Monday, July 30, 2007
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Chad Orzel has been writing up reviews of research articles in a weekly feature he calls Journal Club. Inspired by this, I'm offering my own music theory/music cognition journal club, starting with an article in the latest Music Theory Spectrum, "Neo-Riemannian Theory and the Analysis of Pop-Rock Music" by Guy Capuzzo. In the last 10 years it has become quite acceptable for theorists to write about popular music, using tools of voice-leading analysis, block-chord analysis, and other analytical methods originally designed for Baroque/Classical/Romantic/20th-century art music. Guy continues this tradition with the use of Neo-Riemannian operations to explain why Pop-rock musicians use the chords they use.
First, what the hell are Neo-Riemannian operations? They are mathematical transformations of chords to make other chords. There are seven operations, which can be used together to make compound operations. The first, Identity (I), leaves the chord as it is, just as any decent mathematical identity function does. The Leading-tone exchange (L) moves the bottom note of a major triad down a half-step, so a C major triad (C E G) becomes an E minor triad (B E G -> E G B). If the starting chord is a minor triad, the top note is moved up a half step to reverse the process (E minor becomes C major again). The opposite of this operation, L', moves the top two notes up a half step. The C major triad woud become an F minor triad (C F Ab -> F Ab C). The Parallel operation (P) moves the middle note of the triad so a major triad would become a minor triad, or a minor triad becomes a major triad. With C major, the E becomes Eb under the P operation to create the C minor triad. The opposite operation, P', moves the top and bottom notes to shift the mode from major to minor or vice versa. With the C major triad, C and G are moved up a half step to create a C# minor triad (C# E G#). The C minor triad would become a Cb major triad under the P' operation. Finally, the Relative operation (R) flips a chord between relative relationships. This is done by moving the upper note of the major triad up a whole step, so C major becomes A minor (C E A -> A C E), and A minor would become C major by moving the bottom note down a whole step. The opposite operation, R', shifts C major to G minor by moving the bottom two notes down a whole step (C E G becomes Bb D G).
Note that all these operations involve moving notes by step only, and at least one note is held in common through any operation. To explain chords that don't have any notes in common, a combination of operations is needed. So moving from C major to B major involves two operations, PP'. P(C E G) = (C Eb G) P'(C Eb G) = (B Eb F#) Eb and D# are the same pitch on the piano, so the final result can be written as (B D# F#) for the B major triad.
These operations are used to model chord progressions. The author shows examples from Depeche Mode's "Shake the Disease," Ozzy Osbourne's "Flying High Again," Frank Zappa's "Easy Meat," Radiohead's "Morning Bell," Bob Dylan's "Lay, Lady, Lay," Beck's "Lonesome Tears," King Crimson,'s "Dinosaur," "The Council of Elrond" from The Lord of the Rings: FOTR soundtrack, and a full analysis of Soundgarden's "Blow Up the Outside World." Patterns of operations, including the basic operation of transposition, create networks of connected chords, which can be used to trace the progression of harmonies.
The argument is that clearly defined networks for chord progressions explain the logic of the progression, why it works well. The weakness of this model is that it is too flexible. Any two chords can be linked by countless compound operations. C major to D major can be reached by RR', R'L', or PP'PR, among many others. There should be some type of cognitive restraint, that only a certain number of operations can be combined and still provide a salient progressional logic. Guy does stick with single or double operations for most of his analyses, with the exception of three three-operation compounds in the network for the introduction to "Dinosaur." This progression is theoretically more complex, because it involves seventh chords and triads together. This needs an extra operation, the inclusion operation, to shift from a three note chord to a four note chord. I don't believe this extra complexity required for the model reflects the complexity of the progression, since shifts between triads and seventh chords is a normal activity in all tonal-based music. Thus the inclusion operation could be considered negligible in the judgement of model complexity.
The analyses are all determined both by mathematical logic and by musical logic. The musical logic, comparisons of the given progression to expected tonal or blues progressions to judge the "functionality" of a given chord pair, helps to limit the NR operation possibilities. Guy often doesn't explain these applications of musical logic, since all theorists reading the article have these logical rules ingrained in their musical souls. The main conclusion: most progressions involve very small movements of notes from chord to chord, called parsimonious voice-leading. The small motions give the aural impression of closely connected chords, and hence logical chord progressions.
1. "Come again, sweet love doth now invite" and "Come away, come, sweet love" by John Dowland, performed by the QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble.
2. "Come againe, sweet Nature's treasure" by Edward Johnson, performed by the QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble.
3. "Come Back, Sweet Papa" by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell, performed by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives.
4. "Dear Sweet Filthy World" by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet from The Juliet Letters.
5. "If Love's a Sweet Passion" by Henry Purcell, performed by Rolf Smedvig and Michael Murray.
6. "Sweet Air" by David Lang, performed by Sentieri Selvaggi.
7. "Sweet And Lovely" by G. Arnheim-LeMare-Tobias, performed by the Thelonious Monk Quartet.
8. "Sweet Emalina, My Gal" by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, performed by Art Tatum.
9. "Sweet Georgia Brown" by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard, and Kenneth Casey; performed by (1) Ella Fitzgerald, (2) Bud Powell.
10. "Sweet Lorraine" by Cliff Burwell and Mitchell Parish, performed by (1) Art Tatum, (2) Coleman Hawkins.
11. "Sweet Love, if thou wilt gaine a Monarches glory" by John Wilbye, performed by the QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble.
12. "Sweet Rain" by Mike Gibbs, performed by Stan Getz (on the album of the same name).
13. "There Is Sweet Music Here" by Stephen Chatman, performed by the Lawrence University Concert Choir.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
A radio host, a classical pianist, and a highly trained instrument technician walk into an inconspicuous New York City warehouse, which just happens to be chock-full of prized Hamburg Steinway pianos, and begin taking one apart...
This was the scene when a small but remarkable faction of Boston's robust classical music set piled into a rental van and headed south to New York City. Their mission? To find the musical equivalent of a needle in a haystack: the perfect piano for WGBH 89.7's brand new state-of-the art performance studio. It had to be versatile: one that would sound dazzling to live audiences in the studio, brilliant when broadcast, and impeccable when recorded; an instrument that over the next decade and a half will be played by some of the world's finest musicians and heard by literally millions of people from Brighton, Masachusetts to Brighton, England.
It was no small task. In tow were WGBH 89.7 Program Director Jon Solins, WGBH 89.7 Classical hosts Cathy Fuller and Richard Knisely, BSO piano guru Jon von Rohr, and two renowned local pianists: Marc-André Hamelin and Mihae Lee. From Von Rohr's a-hoc tutorial in the van to the moment when the final decision was made over a platter of kung pao chicken, it was a fascinating day.
They eventually settled on a Hamburg Steinway that the musicians described like this:
"From my first experience playing this piano, I was immediately drawn in to its robust sound and broad spectrum of color. These are the qualities that I always seek in a piano, but it is rare to find an instrument that contains such a range from raw power and brilliant clarity to exquisite delicacy and shadings as this piano has. I can't wait to play it as it is reaching its full potential in your beautiful new studio.
-- Mihae Lee, pianist
"As I played it, it acted as an extension of my heart and fingers. There were no barriers between what I imagined and what I could play. This is the highest praise I can give any piano."
-- Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
Last week the piano arrived at our new studios in Brighton, Massachusetts. You can see pictures of the warehouse, the piano, and its arrival in our new sudios on our flickr page.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
John Covach has written a textbook for History of Rock classes, which has been well reviewed. And this course would still allow for experiential learning through field trips to live acts in Bloomington and Indianapolis. The problem with this course is that I am not well versed in Rock music past about 1990. I have been slowly educating myself through various blog references, but the average pop music post by Chad Orzel leaves me way in the dust.
My third choice would be to have an interactive reading of Gödel, Escher, Bach, which could possibly include meeting Hofstadter in person since he lives in Bloomington. And that book ties together all sorts of liberal artsy ideas: cognition, computer science, music, art, mathematics, philosophy. But it doesn't sound as exciting as the other two courses.
So, which course do you think I should teach, and why?
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This statement of my teaching philosophy is organized into four sections. In the first section, I describe my approach to teaching music. It will cover why I teach music, and my views on the whole discipline. The second section discusses the purpose of music theory in the curriculum, and how this governs the techniques I use in the classroom. The third section details the purpose of musicianship in the curriculum, and again will show how this purpose governs my teaching strategies. The last section outlines my philosophy of classroom management, regardless of the topic being taught.
I live and breathe music. I can’t imagine a more perfect melding of emotion and intellect, sensation and intuition, than the artistic organization of sound. I teach to spread the gospel that music can feed the mind and the soul, and that we can discourse on music at very high levels of thought. If students can learn to organize their thoughts on the abstract and ephemeral aspects of music, those skills will aid them in any discipline. They are learning a discipline that teaches problem solving, a mighty work ethic, creativity, and self-expression. Schopenhauer called music the most direct expression of the Will, our inner being. Hence the study of music is very appropriate in the liberal arts curriculum.
In the music theory curriculum, students should learn how music is organized into different languages and styles. Because of the emphasis on tonality in performed literature, this language receives more attention than modality or post-tonal languages, though in today’s markets I think more time should be spent on contemporary music styles than one half-credit course. As a practical extension of learning how these different languages work, students should also learn the basics of composition. This introduction should be extensive enough to encourage interested students to continue composing. Students who are not interested in composing music should still gain an appreciation for the discipline and artistry that goes into any musical composition. Students also need to realize that music is a living art, constantly being recreated. It is very easy to regard art music as a static canon, museum exhibits to present as we marvel at the genius of our ancestors. Students need to learn to compose and improvise music so they can feel how it continues to grow and change.
Communication is very important for musicians. They need to explain performance decisions to each other, whether it is coming to a consensus in a chamber group or giving orders as a conductor or section leader. Teachers need to tell students how to play, and why it is important to perform a piece a certain way. Audiences need to be cultivated, through critical reviews, liner notes, and pre-concert lectures. This communication requires terminology. Music theory provides terms and concepts for the communication of ideas about music, from the simplest ideas about pitch and rhythm to the complex ideas of set theory and Schenkerian analysis. Without this vocabulary and these varied views of how music works, musicians would be mute, unable to express in words what they truly think about the music they love.
Analysis is not just about expressing a musician’s current views about a piece. Analysis, like good writing, is a process towards learning about a piece, altering opinions as knowledge grows. A good music theory curriculum teaches students to identify the confusing, amazing, sublime, and faulty within a musical work. It teaches students to interpret what they hear and feel, and to link it with the languages and styles that songs and symphonies float in. Analysis also reveals alternative performance and listening opportunities. A performer that is adept at researching a piece to find the either/or’s will always be able to turn out a fresh and moving performance, even at the fiftieth repetition. A student that is able to identify different listening strategies will never get tired of his/her favorite music, even at the thousandth hearing.
The academic and artistic rigor of music theory is coordinated with the physical and mental skills of musicianship. Musicianship teaches students to become fluent in hearing and performing the relationships between different pitches and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, and form at both small and large scales. A standard musicianship curriculum is mostly about tonality and standard meters, though in Musicianship IV I do lead students into modality, atonality, and asymmetric meters. Musicianship improves sight reading, and allows musicians to approach their performances from an organic rather than mechanical perspective. Musicianship gives them more awareness of what they are hearing and feeling when they listen to music or perform music. Most music majors already have a sense of tonality and meter, they just don’t realize what it is, or how to describe what they are hearing/feeling. Musicianship also provides a language of solfège and metrical/rhythmic terms to improve communication with other musicians in rehearsals and lessons. Improvisation is a major element of musicianship, “speaking” the languages of tonal or atonal music in extemporaneous ways to demonstrate facility and to express emotions and aesthetics.
I believe in a combination of humor and strict policies in managing the classroom. Strict and clear policies on homework, exams, and attendance show the students that I will treat them fairly, equally, and that I will determine their grades through clearly defined and objective standards. No policy will envision all situations, so I do allow the possibility of relaxing rules if an unforeseen event warrants it. Fair and clearly communicated expectations are always my goal. Using humor during lectures tells me if students are listening. If the students are not laughing, I need to re-establish connections so the students won’t miss important ideas and facts. Alternatively, the joke bombs, but it still sparks attention. Dictation and sight singing can be scary activities, and humor can help to reduce the tensions that are natural in a musicianship classroom.
I have been moving away from strict lecture formats in recent years, preferring to use small group discussions, the Socratic method, and other means of student involvement. It takes longer to cover the same material, but I feel the students absorb the concepts more deeply. Thus overall the non-lecture formats are more effective. Sometimes lectures are still necessary, especially when a particularly difficult concept is first introduced. But ultimately the students should lead their own education, with me as a guide and resource.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The Pompous Ass. There are also often several of these in the orchestra, though they could be split into two sub-species: the Private Pompous Ass and the Public Pompous Ass. Once this person is given the floor, you can feel the air go out of the room as they inhale in preparation for their 15 minute encyclical on all things orchestra. Sometimes these lectures have something to do with the topic at hand, but more often they have to do with themselves and how important their experiences are to the orchestra.
The Alien. This person is also known as the head scratcher. They say whatever they have to say, and then you can hear the sound of dandruff flakes hitting the floor about halfway through, most often accompanied by arched eyebrows and mouthings of “huh?” and “what?” by the other, Earth-native orchestra members. Generally, this species has come of age and experimented during the 60’s, but that’s not a rigid requirement.
I, of course, am a Alien-Smart Ass hybrid, making jokes that even I don't understand.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
2. "New York State of Mind," by Billy Joel.
3. "It Never Entered My Mind," composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, performed by Miles Davis.
4. A Beautiful Mind soundtrack, composed by James Horner.
5. "Behrani's Thoughts - Long Ago," from the House of Sand and Fog soundtrack, composed by James Horner.
6. "I Thought I'd Write to Juliet," by Elvis Costello, performed with the Brodsky Quartet.
7. "Ridiculous Thoughts," by The Cranberries.
8. "Why Wait to be Wed - You Thought Wrong," from the Shrek soundtrack, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell.
9. "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the Les Misérables original Broadway soundtrack, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer.
10. "Hear a New Story," by Rob Hudson, performed by the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.
11. "I Hear Music," composed by Burton Lane and Frank Loesser, performed by Bobby McFerrin.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
WL Magee (2007). Music as a diagnostic tool in low awareness states: Considering limbic responses. Brain Injuries, 21(6), 593-599.
Lyric Opera soprano Stacey Tappan sings the role of Sofia. Following recent stellar reviews for her “witty and sexy” Adele in Die Fledermaus with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, she returns to the Lyric Opera this season for multiple roles in Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, a cover of Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare and the role of Nannetta in Verdi's Falstaff. The opera is performed in English with the New Millennium Orchestra and pianist Dana Brown, and is conducted by Francesco Milioto. In addition to Stacey Tappan (Sofia), the full cast includes Michael Mayes (Gaudenzio), Bill McMurray (Bruschino senior), Drew Duncan (Bruschino junior), John Concepcion (Florville), Alex Honzen (Police Sergeant), Brandon Mayberry (Filiberto), and Buffy Baggott (Marianna).
Monday, July 09, 2007
As my own follow up, can you think of any classical music equivalents to Spinal Tap? Victor Borge and PDQ Bach are the two that I can think up.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Many of the accepted models of contemporary theoretical analysis have absolutely nothing to do with music written at present. Case in point: 12-tone analysis. I cringe when I talk to students that spend the only 4 months of their undergraduate education dedicated to contemporary music theory doing find-the-row exercises for some prof that thinks it's still 1965.
I confess that I have my students identify rows, though certainly not in all pieces and I usually don't spend time identifying every single form of the row in a given piece. Much like with Roman Numeral analysis, I regard find-the-row exercises as an opportunity for the students to find landmarks in unfamiliar territory. Just as a rapidly modulating development of a Beethoven sonata can seem incomprehensible until the modulations are worked out, a serial piece by Schoenberg can seem to be randomized noise to students who have not spent any time listening to atonal music. Finding the rows, showing how the composer used a system to organize the notes in a decidedly un-random way, allows the students to listen with more open ears and more confidence in the compositional control of the author. Thus we can get to larger picture ideas about form, emotional content, and the like.
In addition, cool relationships can be found, such as the tonal implications and relationship to "Es ist genug" of the row in Berg's Violin Concerto or the canonic text painting of Dallapiccola's Goethe-Lieder. These are not always readily recognizable phenomena, but that doesn't always matter.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
F r i d a y, J u l y 2 7
3:30 Welcome from ABS President James Hawley
3:30-4:20 Patricia Stroh, Curator, Beethoven Center: “Unlocking the Vault: An Exploration of Treasures from the Beethoven Center’s collection
4:30-5:30 Dr. William Meredith: “Beethoven and the Broadwood Fortepiano: Information on His Familiarity with English Instruments”
7:00-9:00 Opening Banquet (University Room)
S a t u r d a y, J u l y 2 8
9:30-10:00 Dr. Donna Beckage, Getty Research Institute: “Beethoven: Close Encounters of the Word Kind”
10:00-10:30 Adriana Ratsch-Rivera, Contra Costa College: “Motivic Relationships between the Fifth Symphony and Works from the Bonn Period”
10:45-11:45 Lecture-recital by Janine Johnson, fortepianist, harpsichordist, and builder: “The Rivalry between the Fortepiano and the
Harpsichord in the 18th Century”
2:00-2:30 Dr. Ernest Bergel, emeritus faculty, Harvard Medical School: “What Did Fidelio Mean to Beethoven?”
2:30-3:00 Dr. Frederick Skinner, emeritus faculty University of Montana: “From Tsar to Commissar: How the Russians Have Heard Beethoven”
3:15-4:15: KEYNOTE SPEECH IN MEMORY OF IRA F. BRILLIANT: Dr. Owen Jander, emeritus faculty, Wellesley College: “Alexander Pope’s
‘Ode: The Dying Christian to His Soul’: The Inspiration for Beethoven’s ‘Süßer Ruhegesang oder Friedensgesang,’ the Lento assai, cantante
tranquillo of His Swansong String Quartet, Opus 135”
4:15-5:15 The Cypress String Quartet in Recital
Haydn: “Russian” String Quartet in G Major, Opus 33, no. 5
Beethoven String Quartet in F Major, Opus 135
S u n d a y, J u l y 2 9
9:00 -12:00 Beethoven Movie Mini-Festival in Program Room (Center)
9:00-11:10 “EroicaThe Day that Changed Music Forever.” Opus Arte 2004 BBC film directed by Nick Dear with Ian Hart as Beethoven. 129 minutes.
11:20-12:00 “Beethoven: Triumph over Silence” by Dr. Victor Goodhill (Ear surgery, UCLA School of Medicine)
11:20-12:00 “Beethoven’s Skull Bones”a presentation by Paul and Joan Kaufmann
2:00-2:30 Dr. John Clubbe, emeritus faculty, Duke University: “Napoleon and Fidelio”
2:30-3:00 Dr. L. Poundie Burstein, Associate Professor, Hunter College: “‘Brüder auf!’: Beethoven’s Op. 81a and the Battles of 1809”
3:45-4:30 KEYNOTE LECTURE-RECITAL
Dr. Susan Kagan, President, New York chapter of the American Beethoven Society; emerita professor, Hunter College: “Ferdinand Ries, Forerunner of the Romantic Piano Sonata.”
A novel approach for disrupting offensive chants at sporting events is proposed, based on attacking synchronization between individuals. Since timing is crucial for coordination between chanters, disruption of timing is expected to be effective against undesired chants. Delayed auditory feedback is known to disrupt timing in individual sound production. It may be expected to have similar effects on groups of chanters. To test this hypothesis, a controlled laboratory study was carried out. This showed that the timing of individuals joining in with sports chants can indeed be severely disrupted by also presenting an artificially delayed version of this chant (distracter). This effect is reduced as an individual is given more cues (direction, fidelity) to differentiate between original chant and distracter. However, informal field trials showed that it may be hard to exploit the perceptual effects discussed here for countering offending sports chants in a real-life setting, particularly due to feedback distortion at the required high levels. ©2007 Acoustical Society of AmericaPerhaps this technique could also be used to prevent clapping between movements.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
1. Fantasy on 'America the Beautiful,' by Dave Hanson, performed by the Aries Brass Quintet.
2. American in Paris, by George Gershwin, performed by the International Symphony Orchestra.
3. North American Ballads: Dreadful Memories, Which Side Are You On? Down By The River, and Winnsboro Cotton Blues; by Frederic Rzewski.
4. "Tu Vuo' Fa L'Americano," by Renato Carosone and Nicola Salerno, on the Talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack.
5. Variations on "America" by Charles Ives, orchestrated by William Schuman, performed by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony.
6. New England Triptych: 1. "Be Glad Then, America" by William Schuman, performed by Schwarz and Seattle.
Moving to album names:
7. American Brass Quintet - Music Of Renaissance, Baroque American Brass Quintet
8. American Music For Winds, the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, directed by Robert Levy.
9. American String Quartets 1950 - 1970, The Concord String Quartet
10. Arleen Auger, American Soprano.
11. Music Of The Americas, Lawrence University Concert Choir.
12. New American Brass, American Brass Quintet.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Monday, July 02, 2007
As a musician who makes his living in the arts, I feel strongly that our cultural activities must be funded. But I also believe strongly in social justice, so I can't fault those individuals and corporations that prioritize the injustices of the world. Which types of charities do you feel should be supported by individuals, which supported by corporations, and which by the government?