Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love


Music for piano four-hands | Performed by Michael Shinn, primo, and Jessica Chow Shinn, secondo

 In 2011 I was contemplating writing a new piano four hands piece for Jessica and Michael. That fall they performed a benefit concert for pianoSonoma at the Yamaha Artist Salon in New York City. I heard them perform the Brahms Waltzes, and when they got to #15, I was deeply moved. I thought to myself, “What a gem! What a tiny little piece with such a big heart!”

As I was walking back across town to get on a train home, that internal mantra turned into a new title: “Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love.” Yes, a little bit of a play on “A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius” by Dave Eggers, which I had just read and loved, but just different enough to make it my own. I decided I would try to compose a series of gems, and on the train ride home I jotted down the seven movement names, which never changed:

  1. one and one
  2. flutter flutter
  3. lovesong
  4. chase
  5. respite
  6. crossings
  7. two

It is a piece about my relationship with my wife, Deborah, and I dedicated the piece to her. We premiered the work at The Juilliard School in May 2012. Jessica, Michael, and I had worked together before, but this piece brought us even closer.

The movements:

  1. one and one – before the relationship has started – about separateness…rather than playing together, the pianists are each assigned phrases to play in dialogue with each other in the key of D major. When they do play together, the parts are independent, with brief bursts of activity but before long, they are once again asserting their individual phrases, taking turns, keeping their own space and time, only touching in an E major chord at the end.
  2. flutter flutter – the feeling of being smitten – all the ways you can shake and vibrate inside – it is all trills and tremolos and ends on a suspended chord, dying away to nothing.
  3. lovesong – as advertised, a seductive pitch from one lover to another – in B minor, the more settled answer to “one and one” – encoded in this movement is a melodic theme that I created especially for Deborah when we were college students. I still whistle it to her in a crowd to let her know I am there.
  4. chase – the “Deborah theme” is now employed in a canonic romp around the keyboard, ending in an “I caught you” affirmation in D major.
  5. respite – a moment of contemplation and breath after the chase, this movement is where I started composing, directly referring to the Brahms Waltz No. 15 in A major.
  6. crossings – a musical spat between two pianists who have had to share a bench for too long, an argument that involves crossing into each other’s territory and all the confusion it brings.
  7. two – many themes return in the final movement: “respite,” “lovesong,” the “Deborah theme” and finally one wink back at the separateness of “one and one” before the end.

Recorded July 21, 2019 at Schroeder Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University. Audio engineer: Anthony Barfield.