Vernacular Dances (Piano Solo)

Solo Piano (1996) Three Movements. ca. 12’30”

Premiered by Perry Townsend at Steinway Hall. Of the premiere, the reviewer for the New Music Connoisseur (Vol. 5, No. 4, 1997) wrote: “Starting off the program was Griffin’s Vernacular Dances, which plays off popular styles (Latin rhythms, blues, jazz) in a very serious way. This muscular work, expertly played by pianist Perry Townsend, was the strongest of the concert.”

Recorded by Teresa McCollough (for Innova) and Tomoko Deguchi (for Capstone). See Discography.

Watch pianist and visual artist Hugh Sung’s intrepretation of the first movement, filmed at Field Concert Hall, The Curtis Institute of Music:

Listen to Teresa McCollough perform the second movement:


Listen to Perry Townsend perform the third movement:


Program Note:

A composer can only express their perception of the world through the filter of their own experience, and since my earliest musical experiences revolved around singing and drumming, I often incorporate in my writing elements of popular and/or world music that are most compelling to me, within the context of continuing a concert music tradition. Written in February 1996, Vernacular Dances is a three-movement work that comes from this impulse. The first movement blends jazz and latinesque motor rhythms with melodic material loosely derived from Webern’s Variations for Piano, Op. 27, Mvt. 2. The second movement is gentle and arioso, orchestrally conceived. The third contrasts blues rhythms with some I picked up listening to Latin Jazz. The piece was premiered by Perry Townsend at Steinway Hall in new York, and has been recorded by Tomoko Deguchi for Capstone Records and by Teresa McCollough for Innova Records.

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The Vampire Chronicles (Orchestra)

The Vampire Chronicles (1995) Four Movements. ca. 24’
Orchestra. (See below for specific instrumentation.)

Received performance prize of premiere by the University of Minnesota Orchestra, Keith Clark, director.

Listen to excerpts from the premiere:

Movement I:


Movement II:

Movement III, opening:

Movement IV, middle:

Program Note:

The Vampire Chronicles (1995)
I. Interview: Allegro frenetico; Adagio; Allegro Moderato
II. Predator: Allegro; Tranquillo; Moderato; Agitato; Hymn-like; Allegro
III. Bloodlines: Adagio con moto
IV. Theft: Presto; Furioso; Feroce; Tranquillo; Furioso

The Vampire Chronicles for piano and orchestra was written in 1994-95 as my thesis piece at the University of Minnesota. Inspired by the first four novels in a series by Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, and The Tale of the Body Thief), it is roughly 24 minutes long, in four movements. A quasi-mini-opera without words, I attempted to reduce the novels to their dramatic essence, and find musical analogues for the drama — to have the music represent my reading of the narrative trajectories and interactions of the prinicpal characters in the novels, providing each character with their own harmonic or instrumental color and melodic/motivic profiles. These novels seemed inherently musical to me. Indeed, a violinist is an important character in the second novel, and the main protagonist/antogonist (he’s a little of both) poses as a rock star in The Queen of the Damned. Anne Rice’s vampires are colorful, powerful creations, but the forces that drive them raise issues that concern us all: the after-life, temptation, our history, our sexuality, and societal progress, among others. It is my hope however, that one need not be acquainted with the novels in order to appreciate the piece.

Specific Instrumentation:
2 Flutes (II doubles on Piccolo, Alto Flute)
2 Oboes (II doubles on English Horn)
2 Bb Clarinets (II doubles on Bass Clarinet)
2 Bassoons (II doubles on Contrabassoon)

4 French Horns in F
2 Bb Trumpets
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone

4 Percussion: Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Bass Drum, Snare Drum,
Suspended Cymbal, Tam-Tam, Tambourine, Hi-Hat,
Chimes, Shaker, Triangle, 2 Congas, Claves, Steel Drum
3 Tom-Toms, Crash Cymbal, Vibraphone, Marimba,

1 Harp
1 Piano (doubles on Celesta)

Violin I
Violin II

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3 Meditations (Agnus Dei; Beatus Vir; Jubilate Deo – SSAA a cappella)

SSAA a cappella (1995) 3’30″
Text in Latin.

From the hypnotic Agnus Dei and transcendent Beatus Vir to the joyous Jubilate Deo, immerse yourself in the beauty of Charles Griffin’s 3 Meditations, an original a cappella SSAA choral piece that will transport you to a state of deep contemplation. Premiered and recorded by the Piedmont Choirs under the direction of Bob Geary, it’s perfect for high-school-age women’s ensembles and adult groups alike.

Featuring three short movements set in Latin, each can be performed individually or as a group, giving you the flexibility to customize your performance. Also recorded by the Peninsula Women’s Chorus under the direction of Martin Benvenuto (See Discography), you won’t want to miss adding this future classic to your choral repertoire. 

Audio samples and purchase performance copies are available at ArrangeMeSheet Music Direct, and Sheet Music Plus.

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Fist Through Traffic

Alto Saxophone and Percussion Ensemble
(1+8 players) 3 Movements, (1993) ca. 8′
Full instrumentation: Eb Alto Saxophone, Vibraphone, Marimba, Chimes, Timpani, Congas (2 or 3), Timbales (2), Tom (2), Bass Drum, Sand Blocks, Claves, Triangle, Cowbell (more cowbell!!), Tambourine, Suspended Cymbal, Hi-Hat, Brake Drums (2), Whistle
Premiered by the University of Minnesota Percussion Ensemble, Fernando Meza, director, with Richard Dirlam, Saxophone.

Listen to a performance of the 2nd movement, with Anthony Canestro and the Queens College Percussion Ensemble:

Industry - 2nd. Mvt. of Fist Through Traffic     

Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $25.

Subsequent notable performances include: Queens College Percussion Ensemble, Michael Lipsey, Director, with Anthony Canestro; Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble, Paul Vaillancourt, Director, with Amy Griffiths; North Carolina School of the Arts Percussion Ensemble, John Beck, Director, with Taimur Sullivan; and Interlochen Percussion Ensemble, Kim Burja, Director, with Timothy McCallister. Recorded in 2012 by Saxophonist Amy Griffiths and the Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble. The Audio CD is also available here.

Program Note:

A composer can only really express their perception of the world through the filter of their own experience, and since my earliest musical experiences revolved around singing and drumming, I often incorporate in my writing elements of popular and/or world music that are most compelling to me, within the context of continuing a concert music tradition. Written in 1993 while a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Fist Through Traffic is a three-movement work that comes from this impulse.
The title of the work comes from a line from a Paul Simon song as an homage (I was listening to his Rhythm of the Saints album quite a lot at that time) and to reflect my sympathy for his approach to songwriting, which in the long run has also been about integrating diverse elements from outside his native experience or from outside the expectations of the genre into his personal style.

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Three Miniatures (Wind Quintet)

Wind Quintet (Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon), 3 Movements (1993) ca. 8′

Purchase the score and parts via Paypal for $10:

Download a perusal PDF of the score in a new window by clicking here.

Program Note:

Inspired by the poetry of Juan Ramon Jiménez, this piece was premiered by the North Woods Wind Quintet at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis. It has subsequently been performed by the Emerald Winds (as part of an Encore Grant from the American Composers Forum), Imani Winds (usually as part of their music in the schools outreach programs) and Quintet of the Americas.

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Chansons Innocentes

SATB a cappella, 3 Movements, (1993) ca. 5’
e.e. cummings, Text.
Premiered by the Plymouth Music Series Ensemble at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Finalist in the 1995 Chautauqua Choral Composition Contest.

Purchase a PDF of the score for $1 per copy via PayPal:

in Just     

in Just
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hopscotch and jump-rope and
balloonMan whistles

hist whist     

hist whist
little ghostthings

little twitchy
witches and tingling
hob-a-nob hob-a-nob

little hoppy happy
toad in tweeds
little itchy mousies

with scuttling
eyes rustle and run and

whisk look out for the old woman
with the wart on her nose
what she’ll do to yer
nobody knows

for she knows the devil ooch
the devil ouch
the devil
ach the great

devil devil


picker of buttercups
And the big bullying daisies
through the field
with eyes a little sorry
Another comes
also picking flowers

Program Note:

These short poems by e. e. cummings contain a wonderful, compact interplay between images that reflect a child’s naiveté and playfulness and an adult’s fear of aging and death. These poems find particular poignancy in the compression of these dual meanings into single images. “In Just- / spring” is the magical moment when the world reveals most strongly its process of renewal, bringing with it sunshine and mud. But here spring also reflects an adult’s perspective (the balloon man’s perspective – he is a figure similar to a pied piper beckoning the children to their inevitable future), one who sees In-Just-[ice] in the cycle of life; spring is a metaphor for time past. “hist whist” is replete with ‘scary’ images: little ghost things, twitchy witches, itchy mousies and worst of all, the old woman that knows the devil himself. “Tumbling-hair” is both the untamed, abundant locks of youth and the loss of hair. In this poem the daisies bully their way through the soil shared by other flowers, representing the relentless push of one generation after another. In the face of these dualities, the narrative voice of the poems belongs to children, and cummings infuses the poems with a childlike charm and vibrancy. The musical settings of these poems aim to infuse a similar charm, with subtle hints at the embedded double-meanings.

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Do Not Go Gentle

Two Pianos, 3 Movements (1993, minor revisions later) ca. 13’
Winner of an ASCAP Morton Gould Prize in 1994
Premiered by Amy & Sara Hamann at the University of Minnesota.
Program Note:

Written as a memorial for my mother, Constance Mary Barrett, who had recently died from lung cancer three months shy of her fiftieth birthday. The piece takes its title from a poem by Dylan Thomas. Do Not Go Gentle was premiered by Amy and Sara Hamann on November 15, 1993 at Ferguson Recital Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Jazz Suite (Clarinet & Piano)

Bb Clarinet and Piano, 3 movements, (1992) ca. 8′
Premiered by Benjamin Coleman, Clarinet & Kee Poh Lim at Queens College, 1992.

Listen to the 2nd Movement, performed by Jen Gerth and Tracy Bradshaw:

Jazz Suite Mvt.2.mp3     

Program Note:

I wrote this piece for my friends Ben Coleman & Kee Poh Lim while we were students at Queens College, and it’s one of the few pieces from my student days that I’m still proud to have in my catalogue. It has been performed in several U.S. venues, but also in Canada and Europe. I began the piece as part of a jazz composition class that I was taking with the famous saxophonist and composer, Jimmy Heath. I was only a sophomore, and the rest of the class were all graduate students who knew the vocabulary of jazz forwards and backwards. I spent much of the semester playing catch-up, but got the basics down by the end.

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Heart! We Will Forget Him!

Emily Dickinson, Text.
High Voice and Piano, ca. 2′
Premiered by ToniAnn Notarfrancesco & Kee Poh Lim at Queens College, 1991.

Soprano Sangeetha Rayapati has anthologized my setting of Emily Dickinson’s Heart! We will forget him! in her vocal pedagogy textbook available by Inside View Press called Sing Into Your Sixties… And Beyond!

Heart! We Will Forget Him!     

Heart! We will forget him!
You and I – tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave –
I will forget the light!

When you have done, pray tell me
That I my thoughts may dim!
Haste! lest while you’re lagging
I may remember him!

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