Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Sometimes 8/13 is just 8/13

Number freaks love to find special proportions in nature and art, suggesting that these ratios have extra aesthetic value. One of the most popular is the Golden Section, especially in discussions of temporal ratios in music. The Golden Section started out as a geometric division of a line segment, such that the ratio of the smaller line segment to the larger line segment is equal to the ratio of the larger line segment to the whole line segment. In fancy algebraic terms, a/b = b/(a+b). This is related to the Fibonacci Series 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ... in that any three sequential numbers from this series obey the Golden Section, approximately. So 5/8 is about equal to 8/13.

These ratios are not expressed in pitches well, but theorists find the Golden Section as a rhythmic/metric phenomenon all over the place in the music of Bach, Bartók, Schoenberg, Crumb, and others. Bartók did write about his admiration for the Golden Section, and Bach did enjoy inserting number games in his music. So finding and writing about the existence of the Golden ratio in works by these composers has some relevance. But in other works where there is no evidence of intentionality by the composer, the theorist needs to rely upon the perceptual salience of these durational ratios, usually in works that last 5-15 minutes. Can you accurately judge and compare three minutes versus five minutes, without using a clock? If not, there is no validity to the claim that the ratio is aesthetically significant. These findings become even more dicey when theorists add a safety margin, allowing ratios that are "close" to the golden mean. If a significant chord occurs on measure 28, but the Golden Section is really at measure 27, well, that is worth writing about! And theorists are willing to shift between units of time measured in measures, beats, or seconds, often without specifying why a particular unit is appropriate for the given piece.

Here are two things Schoenberg had to say about the Golden Section:
I don’t believe in the golden section. At least, I don’t believe that it is the single formal principle for our sense of beauty; rather at most one among many, among countless many.
Harmonielehre
All form-making, all conscious formmaking, is connected with some kind of mathematics, or geometry, or with the golden section or suchlike. But only unconscious form-making, which sets up the equation “form – outward shape,” really creates forms; that alone brings forth prototypes which are imitated by unoriginal people and become formulas.
Letter to Kandinsky

Monday, June 28, 2004

Anything but the Banker!

Alex Ross has given a list of classical CDs that would be good for starting a collection. He has several caveats at the beginning, which I will try to obey while picking a major nit. One of his caveats is that he picked cheaper recordings, so that all 10 would cost only about \$150. This is a good criterion, as long as it isn't used to justify really crappy recordings. He also makes clear that this isn't a best recordings of all time list, or a must have list, just a good list for getting started. Fair enough.

But please, not the Gilbert Kaplan recording of Mahler's Second Symphony! For those that don't know, Gilbert Kaplan is an investment banker who developed a passion for Mahler, specifically his Second Symphony. Kaplan has never studied conducting or musicology seriously, but tries to apply both disciplines in his performances of Mahler. His recording comes with copious letters, notes, and justifications for his choices of bells, antiphonal brass choirs, etc, that show a well-meaning yet poorly trained musician. Kaplan's recording with the London Symphony was the first exposure I had to Mahler's Second, and I immediately hated it. I figured for a long time that this was just a bad symphony, not on par with his Third and Fifth symphonies (the others that I knew). Finally, when preparing for an orchestral audition that called for several excerpts from the Second, I borrowed some other recordings, including Simon Rattle's beautiful rendition. I found out that the Second was not the musical equivalent of an angst-ridden, hormone-crazed teenager, but had true beauty and substance.

Maybe Alex recommended this CD because it comes with a score, and does include some interesting background about the symphony. But I don't think that can justify picking such a naive performance over many other lovely interpretations.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Why not a song about opium?

Yesterday on Indiana Public Radio's Sound Medicine, I heard proof that reporters don't just screw up politics, they don't bother to fact-check anything anymore. On a segment about the connections between music and medicine, both the reporter and the "expert" repeated a completely de-bunked myth. The "expert," a doctor in Montana, teaches and writes about the connections between medicine and the humanities, with a particular forcus on music. He had some good examples, including two great little French Baroque pieces on gallstone surgery and childbirth by Marin Marais. But he joined in on the fallacy that "Ring around the Rosie" is about the Black Plague. It is not.

The clincher for me is that the first written version of the poem/song did not appear until 1881. Yet the myth says that this song has been around since either 1347 (the time of the first plague in London) or 1665 (when the second plague struck). So this song was important enough to be chanted by children for 534 years (or 216 years) without being written down? Where are references to it in the copious British literature from the 17th century onwards?

Let all reporters know, Snopes.com can help keep you from looking like an idiot.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Looking back, moving forward

As I have mentioned before, last weekend was the official reunion weekend of my alma mater, Lawrence University. As part of the reunions, there was a special celebration for the retirement of Robert Levy. Bob was the trumpet professor and band/wind ensemble director at Lawrence for 25 years. I studied with Bob and played in his ensembles for five years at Lawrence (I got two degrees). I also studied trumpet with Bob for four years before I went to Lawrence, so he has been a big part of my life.

On Friday, there was a three-hour long rehearsal of the Reunion Wind Ensemble, followed by social hour (drinking), dinner (more drinking), the Wind Ensemble concert, and a roast for Bob (drinking, stories, and very bad songs). Because of concerns that there wasn't enough alcohol involved, several of us brass players also visited the Wooden Nickel for some beer and shots during a lull in the rehearsal. For the concert, we played two movements of Percy Grainger's Lincolshire Posy, part of Rodney Rogers Air Mosaic (1991), Warren Benson's Transylvania Fanfare (1964), Alec Wilder's Serenade for Winds, a transcription of Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (1994), Eric Ewazen's Celtic Hymns and Dances (1990), excerpts of local composer John Harmon's Symphony "For Love of the Game" (2003), and in a nod to years of Bandorama concerts, Goldman's On the Mall Concert March.

Rodney Rogers was a member of the Lawrence faculty in the 1980s; he wrote several pieces that were performed by the Wind Ensemble. Alec Wilder was Bob's mentor, inspiring him to seriously pursue both jazz and contemporary music. Bob formed a trumpet/marimba duo with Gordon Stout called The Wilder Duo, and commissioned many works by Wilder for that group as well as brass quintets, unaccompanied trumpet works, and band pieces. But the piece that moved Bob the most that night was O Magnum Mysterium. It is a lovely work, transcribed by Michigan's H. Robert Reynolds, that captures the spirit of the Medieval Mysteries without compromising its contemporary tonal language.

On Saturday, after a nice noontime picnic where I got to see some friends' new children for the first time, we had a alumni trumpet recital. Former students of Bob's played some solos, trumpet ensembles and one work for trumpet and voice. The first performance, the first movement of the Neruda Concerto, was somewhat disappointing. The soloist (a classmate of mine) had a very beautiful sound, but she did not seem to know the piece well at all, and was hindered by a sticky valve at one point. The next work, Ned Rorem's Cries and Whispers, was absolutely stunning. I barely knew the soloist, as he was a freshman during my last year at Lawrence. But he had marvelous stage presence and did yeoman's work on the very difficult piece. Enesco's Legende was capably carried off by a friend of mine from high school and college (currentl in the Coast Guard Band), and a relatively new student of Bob's did a fair job with Arban's Fantasie Brillante. She overblew sometimes, and had to muscle out the final high C, but it was a very musical performance.

I did not like Alan Hovhaness' "He Touches the Broken Heart" for mezzo soprano, trumpet, and organ. For one thing, it did not feature the trumpet nearly enough for a trumpet-focused recital. Second, it was similar to Hovhaness' Prayer for St. Gregory, except without the passion, leaving a very flat feel at the end. Alums Edward Sutton, '03 and Marty Robinson '91 each wrote trumpet ensembles for the recital. Edward's trio was good, somewhat reminiscent of Verne Reynold's brass chamber works, though it started unevenly. Marty's arrangment/composition on "Now's the Time" (to Retire?) for five jazz trumpeters was great. I've known Marty since high school, and he let his humor show as well as masterfully handle the problem of writing a jazz work that doesn't involve a rhythm section. Each trumpeter took a solo, with another trumpeter playing a walking bass line and hits provided by the ensemble. Great solos all around, out of graduates ranging from '80 to '03. John Carlson, '82, recently of the Either/Orchestra, played a beautiful rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" with John Harmon at the piano. Man, those guys can swing!

For the finale, fifteen of us played the premiere of Eric Ewazen's Fanfare for a great teacher (2004), commissioned by the local chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Conducted by the new trumpet professor, John Daniel, it was a very good piece. It was Ewazen-ish, without being too much so.

After the recital, we managed to work in another social hour (drinking), dinner (more drinking), and a big band dance (drinking, dancing, and sitting in with the band). After two nights of staying up past midnight, and being awoken at 6:30 by the kids, I was exhausted (and somewhat tipsy). Overall, it was a great weekend. I got back in touch with some old friends and teachers, heard and played some good music, and also spent time with my family (when I wasn't drinking.)

Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop

My brother has written a letter to several newspapers in the Boston area. I think it is good enough to get more national coverage, with my huge readership (almost 20 a day!)
The Bush-Cheney campaign has placed a new ad on their web site called "The Faces of John Kerry's Democratic Party." In the montage of personalities that includes Al Gore and Michael Moore, the Bush-Cheney campaign has decided to include a picture of Adolf Hitler. I am struggling to try to understand the rationale for their inclusion of Hitler. Are they drawing a comparison between the Democratic Party to the Third Reich? Are they suggesting that supporting a Democrat will lead to the rise of a dictator such as Adolf? Sixty years after World War II and the atrocities committed by Hitler and his followers, the image of Hitler is still guaranteed to incite strong negative emotions, and it is reprehensible for anyone to include his image in an advertisement, political or otherwise. Could the Bush people simply be trying a pedestrian tactic of getting voters to associate John Kerry with Hitler? If so, then I think that Jon Stewart of The Daily Show summarized it well: George Bush isn’t stupid. He just thinks we are.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Scales and Tonics, no gin

The Society for Music Theory (SMT) sponsors an email list, smt-list, for people interested in discussing theoretical issues about music. It is primarily of and for professional music theorists, but there are some other musicians and interested amateurs as well. While the list is typically very quiet during the summer, currently there is a discussion ensuing about the nature of scales.

Coming out of a discussion about whether music does or can have a syntax, the new thread focuses on whether diatonic scales naturally prioritize specific notes to be the tonic. Jay Rahn argues that in a white note collection (C D E F G A B) that uses triads as the main harmonic referents, C or A will have a head start over other notes in being heard as tonic. One suggested reason for this priority is that the C major triad and the A minor triad are the only triads of this diatonic collection that do not contain a note a tritone away from another note of the collection. In this collection, B and F form the tritones, so any triad with B or F would not be prioritized to be tonic. This explanation is attributed to Godfrey Winham.

Dmitri Tymoczko disagrees with the concept that diatonic scales will naturally gravitate towards certain notes as tonic, and also feels that symmetric collections like the whole tone scale or octatonic scale can be used to create a sense of tonic just as easily as diatonic scales.

I agree with Dmitri that the context determined by the composer is much more important in determining what note is prioritized than the intervallic content of the collection or scale. But I can also see that asymmetric scales can help to serve as guide posts in the perception of tonic. I don't think C or A have a head start on being perceived as tonic in the white note diatonic collection, so lets assume that the composer has written music with F as the tonic note. There are only two half steps in the diatonic scale, in this case between scale degrees 4 - 5 and 7 - 1. Thus any time a half step is heard, the listener will easily identify it as being one of those two locations. The first half step is preceded by two whole steps, the latter by three, so hearing three whole steps in a row is also a guidepost. With symmetric scales, there are no unusual features to help the listener. Locating your place in the scale in relation to tonic is like finding a house in a cookie cutter housing division. It is possible, but all the houses look the same, so you had better remember the address and the directions. With the diatonic scale, each house looks quite different, and there is only one street to drive down (maybe two).

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Problem with Charles

It pains me to admit this, but I am having problems analyzing Charles Ives' songs. I get the quotation stuff, and especially dig Peter Burkholder's extensive list of different types/methods of quoting and paraphrasing. I also understand Ives' use of various scales (esp. the whole tone scale) and the blatant polytonal effects of some songs. But many of Ives' chords do not fit neatly into a category of polychord, pc-set, extended tertian harmony, or other standard 20th century harmonic thingee. As an example, in "The Cage," almost all of the chords are quartal, with 3 quintal chords and 3 other chords. One occurs at the end of the introduction, one occurs at the first rhythmic break in the vocal part, and one occurs at the climax.

The first such chord could be a polychord of D minor and F#-7, except it overlaps too much to have an effective splitting of chord types. It could be a secundal chord, except it is spread very open, without that clustered feel that most secundal chords have.

Moving to the climax, this chord is essentially a complete whole tone chord (C#,D#,F,G,A,B) plus C. The C is not isolated in the voicing, and again the overlapping prevents a confident reading of an F7/G+ polychord. Looking at either chord makes it seem like there should be some symmetry or intervallic relationships at work, but I can't see them. Sometimes a dissonant chord can just be a dissonant chord. Perhaps not being a quartal chord is enough description and function.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Somewhere a Web for Us

I am back from my reunion, full of memories, good music, and wine. More on that in a different post. This is about my Father's Day presents. One was a delightful mug handpainted by my four-year-old daughter. She painted her name all by herself, and added a green flower. It is my new tea mug for school. The second gift was from my two-year-old son. As he has not fully explored his artistic abilities beyond some crayon scribbles, he decided to go with a purchased gift, with some help from his mother. I am quite excited with my Spider-Man DVD, so much so that I had to sit down and watch it when we got home from Wisconsin.

When I saw the movie at the theatre a year ago, I left convinced that I kept hearing quotes from West Side Story's "Somewhere." Specifically, I thought that I heard the opening three notes: Sol - Fa - Mi, with appropriate rhythm. So I was ready to hear this again when I watched the DVD. I was correct that Danny Elfman had quoted "Somewhere," but I was incorrect as to the specific quote. It is not the opening three notes, it is the first four notes of the second phrase: La - Sol - Fa - Mi, with appropriate harmony (IV - V - V7 - I, though sometimes in the movie it ends on vi).

I know this is committing the Intentional Fallacy, but I can't help but think that Elfman did this on purpose, as this quotation usually occurs during Peter's love moments with Mary Jane, including the final scene where he rejects her to protect her. It is an interesting take on "Somewhere, a place for us." In West Side Story, the two lovers are separated by violence, first with the killing of Maria's brother, and then with the shooting of Tony. In Spider-Man, the two lovers are also separated by violence, first with an attempted homicide by the Green Goblin, and then when Peter decides he cannot risk her life again.

But what really gets me is that I had the right citation, but the wrong melodic quote. How weird is that?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Portrait of an exhausted artist

It has been a hectic week for me. I've been teaching an Introduction to Music Theory class (two sections) for the DePauw Vocal Arts Camp, a week-long camp for high school singers and the School of Music's major recruiting tool. I've been driving down to Bloomington to get prepared for a class on 20th Century analysis and literature I will be teaching at IU starting next week (it actually starts tomorrow, but I will be out of the state, so my TA is lecturing). And I have been practicing so I am in shape for my undergraduate Wind Ensemble/Trumpet studio reunion on Friday and Saturday. Along with normal family responsibilities, preparing for two new classes next year, and trying to get some research done, I've been a little overwhelmed this week.

Once I get into the IU rhythm, I think the summer will go much smoother. I do need to revise some statistics for a paper I will be giving in August, and revise some other statistics for an article I will be resubmitting this summer. And work on the files for my interim review in the Fall. Other than that, piece-o-cake!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Keeping Score

Look at this website and watch the show on PBS tomorrow night (Wednesday). If you aren't convinced, read this blog. Then watch the show and tell me what you think.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Educated singers?

I used a recording of Ian Bostridge singing Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin (the Hyperion Schubert edition, vol. 25) for my Introduction to Theory class at DePauw's Vocal Arts camp. I've used the recording before, but realized this time that I really, really like it (the recording won the Gramophone solo vocal award for 1996). Bostridge has a very clean, yet sweet and full tone, impeccable diction, and a very creative yet natural sense of phrasing and interpretation. He doesn't resort to cheap theatrics like overblown dynamics or extreme rubatos to make his point, yet expresses the lyrics much more than many singers. Even more impressive, Bostridge has a Ph.D. in history from Oxford, and is a published author and respected authority on witchcraft. It was only after doing a post-doc at Oxford that he decided to pursue music as a career, which he has done very successfully. Here is a short bio.

More musicians need to educate themselves in more things than music; it can only help give their performances or compositions more depth. I know some feel that any time spent away from their studies of music will hinder their development. Some even feel that anything other than practicing and applied lessons are a waste of their time. I can only point to Ian and plenty of other professionals who will have full careers because they took the time to become well-rounded as both musicians and people.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Why don't you just play in the symphony?

Quite often my wife gets asked this, by people who just don't understand. Hopefully this great article in today's Indianapolis Star will make them more aware of the high stakes competition in the orchestral world, especially for trumpet. It is a very well written article, full of insider tidbits about excerpts, different trumpets, and the process from application to waiting room to warmup area to the stage. We know some of these people, like David Leon, Dan Gosling, and Jennifer Marotta (fiancée of the winner). The print version has a picture of Mark Schubert, 2nd trumpet in the Honolulu Symphony, whom I studied with at the Brevard Music Center.

Note that 286 people applied, of which 148 were invited, about a 50% selection rate just to get your foot in the door. Only 65 people confirmed (this means they sent in a \$75 deposit to hold their audition spot. If they don't show up, they lose the deposit.) So over half the invited applicants decided they weren't ready. A final five didn't show up, probably illness or other last minute changes to their schedules.

Sixty people auditioned in the first round. Seven were advanced to the second round, with two more advanced automatically to the final round along with the interim player, so a cut of 85%. Of the seven in the second round, one advanced to the final round. Four people played in the finals, and Tom Hooten was chosen unanimously to be the new 3rd trumpet/assistant principal trumpet of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I look forward to hearing him play with the ISO next season, and congratulate him on his success.

This article is rather unusual, both for its level of detail and accuracy, and for being prominantly featured on the front page of the Sunday paper. The author, Whitney Smith, regarded the story as "an opportunity to engage readers who might not regularly listen to classical music." (Pam Fine, Managing Editor) The print version has lots of photos, and includes two additional articles by Smith on the winner and the prospects of the other candidates featured in the main article (Fenson, Gosling, Still, Miller, Larsen, and Hall). This is a great way to reach larger audiences, by showing how hard the musicians work for their jobs and to personalize the concert-going experience more. Thumbs up to both Whitney Smith and to the Indianapolis Star.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Odd associations

I'm in the middle of reading The Social Psychology of Music. I will provide a review of this interesting book when I have finished, but I just wanted to share two literary references that struck me while reading the chapter on "Music and social influence." First, the author referenced Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, probably better known as the John Cusack/Jack Black film. The author, Ray Crozier, was using a scene from the book as an example of unpopular music preferences being mocked and altered by normative processes. I was both amused at seeing a fictional novel cited next to heavy duty psychology articles, and a little dismayed that Crozier resorted to a fictional scenario in making a point. It cheapens the point he is making, as this scene did not occur in real life or reflect legitimate research. And it seems unnecessary given the other citations he does make to support the exact same point.

The second is not an intentional reference by the author, but one caused by my unfamiliarity with British folk dancing. In the introduction to this chapter, the author uses morris dancing as an example of group activity that is influenced by both conformity and innovation. It is probably an excellent example, but my only other experience with morris dancing is in Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies. In this fine tome of fantasy satire, the Lancre Morris Men, six time winners of the Fifteen Mountains All-Comers Morris Championship (twice when the other finalists ran away), perform the Stick and Bucket Dance to help kill nasty elves. So my visions of morris dancing are a little skewed. Though I would like to see the Stick and Bucket dance some day, from a safe distance.

Requiem messages

I had not planned to watch Reagan's state funeral today, but my father called to tell me that it was being held at the Episcopal Cathedral in Washington. As my wife is on the path to becoming an Episcopal priest, I take some interest in the religion and its churches. So I turned on the TV, heard some great music (though I wasn't impressed with the organ, at least how it came out on TV), and heard much of the eulogies. I did turn of the volume during Margaret Thatcher's recorded piece, so I could read a book to my kids.

I naturally listened for any gaffes in President Bush (Jr.)'s eulogy, and he had plenty of slips and awkward pauses. But what really struck me was his pointed emphasis on Reagan's "bold and consistent leadership." He looked at someone - his father perhaps? - as he practically spit out these words. Either George Jr. was having an Oedipal moment, or he was continuing his campaign's efforts to link himself to Reagan as the Republican hero. I don't think it is working, at least not the way they want it to.

By the way, if anyone knows what the music was for the recessional, please let me know. Parts of it were quite pleasant, though the contrasting middle section was too movie-like (perhaps appropriate in the circumstances).

Update! I found the answer here: it was "Mansions of the Lord" by Nick Glennie-Smith and was originally written for the movie We Were Brothers Soldiers(2002). So my instincts were right!

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Torture Timeline

Here is a timeline I have created on the recent history of torture by the U.S. Please let me know if I have missed anything important.

9/11/2001: The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

10/7/2001: The U.S. attacks Afghanistan

Late 2001: Donald Rumsfeld instructs military intelligence officers to "Take the gloves off" in interrogating American Taliban recruit John Walker Lindh

Late 2001: CIA developed a new set of interrogation rules, vetted by Justice Department and approved by NSA. Rules allow operators to use "enhanced measures" that cause temporary physical or mental pain upon approval from Washington.

8/2002: Justice Department memo advises White House that torturing is acceptable in the war on terror.

12/2002: 2 Afghans die in U.s. custody, both deaths classified as homicides. Still unsolved.

2003: Maher Arar, Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was rendered to Jordan where he was interrogated and beaten. Jordan turned him over to Syria, where he was beaten, tortured, and kept in a shallow grave for 10 months. Returned to Canada after pressure from Canadian government and activists.

3/6/2003: Department of Defense memo prepared by Bush administration lawyers states that U.S. laws and international treaties banning torture can be ignored because of national security concerns and presidential fiat. That's right, the president can ignore all laws if he desires. And Guantanamo Bay is part of the U.S., not affected by treaties.

4/2003: Creation of List of approved interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay. Includes reversing sleep patterns, exposing prisoners to hot and cold, and sensory assault by loud music and bright lights.

9/2003: Major General Miller of Guantanamo recommends that Abu Ghraib guards "be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."

11/2003: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear two appeals about Guantanamo Bay detainees.

11/1/2003: Abu Ghraib guards had definitely started abusing prisoners by this time (Taguba report)

1/31/2004: Taguba starts his investigation of Abu Ghraib MPs.

2/24/2004: White House chief counsel tells ABA that President Bush makes the final decision on a U.S. citizen being designated as an enemy combatant.

4/20/2004: Solicitor General tells Supreme Court that Guantanamo Bay is not part of U.S.

4/27/2004: Photographs from Abu Ghraib are reported by CBS.

5/10/2004: Washington Post reports that CIA employees are being investigated for 2 interrogation-related deaths in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. This article also reports that the CIA would move captives ("ghost detainees") around to hide them from the Red Cross.

5/17/2004: Deputy Solicitor General tells Supreme Court 'they must "trust the executive to make the kind of quintessential military judgments that are involved in things like that." The government's interrogators understand that information obtained through coercion may be unreliable, Clement said, and they know that "the last thing you want to do is torture somebody or try to do something along those lines." When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that some governments engage in "mild torture" to obtain information, Clement shot back: "Well, our executive doesn't."'

Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!

The Union for Concerned Scientists has come out with an article about the history of fuel economy regulations, and the current effects of the regulations.

In 2002 Johns Kerry and McCain offered an amendment to the Energy Bill to increase gas economies to 36 mpg for both cars and light trucks by 2015. If this had been enacted, our country would be saving about 2 million barrels of oil a day, the same amount that we import from the Persian Gulf. Instead, Congress gave the Bush Administration's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) control over deciding fuel economies. In 2003 the NHTSA decided to increase average fuel economies for light trucks by 1.5 mpg for 2007 models. This is a smaller improvement than what auto companies have already announced they will be making by 2005. That's right, Detroit is more fuel conscious than our government.

The average fuel economy of cars is at a 21-year low, with standards being frozen since 1996 (remember, Republicans have controlled the House during this whole time). Finally in 2001 (when Democrats had some control of the Senate), Congress agreed to start studying fuel economies again, though no enactions have been made to date. Be sure to thank your Representative, Senator, and Administration in November.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Euphonic Epiphany

Alex Ross has been doing a series of posts on his personal musical epiphanies. I thought I would share a momentous musical experience of my own.

When I was a freshman at Lawrence University, the Conservatory of Music decided to stage a musical instead of the yearly opera. The opera director was on sabbatical, so this made some sense. They chose Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, but decided to do it in a different way. Instead of using the typical pit orchestra that Sondheim had scored the musical for, the jazz director, Grammy-award winning Fred Sturm, had the students from his Jazz Composition and Arranging class each arrange a section of the musical for large jazz ensemble. The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE), a Down Beat award winner, was the pit, with Fred leading from the podium. The entire production was done by undergraduate students, include sets and costumes. My residence assistant, Joe Graziano, had the lead role of George/George (George Seurat in the first act, George's great-grandson in the second act) and did an incredible job. I went to all of the performances, and constantly got chills at two points - the finales of each act, both called "Sunday." Each finale starts with a simple oscillation between tonic and dominant chords on the piano, as George finishes speaking the word, "harmony." Just before this, as George is saying some other words, there are dissonant sustained notes in the strings (saxophones in the Lawrence production), very soft, but highly dissonant. When they resolved to the simple chords right on the word "harmony," I felt a rush going through my whole body, from the heart outward.

From this beginning point, the hushed piano and sotto voce vocal ensemble slowly build to a predictable yet very satisfying climax. This is followed immediately by a return of the dissonant intervals and a final tonic chord. When I listen to my recording of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters (and Star Trek's Brent Spiner), I still get thrills, though not as great as those I had in Stanley Theater back in 1988.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Striptease for Democracy

Now this has potential to increase voter turnout!

It depends on what your definition of "was" is.

The media is lying to you. Reagan is not the most popular president ever.

Online Music Perception experiment

I had the pleasure of working with Henkjan Honing in putting together the SMT Music Cognition Group's proposal for a special session at the upcoming AMS/SMT conference. Henkjan is now looking for volunteers for an experiment run by the Music Mind Machine group in Amsterdam:

Date:    Mon, 7 Jun 2004 18:36:18 +0200
From:    Henkjan Honing
Would you like to take part in a short (online) listening experiment?
On the link given below you will find a short listening experiment (a pilot study):
http://www.hum.uva.nl/mmm/
I hope you can find some time to do it; It will just take a few minutes.
On the same page you'll find all instructions.
Henkjan Honing

Music Theory Mnemonic #436

Now 'Picardy Third' I recognize. I just picture Patrick Stewart, in that episode when he lived an entire life on a long-dead planet, playing the little hand-flute thingie, and ending with a major third in a minor key.

There's one for you, nineteen for me.

In the wake of all the glowing Reagan tributes, especially the hopes of Republicans to cloak Bush in Reagan's tax-reducing-great-man mantle, I want to point out Paul Krugman's latest op-ed.

Paul, a Princeton economist, points out that Reagan was responsible enough to recognize when taxes needed to be raised, doing so twice in his eight years: the 1982 rollback of corporate tax cuts from 1981 to correct for grossly incorrect revenue estimates, and the payroll tax increase of 1983 to save Social Security. George W. Bush, when faced with similarly incorrect revenue estimates, decides to cut taxes more, and to cut Social Security benefits to help pay for it. He is not the Great Communicator, he isn't even a fiscally conservative mumbler. George W. Bush is Maxwell, hammering away at the U.S. economy and the safety of the world.

Monday, June 07, 2004

My homework assignment

Helen Radice has given all music bloggers an assignment: discuss Greg Sandow's question about the future of music.
"WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE

Is classical music dying? That's a big topic, and a blog seems like a perfect way to attack it. Nobody knows any answers, and in my experience -- teaching a course about the future of classical music, writing and speaking about it, and discussing it with many people in the field -- anything we say spins off in 12 directions at once. So why not approach it all in little pieces, following thoughts wherever they lead?"

My take on this is that the current division between classical music and popular music will continue to blur, creating a new aesthetic or musical language that will be the basis for the next generation of art and popular musics. This was seen in previous periods of music history, with divisions between either sacred and secular or court and popular musics. I sometimes tell my students that the Babelization of musical languages of the 20th century has already started to stabilize into a new tonality/atonality mix in both art music and popular music. The fuzzy definition of contemporary tonality is coupled with very fuzzy style categories - mixes between hip-hop, jazz, pop, rock, contemporary art, and historical art styles - that will slowly dissolve our current division between orchestra hall and rock stadium, and more importantly, the canonical divisions in music education and in music stores. This is my little piece for the moment.

Who is Sylvia?

I just discovered a very bizarre combination of coincidences. A German author named Martin Spiegelberg, who happens to be a trumpet player, writes a book called (in translation) The Matter with Sylvia. I am a trumpet player, my last name is Spiegelberg, and my mother-in-law's name is Sylvia.

To add yet another bit to this tapestry of flukes, the main character of the book is Swabian. I just found out where Swabia was at the end of this semester, because a song from the Ottman sightsinging book I assigned for a final exam happened to be a folksong from Swabia. Oh, and Swabia used to be ruled by the Merovingians, who feature prominantly in Dan Brown's hit The Da Vinci Code, which I read last year. And... oh you get the idea.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Freedom means freedom

This is a reworking of an email I perhaps unwisely sent to the entire staff and faculty at my university, in response to a staff member's email against homosexual marriage. In my response I brought up a point that I have not seen given play in the media or blogosphere, though I certainly have not searched extensively for it.

If the government at any level passes laws forbidding certain people from marrying, but their religion does allow them to marry, is this not an instance of violating their freedom to practice the religion of their choice? Various Episcopal churches allow same sex blessings, the United Universalist church allows same sex marriage, and the two governing bodies of Reform Judaism allow same sex marriage. I can imagine Wiccans or neo-Pagans jumping on the bandwagon very easily. If a homosexual couple who belong to the UU church want to get married, the federal government currently prevents them from practicing all aspects of their religion.

Perhaps the fear is that this argument leads to discussions about polygamy and the Mormon church. If that is the case, perhaps it is something that does need to be discussed, weighing the need for freedom with the need to prevent abuse or neglect (the usual reasons for outlawing polygamy, whether reasonable or not).

What sticks in my craw is the Republican party complaining about their freedom to practice religion being violated, and in the same breath planning to violate the religious practices of others. From the Texas GOP platform:
A plank in a section titled "Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety" proclaims the United States a "Christian nation."
"The party affirms freedom of religion and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives," says a passage added this year.
The rewritten "Celebrating Traditional Marriage" section now calls for legislation making it a felony for anyone to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple or for a "civil official" to perform a wedding ceremony for such couples.

Apparently freedom of religion only applies to conservative christian religions, not that liberal wacko stuff.

Hail, Britten-ia

Two bloggers present contrasting opinions on Benjamin Britten's music. They are both well written, and (interestingly) both British. Jessica Duchen says that Britten's music is "dreary, weak, boring and overrated..." with a main emphasis later in the post on the weakness. She finds his climaxes to be incomplete or undramatic, a sign of his decision to stay in Neverland. Helen Radice respectfully disagrees. In the opera that Jessica mentions, The Turn of the Screw, Helen points out that the plot is meant to be inconclusive and unclear, so Britten's music is showing a deft sensitivity to the dramatic scene. She also argues that this awareness of literary interpretation is what makes Britten such a fine British composer.
Britten, more than any other composer I know, has the most extraordinary affinity with literature, particularly the British canon. Britain, it must be said, struggles to compete musically with France, Germany and Russia in terms of how many truly great composers we can boast. Johnson described us way back when as "a nation without music." Of course we have music, great music, but we don't have so much of it, and we don't have Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. Our literature, however, is arguably the greatest in the world. Shakespeare is the greatest poet who ever lived: the Bach of his field. It is chiefly through our literature that our national identity is articulated, and our language has - thanks to an enormous breadth of influence from Old French to Hebrew - the most extraordinary richness, power and vigour. Britten tunes in to it all: Old and Middle English verses; Shakespeare; TS Eliot; the War Poets; and myriad lesser-known writing. He not only selects marvellous and moving sources in the first place; he understands them. It would be so easy to score The Turn of the Screw as a ghost story only: but the novel's entire interest comes from its uneasy mixture of ordinary ghost story and disturbing metanarrative.

I have always been a fan of Britten, starting with singing from his Ceremony of Carols and Glorianna when I was a young chorister, and moving to his operas, chamber and orchestral works in college. In any 20th century course I teach, I use either Peter Grimes or the Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings. As a response to Jessica's preference for Elgar or Walton, I teach Britten more often because his compositional style is much more influential on styles that follow. You can hear shades of Britten in Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles, or in Stephen Sondheim's Passion. Elgar is more of a compositional dead end, though one I enjoy immensely. Look at the daring use of rhythm, of modality and atonality mixed with glorious tonal harmonies in Britten's work, compared to the Romantic strains of Elgar, and you can see why Britten is considered a better face of British 20th century music. Jessica may have a point that Britten's music has been championed partly because of his homosexuality, but it does not make his music less worthy.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Goodnight, Bonzo

Ronald Reagan died today. It is not very surprising, given his state of health for the last many years. I am not sure what to think about his death. Reagan was first elected when I was 10 years old. I remember sitting in the school library to watch the news coverage when he was shot, my fifth-grade teacher launching into a civics lesson to correct Alexander Haig when he claimed to be in charge. During the 1984 election year, I was in a civics class. At the beginning of the year I wrote a paper on why I would vote for Reagan, all reasons that my father gave me. But then I had to watch the debates and keep track of the pros and cons for the class. During this process I realized that I was a liberal, and wrote my final paper supporting Walter Mondale, to the chagrin of my entire family. In all subsequent elections that I could vote in, I have voted Democrat, with my family slowly joining in (other than my wife, who has been an adamant Democrat for as long as I have.) So I guess I could credit Reagan, with his voodoo economics, evil empire rhetoric, and shady Iran-contra dealings with making me realize what kind of government I wanted.

How many future Democrats has George Bush made?

Michael Gunn, a "student" at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, was caught plagiarizing from the internet just before his final exams. He now states his intent to sue the university for not clearly telling him that this plagiarism was wrong earlier (he claims to have done the same plagiarism for the whole three years at school.)

Surprisingly, Teresa Nielsen Hayden actually thinks the student has a point, because student handbooks are never read by the students. I say this is surprising, because I've always been impressed by Teresa's thoughts before, but this is a horrible defense. Yes, some college students do not read the academic handbook, or the plagiarism warnings on syllabi, or the citation directions on a writing assignment. But this is the university setting, where we expect the students to take responsibility for their own education. For the first time in their lives, these students have chosen where to go, and what to study. They also decide when to study, when to sleep, and when to party, usually making bad decisions. They also get to decide whether to inform themselves on university policies that can affect their chances to graduate. Michael Gunn is either baldly lying, or decided not to arm himself with all the knowledge he would need to do well at the university. That is his problem, not the university's.

On comments at both Teresa's post and a rebuttal by Kieran Healy, some professors talk about how difficult it can be to catch the clever plagiarist. The stupid ones are easy, as the writing style is markedly different and the sources are easy to spot (Google, usually). In my case, the tricky cases involve music theory assignments of partwriting or roman numeral analysis. When I get two students with the exact same (wrong) answers, I suspect that they were collaborating, but I cannot prove it. My solution to this problem is to allow/ignore collaboration on these simple homework sets, but to weight the exams higher. The homework is meant to help the students in mastering various topics. If the collaboration is genuine, then both students should do well on the exam. If one student was mindlessly copying from the other, then he/she should do poorly on the exams.

When I was in grad school a fellow TA experienced an amazing example of plagiarism. In our second-year theory class the students were required to compose a musical work that used specific harmonies and form. This composition was stretched throughout the semester, with numerous drafts and consultations with the teacher. One student was resistant to any changes her instructor (the fellow TA) made to her work, which can be understandable in creative activities. But her final draft ended up being an exact copy of a marimba piece by Evelyn Glennie. The plagiarism was discovered in a fluke, the TA just happened to pick up this set of marimba pieces because another student was performing them and asked a question. The first student had clearly decided to cheat on the project at the beginning of the semester, and this composition was a rather large part of the overall grade.

Finally, here at DePauw academic policy requires any case of cheating to be reported to the administration, and the penalty has to be more than just a zero on the offending assignment. I have not been through the process here yet, so I don't know what it is really like. But DePauw wants all professors to treat cheating with the same types of penalties, thus the requirement that all cases must be formally reported. I appreciate their sentiment, but it does remove most of the flexibility from the professor and makes it more likely for many professors to ignore plagiarism altogether, just to avoid having to write a formal report.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

George Bush is consulting with a lawyer about the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. George Tenet has resigned as head of the CIA, and so has the deputy director of operations. Stephanie Herseth, the Democratic candidate for the special election in South Dakota, won only because of the Indian vote. Ahmed Chalabi is suspected of plans to blackmail US officials, on top of the spying that he was doing for Iran. Oh, and the secrets that Chalabi gave to Iran could have only come from a small group of people: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz or Feith in the Pentagon; Cheney or Scooter Libby from the Vice President's Office.

Quite a week for me to take a vacation!

Concerts for Kerry

Music or comedy in LA, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Madison (yes, Madison, WI). 100% of ticket sales go to the Kerry campaign. To my friends and relatives in Wisconsin and Boston, you deserve a fun night out, and we deserve a real president!

Take a moment...

Jonathan Kramer, author of The Time of Music: New Meanings, New Temporalities, New Listening Strategies died yesterday morning indirectly caused by acute leukemia. I never had the chance to meet with Dr. Kramer, but I have been wrestling with his conceptions of musical time for many years (see my previous post), so I do feel his loss immensely.

The sounds of nature

I just got back from a four day camping trip to Turkey Run State Park in western Indiana. We got to camp just in time to experience the full force of Brood X, the largest infestation of 17-year cicadas in the United States. The cicadas are big and somewhat ugly, but they do not bite and they are very slow. They are also very loud. Every afternoon while my son was napping, I would sit outside, next to the tent, marvelling at how loud the cicadas could be. I found one site that has a recording of Brood V, but this doesn't do justice to the depth and intensity of the sounds we experienced in the woods. This recording also doesn't capture how the cicadas also were phased together, creating waves of sound. Localized areas would subside, and then crescendo together.

What was truly interesting to me was that I never was aware of when the cicadas stopped "singing" for the night. At some point I would realize that I hadn't been hearing them for a while, but I never noticed an ebbing of the sound or the stopping point all together. The latter is not surprising, as all the other sounds of the forest would fill in for the cicadas, preventing a complete silence. But the lack of awareness of the waning of the cicada calls illustrates how durations of time can affect our ability to perceive things. Like getting used to a smell, we can get accustomed to unchanging sounds so that we are no longer aware of the sensation. I wrote a paper on time scales in music that briefly mentions this effect. I think I will have to explore this further.