Thursday, November 30, 2006

Composers vs. theorists

Today I had two experiences that reminded me that composers and theorists approach the teaching of music theory from different perspectives. I'm horribly generalizing in this statement, including the quite false assumption that composers and theorists are two separate sets. But there still is truth to it, especially when isolating all non-composing theorists from those who compose extensively. Composers look at music theory as a way to teach composition. Rules are taught as limits to engender creative control and artistic self-awareness. Theorists regard music theory as a means of explaining how music works. Rules are taught as norms of practice, so students can recognize when these norms are broken and when elegant solutions are produced to avoid breaking the norms*. So it is composition pedagogy vs. analysis pedagogy. And we are richer for both perspectives.

*I'm using this term just to annoy Norm Carey.

Is this thing on?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Resurrecting the Dead

A few days ago I was slow in switching from the NPR station with the pledge drive to the other NPR station.* During that delay, the local pledge announcer described one of the gifts, a CD that combines old recordings of Ray Charles with new arrangements and performances by the Count Basie Band.** I have mixed feelings about this, primarily negative. The joy of collaboration is in how both parties feed off of the energy and ideas of the other party. While the Basie Band can be inspired by Ray's singing, Ray's performance will not change to better fit with the band's ideas. But the effort in "aural Photoshopping" (from the Amazon review) could provide some interesting sounds.

* I am fortunate to live between the Indianapolis-based WFYI and the Bloomington-based WFIU, with access to both.

** What is it with these big bands that keep the same name decades after the founder died? This does not seem to be a healthy trend for jazz.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Real Reason It's A National Holiday

From the Classic Posts files:
Eighty-six years ago today [now eighty-eight years], the great powers of the world sat at a table to make decisions which would have major geopolitical effects through the next century. Germany agreed to retreat from all invaded countries, surrender numerous weapons, return prisoners of war and stolen property, and to ensure that within fifty years a trumpeter/music theorist with specialties in cognition and acoustics would be born in an Allied country to be determined later. Because of the unusual characteristics of the last request, hindered in part by the second World War and the Wisconsin milk strikes of 1933, this birth did not occur until exactly fifty-one years after the signing.

How to Listen

Kenneth Woods has a good post about learning to listen to music, including a great anecdote about listening to multiple recordings of the Enigma Variations.

However, when we got to Nimrod and the first major arrival of that movement, we both felt something big, something cosmic happen, like the grim reaper himself walking right over our graves, and the same thing happened in the finale- a big, cathartic “wow” moment that no other recording had been able to deliver or even really hint at. We both came away with the impression that this was the only conductor who both knew and could put accross what the “Enigma” in the variations was.

Once we’d hear the whole thing, we could both look back and as musicians and see what the conductor was up to- the approach seemed so logical seen from the reverse. By downplaying the episodic quality of the piece, he was able to intensify the overall, cumulative effect of the work where it counted most. What might have seemed at first a matter-of-fact approach to phrasing was in fact an intentionally un-sentimental one, and this is a piece that benefits from a certain stoicism.

Frankly, all the other performers we’d sampled sounded like students by comparison (and there were some very distinguished recordings in this category). I’m usually quick to defend interpreters who like to take note of the trees and to smell the flowers and gild the lilies, but the evidence here was clear that there was a big price to that approach- none of the others were able to make the whole piece arrive with anything like the same degree of power.

In previous years I've toyed with the idea of writing a book on listening to music, or to form a listening club at school. Either case would focus on the various ways to listen: performer-oriented, composer-oriented, local features, global features, timbre vs. melody vs. harmony vs. rhythm, intramusical referents, intermusical referents, and extramusical referents. The difficulty comes in portraying a rigor while acknowledging all of the different ways to experience music and avoiding grocery lists of events or features. Eric Clarke's Ways of Listening is a step forward in this topic, though very much from a cognitive view whereas Kenneth is approaching the topic from a performance/analysis perspective.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

Tonight's family concert outing was the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, coming to Greencastle to back up Ida Kavafian. Kavafian was fabulous, with a lovely dark sound that especially fitted the Dvorak Romance. But my favorite was Schumann's Second Symphony. While the Rhenish has become more favorable to me, I've always liked the cyclic nature of the Second. When the major motives of the four movements all come together at the end, it is like the musical version of a great novel. All the plotlines are intertwined at the end, revealing new relationships and new facets of the characters/motives. I was especially impressed with the woodwind section, including two lovely oboe solos by colleague Anna Mattix. And in a nice touch, the trumpets played on rotary instruments. The opening call seemed a little tentative, but the slightly darker sound and gentler pitch transitions that the rotary trumpet allows were very nice.

In other DePauw news, Eric Edberg has been Noised.

FriPod: You and Yours

You Are My Sunshine - Charles Mitchell/Jimmie Davis
You Better Go Now - Chet Baker
You Can't Hurry Love - Eddie Holland/Lamont Dozier
You Don't Know Me - Cindy Walker/Eddy Arnold
You Don't Know What Love Is - Don Raye/Gene DePaul Chet Baker Guy Barker Sonny RollinsWynton Marsalis
You Go To My Head - Haven Gillespie/J Fred Coots Clifford Brown Stan Kenton Dinah Washington
You May Be Right - Billy Joel
You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To - Cole Porter
You'll Have to Swing It - Sam Coslow
You're Blase - Ord Hamilton, Bruce Sievier
You're My Everything - Harry Warren/Joe Young/Mort Dixon
You're Next - Lilian Armstrong
Young Blood - Gerry Mulligan
Your Father's Moustache - Woody Herman
Your Latest Trick - Dire Straits

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Be Happy

This is just too much fun. Satisfy your inner music editor. Via.

Fueling the Performer

In the Autumn issue of Muso, Hazel Davis has an article called "Food, glorious food." It is about what musicians should eat (and shouldn't eat) before a performance. Some things, like avoiding mucus-forming foods, are learned in high school or earlier. Those evil foods? Dairy, wheat, soya, tomatoes, oranges, and eggs. Other things aren't so well known to musicians but are common to athletes, such as avoiding simple sugars in faLinkvor of complex carbohydrates. The former (bananas and chocolate) give a quick energy boost, but can lead to a sugar crash in the middle of a long concert. But the latter will keep energy levels up for the long haul. Water is very important, something the vocal students here certainly know. They all carry around 50 gallon Nalgene water containers, explaining why students take bathroom breaks in the middle of class. When I was a student we weren't so health-conscious, sacrificing our bladders on the altar of knowledge.

A nutritionist offers "Dream performance fuel" to be eaten two hours before stage time:
  • chilled melon with Parma ham
  • Creamy tagliatelle with chili beans and field mushrooms, served with a mixed leaf salad
  • Fresh Fruit salad sprkinled with toasted sesame seeds
And for the pre-concert snack? Peanut butter on rye or porridge with seeds and apple (yes, it is a British magazine).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election night

I voted at the county annex this morning at 8:00, after dropping my daughter off at school. My wife did the same thing, though she brought our son along to vote, dropping him off afterward before running off to her own class. I voted straight Democratic Party, writing in Joe Kernan for the lack of senator candidate and leaving the uncontested local races blank. My vote helped the Bloody Eighth to oust Rep. Hostettler. Right now I'm getting my political fix with the TV and blogs, and watching last night's Daily Show on the web. Speaking of Jon Stewart, I have a question about last week. He interviewed LeBron James, and asked LeBron where he would have gone to college if he hadn't gone straight to the NBA. LeBron answered, "Ohio State" naturally, given that they were in Columbus. I swear that Stewart answered, "What would you say, DePauw?" DePaul seems much more likely, but in listening to it several times online (bottom left), I do not hear the L.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Oriole Collection

There is a new online music seller, Oriole Collection, that focuses on early music, 20th century art music, contemporary art music, and experimental music. The prices are rather high for downloads compared to iTunes, about $18 for an album and $1.29 for a track. Oriole does offer some free tracks on most albums to whet our appetites, and the mp3s are not DRMed as far as I can tell. The downloads are also at high quality sample rates, at least 192 kbps. The music offered is decidedly oriented to European performers and composers. The top 10 albums offered are of Danish, French, and British performers. It is a welcome addition to the online market, especially with their more specialized offerings.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Royalties for Charity

Yesterday I received a notice that Culann's Hounds is donating 100% of the royalties from their new single, "The Blackthorn Tavern" to the National Veterans Foundation. The band is using The Royalties Group, a MySpace group that only promotes artists who dedicate part of their royalties to charity. This is an excellent way for musicians to be part of their community, either locally or globally, while advertising their own work.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tenure's hard

Just like Mozart, another famous personage is ground in the wheels of academic tenure.
The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from "possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency" to "practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics" to "unabashed grave-robbing." Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn't surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist's tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.

Tuva! Tuva!

Tonight the whole family went to see Chirgilchin, a trio of Tuvan throat singers. This concert is part of DePauw's Artsfest, fitting well in this year's theme: The Silk Road. Although the website shows four members of the ensemble, Aidysmaa Koshkendey did not perform here. The control each of the singers had over his voice, especially Igor and Mongoun-Ool, was phenomenal. Besides the amazing melodies performed by combination tones (much like what I heard in the time-waster), the variety of colors created by the six types of throat singing and the various instruments was fabulous. Listen to this example of Igor Koshkendey singing while accompanying himself on the accordian for a good example of what we heard.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Things from my email box

First, Peter Kaye has spotted solfege in the wilds of popular culture: Family Guy. However, the crowds are not singing proper solfege. It is not fixed-Do (the Do starts on F), but it is not proper movable-Do either. They start Do on F, but the song is in Bb. Plus they use the fixed-Do "Si" rather than movable-Do's "Ti." Stupid football crowds.

Second, Keith Lockhart is trying to make more money. I got a press release on his new website and VIP ticket package. This package gives the buyer personal access to Keith as well as other bells and whistles. I'm torn, as I understand that marketing is important for financial success, but I'm afraid the art gets lost in these packages geared to wealthy individuals who value perks over performance.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bresnick CD/DVD

Recent DePauw guest Martin Bresnick has a new CD/DVD being released by Cantaloupe Music on November 14, celebrating his 60th birthday. The Essential Martin Bresnick has performances by the Bang on a Can All Stars, Flux Quartet, and Jupiter Trio. The accompanying DVD has Bresnick's new work, For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise. This multi-media piece is based on William Blake's poetry, mixing speaking pianist Lisa Moore (also a recent DePauw guest) with animation by Puppetsweat Theater. When Martin was here, he showed part of his Pinocchio piece with Puppetsweat animation. It was very interesting, animation whose visuals demand thought and emotion where Disney and computer-generated images do not. The DVD also has a presentation by Harold Bloom on Blake and Bresnick.

I have an Amazon certificate burning a hole in my email box, I think I will spend it on this CD/DVD. (The information above comes from the Bang on a Can November 2006 newsletter.)

Press Release: Art of the States

BOSTON, MA, OCTOBER 24, 2006 -- Art of the States, WGBH Radio's international service of contemporary American music for 13 years, has now become an independent project produced in association with WGBH.


"We hope to work with WGBH to develop new ideas for collaboration," notes executive producer Joel Gordon, "as we continue to present the best of new music from throughout the United States to international audiences."

As of June 30, 2006, Gordon and producer Matthew Packwood produce Art of the States under the auspices of Musica Omnia, a classical music non-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

About Art of the States
Art of the States is an international radio and internet distribution service which presents contemporary American art music to audiences in the United States and worldwide. The only service of its kind, Art of the States curates monthly programs of contemporary music from across the US which are distributed to 75 major radio broadcasters in 50 countries, effectively reaching millions of listeners around the world. It presents the music online through its listening and educational website, which currently features over 280 American works in high-quality streaming audio, amounting to over 60 hours of music. Art of the States is the recipient of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Broadcast Award in radio and awards from the Shanghai International Radio Music Festival.

About WGBH
Listener-supported WGBH 89.7 is Boston's NPR® arts and culture station. Bringing you the best for more than 50 years, 89.7 serves its wide-ranging audience with a menu of classical music, NPR news, jazz, blues, folk, and spoken-word programs. The station is an active participant in New England's vibrant music community, presenting more than 300 performances every year, including live broadcasts and remote recordings from such diverse venues as Tanglewood, the Lowell Folk Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, and WGBH's own studios. WGBH 89.7 can be heard online anywhere in the world at, and can be heard on Nantucket at WNCK 89.5.