Chamber Music

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Blue Pedal

[2010] – for electric violin with effects – 4’

Premiere September 12, 2010
Jen Kovarovic, electric violin
The Sitar Center, Washington, DC

A pitch-shifting grain delay effect allows the violin to harmonize with itself in this dreamy waltz.
Inquire about renting the effects unit.

The complete score is available for free download. Enjoy!


[2003] – for acoustic bass – 6’

Premiere February 12, 2005
Robert Jost, bass
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
New York, NY

Based on the Courante from Bach's Cello Suite in D Minor, BWV 1008.

The Father Book

[2011] – for guitar and electronics – 37’

The Father Book is available on CD! Purchase hard copies from CD Baby or digital downloads from or the iTunes store (search for Aaron Grad).

The Father Book in the press:
Radio feature by KUOW, Seattle's NPR affiliate
Review of The Father Book in The Washington Post
Interview with Aaron on Gazette.Net

Commissioned by Strathmore (North Bethesda, Maryland)
World Premiere: April 28, 2011 at Gallery 1412 in Seattle, WA
New York Premiere: May 18, 2011 at Jalopy in Brooklyn, NY
Washington, DC Premiere: May 19, 2011 at the Strathmore Mansion

Preparations for The Father Book began, in a sense, in 1967, when John Grad, a nineteen-year-old music major at Hamilton College, built a clavichord from a kit. In time he went to law school, got married, and had three children (I am the youngest), and through the years his clavichord languished in the attic of our house in Alexandria, Virginia. By high school I was immersed in jazz guitar, and would not necessarily have cared about an ethereal keyboard instrument from the Baroque era, but I fell in love with a recording of songs from Porgy and Bess, featuring guitarist Joe Pass and the great pianist Oscar Peterson playing, of all things, a clavichord. Inspired by those duets, my father and I tried to revive his clavichord, but years of warping and cracking prevented it from staying in tune for more than a few seconds.

Not long after we relegated the clavichord back to the attic, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 1998, and a few months later I graduated from high school and my family sold the house in Alexandria. I went to New York to study jazz, and the clavichord went into storage. I moved to Brooklyn in 2001, and, in need of a desk, I remembered the clavichord. Compact, sturdy enough to hold a laptop, and free, it was ideal apartment furniture. I discovered that I could access the keys even with the lid closed, and I developed a habit of exploring its strange, out-of-tune sounds while idling at my computer (this was the era of dial-up internet). The otherworldly beauty of this accidental music inspired me to record about eight hours of plucking, scraping and pounding inside the clavichord onto my portable DAT recorder. And because the instrument is so quiet, the boosted recording level captured myriad other sounds on tape, including my breathing, screeching truck brakes outside, and the church bells across the street. I held onto those tapes for years, unsure how to proceed, until I formulated a plan for a large-scale suite combining live guitar and processed recordings. It would be a duet with my younger self and, in some inexplicable way, a communion with my late father.

I began composing The Father Book in earnest in 2009. The piece combines a through-composed part for seven-string electric guitar with an accompanying track derived entirely from the clavichord. Each movement involves at least one sound from those original improvisations recorded in 2001, but I have since recorded much more material, and I also expanded some of the sounds with electronic processing. The ten short movements form something of a life cycle; it is partly a reflection of my father, partly a self-portrait, and in its broadest sense a meditation on a universal arc. The Father Book takes its title from a book my mother co-wrote around the time I was born—an instruction manual for new fathers.

Piano Variations

[2003] – for piano – 16’

Premiere March 24, 2004
Jocelyn Swigger, piano
Adelphi University, NY

Inspired by Bach's "Goldberg" Variations.

Slash Fantasy

[2003] – for electric bass – 4’

Premiere February 12, 2005
Robert Jost, bass
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
New York, NY

Based on Slash’s guitar riff from the Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O Mine.”

Waiting Waltz

[1998] – for guitar – 2’

Composed during the final days of John D. Grad (1947-1998).

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Ba-Ba-LEE! (For Flea)

[2019] – for two violins – 2’

World Premiere June 8, 2019. Performed by students of Suzuki by the Sound.

Fandango (For Felix)

[2018] – for two violins – 2’

World Premiere June 9, 2018. Performed by students of Suzuki by the Sound.

Frisky Morning Music

[2004] – for violin and piano – 2’

Premiere February 12, 2005
Harumi Rhodes, violin; Katherine Chi, piano
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
New York, NY

Adapted from an earlier work composed for the band Yoga*. This selection originally appeared in a violin sonata that has since been withdrawn.

The Mango Dance

[2002] – for violin and cello – 5’

Premiere March 24, 2002
Senior Recital of Jen Kovarovic, violin
New York University
New York, NY

Razumovsky Rhythm Changes

[2012] – for violin and piano – 2’

This energetic encore is a mashup of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartet and Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm.

Songs Without Verbs

[2008] – for bass/ukulele/horn (one player) and piano – 12’

Commissioned by Robert Jost in honor of his father, David Jost, a consummate wordsmith. The three movements take inspiration from snippets of Walt Whitman poems—fragments of poetry devoid of verbs.

I. The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion, the least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love, the first step

II. Electric, pensive, turbulent, artificial, (yet strangely fitting even here, meanings unknown before, subtler than ever, more harmony…)

III. A thought of the clef of the universes and of the future. A vast similitude

Three Pieces

[2003] – for cello and piano – 11’

Premiere June 12, 2003
Piace (Kate Spingarn, cello; Jocelyn Swigger, piano)
Colorado Springs, Colorado

True Colors

[2012] – for violin and electric violin – 5’

Premiere March 2013
Holly Carpenter, violin; Jen Kovarovic, electric violin
Seattle, Washington

Wedding Music

[2000/2001] – for trumpet (or other melody instrument) and guitar – 4’

Composed in 2000 for the wedding of Arlen Grad and Brian Gaines; revised in 2001 for the wedding of Margaret Beaver and Jason Hassenstab.

When I wake up at midnight

[2004] – for violin and piano – 8’

Premiere February 12, 2005
Harumi Rhodes, violin; Katherine Chi, piano
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
New York, NY

Derived from music for a chamber opera sketch, Eyes of a Blue Dog, based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez about a man and woman who meet in their dreams. This work was originally the slow movement of a withdrawn violin sonata.

Whiskey & Fred

[2005] – for violin and piano – 4’

Premiere January 22, 2006
Renee Jolles, violin; Susan Jolles, harp.
Islip, NY

Originally for violin and harp, and rewritten for piano. Whiskey and Fred were a dog and a cat I met while on vacation at Lake Duparquet in Northern Quebec.

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Be Aware of Wonder

[2008] – for flute, clarinet and piano – 5’

Premiere June 8, 2008
The Palisades Virtuosi
Ridgewood, NJ

Commissioned by Ron Levy, as a gift to Margaret Swinchoski and Don Mokrynski, in celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of the founding of the Palisades Virtuosi.

In his immortal essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum wrote: “Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up, and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.” It is in this spirit of wonder and appreciation that I offer my congratulations to the Palisades Virtuosi for their first five years of concerts, recordings and unparalleled commitment to new repertoire. Those who know the trio recognize that their greatest asset is not virtuosity, or dedication, or artistry, although all of those qualities are abundant; the magic of the Palisades Virtuosi is the incredible warmth and joy that Margaret, Don and Ron share with each other and all who enter their orbit. This work was a surprise gift from Ron Levy to his colleagues, and I hope I did justice to the playfulness and camaraderie that make this group so fun to know.

I Dream of Tartini

[2004] – for violin, amplified guitar and percussion – 4’

Premiere February 22, 2009
Jen Kovarovic, violin; Aaron Grad, guitar; Brook Martinez, percussion.
The Sitar Center
Washington, DC

I had a beautiful dream one night that I was following the Italian Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini up to the top of a stepped pyramid in a South American jungle, with my wife Jen trailing behind us. This short piece tries to capture the mystical and exultant tone of the dream.

The guitar part requires delay effect and amplification.


[2003] – for flute, clarinet and piano – 9’

Premiere November 1, 2003
Palisades Virtuosi
Ridgewood, NJ

Recorded on “New American Masters, Volume 1” by the Palisades Virtuosi

I was honored to be the first composer commissioned by the Palisades Virtuosi and to appear on their debut concert. I wrote this study of butterflies in honor of my friend Ron Levy, the group’s pianist and a butterfly enthusiast.


“Aaron Grad’s Lep•i•dop•ter•ol•o•gy (the study of butterflies) is al fresco indeed. It’s active yet dreamy and evanescent, using imaginative (but never “avant-garde”) timbral interweavings to portray those flitting, delicate, colorful creatures who share our everyday world yet seem somehow messengers from another, more magical place.” –American Record Review

“The marvelous, infectious manner that he weaves his arpeggiated flutters among the three instruments, sometimes grouping them in twos yet still maintaining a constantly devoted sense of thematic unity, is a wonder to hear.” –Fanfare (Steven Ritter)


[2003] – for flute, clarinet and bassoon – 8’

Premiere July 14, 2003
Manchester Music Festival
Manchester, VT

Composed for students at the Manchester Music Festival.

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[2002] – for string quartet – 18’

Reading December 19, 2002
Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic

This work is no longer available for performance.

Fantasy on a Theme by John D. Grad

[2012] – for clarinet, violin, viola and cello – 4’

Premiere August 5, 2012
Carnegie Institute of Science
Washington, DC

This wedding processional, composed in honor of my sister Becca and her soon-to-be husband Aaron, elaborates on a theme my father wrote in 1971. John Grad had majored in music before going on to law school, and he was an avid oboe and keyboard player with a special affection for Baroque music. He also composed a handful of works, including a short piano solo that he gave my mother (a splendid pianist herself) as a gift when they were both just 23 years old. That score, which I expanded upon for this piece, bears the following inscription: “To my love, on our First Anniversary, with all my love, J.D.”

Herman's Head

[2002] – for flute, violin, viola and cello – 5’

This work is no longer available for performance.

How Notes Become Music

[In Progress] – for string quartet and narrator – 30’

How Notes Become Music, a 30-minute presentation designed for children ages 5-10, features original poems and music by Aaron. Through nine short sections of original music—each preceded by a whimsical poem with animation—young audiences learn how notes relate to each other, and how those relationships can inspire stronger connections with people.

A version for string quartet is available now, and a version for chamber orchestra is coming soon. Video and audio playback are recommended, or a live narrator can replace the animated poems. Contact Aaron for information about purchasing or renting scores and parts, and check out the video trailer.

Created with support from the Lynn and Brian Grant Family.

Usual Gaps, Faced Again

[2008] – for string quartet – 12’

This work is no longer available for performance.

Variations for Four Winds

[2004] – for flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano – 5’

The intended first performance of this work fell through, so it has become an orphan awaiting a world premiere!

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The Aeolian Harp

[2006] – for flute, guitar, violin, viola and cello – 16’

Premiere August 19, 2006
Sherman Chamber Ensemble
Sherman, CT

The Aeolian harp is a most unusual musical instrument. Unlike all other stringed instruments, which are played through some act of plucking, hammering or bowing, this “harp” is activated only by wind blowing across the strings, like how a telephone wire hums in a stiff breeze. Wind-powered harps can be traced back thousands of years, but it was the Romantic poets who most revered and immortalized these ethereal instruments. My composition, The Aeolian Harp, is a wordless tribute to the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name. The music follows the structure and mood of the poem, and in a few places goes so far as to shape melodies to fit specific lines of text. I also borrowed from the sound of the Aeolian harp itself, in which the strings are all tuned to the same tone, and the perceived variations in pitch are actually different overtones being excited by the wind. The notes of the overtone series as well as natural and artificial harmonics are featured prominently throughout the work. I dedicate The Aeolian Harp to the memory of Dr. Walter Reinhold, who taught me not just music history but how to love all culture in the world, especially poetry. The piece was commissioned by the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, for which I offer my deepest thanks to Artistic Director Eliot Bailen.

Creatures of Kings County

[2006] – for narrator, flute/piccolo, clarinet, piano, bass and percussion – 12’

Premiere March 19, 2006
Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic
Cantor Auditorium, Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn, NY

Composed as an urban companion to Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. Narration by Aaron Grad.

Kodak Moments

[2004] – for two violins, English horn, bassoon and cello – 11’

Premiere August 9, 2004
Manchester Music Festival
Manchester, VT

This work is no longer available for performance.