Saturday, February 27, 2010

SatPod: House

A friend just bought a new house, so this is dedicated to her.

1. "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants on Flood.
2. "Consecration of the House" Overture by Ludwig von Beethoven, performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
3. "Dovehouse Pavan" by Alfonso Ferrabosco, performed by the American Brass Quintet on Music of Renaissance, Baroque.
4. "Oh How I Wish That I Was In My House" from The Greater Good by Stephen Hartke, performed by Christine Abraham and the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra with Stewart Robinson.
5. "Hawkins' Barrel House" by Coleman Hawkins on Classic Tenors.
6. "The House I Live In" by Earl Robinson, performed by Paul Robeson Jr. on Songs of Free Men.
7. "The House On the Hill" by Aaron Copland, performed by Camerata Singers and Timothy Mount.
8. "If I Leave the House" by D'arc on Woman On Fire.
9. "In the Jailhouse Now" by Jimmie Rogers, performed by the Soggy Bottom Boys on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
10. "Invading Elliott's House" by John Williams on the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial soundtrack.
11. "Jailhouse Rock" by Lieber and Stoller, performed by Elvis Presley.
12. "Life In a Glasshouse" by Radiohead on Amnesiac.
13. "Master Of the House" from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, performed by the Broadway Cast.
14. "Pent-Up House" by Sonny Rollins, performed by the Guy Baker Ensemble on The Talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack.
15. "The Housewife's Lament" by Frederic Rzewski on Rzewski Plays Rzewski.
16. "Swing House" by Gerry Mulligan, performed by Stan Kenton on New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm.
17. "This Is No Longer Your House" by James Horner from the House of Sand and Fog soundtrack.
18. "Warehouse" by the Dave Matthews Band on Under the Table and Dreaming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The danger of knowing too little

I've read other bloggers kvetching about being assailed by crackpot theorists. Physicists are especially hounded by those who have just proved Einstein wrong. I've also gotten contacted by a few people with their own idiosyncratic music theories, but those aren't offensive, because for the most part they aren't trying to disprove any established musical facts, only trying to put together a grand unifying theory or different interpretive theory. And most often I learn something from those attempts, even if I judge the overall effort to be in the wrong direction. But what I do find offensive is a more directly applicable example of too-little-knowledge causing wrongful judging in the world of music: the choir/band/orchestra parent. I've experienced* parents who have decided that their children's impressions of how to run a rehearsal are more valuable than the impressions of the director. While the director may have over 10 years of training and another 10 years of experience as a professional conductor, his/her rehearsal schedule is a waste of time if the 12-18 year-old child has deemed it so. This is the closest musical equivalent to creationists criticizing evolutionary theory or Pat Robertson claiming that Haitians made a deal with the devil. In each case, a few facts are divorced from the all important context so they can be twisted into a different hypothesis. Pat Robertson falsely equates Voodoo spirits with Satan, creationists falsely equate conjectures with essential axioms, and ensemble parents falsely think that five years of ensemble experience makes their child an expert on running rehearsals. I do not deny that there are bad ensemble directors out there. And sometimes the children are correct in their critiques. But I know I would want some serious corroborating evidence before criticizing a conductor, and that is said as a trumpeter who has dealt with "the hand" in many orchestras.

*Fortunately not directed at me, as the last time I conducted an ensemble was 15 years ago, and that was all college students. And I've only had to deal with helicopter parents three times.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The new sketchbook

Many musicologists and theorists study the sketchbooks of deceased composers in efforts to determine how masterpieces or compositional styles were developed. Jonathan Coulton reveals the Web 2.0 version of sketchbooks, by posting the pre-songs of five of his hits, along with explanations of his thought processes for each of the pieces. I envision doctoral programs of the future requiring data mining in the coursework, just as past programs have required learning how to handle old parchment and handwriting analysis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FriPod: Tower

In honor of our guest composer, Joan Tower:

1) "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan, performed by a) Jimi Hendrix, b) U2.
2) Monster on a Leash by Tower of Power.
3) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack by Howard Shore.
4) "Black Topaz" by Joan Tower, performed by Laura Flax, Patricia Spencer, Jonathan haas, Deborah Moore, Stephen Gosling, Mike Powell, Chris Gekker.
5) "Eiffel Tower Polka" by Francis Poulenc, performed by Wynton Marsalis.
6) "Petroushskates" by Joan Tower, performed by eighth blackbird.
7) "Snow Dreams" by Joan Tower, performed by Carol Wincenc, flute, Sharon Isbin, guitar.
8) "Stepping Stones" by Joan Tower, performed by Edmund Niemann, Nurit Tilles.
9) Concerto for Orchestra by Joan Tower, performed by Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
10) "Made In America" by Joan Tower, performed by Slatkin and the NSO.
11) "Tambor" by Joan Tower, performed by Slatkin and the NSO.
12) "Tres Lent (In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen)" by Joan Tower, performed by André Emelianoff, Joan Tower.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tower in the Ivory Tower

This week is our annual Music of the 21st Century festival. The guest composer this year is Joan Tower, long-time composition professor at Bard College and former member of Da Capo Chamber Players. Yesterday many of my students were complaining about preparing her music, especially the very-wet-behind-the-ears First Year students. So I tried to give them a cold splash of reality, pointing out that unknown does not equal crappy. So many students come to school assuming they know almost everything there is to know about music, and just need a little polishing. With that attitude, they then think that anything new, anything they had never heard of before, must not be worthy of knowing. Fortunately most of these students outgrow this attitude, with or without the Mallet of Loving Correction. Those that don't learn to embrace the new end up unhappy as a musician and often unhappy in life. Because it isn't just about being comfortable with atonality. I expose my students to new ideas about music and new pieces of music so they will become life-long learners, whatever the subject may be that they are learning about.

Tomorrow I am moderating a public discussion with Joan Tower, as I do every year with the guest composer. I always take the opportunity to ask some questions of my own before calling on the audience. I plan to ask her about her views on the current state of the classical music industry, teaching composition, and why combining text with music is so unappealing for her. Let me know if there are any burning questions you would ask Joan Tower if you were here. And for my DePauw readers, please come and ask questions tomorrow. 11:30 in Thompson Recital Hall.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I've been talking with my sophomores about mode mixture, and this next week we get to the use of mode mixture as text painting in German Lieder. Steven Laitz talks about the dramatic role of the bVI, using Schumann's "Waldesgesprach" as an example. The bVI is supposed to create mystery through its otherworldly sound, foreshadowing the revelation that the woman encountered in the woods is not human. The harmony certainly is unexpected, taking a deceptive progression V - vi which is already surprising and adding extra chromaticism to it. But does that chord, really a key area in this song, sound otherworldly? Popular music and contemporary classical music has blurred the lines between major and minor modes so much – with the use of polymodality, pantonality, and world music modalities – that a simple borrowing from the parallel minor may not be striking anymore. We can still make statements about Schumann's efforts at text painting, since in the 1840s a bVI would definitely sound otherworldly. But can we assume that a typical audience will still find it so? I also wrestle with this issue of recontextualization when talking about parallel fifths and octaves with my first year students. I assure them that Bach kills a kitten every time they write one, because I can't rely upon their ears to tell them that it sounds wrong. Power chords and Debussy have broken the dependent voice taboo, so I have to rely upon stylistic practice to teach the concept.

This leads to the question, why teach it then? The quick answer is that enough Common Practice Period music is still performed that the students need to understand how it works, and how subsequent styles differ from it. But as we travel further and further away from the 18th century, I wonder how much class time we theorists will be able to devote to the stylistic nuances of that time period, at the sacrifice of 20th and 21st century stylistic practices.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Guest Post: Rossini's Turco vs Italiana

Kim Witman of the Wolf Trap Opera Company is celebrating today’s announcement of the WTOC 2010 season by doing guest blog posts and interviews in a few places across the blogosphere. Link back to Kim’s blog at for a complete list – all of the links should be active by midday on Tuesday, February 9.

Rossini’s Turk in Italy had a rough start. Just the year before, Rossini had a huge hit with an opera called The Italian Girl in Algiers. The set-up was simple enough: culture clash and comedy ensue when an Italian bombshell is washed up on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Italian Girl was written for Venice and was a wild success. When Rossini decided to turn this plot device on its head and write a new opera about a Turkish prince who finds himself in Naples, he was obviously planning on cashing in on the popularity of its prequel.

Well, audiences in Milan (where Turk was premiered) didn’t agree. They must’ve felt as if they’d been fed an imitation of the original opera seen in Venice, and they were (as Italian audiences tend to be) pretty vocal about it. It’s a shame, for Turk is in no way inferior when experienced on its own. Nevertheless, it has spent most of its life eclipsed by the popularity of Italian Girl.

I love drawing little diagrams that describe the relationships between operatic characters. (I do the same things for books of fiction with insane multi-generational character lists.) Selim is the Turk, and he’s only one of the three men involved with the lovely Fiorilla. (One of those three is Fiorilla’s husband…)

Stendhal tells a great story about the Turk performances at La Scala with the legendary buffo singer Luigi Pacini, who created the role of Geronio, Fiorilla’s cuckolded husband. It seems that there was a certain celebrity (a Duke, I think) whose wife was famously cheating on him. Pacini thought that it would be entertaining to incorporate some of the Duke’s recognizable gestures and mannerisms into his characterization of Geronio. According to Stendhal, the audience was quick to catch on, and the poor guy (who was watching from his box seat, with his cheating wife) was made a laughing-stock.

We probably won’t get involved in celebrity gossip during our production, but a good time will be had nevertheless. One of the great things about Turk is that there’s a character (the poet Prosdocimo) who breaks down the fourth wall and provides an entertaining bridge between audience and players. Add Rossini’s trademark vocal fireworks and high-energy ensembles, and you’ve got a wonderful night in the theatre.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Dipping a toe in the TAFTO

Drew McManus has invited me to contribute to the annual Take A Friend To the Orchestra, (shouldn't that make it TAFTTO?) so it is a good thing that I've been attending the ISO recently. I have some time before I have to think about my perspective on this. I've taken my children to countless concerts, I've taken students, I've taken grown-up family, I've taken romantic interests, and yes I have taken friends. I have also encouraged nonmusician friends to go to concerts, even though I didn't escort them there. I love hearing works that I know well, reflected through a new pair of ears sitting next to me. I also love the challenge of thinking about a new piece as I hear it, knowing that a musician friend sitting next to me will want to talk about it. So many possibilities!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Best of the Rest: 2-2-10

So classes started yesterday, reminding me how exhausting it can be to stand up in front of groups of students for four hours. I have the same basic schedule as last semester, just moved up one in the sequence of courses: Theory II, Theory IV, and Musicianship IV. I really want to teach an upper level class again soon.

Since I haven't done this in a while, the Best of the Rest are blogs that are not in the top 25-50 classical blog lists, but that I feel deserve some extra exposure.

1. Theme and Variations: Robert teaches us about the composer/violinist Charles-Auguste de Beriot.

2. 2'23": Philip Gentry explains that Lady GaGa is at the front edge of a new movement in virtuosic provocation, in The Law of GaGa.

3. Hearing the Movies: Jim Buhler extols the Wikipedia article on Illustrated Songs, and provides a video example from 1909.

4. Classical Convert: Things I Learned from the Cleveland Orchestra strike.

5. Feast of Music: Peter Matthews explains why the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is one of the best orchestras, pound-for-pound, in America.