had a couple of great assistants help me out, but soon found it difficult to not be playing. I first thought to take some music for organ written without pedals and transcribe them for one hand and feet–but decided it would be more fun to write my own pieces. I ended up with three sets, each containing a piece that could function as a prelude, an offertory, or a postlude to the church service, as well as being part of a three-movement set.

It was great therapy, and few people knew that I wasn’t using both hands as usual. I’ll soon offer some separate posts on these pieces, collectively known as Gregoriana (I had in mind modeling my melodic material after Gregorian chant, without necessarily quoting or basing the work on a specific chant).

New Choral Works

My church choir is very supportive of my writing–or, at least, is willing to put up with my compositional efforts. For Advent I wrote a set of for Introits (short choral works to start the service each week). The set is based on the psalm for the day. Musical material is based on the psalm as well as on the antiphon I wrote, which the choir and congregation sing when we sing the psalm each Sunday. The challenge: write four different choral works, each using musical material derived from the same source (the antiphon) while being true to the text of the psalm of the day. I can’t wait to share this with you in a future post.

And I couldn’t avoid writing at least on longer work for choir: a setting of Of the Father’s Love Begotten. It’s accompanied by treble melody instrument (covered by our resident trumpet) and belltree. The text is presented in Latin, as well as in two different English translations. The choir hasn’t started work on this as I write (December 4); I ought to be nervous, but am confident that they will enjoy this meditation on a familiar hymn.

I’ve promised several new posts: I’ll try not to disappoint (although if I’m given a choice between writing/making music and writing ABOUT making music, the music will win out every time).



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August updates

I’ve done a bit of reorganization of both choral and instrumental pages, and added in a bunch of titles. Having done so, I’ve noticed that a couple of categories, like choral/satb are getting a bit large. I’ll either trim some of the works that are less likely to interest other people, or find some other solution. In the meantime, I’m about ready to begin the process of adding information about more of my music, with sample pages, mp3s, and the like. I’m also looking into options for online sales.

While all of this is going on, please look around. If anything strikes your fancy, let me know.

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Three Psalm Preludes

In mid-July 2013 I realized that our Artist in Residence, Phil Sullivan, an outstanding trumpeter, was due to arrive shortly at St. Stephen’s for a three-week residency. While we had plenty to play, from his own repertoire, to my Five Preludes for Trumpet and Organ and Suite for Trumpet and Organ, I wanted to have something new. I had recently acquired Herbert Howells’ two sets of Psalm Preludes, and, while I wasn’t thinking of anything as big as his works, I liked the idea of the reference to a psalm verse.

The wrinkle in my case is that each of the three pieces I decided to write would draw its musical and textual inspiration from the choral introit for each Sunday, based on the 3-year lectionary. Last week’s setting of Psalm 85 (“I will listen to what the Lord God is saying”) went quite well. We’re ready with Psalm 107 (“Give Thanks to God”) for this Sunday, with Psalm 50 the week after.

Even though each piece is paired with an introit, the three pieces also work as a three-movement work (although not in chronological order). I’ll try to get some score and audio excerpts up soon. In the meantime, between writing, practicing and playing music, and a major overhaul of the website, it’s about time to take a vacation from summer…

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St. Stephen’s Psalter

My latest project is a collaboration with composer Peter Margen. We set 14 psalms, written by participants in the annual men’s retreat at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Orinda, California. You’ll find more information about the project at the blog for St. Stephen’s music program. Start with the post on St. Stephen’s Psalter, and follow the links from there to the pages and program notes on each psalm.

I will be cross-listing the Psalter and individual movements, although probably not until after the concert on October 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm. The works are written for mixed chorus with soprano and baritone soloists; works are a capella or accompanied by piano and/or guitar. They cover a range of musical styles, from jazz and blues through English cathedral.

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Sic transit website

Well, I was supposed to be adding more content to my website this week. I haven’t yet found an easy way to port over my old pages, since I decided to organize things a little differently:

  • Where my old website focused on my church compositions, I’m adding in a fairly extensive set of secular works
  • I’m also setting the site up to be more menu-driven, hoping it will be easier to navigate
  • I want to add more examples of scores and audio clips
  • I’m hoping in all this to update scores of some older works that are still worth doing
  • And all this will lead to adding on a shopping cart, as well as sending some works out to other publishers

So, instead, I wrote some music. I know this is rather on the level of saying I decided to breathe, but there it is! I finished three introits that my choir at St. Stephen’s Orinda will sing on June 26, July 3, and July 31 (the reason for the gap: the handbell choir is playing, and I wanted them to accompany the choir; they’ll need some rehearsal time). The introits are each about a minute and a half long and, along with a full-length anthem, must be able to be learned in the 45-minute rehearsal before the service. A fun challenge, indeed. (This will be my third year of summer introits, giving me the thee-year liturgical cycle.)

But wait, there’s more. Phil Sullivan, an outstanding trumpet player, will be in residence at St. Stephen’s this summer. Whenever he comes around I like to write something for us to do. The last three days have seen the development of a 4-movement suite for trumpet and organ, where two movements will serve as preludes and two as postludes. Unlike much of the stuff I’ve written for him, this piece is not hymn-based. It was FUN  getting back to a more abstract approach, where I didn’t have a melody and/or chord progression suggesting the form.

I’d love to talk about the suite a bit more, but will do so at another time. Now that I’ve written the pieces, I’m in re-write mode. Notes that sounded great in my head, and all right in MIDI playback, didn’t sound as great on the organ. So after several hours, I have my next generation of the suite. I’ll print it out in the morning and give it a try. I hope at that point to have something to share here. I excited and encouraged. Each movement stands alone, but the four together make a nice set!

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The Transition Continues

If you’ve previously visited Adamsworks, you will notice that most of the content has disappeared, not to mention that things look a lot different. I’m in the process of moving the site, which will soon contain both my catalog of works and a blog.

June 15. I’ve started putting content back. As I’m doing so, I’m adding images and other media, as well as experimenting with the format of the site. It’s been fun visiting other composers’ pages. As I see what others find important, my own ideas change and develop.

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In Transition

If you’ve previously visited Adamsworks, you will notice that most of the content has disappeared, not to mention that things look a lot different. I’m in the process of moving the site, which will soon contain both my catalog of works and a blog.

May 22: Moved domain from one service provider to another (oops–gotta move email as well!)

May 25: Put basic structure for catalog in place. Next step: add some content…just as soon as I finish my ASCAPlus homework…

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