Wednesday, July 19, 2006

About 300 years of jet lag

About once or twice a year I get a really bad headache that shuts me down for at least several hours. This happened yesterday, during the last class of the day. I went back to my room and slept fitfully for 13 hours, missing a concert and a thunderstorm. And blogging. So here is what happened musically yesterday. I discovered that I need to warm up more carefully before rehearsing at 9 am, especially on a still-unfamiliar instrument. I had no focus to my sound for the first entire hour. I also discovered that I HATE G#'s on the cornetto. After two pieces that had reams of the damn note, I finally discovered a fingering that plays in tune. Unfortunately, this fingering involves manual gymnastics similar to balancing on your head while scratching your nose with your foot.

Most of the students here are amateurs that love to play early music. They invest money in all sorts of shawms, dulcians, krummhorns, etc., but many still have difficulty feeling the beat consistently. I had thought I would be learning a lot about improvisation, being given divisions to practice. But instead, everything is in ensembles, with work on tuning and balance when it isn't about getting everyone in the same measure (when there are measures). And I question some of the balance decisions made by one of the teachers. He focuses on strong roots and fifths, with weak thirds. This works with held chords, but I think it is misplaced with some of the polyphony to which he tries to apply it. Suddenly dropping the volume of a note because it is the third can make sense harmonically, but can be quite nonsensical* melodically. And everything I've learned before about polyphony emphasizes the melodic nature of each line OVER the harmonic implications.

I have some freetime, as the mass I mentioned before is rehearsing in smaller sections. I won't have to come back into rehearsal for that until Friday. This is good, especially mentally. I still need to think about fingerings for many of the notes, especially some new fingerings I've learned since I got here. Thus I can get quite exhausted thinking of the notes, the rhythms (everything is in 4/2 or 2/2, with the whole note getting the beat), the balance, and trying to keep the instrument in tune with a dime-sized mouthpiece. I think I will go swimming now.

*That word doesn't look quite right, but I'm too lazy to check.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Revenge of the double-reeds

I just finished my first day at the Amherst Early Music Festival. I am one of only two cornettists here, not counting the teacher (Douglas Kirk). Thus I am being worked hard. Today I played in two sackbut-and-cornett ensembles, two mixed "loud" ensembles (cornetto, sackbuts, curtals, and shawms), and a Charpentier mass with choir, recorder ensemble, vielle ensemble, organ, cornetto, curtal, and sackbut. The mass just about killed me, both in terms of technique during a very fast section of the Sanctus and in general endurance. A baroque violinist is supposed to join me, since the second cornettist is singing instead of playing. Hopefully the violinist will make things easier.

I also attended a great lecture by a musicologist who is teaching at the festival (I can't remember his name, I will add it laterAdam Gilbert). He talked about the progression of compositional technique in the 15th century, starting with an excellent paraphrase from The Eternal Lightness of Being. The book describes the advent of 12-tone serialism as being analogous with the demise of the monarchy system after World War I. The tonic is the king who is overthrown, allowing equal weight/vote to all notes/people. Our lecturer re-used this analogy for the 15th century, where the king was the Tenor and the Queen was the Cantus. He then showed how these royal musical features were sublimated by the end of the 15th century, just as the Medieval notion of monarchy was revised by such figures as Louis XI. The culmination of this change to the Tenor and Cantus was Heinrich Isaac. As I pointed out to Adam afterward, this made a great circle to the 12-tone quote from the beginning of the lecture, since Anton Webern was a musicologist who specialized in Isaac as well.

Well, now I must go to my room and massage my tired fingers before bed. (The post title refers to the fact that shawms are frickin' loud.)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Working those divisions

Tomorrow I am heading over to the Amherst Early Music Festival for a week of 16th and 17th century goodness. I'll try to blog about it each night, unless the keggers keep me too busy.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It has nothing to do with spaghetti!

The Guardian has an article about Grand Master Film Composer Ennio Morricone, who comes off as a bit of a sonuvabitch. But then, this is to be expected as he is also a trumpeter. He felt A Fistful of Dollars was his worst score, but I disagree. I want to hear his Grand Slam:
The soundtrack for this 1967 caper movie starring Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski sees Morricone playing his own instrument, the trumpet, on a solo on the title track. Alongside his signature wordless vocals and moody atmospherics, he manages to find space for bossa nova and samba tunes, making this one of his most eclectic works.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bang on a Can newsletter

Last month's Bang on a Can Marathon marked the sensational launch of the summer-long River to River Festival which has been going strong ever since and is currently presenting its SUMMER STARS CLASSICAL CONCERT SERIES: a FREE 5-week concert series featuring some terrific performers and programs:

Monday, 7/10/2006
Cameron Carpenter, organ

Monday, 7/17/2006
Svet Stoyanov, percussion; Joseph Lin, violin

Monday, 7/24/2006
Thomas Meglioranza, baritone; Reiko Uchida, piano

Monday, 7/31/2006
Jie Chen, piano

Monday, 8/7/2006
Brasil Guitar Duo

Summer Stars performances are FREE though tickets are required, and take place at the Michael Schimmel Center for the arts at Pace University, 7:30pm. For more information and a complete schedule of River to River®Festival programming, please visit

Madame Mozart?

AC Douglas passes on Dr. Michael Lorenz's skepticism about the purported picture of Mozart's widow. (Noted by Alex Ross.) However, there have been facts presented on the AMS list that renew the debate. First, from Daniel Leeson:
To that issue, I contacted Jonathan Danforth whose website shows examples of his work. He specializes in Daguerreotype photography and works in this medium almost exclusively.

Some of the details that he pointed out deal with the work of an early Daguerreotype photographer named John Frederick Goddard (b. 1795, d. 1866). He was a chemist and lecturer in science at the Polytechnic of Central London. [...]
A second solution was to make the plate faster by double sensitizing, and Goddard, who published on the process in 1840, used bromide vapor in addition to iodine to increase the sensitivity of the daguerreotype. Goddard refumed the iodized surface of the plate with bromide, and his accelerator, which he called "quickstuff," could reduce a ten minute exposure to one minute. His work was of considerable significance for daguerreotype photography, as it reduced the required exposure from some fifteen or even twenty minutes to as little as ten seconds. Since this work was spoken of in print as early as 1840, it could well have been in use for the Altotting photograph. Furthermore, bromide was imported into America from Germany in the 1840's, so it may have been in use here in the states, though not nearly as early as in Germany. Danforth's comment to me, after I sent him a copy of the Constanze Daguerreotype were as follows:

"1. The man with the bad comb-over in the back row is standing at a very awkward angle. He would not be able to hold such a position for very long and certainly not for five minutes.

"2. I see no motion blurs of hands which is a dead giveaway in most long exposures. People can often keep their heads still but rarely their hands. Another such giveaway would be eyes but I can't see the eyes of the people in the scan you sent. The earliest close-up portraits (1839) featured subjects with pure-white eyes (from blurring) because they kept moving them around."

Danforth concluded his comments to me by saying, "I would estimate that this exposure was likely to be in the 20-40 second range at the most."

One final point deals with what happens to the Daguerreotype when the subject moves, or some body part moves during the photography. What appears in the final photo is not a blur of the kind present in contemporary photography, but is instead a white area having nothing present, as Danforth mentioned in the early 1838 close-up Daguerreotype photography of eyes.

The bottom line here is that there is no reason to believe that this photo was taken with a long exposure, and the technology existed to allow it to be taken with a very short exposure.

Second, we have Peter Alexander:

To follow up on my previous question about clothing and hair styles, I sent the photograph, with no indication of the subject or when it might have been taken, to our local stage & costume designer. Because she does a lot of 19th-century opera, she has studied fashion decade by decade, and engages in spirited arguments about images in posters and other advertising material if it is off for a given opera -- La Boheme, La Traviata, Elixir of Love, etc. -- by a few years.

With no knowledge of the disputed facts here, she wrote back: "I suggest that the clothing and hair, probably European, are 1840's"

In a follow-up phone conversation, she was more emphatic: they could not be 1880s. The women's costumes and hair are a dead give-away: the woman to the right of "pseudo-Constanze" might be 1830s and would be old-fashioned by 1840; the woman on the right is unmistakably 1840; and the men's costumes cannot be dated.

Some new blogs

I don't have time to update my blogroll yet, but here are some music blogs that I have recently added to bloglines.

Non-Commutative Ramblings, by LPRcycle (to see why this name is funny, read my post on Neo-Riemannian theory). I think I know who this author is, but I'll certainly respect the desire for pseudonymity.

Classical Pontifications with Professor Heebie McJeebie
. Teaching out of the classic-in-a-brown-paper-bag Cadillac Hotel in Rochester, Professsor McJeebie reveals the truth about music academia.

Kenneth Woods, a young conductor in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Update: Allusive Listening. Daniel Shanahan, a music theory grad student in Dublin.

Contrasting Periods. Composer Mark Connor, writing from the mountains of North Carolina.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

That fine line between genius and OH GOD, THE HORROR!

If you don't read the political blogs, (and really, why should you?) you probably missed the war of annoying music videos. Yes, Youtube is a weapon now. The Editors have the best summary of what's happened thus far, though if you read the comments you will see that Sadly, No! has continued escalating annoyance. On the poll, Leonard Nimoy's "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" is winning, which doesn't seem right to me. Yes, the dancing is frightening, but the whole video is fascinating as a slice of the incredibly silly 60s.

The Star Wars Holiday Special, on the other hand... nobody wants to see that side of the 70s again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bias on melody?

Today's class was on Webern's Op. 24, a very pointillistic work with very few melodic lines. Several students did not like the work because of this fact, though many also agreed when I suggested that it is another example of farbenmelodie, where the emphasis is on timbre rather than pitch. Almost every melodic interval in the first movement is either a major seventh or a major third, so while pitches do change (it is a 12-tone work), there isn't much traditional melodic variety in the small fragments (most instruments play only three notes at a time before resting). How do you feel about music that focuses on timbre or rhythm instead of melody?

A new service

I've been getting press releases for various musical events for some time now. I had been resistant to publishing them on my blog, but I've changed my mind. Here is the first announcement.

Chad Twedt – A master Pianist
It’s not grandma’s elevator music; it’s hypnotizing

(South Lake Tahoe, Calif.) – Chad Twedt not only knows how to please any audience with his musical selections, but he also knows how to be an entertainer. This is not grandma’s elevator music playing Thursday, August 10 at 7:30pm at the Boathouse Theatre. It’s piano playing that hypnotizes!

This hypnotizing pianist and original composer was classically trained from the age of six through private lessons. After receiving both his Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance and his Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics from University of Nevada, Reno in 1999, he went on in 2001 to earn his Masters of Music in Piano Performance.

Chad’s past solo repertoire is well-rounded, playing baroque and various styles of tonal contemporary music. He mastered some of the most demanding solo repertoire, including Chopin’s Third Sonata, Alkan’s “Le Festin d’Esope,” Liebermann’s “Gargoyles,” Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata and Stravinsky’s “Three Movements from Petrushka,” including his own additions and changes to Petrushka, which made sections of the piece sound closer to its original orchestration but also made it more challenging to play.

Although Chad never thought of himself as a composer, he has more than proved himself with his original album Ostinato, his debut recording that includes four movements of inspirational virtuosity. The unusually diverse appeal of his music comes from his unique blend of classical background and his non-standard musical influences, extending to new age, alternative and even techno.

Tickets are $18 and $5 for children 12 and under. For additional information and tickets, call April Sutton, Director of Performance Events at (530) 416-0337 or (530) 541-4975 or email: The Tahoe Tallac Association is located three miles northeast of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89.

The Valhalla Arts & Music Festival is a unique celebration of music and visual arts set against the scenery of the lake. Concert performances take place in the Valhalla Boathouse Theatre, while the Valhalla Grand Hall showcases artwork from featured artists. Spanning from June through October, the festival brings music, live theatre, and performance art to the shores of Lake Tahoe. Located three miles northeast of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. For additional information and tickets, call April Sutton, Director of Performance Events at (530) 416-0337 or (530) 541-4975 or email:

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Practice Sabbatical

Yes, it's been a month since my last post. I've been practicing, taking kids to swimming lessons, teaching a class, preparing for fall classes, travelling to Wisconsin, reading lots of books, listening to tons of music (I love my iPod), and going to the occasional movie.

In my 20th century theory course at Indiana U, we've been talking about comprehensibility and serial music. In Style and Idea, Schoenberg stated that his main goal in designing the method of 12-tone composition was to achieve comprehensibility while acknowledging the historical evolution of musical dissonance. After analyzing Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, we talked about whether the piece was comprehensible and if the use of rows helped this. Several students said they couldn't hear the different forms of the row, beyond perhaps the first two forms in the main theme. But most students still felt the piece wasn't random noise (a common criticism of atonal music), and several students discerned emotional content. So the piece is comprehensible, even if the rows are not. This follows the same type of logic as saying that Beethoven's music is comprehensible, even if the listener doesn't perceive the various modulations, developments of motives, or even the basic form of the piece. For some reason, audiences place higher expectations on the comprehensibility of atonal music than tonal music. Perhaps this is because of the mathematical logic associated with these atonal works, deliberately designed and used by the composers. But I think that is an unfair association for the majority of atonal works. Instead of sitting in disbelief that anyone can hear the relationship between a row and its retrograde inversion, listen for the emotions expressed. Many of the emotions of the Second Viennese school are dark, given the Expressionism influences. But that shouldn't repell audiences that watch gritty psychological dramas and hyper-violent action thrillers.