Monday, January 26, 2009

Best of the Rest: 1-26-09

Today was the first day of classes. I'm teaching Musicianship II, Theory II, 2 sections of Musicianship IV, and Psychology of Music. And once more into the breach!

1. Mahler Owes Me Ten Bucks: Strings forte, please. I'm trying to keep from cracking any conductor jokes, saved mostly by the collision of about fifty possibilities. Prickly, there I said it.

2. Music Matters: Do newborn infants have a sense of rhythm? Holy crap, Henkjan and his colleagues have proved that they do! Visit to see the adorably disturbing picture of the baby with electrodes.

3. Horndog Blog: Suck Ups Suck. Bruce shares an Onion Radio report that the Brass Section is Sucking Up To the Conductor Again. This is clearly satire, as no brass section would try to appease the conductor merely to be allowed to play louder... ahem!

4. ClassicallyHip: Absolute Math shares a video of Augusta Read Thomas giving a pre-concert talk in Houston, said concert detailed in 5 Things About the Houston Symphony.

Friday, January 23, 2009

FriPod: Hope and Change

  1. "Hope and Memory" by Howard Shore on The Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King Soundtrack.
  2. "Hope Fails" by Howard Shore on The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King Soundtrack.
  3. "Forlorn Hope Fancy" by John Dowland, performed by Sting and Edin Karamazov on Songs from the Labyrinth.
  4. "Change of Time" from Mikrokosmos by Béla Bartók, performed by Jando.
  5. "The Norwegian Ridgeback and A Change of Season" by John Williams on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone soundtrack.
  6. "Them Changes" by George Buddy Miles, performed by Bobby McFerrin on Simple Pleasures.

inauguration music

I missed the music before the inauguration proceedings. On the American Musicology Society E-list, Alexandra Amati-Camperi says that the Marines were joined by the San Francisco Boys and Girls Choruses to sing six songs, included a world premiere of a piece by David Conte. This new work, called "An Exhortation," uses words from President Obama's victory speech on November 4th:
America, we have come so far.
We have seen so much.
But there is so much more to do.
Let us ask ourselves:
If our children should live to see
The next century
What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call.
This is our time
To reaffirm that fundamental truth
That out of many, we are one;
That while we breathe, we hope;
And where we are met with doubt,
We will respond with that timeless creed
That sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can.

I don't know when these performances occurred exactly. I started watching CNN at 11:15, and they were only showing all of the muckity-mucks processing along.

At first I was disappointed to see that John Williams' new piece was an arrangement of the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts." I wished that it would be a completely new piece. But then I started thinking about the many "occasional" pieces that exist in history. Handel stole from himself in writing birthday music for Queen Mary. Johann Schein composed pieces for 'various occasions' that had been 'completed in haste'. People like Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms composed variations on themes by other composers. So why not have John Williams pick a quintessentially American tune (thanks to Copland) to make a lighter occasional piece. There were some nice gestures in Williams' composition, especially the quiet ending. I wonder if it will have legs, I kind of doubt it.

Back to the American Musicology Society List (AMS-L), another (Canadian!) music historian (Jim Deaville) pointed out that Vincent Persichetti was commissioned to compose a work, Lincoln Address for Nixon's second inauguration. Persichetti set words from Lincoln's second inaugural address, including the reference to the Civil War as a "mighty scourge." The Presidential Inaugural Committee felt this could be interpreted as an allusion to the ongoing Vietnam War, and therefore replaced Lincoln Address with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. So, replacing reference to one war with another war. Ah well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Like I have time to waste!

Ben is an evil, evil, man. He informs me of this site, where you can create music governed by gravity.

I watched the pre-inaugural concert Sunday night. I teared up during Renee Fleming's performance of "You'll Never Walk Alone." Perhaps the best performance was James Taylor with John Legend and Jennifer Nettles. They actually listened to each other while improvising and embellishing, and their voices blended very nicely. and Sheryl Crowe didn't sound comfortable with each other, and Herbie Hancock was trying to take things way out, not followed at all by the rest of the musicians. Lincoln Portrait was good, though I had to strain a little to hear the orchestra. I love me some Pete Seeger, and kudos for singing all of the verses of "This Land is Your Land", but I couldn't hear his voice at all. I'm sure that concert was a nightmare to mic, and things did go pretty smoothly despite being outside in cold weather.

I'm going to an inauguration viewing at the Union in about half an hour, I'm very excited.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Best of the Rest: 1-18-09

1. [klang~440]: Two good posts by this student timpanist. First, a short description of a finding I also heard about, how mosquitoes only mate when they can adjust their buzzes to make a perfect fifth. The second post is more extensive, about the Philidor March for 4 kettledrums, and a good Christmas gig story.

2. The Sibelian Conspiracy: Meeting and discussion in London. What do you call a collection of composers?

3. Feast of Music: Tough Times. Peter Matthews thinks small groups will thrive where orchestras and operas will suffer, and perhaps for the better. "cultural Darwinism."

4. The View from Here: Muti – CSO – Verdi Requiem – what more is there to say? Apparently plenty, as Andrew Patner continues with a full review of Muti's first concert as music director designate with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

5. Mahler Owes Me Ten Bucks: Dress code. Chantal has a few choice words for her fellow female musicians about how they should dress when on stage, at least when in an orchestra.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Repeated listening

I've written before about the artificial stress our society often makes when it comes to music enjoyment. To summarize, we often think we should be able to understand everything about a piece of music on the first hearing. If we don't, then there is either something wrong with us, or with the music. I was thinking about this the other day while listening to Alfred Brendel playing the first movement of Schubert's Bb Sonata. This movement is almost fifteen minutes long, and I admit that when I first started listening to it I was somewhat loathe to spend that much time on one track. When listening to my iPod I liked shorter tracks, so the variety would keep me interested. But I've listened to this movement at least 11 times according to iTunes, much more if incomplete hearings and listening to the CD are added in. These repeated listenings have allowed me to memorize much of the work, so I could sing along while doing the dishes. I had a fabulous time, following the various shifts in motives, harmonies, keys, rhythms, and general characters. Fifteen minutes of doing the dishes had never passed so quickly. So it just took patience and effort in getting to know this piece that allowed me to enjoy it to such extent.

Friday, January 16, 2009

FriPod: This 'n That

1. "This Hammer (The Hammer Song)" by S. Winwood, M. Winwood, S. Davis, P. York; performed by The Spencer Davis Group on The Best of the Spencer Davis Group.

2. "This is My Story, This is My Song" by F.J. Crosby & J.F. Knapp, performed by Thelonious Monk on Monk Alone.

3. "This is No Longer Your House" by James Horner on the House of Sand and Fog soundtrack.

4. "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie, performed by Pete Seegr on Children's Concert at Town Hall.

5. "This masterly way ... [Examples 192, 193] by Deryck Cooke on An Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen (a lecture on the operas, with excerpts performed by the Vienna Philharmonic with Georg Solti).

6. "This Offer is Unrepeatable" by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet on The Juliet Letters.

7. "This Sad Burlesque" also from The Juliet Letters.

8. "That Lucky Old Sun" by Beasley Smith/Haven Gillespie, performed by Louis Armstrong on All-Time Greatest Hits.

9. "That Thing" by Roy Eldridge on Little Jazz.

10. "That'll Be the Day" by Buddy Holly & The Crickets on The "Chirping" Crickets.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

OMG! ROFLOL! Lustig!

Jerry Bowles clearly has (a) too much time on his hand, (b) too much knowledge about Alma Mahler's proclivities, and (c) too much time spent on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best of the Rest: 1-13-09

This is the latest in my series of efforts to highlight blogs that aren't as well known.

1. Monotonous Forest: Part archivist, part lab technician. Mr. Hodges covers Alan Gilbert's first press conference as the new conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Apparently Maestro Gilbert had the audacity to say that "Schoenberg is beautiful." It is exciting that the opening night will include a world premiere by Magnus Lindberg, the new composer-in-residence.

2. The Detritus Review: Going to Concerts for Free Is an Outrage! Sator Arepo has torn a new one for Scott Cantrell, reviewer of the Dallas Morning News. I have to say, it isn't the best snark from this fine site. Instead of focusing on the audacity of complaining about a free concert, I would have gone with questioning why a 50 minute concert is a bad thing. Mr. Cantrell himself says that the opening piece, Brahms' Third Symphony, is a hefty thing, and that was followed by even more heavy Romanticism with Wagner's Overture from Tannhauser . I think I'd be happy with such a meal, no need to overfeed us. I do agree with Empiricus' comment.

3. Singing South African-ness. Excuse me madam, did you forget something? The ethnomusicology student also writes about the New York Philharmonic, as well as the audacity of people riding in the subway pantsless.

4. Feast of Music: Fairytale of New York. Peter Matthews tells us about a showcase of Irish music in New York. The group The Frost Is All Over made the audacious choice of combining accordion and uilleann pipes with visual media.

5. Tom Meglioranza, baritone: The Youtubes. I really have nothing to say about this post, other than the word of the day: "audacity."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inauguration stuff

I'm very excited about the upcoming inauguration.  I just saw an announcement of an opening celebration 2 days before the actual ceremony, to be held at the Lincoln Memorial.  Classical music is represented at this event by Renee Fleming, but what I find quite interesting is that Bishop Gene Robinson will be giving the invocation.  He is the openly-gay Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, whose elevation to the episcopate caused a riot among conservative Anglicans across the world, though mostly in Africa and in the US.  The selection of Robinson++ should calm the fears of many who were concerned about Rick Warren, and apparently I am correct.

At the actual inauguration ceremony, a new piece composed by John Williams will be performed by Itzhak Perlman (violin), Gabriela Montero (piano), Anthony McGill (clarinet) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello).  They will play between the oaths of Biden and Obama, so a very prominent spot.  I wish someone other than John Williams had been picked to compose the work, I'm afraid it will be rather Olympic in nature.  But then, his music in the film Munich was very interesting, so maybe I'm selling him short.

New DePauw Blogs

During my blog sabbatical, my students have been getting busy in the bløgösphére. Two individual blogs, one by a sophomore vocal music education major, and one by a First Year* instrumental major (probably education), reflect on what it is like to be a music major at DePauw, and what life has in hold for them. There is some excellent writing in here, it makes me proud to be one of their teachers. The third blog is for the collegiate chapter of the National Association of Music Educators (MENC). It appears to be a great way to bolster the communal spirit of the music education majors. All three blogs are now listed in my blog roll.

*At DePauw we are not supposed to say "freshman" or "freshmen" because that is too gender specific.

Friday, January 09, 2009

FriPod: A New Year

1. "New Beginning" by Tracy Chapman, on New Beginning.
2. "A New Day" by Booker Little on We Speak.
3. New England Triptych by William Schuman, performed by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony.
4. "New Kid In Town" by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther; performed by Teh Eagles on Eagles Greatest Hits Vol. 2.
5. "New Orleans Stomp" by Johnny Dodds, performed by Louis Armstrong on Satchmo - Hits.
6. "A New Place" by Chick Corea on Works - ECM.
7. "The New Store" by Max Steiner on the Gone With the Wind soundtrack.
8. "New York State of Mind" by Billy Joel on Turnstiles.
9. Newport Jazz Festival Suite by Duke Ellington on at Newport.
10. Suite "The Unforgettable Year 1919", op. 89 by Dmitri Schostakovich, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra with Jerzy Maksimiuk.
11. "The Year of Jubilee" by James Horner on the Glory soundtrack.

New Year

I've discovered that the most difficult thing to do is to start writing. When I am in the habit of posting every day, it is rather easy. But when I take a break, trying to come up with a good idea for the restart is daunting. Figuring out the mission of the blog, whether the opening post should be personal or academic, a summary or new material, causes paralysis by analysis. But it is a new year, and time to shake the cobwebs off of this blog that I've spent so much time developing over the last 4+ years. I hope that I haven't lost too many readers to newer, shinier classical music blogs.

First up, improvisation as a learning tool. I've promised Eric Edberg that I will write a guest post for his blog, so consider this a brain storming session. While there is much debate on whether music truly is a language or not – with concerns about grammar and syntax, efficiencies of communicated meaning and the like – I feel strongly that the performance of music is the same as the performance of a spoken language. An actor reciting Shakespeare is not convincing if he does not understand the words he is speaking, either singlely or in context. Likewise, I am convinced that a musician cannot perform Beethoven without understanding the notes in the contexts of melody and harmony, at most hierarchic levels of organization. Some of that understanding comes at the theoretical level, working through analyses with Schenker graphs, motivic sketches, and formal diagrams. But, just as the actor is not expected to be be consciously thinking "subject, predicate, adverb, verb, object, adjective" and "iambic pentameter", the performing musician should not be consciously thinking about Roman numerals, intervals, and motivic design. These facts should be ingrained, allowing the music to flow forth naturally, with all these structural elements combining organically to create the emotional and aesthetic content that is conveyed to the audience. This is where improvisation comes in as a pedagogical tool. If a musician can extemporaneously create music in a given idiom, I am convinced that she has been able to absorb the rules of that idiom into her subconscious. In this regard improvisation is a diagnostic tool: improvise 8 measures in D minor to prove you understand tonality. But improvisation can be a developmental tool as well, practicing to gain more understanding. Just as young children combine rote repetition and extemporaneous speech to learn how to read and speak their native language(s), musicians can combine performing from notation with improvisation to develop their sensitivities to the given musical idioms. Please give me your thoughts.