Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are you a Mannes or a Mouse(s)?

Tomorrow I am heading out to New York for the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory. As you can see from the preparation page, I have been rather busy doing my assigned readings for the last month. I'm in two workshops, Tonal Tension with Fred Lerdahl, and Music and Embodiment with Eric Clarke. Preparing for Fred's workshop is killing me, trying to get a grasp on his Tonal Pitch Space. But it is also very invigorating, makes me feel like I'm in grad school again. In fact, I will be with many of my former grad school compatriots, like Rich Randall and Ian Quinn. And to go really old school, I will be rooming with a friend from my undergraduate days, Peter Martens. This is more of a think tank than a workshop, as the website describes it: "The 2009 Mannes Institute on Music and The Mind will be a seminal collaborative think tank for serious music cognition and perception scholars from around the world." I'm very excited, and hope to have time to blog about it each day. Oh, plus I've been rocking the house with Rock Band 2, my Father's Day present.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Viral Dancing?

My sister sent me this Youtube video of a "happening" in Antwerp. As a promo for a Belgian reality show searching for Maria for a revival of Sound of Music, 200 dancers started dancing to "Do Re Mi" in the Antwerp Central Station. Even though it has a commercial purpose, it does capture the spirit of brightening peoples days with unexpected art. This sounds like an interesting project to get my college students involved with, not necessarily dance mind you. Especially not me dancing, except to horrify my friends and family.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last night I saw Wicked at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis.  While I prefer "Popular" from the Broadway recording, the actress playing Elphaba had this gloriously warm and almost husky voice that was wonderful* in "I'm Not That Girl."  Her name is Carrie Manolakos, the standby on this tour.  In honor of the show, here are some complete musicals and operas that I have on my iPod.  (not including separate arias or numbers)

1. Les Miserables, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, Broadway Cast recording.

2. Ainadamar, composed by Osvaldo Golijov, conducted by Spano.

3. Pippin, composed by Stephen Schwartz, Broadway Cast recording.

4. Wicked, composed by Stephen Schwartz, Broadway Cast recording.

5.  The Greater Good or the Passion of Boule de Suif, composed by Stephen Hartke, Glimmerglass Opera.

6. La Bohème, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Etc., Herbert Von Karajan; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

7. Tosca, composed by Puccini, performed by Price - Di Stefano - Taddei - Corena - Wiener Philharmoniker - Herbert von Karajan.

8. Bluebeard's Castle, composed by Béla Bartók.

*appropriate word for the musical.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tom Sawyer in Academia

I received an interesting call for papers. The idea of "the cognitive function of riffs and other music in expressing difficult ideas" seems very questionable. How is Neal Perl's drum beat communicating Ayn Rand's concept of objectivism, separate from any lyrics? Answer: it isn't. There can be text painting, but that is a far cry from the music expressing the difficult ideas themselves. Even program music needs the words of the program to help make sense of the story.
The rock band Rush resonates widely for musician-fans and others interested in structural complexity, individualism, and a range of literary and stylistic influences. The group has explored such genres as heavy metal and hard rock, progressive and synth-rock, and post-progressive "power trio," along with various secondary influences. However, the band has also wandered among such lyrical interests as relationships, fantasy-adventure, classical mythology, European and world history, science-fiction, libertarianism, atheism, science, and technology.

We are looking for short articles (of around twenty pages) to add to this proposed anthology for the series that began with "Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing" (2000), but since 2005 has also included (see music-related books about hip hop, Bob Dylan, U2, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, and Jimmy Buffett. Writers in philosophy, musicology, economics, and psychology have already committed to "Rush and Philosophy," and they are exploring the following areas from across Rush's career (1974- ):
-personal tragedies, self-determination, and Sartre
-the anthropic cosmological principle and atheism
-Canadianness in Anglo-American genres and in lyrics and images
-tribute projects of the band's music in death metal, trip-hop, and classical strings
-the band's combination of secular humanism and mysticism
-libertarianism and left-libertarianism, rather than "right-wing"
-the cognitive function of riffs and other music in expressing difficult ideas
-a roundtable on political economy, Ayn Rand, and Rush's "2112"

Contributions from women, minorities, and people from outside of North America are most welcome! Particular areas of interest for further articles include: balance through instrumental “songs,” humour, roundtables on music technology and rock critics, live albums as career anthologies, and recent "sightings" of the band in the mainstream media.

Deadline for one-page abstracts: July 19, 2009
Deadline for completed first-drafts: August 31, 2009

Please send to Durrell Bowman and Jim Berti:;

What is Boring Art?

Chad Orzel has opened up a can o' worms in looking at the latest NEA study bemoaning the deterioration of arts attendance. I'm not happy about the "boring" in the title, but I do agree that studies like these create artificial boundaries, especially in regards to music. The study only looked at classical, jazz, and opera music performances for music, and also did not consider any performances by elementary or high school ensembles. Chad's college students still count. There are questions later about school performances, as well as religious music.The results are based upon surveying people, and leaves definitions up to them, with little guidance. So the question on classical music reads: "[With the exception of elementary or high school performances] Did you go to a live classical music performance such as symphony, chamber, or choral music [during the last 12 months?]" What about the Bang on a Can marathon? Some attendees there would call it indy music, others would call the same performance chamber music. There is a later question that captures any sort of music festival: "Did you visit an outdoor festival that featured performing artists?" Today I was listening to Fresh Air, and Terry Gross was interviewing Janelle Monae. She is labeled as a hiphop artist, but the music I heard was jazzy musical theater. And what about musical theater, which is also surveyed as "live musical stage play"? Rent is musical theater and hard rock. Same with Hair and Tommy. My guess, based on the wording of the question, is that people would call those three shows live musical stage plays, but those same people would not count a performance of Tommy by the Who back in the 70's. Nowadays the borders between genres is blurry at best, as mentioned by Mark Swed in a review of the recent Ojai Music Festival. So Chad is correct that attendance at any sort of live music performance should be counted, as should attendance at performance art happenings that aren't part of outdoor festivals.

However, looking deeper in the survey, almost all the criticisms made by Chad or his commenters are covered in the actual study, just not in the brochure or the media coverage. There are questions about musical preference that include other genres. The survey includes "Classical or Chamber, Opera, Broadway/Show Tunes, Jazz, Classic Rock/Oldies, Contemporary Rock, Rap/Hip-hop, Blues/Rhythm and Blues, Latin/Spanish/Salsa, Country, Bluegrass, Folk Music, Hymns/Gospel, Other." And the survey includes downloading or streaming performances of "music, theater or dance" and images of "paintings, sculpture or photography" from the Internet. There is personal creativity: "Did you use the Internet to create or post your own art online including design, music, photography, films, video, or creative writing?" And consuming art in recorded or broadcast format (though that is limited to the "high arts", no movies or TV shows). As for commenters at Chad's blog who critique the study for ignoring literature, it doesn't. TThe survey includes reading books that aren't required for work or school and tallied whether they were Novels/Short Stories, Poetry, or Plays, and genres (Mysteries, Thrillers, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Other Fiction, Self-Improvement, Religious texts, History/Political, Biographies, Other Non-Fiction, Other). They also include questions on reading online materials, books-on-tape, and writing your own materials. However, movies and television shows are not covered in the survey.

But what is his Page Rank?

Thanks to my students reading music blogs that I don't read, and posting them on Facebook, I found out that Google is celebrating Igor Stravinsky's Birthday today, with some funky Google art:
Google does Stravinsky

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jazz in the White House

First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a Jazz Studio today for middle and high school students. Jazz greats like the Marsalis family and Paquito D'Rivera played along with students and led seminars. It is very cool that the White House is doing things to highlight culture, including their date on Broadway.

Best of the Rest: 6-15-09

It's time to start linking to those less-known music blogs again.

First up, violist Robert Levine has a series of posts on performing Mahler's 8th Symphony as a tribute to the departing Music Director Andreas Delfs. 'But I'm having great difficulty with the big triumphant theme in the second movement of the Mahler 8 being the same motif as "Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city.' I hate that carol almost as much as I hate the 'Carol of the Pogroms Bells.'"

Peter Matthews imagines dueling pianists in adjacent brownstones. "As if I needed another reason to love my nabe: I was walking along 12th Street yesterday when I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of a piano playing incredibly difficult figures."

Bruce Hodges is disarmed by Hilary Hahn. "But while I came for Ives, I was seduced by Ysaÿe"

Molly Sheridan finds a filk of the media industry.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Music Cognition Around the Web

Mind Hacks has two music-related posts: The Brain-Storm Rag and A Night at the Opera. The rag is a two-step by Bud Manchester from 1907 that features a lot of common-tone diminished seventh chords. The second post is about a man who hallucinates entire operas.

Cognitive Daily writes about a study on the association of pitches with direction, either piano-oriented with high pitches associated with the right side and low pitches on the left side, or staff-oriented, with high pitches associated with upper and low pitches associated with lower. The results: musicians have strong associations with both orientations, non-musicians only have strong associations with the staff orientation.

Somewhat related to this study, a recent article in the journal Laterality (May 2009, 1-30) shows that right-handed musicians have more control of their left hands than non-musicians, and that string players have more control than pianists. This control is calculated through tapping exercises that measure speed, regularity, and fatigue. However, the non-dominant hand is still slower than the dominant hand, regardless of musical training.
Kopiez R, Galley, N, Lehmann, AC (2009). "The relation between lateralisation, early start of training, and amounts of practice in musicians: a contribution to the problem of handedness classification." Laterality, (epub).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Scale resources

In responding to the comment by Steven Hall to the post below, I was curious as to what other resources are out there about musical scales. I found an interesting site called Dolmetsch Online, which includes a listing of 1000+ scales from around the world. It cannot identify scales by inputting the notes, but it can list the notes for any given scale starting on any given pitch, and lists the related scale topics below. So inputting starting note D for an Ahava Rabba (Jewish) scale, the music notation lists the scale in C, and below gives the notes for the scale starting on D. And below that, links to internet sites on Pentatonic scales, Japanese Scales, Yo Scale, Modes, etc. It's too bad the music notation doesn't change with the transposition, but it is an interesting resource.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How not to research about music

Wolfram Alpha has been big in the news as a possible Google killer. The idea is that specific questions are answered, with an emphasis on mathematical calculations. However, the music section leaves much to be desired. Where are the matrix makers, or PC set calculators? The theory is so basic, it barely gets to the level of the third week of a music fundamentals class (the addition of non-Western scales is pretty cool). This is an example of the lack of respect or understanding many scientists have about the complexity of music theory. I'm reading Fred Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space right now, which is full of formulas that could be incorporated into a true Wolfram Alpha music section. Or even giving all of the possible neo-Riemannian transformations that connect two chords would be great. The section on the frequency of pitches would be interesting if it included differences based on tuning systems. But calculating interval sizes by rudimentary means? Boring.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The New Religious

I recently* received two review CDs that are modern takes on religion. First, Phil Kline's John the Revelator. This Mass in both English and Latin is performed by the vocal group Lionheart and the string quartet Ethel. Some of the movements sound very traditional, chant in polyphony or monophony such as the opening "Northport", and some are very modern, with pop-tinged beats, minimalist ostinatos in "The Man Who Knows Misery", crunchy dissonances like "The Snow Fell", explorations of George Crumb-like timbres in "Dark Was the Night" or jazzy extended harmonies in "The Unnamable" and "Sanctus". I'm ashamed to admit that one section of "The Unnamable" sounds to me like the Oompa Loompas singing in the newer Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The male voices in octaves, with mid-Eastern pop accompaniment, just reminds me of one of the musical productions with little red men. This is a fairly eclectic work, like a less-extreme version of Golijov. I think Kline strikes a good balance of contemporary and contemplative, and the performances are great.

The second CD is D'Arc: Woman on Fire, a music theater piece by Jay Cloidt and Amanda Moody. Based on the life of martyred Joan of Arc, this is much more like the brashness of Golijov's Ayre cycle, with 14th century hymns sitting next to electronica, indy pop sounds, solo cello (featuring ex-Kronos Quartet member Joan Jeanrenaud), and lots of recorded sounds mixed in. The vocals by Amanday Moody are more pop-ish than Dawn Upshaw's performance in Ayre, raw and focused more on the drama than the beauty of sound. The whole D'Arc recording production seems to lack some aural depth, making it feel a little amateurish despite the interesting compositions and good performances. The religious music isn't as spiritually intense or authentic as Kline's work, but still interesting.

*Recently by my standards, rather long ago for the Kline CD by blogging standards.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Tonight I took the kids to see Pixar's latest film, Up. Twice I teared up, the relationship between the man and his wife was so sweet. I wish they didn't feel the need for the fighting scenes, but the dogs are great, especially Doug. And Russell is very cute without being overly so. I could tell my kids were affected by the absence of Russell's father. During the merit badge ceremony my son had to come over and sit on my lap, I think to confirm that I was there. I can't imagine parents who don't want to spend time with their kids, or who won't even realizing how damaging their absence can be. Perhaps I'm judging Russell's father too harshly, we aren't told why he stopped coming to the ceremonies, or why the first marriage ended. But c'mon, be there for your kid. They won't always have a giant, colorful, flightless bird who loves chocolate.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lituus Envy

I am listening to the latest podcast of PRI's The World, which features music in the Geo Quiz. Apparently some crazy Scots have recreated a lituus and performed Bach with it! In reading up on this ancient Roman war-trumpet, I discovered that the Romans used different trumpets for different signals (according to Wikipedia):

The late Roman writer Vegetius briefly describes the use of trumpets in the Roman legions in his treatise De Re Militari:

“The legion also has its tubicines, cornicines and buccinatores. The tubicen sounds the charge and the retreat. The cornicines are used only to regulate the motions of the colours; the tubicines serve when the soldiers are ordered out to any work without the colours; but in time of action, the tubicines and cornicines sound together. The classicum, which is a particular signal of the buccinatores or cornicines, is appropriated to the commander-in-chief and is used in the presence of the general, or at the execution of a soldier, as a mark of its being done by his authority. The ordinary guards and outposts are always mounted and relieved by the sound of the tubicen, who also directs the motions of the soldiers on working parties and on field days. The cornicines sound whenever the colours are to be struck or planted. These rules must be punctually observed in all exercises and reviews so that the soldiers may be ready to obey them in action without hesitation according to the general’s orders either to charge or halt, to pursue the enemy or to retire. For reason will convince us that what is necessary to be performed in the heat of action should constantly be practised in the leisure of peace.”[13] (De Re Militari, Book II.)

Like the Greek salpinx the Roman trumpets were not regarded as musical instruments. Among the tems used to describe the tuba’s tone, for instance, were horribilis (“horrible”), terribilis (“terrible”), raucus (“raucous”), rudis (“coarse”), strepens (“noisy”) and stridulus (“shrieking”). When sounding their instruments, the tubicines sometimes girded their cheeks with the capistrum (“muzzle”) which aulos (“flute”) players used to prevent their cheeks from being puffed out unduly.

This is the type of signal music Daniel meant in his comment to Saturday's post. However, while these trumpets were not intended to produce music themselves during Roman times, they were both reappropriated for musical use by Bach's time, and of course were the inspiration for those crazy trumpet parts in Respighi's Pines of Rome. Here is a video that includes pictures and audio of the litui used in Bach's "O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht":