Thursday, September 30, 2004

I couldn't do it

I couldn't be dispassionate in judging the debate. I started out taking notes carefully, but I gave up when Bush was so clearly flustered by actual facts and kept repeating lies about John Kerry. So Instead, I wrote a letter that I sent to the Greencastle Banner-Graphic, the Hendricks County Flyer, and the Indianapolis Star. Here it is.
In the first debate, John Kerry showed that he is more presidential than George Bush. Kerry did not act petulant, he did not smirk or hunch and spout off inane platitudes. John Kerry answered the questions clearly and intelligently, and showed real humanity with his passion, his humor (I agree that you can't keep your daughters from doing what they want) and his respect for the presidency.

I appreciated John Kerry's clear presentation of the differences between himself and President Bush. Kerry has a clear plan for Iraq, for North Korea, and for homeland security. He eloquently pointed out the misdirections the current administration has made on foreign policy. Running into Iraq before we finished the fights in Afghanistan was a mistake. Refusing to talk to North Korea was a mistake. John Kerry has shown that he will not make these mistakes, that he will make decisions based on facts rather than an ideology.

This debate has made it clear that we need new leadership for U.S foreign policy, and John Kerry will provide that leadership.

You can use this site to send letters out quickly.

100 days

Lynn S has a post about John Kerry's plan for the first 100 days of his presidency. This made me think about George Bush's first 100 days as president. What plans did he have, and what did he accomplish?

From Time magazine:
The case can be made that Bush, while off to a smooth start, doesn't have all that much to hype. A President without foreign policy experience got the stranded crew home from China, and his public statements have generally been in key. But by the yardstick of Rove's ambition — creating a locked-in Republican majority — Bush has a long way to go. The Great Transformation was to begin with passage of his education-reform plan, which the Senate is set to debate this week. The vouchers and testing proposals at its heart have been washed away and diluted, respectively. Still, enough tough-sounding language will survive for Bush to claim victory.

This looks fairly good for George Bush, but the same article also points out that in the same 100 days he abandoned a campaign pledge to reduce carbon monoxide emissions and suspended standards for levels of arsenic in drinking water. A more detailed account can be found here.

The Democratic Party made a list of broken promises made by George Bush during the 2000 campaign and in his first year as president. "Bush said his tax cut would not cause deficits, even in a bad economy." "Bush promised to pay down a record amount of the national debt." Education funding, Pell grants, student loans, energy assistance programs, all things Bush promised to improve and yet ended up cutting in his 2003 budget proposal.

I couldn't find any clearer details of what George Bush planned for his first 100 days and what he accomplished. Please let me know of any resources.

Emotion and Electronics

My wife has been celebrating her new job in the music library by checking out horizon-expanding CDs. As we trade cars quite often, I end up with her new recordings in the CD player as I commute, so my horizons have been expanded whether I like it or not. I've been exposed to African tribal music (okay), Tibetan prayer music (did not like), and Gypsy music (pretty good, but only in small doses). Today the CD available was The Doors Greatest Hits. I've always enjoyed The Doors, though I never got around to buying any recordings.

Today, I was struck by the organ solo in "Light My Fire." It is full of repetition, oscillating between two notes or two chords. When the full chords are being used, the solo has some emotional impact. But when single notes are used, it seems flat. On a guitar a single motive or even a single note can be shaped by fingers on the frets, the whammy bar, or various pedal effects. On the Hammond organ (I don't know if it is really a Hammond, feel free to correct me) there are fewer options, none when the other hand is tied up playing the bass line on a separate keyboard. So the notes were not shaped, making the oscillations very repetitive and boring. On a guitar or wind instrument the solo would work, but not on an unchanging organ sound. Ironically, the guitar solo that follows would have worked on the organ.

On the next track, "Strange," the keyboardist went with a chunky harpsichord-like sound, sounding like a bad rhythm guitar when comping. The solo is more complex and more keyboard-like. I'm going to listen to the whole album, keeping track of the different keyboard sounds and how the keyboardist used them. That should keep me entertained this weekend.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

20th Century Music 101

Composer Steve Hicken has a new blog on 20th century music, Listen 101. In this blog Steve will be exploring one hundred and one dalmations. Er, he will be exploring one hundred and one essential pieces of 20th century concert music. He has kindly provided the whole list at the start, so you can listen ahead. Combined with Tim Rutherford-Johnson's Music Since 1960 series, these should be a great resource for anyone teaching courses on the subject (I'm looking at you, Carlos).

(via George Hunka)

Rule of Law, Rights of People

I've been horrified by the ways that the current US government has been violating the civil rights of both citizens and noncitizens. Habeas corpus has been suspended de facto, with people who have not been charged with any crimes being held in prisons for years. No legal representation, no right to contest their status (recently changed to the kangaroo court military tribunal system after the Supreme Court made the Bush administration obey the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.) Now there is movement by the government to make torture legal, through outsourcing. This is simply outrageous. If we are decent enough to recognize that torture is unethical (not to mention ineffective in finding out true facts), then sending prisoners to countries that do allow torture is also unethical. There can be no nuance to this position, no cutesy face-saving while treating a fellow human being as a nonperson. To paraphrase a comment in the linked post, at this moment a vote for Republicans = a vote against humanity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Art and Politics Suite, Second Movement

As are most movements of dance suites, this post is in binary form, balanced binary to be exact.

I have been thinking about the elections in Iraq, ever since Donald Rumsfeld stated the likelihood that parts of Iraq will be too dangerous to hold votes in. The Secretary of Defense goes on to say that an imperfect election is better than no election. This is the statement that I have been pondering, whether the disenfranchising of part of a population is better than disenfranchising the whole population. On the ABC Sunday morning show, Madeline Albright pointed out that the main point of an election is to give legitimacy to a government. I would alter this from 'legitimacy' to 'the popular perception of legitimacy,' with the emphasis on the perceptions of the governed population. Right now, the Shiites (both Sadr and Sistani followers) are threatening to boycott the elections. The Sunnis are threatening to boycott the elections. Thus they would not perceive the resultant government as legitimate. The people who live in the parts of Iraq deemed too dangerous, possibly up to one-quarter of the country according to Rumsfeld, would not perceive the resultant government as legitimate. If all of these people do not believe in and respect the Iraqi government after elections, insurgency is guaranteed to continue and increase. If elections are delayed so compromises can be made with boycotting factions and security improved (more soldiers), the perception of legitimacy could be increased significantly. So I don't think Rumsfeld is correct. Partial elections can be more harmful than no elections.

The Indianapolis Star had an article about musicians and politics in the Sunday edition. Yes, they take risks when they speak out about politics, just as business leaders do. The CEO of Viacom (parent company of CBS which just decided to hold off a report on Iraq until after November 2) just endorsed George Bush last Thursday. This is risky, as many people will now question the neutrality of CBS new reporting. If enough people turn to other outlets for news, Viacom's profits will decrease. Likewise, people may stop listening to John Mellencamp because he is performing for "Vote for Change" concerts, but John is willing to take that risk, hoping that his ticket and CD sales aren't hurt too much. Or he figures any negatives are outweighed by the benefits of a different administration.

I plan to view and comment on the first presidential debate Thursday from a forensic viewpoint. Using my experience on the high school debate team, I will score the candidates first on well-delivered points, secondarily on the factual basis for those points. I definitely have my biases, but I hope to create the same type of pros/cons list that I made back in 1984 when rating the Reagan/Mondale debate. That list made me realize I was liberal, though I wasn't able to act upon that realization for another four years. I don't know whether my list will be persuasive to anyone of any ilk, but I hope it will be interesting. Remember to go register to vote, the Indiana deadline is October 4. After all, a partial election isn't as good as a complete election.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

More words

Jessica Duchen weighs in on the debate-du-jour, pointing out that talking about music and musicians is a very important step in creating new audiences. And a new blog (to me) looks for a middleground approach, finding things to appreciate from ACD's perspective and my own. By the way, this new blog, uTopianTurtleTop, is going on the blogroll. John writes about music and politics very passionately, and has a cool blog name.

But what's the answer?

I discovered a blog about Jewish music, Blog in Dm, when checking my referrals. Hassidic Musician links to my Tekiah post below, but sadly doesn't give me any suggestions. However, the blog is very interesting, so I will be visiting it from time to time.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Tekiah Gedolah

It has become customary for the person sounding the shofar to prove his mettle and wind capacity when sounding this final note of the day. The tekiah gedolah represents the shofar of Jewish redemption, of messianic better times. The prophet Isaiah promised us that on the day of human deliverance the shofar gadol - the great shofar of redemption and hope will be sounded.

I played a long note tonight, but certainly not as long as I had the capacity for. I still am uncertain whether to crescendo the note to a loud climax and cut it off, or to taper the sound. Doing the latter allows for a longer note, and is more musically satisfying to me. But the purpose of the shofar is not musical, it is theological. I tapered the sound this year, and cut the note off when the sound threatened to get too weak. But maybe a niente effect is appropriate, to suggest the sound never really ends. Any suggestions out there?

The Writing About Music Roundup (Yeehaw)

Here are all of the posts I could find on the debate.

Kyle Gann: Post #1, Post #2, Post #3

ACD: Post #1, Post #2, Post #3, Post #4

Me: Post #1, Post #2, Post #3

Lynn S: Only Post (slacker!)

Fredösphere: Post on other aphorisms though for some reason his blog doesn't create permalinks.

Alex Ross: Post #1, Post #2

Helen Radice: Only Post (though she has been writing about other important matters, like how best to drink at gigs.)

Charles T. Downey: Post hoc

Friday, September 24, 2004

Abstract is as abstract does

Andante, the online music magazine, has an article entitled 'It Sounds the Way a Jackson Pollock Action Drip Painting Looks' -- Considering the Music of Elliott Carter by Pierre Ruhe. I love Elliott Carter's music, and Ruhe does a great job getting into the characteristics of these dense and frenetic works.

In a response to Alex Ross' take on writing about music, A.C. Douglas reveals a Schopenhaurian view of music: "Of all the arts music alone addresses and speaks directly to the center of feeling, bypassing altogether, and with no need of the interposition of, the intellectual faculty." Arthur Schopenhauer felt that music alone was a direct expression of Will, rather than the mere representations of perception and emotion that all other arts entailed. A brief description of Schopenhauer's views can be seen at Wikipedia, and a more detailed account can be found at this Stanford University site. As Wagner was highly influenced by Schopenhauer's philosophy of aesthetics, it makes sense that a Wagnerphile like ACD would agree with this view point.

To me, though, other art forms can also speak directly as perception, with no intellectual interference. Abstract visual art, like a Jackson Pollock painting, creates emotional impacts in me though I don't know much about painting technique or theories of proportion and color. Modern dance also creates indelible feelings within me with no analysis at all on my part. After these impressions are made, I can certainly examine them and attempt to figure out how the dance or the painting made such an impact on me, just as I can examine why a musical performance was so beautiful or unnerving after the fact. I also get emotional jolts from programmatic works, such as a play or a representational painting, even though I don't know why. There is a painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that shook me to the core when I first saw it. It is called "Rock" (I think) and had many people doing various things around and on a large rock. I couldn't tell you what they were doing, or what the rock represents, any possible interpretation of the meaning of the painting. What I can tell you is that the figures were so bold, the expressions so twisted yet sad yet powerful that it practically knocked me off my feet. If I knew more about the techniques of perspective and brush strokes, maybe I could explain why this painting affected me. If I knew more about the representational meaning of the painting, it would certainly affect my feelings, though I have no idea how my feelings would be changed or augmented.

About ten years ago I watched a videotaped ballet performance of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilege. There is a definite story, which is enjoyable on its own. But on the first viewing I was entranced by the smooth motions of the dancers, moving seamlessly from one pose to the next. It was so beautiful, yet unrelated to the plot of the drama. Again, I was affected emotionally by a programmatic work, with no intellectual involvement.

I feel that all forms of art have unique characteristics, yet all can affect us at a wide variety of levels. The better* the art, the more potential levels for interaction. They can stimulate us intellectually, inspire us to become better people, anger us, make us cry, or calm and soothe us.

*Perhaps "more interesting" or "long-lived" is more truthful than "better." I can think of musical pieces that I found to be perfectly crafted, yet I got everything out of a single listening. This concept is still fuzzy to me.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Science of Popularity

Though this smacks of the suspicious science of historiometric analysis, I of course had to see what my measure of internet fame was.
And that in turn gave me an idea: I propose that we formalize this as a measure of Internet Fame (IF): 127,000 Google hits is equal to one “brooksie.

Scott Spiegelberg = .018 brooksies
Musical Perceptions = .041 brooksies

And I'm not even that popular, because there is a Scott Spiegelberg associated with the Oregon State athletic department, and Musical Perceptions is also the name of a popular academic book edited by John Sloboda and Rita Aiello. In fact, it was staring at that book in my shelves that inspired the name of this blog. I do get first mention in the first search, (OSU Scott comes in first at #27), and I come in at #6 for the second search. In Yahoo, my blog comes up before the OUP book.

What surprises me is that this measure of popularity comes up in the first place. Why not use Blogshares instead? This includes weighting of how important the sites are that mention your specific blog, doesn't have the false positives of mistaken identity, and doesn't refer to a pundit that has been known for hackery.

Update: Jaquandar points out that Usenet activity should be measured as part of the IF equation. A search for my name on Google Groups shows another 4,720. So my combined IF measure should be .096 brooksies, almost up to a significant number!

That's Xenakitastic!

Alex Ross is a genius even when tossing off a little post about a TV series. Does he use 'Xenakish' in describing music that is similar to the work by Iannis Xenakis? Does he go with 'Xenakian' or 'Xenakissian'? No! He picks the fantastic "Xenakitastic." What makes this adjective so great, and how many questions can I write in a row? (I blame Donald Rumsfeld.) Xenakis was known for creating the compositional technique that he called "stochastic music." It is his attempts to inject some unpredictability into his music, using a complex system of mathematical "sieves" and some good-old-fashioned fudging by the composer. Hence Alex Ross is a genius. But then, I'm a specialist, so what do I know?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Absolute music? Absolutely!

ACD has written a response to my post below. I want to offer a correction and a few comments in response to his response of my response to his (and Kyle's) posts. Got it?

First, the correction: ACD refers to me as a musicologist, which would be correct if I lived in Europe. However, in the United States there has been a distinction made between musicologists and music theorists for at least 25 years (over fifty years if you consider the first Ph.D.'s in music theory at Yale U.) In the US, musicologists study the cultural contexts in which music is created and received. They teach music history, are members of the American Musicological Society, and usually get chills when ear training is mentioned. Music theorists study aspects of music itself, from compositional theory to analysis to perception and cognition. They teach music theory and aural skills, are members of the Society for Music Theory, and usually get chills when historiography is mentioned. There certainly is some overlap in research pursuits, but graduate programs and professional outlooks are decidedly different. So, my correct job description is "Music theorist" with a research emphasis in music perception and cognition.

Now some comments. ACD says that it is okay to talk about the nuts and bolts of music-drama, as it has a drama to affect audiences that absolute music does not.
I wouldn't for an instant have even thought of discussing, say, a symphony of Mozart's or Beethoven's in such technical terms as, outside a specialist's interest, that sort of technical detail means diddly in terms of explaining how such so-called "absolute" music works to affect a receiver. One can, however, profitably use words to explain how a drama works to affect a receiver. Words are helpless to do the same for absolute music. In such a case, only the music itself will do, and it either works or it doesn't.

The problem with this claim is that there is no basis to it. ACD does not supply any reasons why technical aspects of music can affect its reception only when it is wedded to drama. The persistence of program notes and liner notes argues against this claim, as does the popularity of pre-concert lectures, such as Robert Kapilow's "What Makes It Great?" series. I would ask ACD (but can't, since he doesn't have comments enabled) what the cutoff is. Does the discussion of the programmatic elements in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique affect aesthetic response? How about the programmatic elements in Beethoven's Sixth Symphony? Or his Seventh Symphony? (Many commentators from Beethoven's time attached the story of a rustic wedding to this work.) And what about Charles Ives' Concord Sonata? This is absolute music, in that there is not a specific story or any text attached to the work. But Ives did use extensive use of musical quotes, as he did in the majority of his works. These quotes were from Beethoven, Scottish folk music, and from other pieces by Ives. Ives provided a description of images for each movement, such as the family home of the Alcott's. A listener who does not know about any of these facts would have one type of response to the music. A listener who does know some of these facts would have a different response to the music.

One concrete example: two weeks ago I played a DVD of the second movement of Debussy's La Mer for some students and had them write down reactions to the performance and the piece. I told them what the title meant, but nothing beyond that. All of the students reacted to the movement as a play of water, or by commenting on how they did not associate the music with water. During discussion afterward, they all said that if I had not told them what "la mer" meant, they would have had completely different reactions to the piece. This is a simple example of how the knowledge about what inspired Debussy in this composition affected the aesthetic response. There are countless others.

As a second comment, ACD directly contradicts himself. In justifying why he talks about Wagner's biography and compositional process, ACD says that it was necessary to counter misinformation about those subjects.

... I did so principally because I'm not only discussing an immortal work written by a music immortal, but by a composer about whom so much malicious misinformation is the lingua franca of discussion ...

If ACD is concerned that misinformation about biography and compositional influences will affect the listener's response, then any information about composers' biographies or influences will have an affect, whether positive or negative. You can't have one without the other. If ACD feels that in makes no difference whether the composer took three hours or three decades to create a work, then why does it make a difference whether Wagner came up with the ideas for Das Rheingold in a half-dream state? If technical aspects of the composition mean diddly-squat, why talk about the fact that the opening E flat requires scordatura tuning in the double basses?

As a final thought, I challenge A.C. Douglas to define what he means by "aesthetic value" and to clarify what the boundaries are of "the artwork." Where does Mozart's 40th Symphony exist? How do you define it, what is its aesthetic value, and how is it separate from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Maybe I'll learn something.

Update: ACD has responded to this post. I do not see anything that effectively continued the discussion, other than a clarification that by "words" ACD means "technical language." But I have no idea what he means by "technical language" since he allows discussions of programmatic material, historical anecdote, metaphors, or the musical quotes by Ives. If he thinks these are not technical comments, he has not read Peter Burkholder's book on Ives, Robert Hatten's book on Beethoven, or countless other academic works on these very subjects. ACD's explanation about Wagner's biography provides no clarification whatsoever, and his definition of "aesthetic value" merely parroted what he said before, "everything the artwork has to say of itself..." What does Mozart's 40th Symphony say? It is not a live being, so how can it say something? A book does not say anything, it is a means for the author to say something. This blog is not speaking to you, I am speaking to you through this medium. So, how does an artwork speak for itself? What is it's aesthetic value, and how is it determined?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Dancing about Architecture

I've been recently wrestling with the idea of how to write about music. It is the subject of the seminar I am teaching, and a good part of my blog and my academic writings are attempts to communicate ideas about an aural artform without using any sound. The difficulties lie in the assumptions that must be made about the knowledge of the audience. Throwing out solfège syllables or Roman numerals can evoke aural images in some people, but not others. Mentioning composers to represent a specific sound relies upon the audience's familiarity with the oeuvres of those composers. Metaphors assume the audience has similar associations between aural and visual stimuli, or that certain images signify universal emotions.

Kyle Gann has been critiquing composer's bios, complaining that Uptown composers are too focused on awards, not enough on what the music sounds like. As a contrast, he cites a Downtown composer's website that gets to the music immediately.
Lukas Ligeti's music is a unique fusion of acoustic and electronic, traditional and avantgarde, Occidental, African, and other influences. [Immediately he tells you what kind of music he writes. What a great idea!]

This description does assume a knowledge of how acoustic and electronic music can fuse, what the difference is between traditional and avantgarde music, and is still very incomplete ("and other influences").

Swinging on the other side is A.C. Douglas, who believes that music should be heard, not written about:

It makes no bloody difference how and why the music was composed, and no-one but a fellow composer, a specialist, or an intellectual poseur looking to add to his store of esoteric or inside information, gives a rat's ass about any of that of-no-consequence tripe. All that matters -- the only thing that matters -- is the music itself. If the music doesn't itself, by itself, say what needs to be said about it, it's ipso facto crap, and no amount of verbiage by its composer will serve to make it anything other.

What is strange about this criticism is that two posts below in the same blog, ACD is describing technical aspects of the Prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold as part of his series on the Ring for the neophyte. And in posts below that he describes aspects of how the whole opera series was composed, with a focus on the philosophical issues that influenced Wagner's decisions. I see no difference between ACD's description of Wagner and Lukas Ligeti's description of his own music, beyond the assumptions that are made about the audience's knowledge.

If we rely only upon the music to speak for itself, then the only valid review of a performance is a recording of that performance, and the only valid description of a composition is the score. But where then is the opportunity for communication about musical ideas, the chances to change minds and increase beauty? ACD feels that the struggles of the composer are not important to the music, but why should that be? The beauty of any work of art is the fact that it was created by a human being (or animal if you want to push the definition). Some sort of material was rearranged by a person to create something of aesthetic value. If the rearrangement was done by natural forces, such as a windswept cliff, beauty was created but not art. After all, "art" is short for "artifice." So if the value of art lies in its creation by a person, surely the story of that person, especially the story of that person's struggle to create the artwork, contributes to the aesthetic value of that art. I do not think knowledge of biographical or technical information about an artwork is a necessary or sufficient condition for the appreciation of that work, but it is foolish to think that such knowledge could not contribute to said appreciation.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Opera blogging

Charles T. Downey is teaching a course on 20th Century Opera at Catholic University. Like me, he is having his students write in a class blog, though his students are decidedly older, the material is much more advanced, and the students (or Charles) picked a much more appropriate blog name than my students did (sigh). I've been staying out of the limelight with my students' blog, consigning myself to comments only. Charles has been posting extensively at his class blog, Opera in the 20th Century, but I think his purpose is different than mine. I'm trying to get some first-year students to regard writing as a process in developing critical thinking skills, and to take ownership for their ideas and writings. Charles is trying to get some graduate students to learn about contemporary opera, using the blog to supplement course discussions and materials. I imagine there are many possible uses for class blogs, which would certainly bode well for its future.

Many schools, including my own, use online discussion forums to augment classes. These forums are password protected, accessible only by the school or by the specific class. The benefit of class blogs is the public service it entails. Knowledge is being imparted by faculty and students not only to each other in a closed loop, but to the community at large. This is supposed to be the grand purpose of academia, one I find worthy of pursuit.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Reading Pleasures

It's Friday, I'm finally on antibiotics to combat this nefarious sinus infection, and I want to write something. I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately, so I thought I'd list what I read in the last month.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Brothers in Arms, Borders of Infinity, The Warrior's Apprentice, and The Vor Game. Many of the books in the Miles Vorkosigan series, a re-read in all cases. I wanted to re-read A Civil Campaign, but I can't find my copy.

Terry Pratchett: Soul Music, Interesting Times, and Maskerade. Also re-reads. I got a ton of Pratchett books during the two weeks when I was left in an empty house in Minnesota after my family had moved to Indiana. I tore through them then, so this time I tried to slow down and enjoy the jokes more.

Steven Brust: Orca. Another re-read from the Minnesota collection. At some time I need to get a hold of the latest Vlad Taltos books, and give the Khraaven series a go as well.

John Shelby Spong: Resurrection: Myth or Reality?. I'm still reading this one, on assignment from milady. It is somewhat interesting, though I suspect it is another ploy on her part to convert me. I do need to get cracking, as it is due back at the public library soon.

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness. The university library has an ungodly number of science fiction books, thanks to the fact that the journal Science Fiction Studies is published here. I've been working my way backwards through the Hugo awards list, sometimes pausing to read other works by the same author. I'm about 2/3 done with this book, and will probably finish it this weekend. It is very interesting, especially the mix of viewpoints, folk tales, and official reports.

Anthony Kemp: The Musical Temperament. This is also partially read, in my Psychology of Music series of readings. It is very interesting, with a great introduction to personality psychology at the beginning.

I also read a bunch of journal articles, but won't bore you with those. I note that I need to diversify my pleasure readings a bit more, perhaps a few classics and some biographies or histories. I'd be happy to entertain suggestions.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Today I helped the campus Jewish community in their celebration of Rosh Hashanah. I blew the shofar, a beautiful 3 foot long ram's horn, forty times in three different calls: Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah. (My calls do not sound like the recording in the link. That sounds like a one foot horn, and a differnt type of Shevarim than I was taught.) The former rabbi was very loose in running services, so he would have me play one of each call plus the final Tekiah Gedolah. The new rabbi (actually a student rabbi) places more emphasis on formal rituals, so she had me play a whole series of calls, interspersed by three readings. I like the more formal approach, though my lips were getting tired by the end. The shofar has no real mouthpiece, just a hole drilled in the ram's horn with the small end filed smooth. My wife, a very accomplished trumpeter, can't even make a sound on the horn; I have to work very hard to get the right sound myself. The Tekiah Gedolah wasn't as long as I would have liked, but my lips were too tired to keep the sound steady so I had to cut it off. The community was happy, though. For Yom Kippur I will only play the Tekiah Gedolah, so I hope I can get a long, loud sound out for that.

L'Shana Tova, everyone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

101 Posts

Yes, this post breaks the century mark. But on to more important things: common-chord modulations. The concept of modulation is easy enough. At some point the tonal center has shifted, so a new note is the goal of the melody and harmony. The idea of common-chord modulation (or pivot-chord modulation) is a little more complex, but the general definition is still simple. The shift of the tonal center is created by using a chord that is found in both keys. An A minor triad is found in both C major and G major. The difference is in the expectations for how that chord will resolve. In a pivot-chord modulation, the A minor triad resolves to a chord that fits in the key of G major, not in the key of C major. So if we start a piece in C major, bring the harmonic progression to an A minor chord (vi for those playing at home), and resolve that chord to a D major chord, we no longer feel like we are in C. Instead, the motion from the A minor triad to the D major triad evokes the sensation of ii - V, leading us to the expectation of a tonic chord in G major. The D major chord doesn't fit in the tonality of C major, signalling that we have shifted keys. The A minor chord is the common chord, pivoting us from the key of C major to the key of G major.

The problem comes with deciding exactly which chord is the pivot. Typical modulations involve closely related keys that share many chords. The musical context can create very ambiguous situations where there seem to be many possible answers. There is usually one best answer, but it is often difficult to communicate to students why that answer is best. There are a plethora of variables involved, most often resolved by "the ear." The musical ear or musical intuition is really the application of an ingrained sense of the rules governing music. Delineating these rules can be more confusing than enlightening. That is why theory courses are always accompanied by aural skills courses. These classes on "ear training" try to engrain the rules of tonal music in the students, without listing all of the rules. Singing countless melodies, transcribing melodies and harmonies, playing scales and progressions at the piano: these are the activities that are used to create a fluency in the language of tonal music. It is really like the natural language acquisition of young children. They listen to adults, mimic adults, and eventually attempt to put words together into sentences. Hmm, maybe a look at theories of language development could inform aural skills pedagogy. I think I smell a paper topic!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Respect the Ganesh

My First-Year Students are currently in a rotation on non-Western music, South Indian music specifically. They have just finished their first reflections on the experience. Some have found the concept of a guru fascinating, either for the closely intense relationship shared between teacher and student or for the use of oral transmission in the teaching of this music. Other students appreciated the differences between the aesthetics of Indian music and Western music.

I'm pleased with their first efforts at reflective writing. I need to think of a way to encourage more re-writing, whether within their blog or in full-fledged academic papers. The final project is to create a portfolio of their best writings from the semester. The final project will require multiple drafts, but I want them to get in the practice of this early on.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Apostle

Thursday night, my wife took me to the Popcorn Theology series at her church, where they showed The Apostle. We had seen this movie before, shortly after it came out on video in 1997, though Mary didn't remember it. This movie highlights a problem I have with the born-again theology, and a problem I have with President Bush. The main character is a preacher who runs away after killing his wife's lover. He starts a new church under a new identity. He is obviously sincere in his religious beliefs, but he never shows any remorse for his previous sins. He never asks for forgiveness for killing, he instead blames the devil. He emphasizes several times in his preaching that salvation is a permanent thing, once you are "born again."

I know this is a common belief among the evangelical Christians, but it seems very dangerous to me. Any horrible action could be justified, because the person has already been saved. You're a murderer? That's okay, because you have accepted Jesus Christ. You lied to your people? That's okay, you don't need to apologize or repent. The only unforgivable sin to these people is not becoming born-again. This is why we will never see George Bush apologize for any mistakes he has made. He doesn't see the need to, as he is already saved in the eyes of his Lord. And, according to Reverend Joseph Grant Swank, we aren't allowed to criticize the President, because he has already opened his heart to Jesus. For a critique of this article and a slew of other frightening opions, see Word O'Crap.

After the movie, Mary pointed out that during the charismatic services there was never any time for reflection, for everyone to listen for God. Somebody is always talking or singing, the noise level usually deafening. This lack of reflection is the tradition that George Bush has wrapped himself in. Reflect upon that.

Bursting from the seas of phlegm

I got a nasty cold this last week, bad enough to keep me home on Thursday. The other days I was a member of the walking dead (i.e. sophomores), neither thinking nor communicating more than necessary. But I did manage to do some things that were worthy of blogging, and now I feel up to the task.

Yesterday, I took my kids to their first football game, DePauw U. against Wisconsin-Stout. It was also my first home game in the two-plus years I've been here, as I admit to my shame. The three of us had a good time, though we spent more time wandering the sidelines than I would have preferred. The Tigers lost quite spectacularly, but there were some exciting plays. At one point a Stout player caught the ball in the endzone, about 10 feet from where we were sitting in the grass. A defender reached around and batted the ball from the receiver's hands, but the referee inexplicably called a touchdown. Needless to say, the home crowd was not happy. But this was the only time that the students were unruly. There was no obvious signs of drinking, and a very good showing of students, alumni, and local "townies" to support the team. My two-year-old son bonded with some frat boys sitting in the "Couch Potato" planted at the endzone. I would make a joke about this, but the students were very good sports about keeping him entertained. So you can make your own fraternity jokes instead.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The next type of Blog?

Kyle Gann has created his own online radio station, PostClassic Radio. I think this could be the next big thing in blogging, creating sites that rotate through the pieces that a musician wants to expose to the world. Perhaps a melding of technology, allowing more text beyond composer/title. Greg Sandow has developed a real-time commentary for live performances, which could be adapted for online radio. Maybe even comments from listeners that appear at the time that they made them (real-time commentary?)

The system Kyle is using handles the fair treatment for musicians well, as it has contracts with BMI and ASCAP. I think this has potentials far beyond mp3 blogs. I'm also enjoying my first exposure to Totalism and Downtown music on Kyle's station.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Patriotic Polka

Today we went to the Indianapolis Slovene Fest, hoping for some good ethnic food and music. The food was rather disappointing, though we did get to see two roast pig heads. The music was better, though the polka band sounded decidedly German, no hints of east European modality or asymmetric meters to be found among the tubist's oom-pah-pahs. But the $5 cover charge was well earned by the first number, a polka version of The Star-Spangled Banner. In previous posts I kidded about the changes Peter Breiner made to the national anthem, but at least he kept it in triple meter. Not only was the question about our visual acuity accompanied by accordian, it was set in the fine polka beat of 2/4. I didn't know whether to salute or dance.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Anyone can prove things with facts

Who are you going to believe, George Bush or your lying eyes?

(Wow, four posts in one day. I think that is a record for me!)

To get more of the jokes

I went to a liberal arts college for my undergraduate degrees, and loved every minute of it. I now teach at a liberal arts college, and still love every minute of it. (except the grading and the committees) Apparently I'm a schnook. Bill Coplin has shown that he really doesn't understand the value of education with an awful article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I won't take it apart, as PZ Meyers has already done so accurately and eloquently. Instead, I will prepare to teach my students non-business school things.

Review of a Review

In the latest issue of Music Theory Online, Rob Haskins reviews The Cambridge Companion to John Cage. This is an excellent review, combining a masterful exegesis of John Cage's oeuvre with an honest description of the component articles. I learned many things about John Cage and about the current state of scholarship about Cage. I'm not familiar with his later works, so this review has sparked my interest in listening to some of these pieces. I don't think I knew that Cage was gay, and I definitely didn't know about his connection with the Bauhaus group:
The biographical information is fascinating in itself: Cage, his romantic partner of the time (Don Sample), and Harry Hay staged and performed early Cage songs according to Bauhaus principles, complete with appropriate costumes. Shultis's citation of a 1927 quotation from Mies van der Rohe is more provocative: "Is form really an aim? Is it not instead a product of the design process? Is it not the process which is essential?" Anyone who has even a slight familiarity with Cage's conception of structure, process, and form in his early music, or who knows the duality between object and process that informs all of his chance music, will immediately recognize how deeply such sentiments as Rohe's could have affected the young composer.

Every new thing I learn about Cage reminds me that he wasn't a hack going for the cheap shock or drug-induced silliness. He had a genuine love for music, and wanted to create music that meant something to him and others. We can't ask any more of a composer.

Building a Composition program

Orlando Jacinto García offers a wonderfully detailed description of the composition program he has developed at Florida International University. Not only does he describe what the students are required to do, but he explains why those requirements were enacted. I offer a summary of the program requirements:

1) An Electronic Music Studio with technology courses: a must for the 21st century composer, even if your desire is acoustical music.

2) A new music ensemble: all composition majors must perform in the ensemble for 4 semesters, to expose them to a wide variety of literature and to keep them associated with the world of performing.

3) Recitals: Undergraduate composition majors are required to give a half-hour performance recital in addition to the 45-minute composition recital. They also have to conduct one of their works before graduation.

4) Concert organization: Composers have to organize their own performances, finding the musicians, scheduling rehearsals, coaching the performers, etc. The large ensembles do offer reading sessions each semester.

5) Composition seminars: The analysis and identification of 150 signficant works from the last 100 years, combined with presentations by contemporary composers and critiques of student works by the whole composition faculty.

6) A strong theory component (Yay!)

Professor García describes the graduate program briefly, but I'll ignore this given my liberal arts undergraduate school bias. The whole article is very good, I recommend it to everyone.

(via Caspar)