Friday, October 29, 2004

I feel the need for more humor

You might be a theory geek if . . .

1. you whistle in style brisé.
2. your favorite pickup line is, "What's your favorite augmented sixth chord?"
3. your second favorite pickup line is, "Would you like to raise my leading tone?"
4. you have ever played the how-many-episodes-is-too-many-episodes fugue game.
5. you have a poster of Allen Forte in your room.
6. you know who Allen Forte is.
7. you dream in four parts.
8. your biological clock follows a non-retrogradable isorhythm.
9. you can improvise 16th-century counterpoint with no trouble, but you frequently forget how to tie your shoes.
10. you will look at a piece by Bach and say, "You know, I think he could have gotten a better effect this way . . ."
11. you expected something quite different out of The Matrix.
12. you can answer your phone with a tonal or a real answer.
13. you like to tease your friends and loved ones with deceptive cadences.
14. you know how large a major 23rd is without having to count.
15. you only drink fifths, and then you laugh at the pun.
16. you feel the need to end Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony with a picardy third.
17. your favorite characteristic of Brahms's music is the subcutaneous motivic play.
18. instead of counting sheep, you count sequences.
19. you find free counterpoint too liberal.
20. Moussorgsky's "Hopak" gives you nightmares.
21. you wonder what a Danish sixth would sound like.
22. you long for the good old days of movable G-clefs.
23. the Corelli Clash gives you goosebumps. Every time.
24. you can hear an enharmonic modulation coming a mile away.
25. you can hear Berg's lover's dog coming a mile away.
26. you have had to be forced to stop labeling motives.
27. you confuse fishsticks with ground bass.
28. you found No. 27 funny.
29. you have ever quoted Walter Piston.
30. you like to march to the rhythm of L'histoire du soldat.
31. your license plate says: PNTONL.
32. you have ever defended yourself with, "But Gesualdo did it!"
33. you have ever tried to do a Schenkerian analysis on "Three Blind Mice."
34. you have ever tried to do a Schenkerian analysis on 4'33''.
35. you have ever had a gebrauchsmusik party.
36. you have ever tried to hop onto the omnibus.
37. you like to wake up to a Petrushkated version of "Reveille."
38. you lament the decline of serialism.
39. you know what the ninth overtone of the harmonic series is off the top of your head.
40. you keep the writings of Boethius on the coffee table.
41. you have ever dressed up as counterpoint for Halloween.
42. you have ever written a musical palindrome and given it a witty title.
43. you can name ten of Palestrina's contemporaries.
44. you have ever found a typographical error in a score by Ives, Nancarrow, or Babbitt.
45. you have ever heard a wrong note in a performance of a composition by Ives, Nancarrow, or Babbitt.
46. you already sensed that if this list had been written by Bartók, this would be the funniest item.
47. you enjoy the tang of a tritone whenever you can.
48. you've let the rule of the octave determine how you go from one event of the day to the next.
49. you have ever played through your music as if the fingering markings were figured bass symbols.
50. you suspiciously check all the music you play for dangling sevenths.
51. you have devised your own tuning method.
52. you keep a notebook of useful diminutions.
53. you have composed variations on a theme by Anton Webern.
54. you know the difference between a Courante and a Corrente.
55. you have trained your dog to jump through a flaming circle of fifths.
56. you have ever used the word fortspinnung in polite conversation.
57. you feel cheated by evaded cadences.
58. you organize phone numbers based on their prime form.
59. you find it amusing to refer to you ear-training course sections as your "pitch classes."
60. every now and again you like to kick back and play a tune in hypophrygian mode.
61. you wonder why there aren't more types of seventh chords.
62. you wish you had twelve fingers.
63. you like polytonal music because, hey, the more keys the merrier.
64. you abbreviate your shopping list using figured bass symbols.
65. you always make sure to invert your counterpoint, just in case.
66. you have ever told a joke with a punchline of: because it was polyphonic!
67. you have ever named a pet, instrument, boat, gun or child after Zarlino.
68. you have an <0 1 4> tattoo.
69. your lips may say, "perfect fourth," but in your heart it will always be "diatessaron."
70. you have ever said, "Yes, didn't Scriabin use that sonority in . . ."
71. you know dirty acronyms for the order of sharps.
72. you can name relatives of the "Grandmother Chord."
73. you're still wondering why I haven't included the "must-resolve-the- dominant-seventh-before-going-to-bed" indicator.
74. you can not only identify any one of Bach's 371 Harmonized Chorales by ear, but you also know what page it is on in the Riemenschneider edition and how many suspensions it has in the first four bars.
75. you got more than half of the jokes on this list.

(Yes, this is an old list. Yet still true.)

More letters from camp

from Ashlee Simpson:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Here is a new song I wrote, called “Autobiography.”

On a Monday I am waiting
Tuesday I am fading
And by Wednesday I can't sleep
Then my the phone rings,
I hear you
and the darkness is a clear view
I see you've come to rescue me...

Aw crap, that’s the wrong song! Well, here’s a little dance. Tell Jessica to stay out of my room.



from Steve Reich:

Dear Mom and Dad,

How are you? I am fine
HHowaareyyou? IIaamffin
HoHowrareoyou?I Imamifi
nowHoweareuyouI aI amnf
inw How are?you?amIfame
fineaHowyare youam Iiam
HfinarHowoare youm fIna
amwfine How?are youfinI
Ham fineyHow areayouine
IoamafinyoHow aremyoune
HIwamrfinouHowIare youe
HoI amefinu?How arefyou
HowIaam fine Howaareiyo
uow Iramyfine Howmareny
ouw aIeamofineIHow aree
you?arI amufinI Howfare
eoyoure Ioam finamHowna
reeyoue yIuam finm Howe
are you?yoI?amIfinefHow
HareayouyouI am finfiHo
woareryouou?I amafininH
owwareeyouu? IIammfinne
How are you? I am fine


Thursday, October 28, 2004

Letters from camp

From Arnold Schoenberg:

Dear ma & pa. How are you? I am fine. Love Arnold.
Arnold love, fine am I. you are how?
pa & ma dear. dlonrA evoL .enif ma I
?uoy era woH .ap & am am & ap
?woh era uoy .I ma enif ,evol dlonrA

Love, Arnie


From Philip Glass:

Hello heh heh hello, o-hell o-hell oh ellow ellow heh heh heh hello
mama mama muh muh muh-mah, ah ah ah ahhhh! Aye aye aye aye aye yam
yam yam yam
Eye yam yam Fie aye aye aye fuh fuh fuh fie un yun yun yun
Hah hah aha hah ow ow ow wow ow wow ow ow ah hah aha haha are are are
huh huh huh yuh you? oooh. oooooh.

Sincerely, Phil


From Milton Babbitt:

Dear bi-polar source set, All members of the aggregate feelings
matrix are demonstrating maximum congruity with respect to the
positive experiential axis.

With affections invariant under transposition, Milton.


Anton Webern (c. 1913)

Hello. Hel. H.

Olleh. Lo. Fi.

I am I



Pierre Boulez (c. 1952):




Schoenberg is dead.

Q to N


John Cage:


Anton Bruckner:

Liebste Mutti und Vati
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I am fine.
I AM FINE!!!!!
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I am fine.
I AM FINE!!!!!
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww arrrrrre yoooooouuuu?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?
Howwwww - arrrrrre - yoooooouuuu?
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I-i-i-i ammmmmm fiiiiiine.
I am fine.
I AM FINE!!!!! Fine! Fine! Fine!

(Double counterpoint)

How I are am you fine.
I how am are fine you.



(from a colleague)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Perspectives of Cone

Edward T. Cone, professor of music at Princeton for 39 years, died on Saturday. He was a founding editor of Perspectives of New Music, an expert on form and hermeneutics, and a good pianist and composer. His writing style was very incisive and eloquent, and he was not afraid to ruffle feathers. I recommend Musical Form and Musical Performance, or his essays in Music: A View from Delft.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The new protest song

I had previously searched for current protest songs. I have found the best example. It isn't folk music, and it's main medium is the video rather than the acoustic guitar. But Eminem has definitely produced the protest song for this election season. "Mosh" protests against the Iraq war, the backdoor draft, Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, the erosion of civil liberties, and the loss of jobs, all to a pretty cool beat and very cool animation. This protest is more filled with rage than the previous generation's protest songs, but this balances out as our demonstrations aren't as impassioned as those of the Vietnam era. However, even with the rage and feeling of impending violence that the video imparts, the ending gives the proper solution to the problem of George Bush.

(via Pandagon)

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bush as Big Brother

My local congressional candidate, David Sanders, has a great article on his website about the link between George W. Bush and George Orwell's 1984. Here's a choice quote:
  At the core of Orwell's new political system were four critical elements-the use of perpetual war for political purposes, the control of human sexuality, the cult of personality and antipersonality, and the abuse of language and history.  The current application of the first principle is transparent.  There was the war on drugs.  Now there is the war on terror.  It is indisputable that we were attacked by a brutal and cowardly enemy.  Does this mean that any domestic or international action taken by the government is now justified in the name of security?  There is the Orwellian logic: "Iraq is now the enemy.  Iraq has always been the enemy." We need to engage in doublethink and forget about the Reagan administration support for Iraq and its tacit acceptance of the use of weapons of mass destruction by the murderous tyrant, Saddam Hussein.  We need to forget the Bush administration's stated reasons for war against Iraq.  We need to forget that we have left in anarchy much of Afghanistan where we periodically wipe out families and wedding parties by unfortunate accidents.  There can be no doubt about the success of the exploitation of the war for the stirring of nationalist passions in support of the political party in power.

Bush is trying to use the Anti-Homosexual-Marriage Amendment, anti-abortion laws, and abstinence-only sex programs to control human sexuality. The cult of personality, "Big Brother," is definitely Bush himself. He cannot make a mistake, he is strong and resolute. The cult of antipersonality -- the person who is against all that we believe in -- has changed over time. It started out as Osama bin Laden. Then it became Saddam Hussein. Now it is the "Islamofascists" as a group, with Zarqawi getting prominent play. It is curious that Osama is no longer in the spot light. I think he is either dead or otherwise incapacitated, and Bush needed someone else to keep as The Villain for the public's focus. With current news media and short public attention spans, The Villain needs to be someone who is seen or heard from regularly, to remind the public how evil he is. This part has definitely weakened, especially when Saddam was captured and seen to be just a man.

The abuse of language and history has been rampant. "Clean Skies Initiative" to help polluters. "Healthy Forest" laws to help lumber mills. The war on Iraq was not for WMD, it was because Saddam was evil. Before the Iraq war, the administration was lambasting the CIA for not taking the Iraqi threat seriously. Afterwards, the same administration claimed that the CIA pushed them to attack Iraq, using faulty intelligence. Human rights are being systematically abused, but are supposedly only caused by "a few bad apples."

By the way: my current congressman, Steve Buyer, was a House Manager in the Clinton impeachment trial, called for nuclear strikes in Afghanistan, and falsely claimed to be called up by the Army last spring. He must go. 9 8 days.

Friday, October 22, 2004

PostClassic Radio

I've been listening to Kyle Gann's PostClassic Radio for the last hour. Much like iPod listings, here are my impressions:

Jean Hasse - Kinkh, liked it, mellow piano music.
Pamela Z - Pop Titles 'You', really liked it, a combination of musique concrete with a funky beat.
David Rosenboom - How Much Better if Plymouth Ro, very annoying. I don't like the 70's synth sounds, and the ostinati don't change enough for my taste, though I think I could tolerate it better if the timbre was more to my liking. Sadly, this is a rather long piece (almost 23 minutes), forcing much jaw-clenching to get through it so I could see what came next. It did have an effective climax and interesting ending, as each strand gets layered in more stretto fashion to create a sense of speeding up as the dynamics ebb. Then the strands die away, leaving only the main ostinato slightly out of sync with itself.
Ooh, I just heard Kyle's voice, giving a little audio introduction to the next piece. Just like a DJ!
David First - Good Book's (Accurate) Jail of Escape Dust Coordinates, Part 2, it moves VERY SLOWLY, but isn't annoying or grating. I don't think I would choose to actively listen to it at a concert, but it makes for some cool background music while I'm grading papers.

Bush's Willie Horton?

My sister sent me a news article, asking why it wasn't getting more airplay. She is absolutely correct that it is both important, and being ignored by everyone. I haven't even seen it in the political blogs. It seems that Guantanamo Bay could be turning into a radicalizing greenhouse:
A video given to NBC News by a contact in the region shows Mehsud at a hideout last week, playing to the camera. He urges fellow militants by radio to prepare for a suicide mission.

"Once you tie the bombs tightly to your bodies, then you should be ready for suicide. Once I give you the order, go and act," says Mehsud in the video.

Later, in a confrontation with Pakistani troops, one hostage and five of Mehsud’s men were killed.

The Mehsud story is more than a bit embarrassing for the United States. Until last March, Mehsud was in prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — having been captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, a Pentagon review board decided to release him, ruling Mehsud was not a security threat. ...
Experts say it's possible Mehsud was always a hardcore militant and deceived his captors. "The other possibility is that the two years in captivity was itself a radicalizing experience," says terrorism expert Brian Jenkins. ...
The Pentagon says 156 Guantanamo detainees have been released after signing pledges to renounce violence. Mehsud is one of ten who returned to terrorism. Aspokesman admits the process for deciding which detainees to release is "imperfect."

So either the U.S. government screwed up in letting a terrorist go, or they created a new terrorist with the human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay. Are we safer, with Bush in the White House?

Update: NPR has taken up this story, with some alterations. Michele Norris said that over 200 detainees have been released, and the 10 that have returned to battle are only those that have been killed or recaptured. There is supposedly a Washington Post article about this, I'll try to find it later.

A new blog

I was directed to a new blog written by a faithful reader, known mysteriously as a listener. 'A listener' is writing about concerts in Chicago, starting with a performance of Winterreise by Ian Bostridge and Leif Ove Andsnes. I wrote about Bostridge's incredible voice and musicality in June, as well as his intellectual gifts. A.L. gives another description of Bostridge's abilities to exceed audiences' expectations. This blog promises a very interesting take on concert-going, one I plan to read regularly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Obsessions and Rules

This weekend my mother gave me The Rule of Four. I read it in three days, entranced by the visions of Princeton campus life and the unfolding drama about academic intrigue and Renaissance puzzles. But what really struck me about this book was the portrayal of obsession. Most of the obsession is over a single book, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Some of the characters regard this book as their ticket to academic stardom. Others see it as a yardstick of intellectual might, proving themselves against its puzzles. And some are just plain obsessed, the sign of an addictive personality that could pick anything for its obsession. Relationships are strained and/or broken through this addiction, which is as destructive as any drug or alcohol abuse.

I’ve fought my own obsessions with books, computer games, and blogs or Usenet groups. Like any addict, I find it very difficult to stop at only one, to manage my time so I nurture my personal and professional relationships. While I was writing my dissertation, I had to give all my computer games, especially Civilization II, to my wife to hide, so I wouldn’t be distracted. I give myself strict rations on entertainment reading, though I still will stay up far too late or ignore work and family when I’m in a reading groove. I completely gave up my Usenet group over a year ago, because I was spending too much work time at it and because the political environment was very pro-war. However, this was a time-neutral action, as I started reading blogs instead. I got blog-reading under control by starting my own blog with a professional bent. Now when I am blogging, I am usually thinking about my discipline, formulating thoughts for my teaching and research. I have noticed that I find it easier to put down books or games now that I am a father. Perhaps obsession does mellow with maturity.

I highly recommend this book. It is very well written, maintaining a realism in plot and character-realization. There are many suspenseful moments at a variety of levels: murder, solving puzzles, managing relationships, and fulfilling graduation requirements. Not for the faint of heart!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Got Rhythm?

Thursday night I saw Clark Terry perform on campus with his combo. It's been fifteen years since I saw the trumpet king live. While his voice isn't as strong, and he played the entire set sitting in a raised chair, he still can blow that horn. The combo had great time, be it ballad, swing, or samba. It struck me that in many (most?) musical genres, it is rhythm that makes or breaks the performance. Being slightly out of tune is not nearly as noticeable as being out of synchrony. And when a group really hits the groove, that's when the music swings. I'm not talking merely about jazz and popular music here. The same holds true with Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary art music. The delightful stretching of tempo created by rubato won't work if the groove isn't set. The harmonic rhythm can't be felt if the portrayal of meter isn't confident and obvious. Greg Sandow wrote about Brahms' practice of making extreme changes of dynamics and tempo "so the audience could more easily follow the shape and flow of the music." This was especially true of unfamiliar pieces to the public, but in today's musically illiterate society, I think it is necessary with most performances. I know that as a performer I delight in making subtle shifts in timbre, pitch, dynamics, and duration. But if the shifts are too slight for the audience to perceive, I might as well play it straight. I think exaggerated portrayal of meter is necessary for the groove to be felt by the audience, otherwise it comes off as uninspired.

Update: John of the perfect cheloniad comments on this post. He has a point that sometimes subtlety is still worthwhile, even if it is at the subconscious level.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Packing it up for the Season?

So sad, so true.

(Via my sister.)

Truth, or Technical language?

Uh oh, ACD is going to be upset. Alex Ross used technical language in describing the opening of Mozart's Magic Flute.
The first is the purest chord there is, rising up from a core E-flat in the bass. It's Pythagoras' chord of nature, the lowest tones of the harmonic series sounding together. The C minor is the relative minor of E-flat: two of the tones, E-flat and G, are the same in both chords. It's the natural harmony tilted downward, turned toward the darkness. Finally, E-flat again, but it sounds more sober and resigned, as if the darkness of C minor has been subsumed into the light. It is "first inversion," meaning that there is a G instead of an E-flat in the bass. The bass notes — E-flat, C, G — together spell out C minor, again bringing out the shadows of the scene. Yet the top notes — E-flat, G, B-flat — anchor the sequence melodically on the major triad.

This combination of technical savvy and elegant expression is why my students have all preferred Alex's New Yorker reviews to those of Midgette, Tommasini, Gann, Kindelsperger, et al. (Nick Kindelsperger writes music reviews for the student newspaper here.) Yes, the Magic Flute is an opera, so ACD might excuse such language as it can be used to illuminate the drama. Except, Alex does not link this description to any of the dramatic themes of the opera, treating the overture as a separate and absolute piece of music. This overture, and any interpretations of it, gets re-evaluated once the action starts. The drama affects and is affected by the aesthetic environment set in the overture. But this is just as true of the introduction to a Beethoven symphony or a Schubert sonata. As contexts change and expand, our perceptions of events change. The recently departed guru of Harvard's Music Department, David Lewin, devised an equation to express this sentiment:


EV is the observed event and CXT is the context in which the event is observed. P-R-LIST is a list of perceptions and the relationships p has with with these perceptions, and ST-LIST is a list of statements interpreting the relationships. These arguments combine to produce the phenomenological p, the perception itself. Alex describes part of p for the opening chords of the Magic Flute given the very brief context (CXT) of only those first chords. As the opera progresses, CXT expands so p of those first chords will naturally change. The P-R-LIST and ST-LIST will likely become larger, though some items on that list may be deleted by further information. Speculations can be proved false, deadends that are no longer viable perceptions.

It is the use of "technical language" -- terms describing the music itself -- to make the list of relationships and to interpret these relationships that I find so crucial in the communication about music. This is why I study music theory, and why I teach music theory.

Update:ACD was indeed upset.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Scary Alternate Histories

Will Shetterly shows how ludicrous the notion is that a President Bush would have been so different from our current President Gore. But what's truly disturbing is seeing a blog designed exactly like my own.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


I just saw Going Upriver - The Long War of John Kerry, and now I'm really excited about voting for him. His dedication and bravery, his intelligence and dignity as a soldier and a protestor completely bowled me over. I had read portions of his testimony before the Senate committee, but hearing the whole thing was incredibly powerful. So were the shots of all the vets tossing their medals over the fence. But what really got me was a photo of John Kerry sitting on the grass after tossing his medals, weeping with his wife. He cares so much for his country, knows so much, and has so much heart and bravery, we could not ever pick a better president.

The music was really good, including original scoring by Philip Glass. This weekend we watched Farenheit 9/11. It had some powerful moments, also some funny ones. The best insidious use of film music ever came with a transition to George Bush's youth (while John Kerry was in Vietnam). Just four measures of instrumental rock-n-roll accompanied the transition, no words to clue you in. The little snippet? The intro to Eric Clapton's "Cocaine."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Music Theory Researchers for Kerry

It may not roll off the tongue like "Greek Americans for Kerry" (a bumper sticker I saw yesterday, sharing truck bumper space with "Dean for President"), Republicans for Kerry, or Kerry Haters for Kerry. But it is certainly more melodious than John Kerry is a Douchebag But I'm Voting For Him Anyway.

In two posts I have written about the work of Paul von Hippel and Bret Aarden for Music Theory Online. Paul has contacted me to tell me about an article he wrote for The Gadflyer about Ralph Nader. Paul points out that Ralph created an objective measure of politicians' stances on corporate-consumer issues. According to this measure, tracked by Nader-created Congress Watch, there has been a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans. Here is a graph comparing the voting records of the recent presidential and vice-presidential candidates, those people that Ralph claimed were identical.

John Kerry, the guy that Nader is currently running against, had a perfect score in 1990, meaning that he agreed with Nader on key issues for every single vote. Only two years earlier, Dick Cheney scored a 0%, disagreeing with Nader on every issue. So why is Nader running for President?

Music Perception Experiment #2Repeat

Henkjan Honing is looking for participants to do an online listening experiment again. Go to and click on the message "Click here to do a listening experiment." I haven't done it yet myself, as my computer seems to think that it doesn't have Quicktime. I didn't read his call carefully enough, this is a repeat request for the same experiment I blogged about before. If you haven't taken the test yet, go ahead and do it. It is quite fun, and only 15 minutes long.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Oh yeah, this is a music blog!

I've been chairing a task force that is renovating our theory curriculum. Today we got into a discussion of the woeful lack of literacy the students have when it comes to post-tonal music. This was part of a larger discussion on what skills and knowledge we want our students to have when they complete the curriculum. We agreed that our students should be comfortable performing and discussing 20th and 21st century music. This is the only way that art music will remain a viable living art, when current and future music professionals are advocates for contemporary music. Otherwise trained musicians will become more and more conservative, until performed music is canonically static and sterile.

Our possible solutions include requiring contemporary music in senior recitals and performance juries, encouraging more student involvement in our fledgling annual Music of the 21st Century festival, and integrating post-tonal theory and aural skills with tonal theory and aural skills at the very beginning of the curriculum. The last suggestion is rather radical, especially in written theory. There are two sightsinging books that encourage this integration, but no theory books that I am aware of.

Integrated tonal and post-tonal aural skills is a very big shift in my own thinking. I have designed my four-semester sequence to ingrain tonal fluency in my students, with some post-tonal and pre-tonal literature at the end of the sequence. I always teach this last segment through tonal filters, encouraging my students to think of these new languages by comparison to the tonal language that they have absorbed. I justify this approach by the fact that almost all of Western society perceives all music by comparison to ubiquitous tonal music. Modal music is tonal music with altered scale degrees. Post-tonal musics are also warped tonalities, or rapidly shifting tonalities. However, this attitude can prejudice our future professionals into thinking that post-tonal music is a lesser form of tonal music. And this is not what I want for the future of music.

Bush vs. Bush

Yesterday I wrote a post about Thelonious Monk's birthday and my experience with the musician. Unfortunately, this post was accidentally deleted before I could publish it, and I don't have the desire to reconstruct it right now. Maybe next year for his birthday.

Instead, I want to address George Bush's attack on John Kerry's recent statements on terrorism. John Kerry wants to battle terrorism down to the point that it is no longer a focal point of our lives, but merely a nuisance. He takes the realist position that it is impossible to completely iradicate terrorism from the world. George Bush scoffed at this attitude, saying that he was going to achieve victory against instead of reducing it. The president apparently forgot what he said six weeks ago. George Bush first said that we couldn't win the war on terror, and then clarified that rather negative statement by explaining that the goal is to make terrorism undesirable as a tactic. Hmm, that sounds like the goal is to reduce terrorism without necessarily eliminating it. Perhaps another way to express Bush's thoughts is to say that terrorism no longer be an effective tool of warfare/politics, that it will be relegated to a nuisance ploy. But then that is the same thing that John Kerry said. Either Bush has flip-flopped, or he is lying merely to attack Kerry. Good show, Mr. President!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Thug in the White House

So the second presidential debate is over, and we've learned that George Bush can talk very loudly. We also found out that he still thinks he hasn't made any mistakes, and he apparently isn't aware of what is on his tax forms. I found his body language to be very thuggish, his tone alternating between whiny and freaky shouting.

But something else I heard today bothered me much more. On NPR's Morning Edition, a story about "Campaign Security Screening Crowds for Doubters" describes how George Bush's campaign staff has required loyalty oaths of anyone who wants to attend rallies, kicks out anyone who has any connections with the Kerry campaign or anti-Bush organizations, and threatens arrest for anyone who dares to consider voting for anyone other than George Bush. This is rather thuggish behavior, though of course President Bush has the right to control who attends his campaign rallies, as foolish as it may seem. Oops, it seems that our president has confused campaign stops with "official Presidential trips." According to Nina Totenberg, federal laws prohibit denying access to public presentations by elected officials on the basis of political affiliation. So our President's staff has been breaking the law, it seems to this non-lawyer blogger.

Even if these actions are legal, they go against the principles of free speech and government accountability that are the hallmarks of the United States. With the Patriot Act eroding our civil rights, habeas corpus being tossed on its ear, and this current behavior shows the lack of respect President Bush has for the trappings of democracy.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Mathew Gross has challenged bloggers to predict the outcome of the election in both electoral votes and popular vote. My predictions are that Kerry will get 52% of the vote, Bush 47%, and Nader 1%. In the Electoral College: Kerry 289, Bush 254 249.

Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, DC, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii.

Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Indiana (sigh), Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Alaska.
(via Pandagon)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

A Poem

Today is National Poetry Day in Great Britain. In honor, I shall post a poem.

Truth burns with the light of a thousand suns
Beautiful as Hell, tortuous as a clear day.

In the hands of a liar, Truth screams and twists,
cutting the wielder as well as the listener.

Honest people fear Truth as much as the wicked.
It makes no distinctions, offers no quarter.

Truth may seem comforting,
until its cold heat shines on your own heart.

Yet even Truth quails and bolts
when asked, "Does this make me look fat?"

Monday, October 04, 2004

Do we need models?

Two months ago, I wrote a post about Bret Aarden and Paul von Hippel's article in Music Theory Online about chord doubling. In the extremely new latest issue, Roger Wibberley finds faults with their model. He argues that Aarden and Hippel's model
misses the main point of compositional theory, the motive of the composer.
Yet these principles or "rules" can only provide an abstract insight into the composer's Means (i.e. his specific technical articulations) that identify each individual Opportunity (i.e. each specific recorded instance of triad notation). No such model can explore a composer's actual reason or Motive for realizing an opportunity in the way he did.

He then goes on to try to prove that their statistical method is bad, but he makes a big mistake of sampling, trying to compare the results of a 10 chord pair sample with those of a 3,603 sample size. von Hippel and Aarden handle this issue thoroughly in their response to Wibberley, so I will instead focus on his more intriguing statement, that of the purpose for a compositional model.

Wibberley lays out three attributes for a meaningul compositional model: motive, means and opportunity. The means identifies the techniques that can be used, the opportunity looks at the possible uses of the techniques, and the motive examines why the composer chooses a particular technique. Up to this point, I am in total agreement with him, with the caveat that not every good model will cover all three attributes thoroughly. Some models will detail all the possible ways to move from one chord to the next (the opportunities) and illustrate which ways were used by composers (the means) in a given style/genre/period. These models are more general, meant to cover a whole musical language. Other models are very specific, looking at the means used by one composer or the means used by many composers when faced with a specific context. These specific models will focus primarily on the composer's motives. These specific models rely upon the work of the general models, either internally or externally.

But in Wibberley's third paragraph, he claims that motive is all that matters, that means and opportunity are not important.

What I am suggesting is that a composer's choice of note doubling or chord spacing (or anything else for that matter) was never made simply in order to follow established rules and procedures. Rather each choice was made only because it was a composer's "preferred solution" that was deemed at that moment to be aesthetically and artistically the best available. As soon as musical practice is described in terms of "rules" we immediately step away from the language of the musician and become engaged with that of the theorist. What therefore begins life as an artistic musical expression then simply ends up trapped in the world of "theorist-speak".(1) [the footnote assures the reader that "theorist-speak" not meant to be pejorative but rather as a distinction between theoria and practica.]

I first object to the suggestion that theorists are not musicians, though in fairness Roger is probably using "musician" as shorthand to signify performers and composers. But more importantly, Roger makes the mistake of thinking that models detail proscriptive rules. Models are meant to be descriptive, defining compositional languages in the general and the specific. If a composer makes a surprising progression or voice-leading, we can only call it surprising if we know what expected practice is. And general models tell us what expected practice is.

Theorists sometimes get carried away with the creation of partwriting rules or counterpoint species, forgetting that these pedagogical techniques are meant to model normative compositional behavior. These theorists (or theory teachers, more likely) drill partwriting into their students, marking off every instance of parallel fifths or voice overlap that occur in both exercises and music literature. But most theorists (and many theory teachers) realize that the goals of theoretical models are to give musicians the tools to describe both expected and surprising behavior in compositional practice.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

A different Defense of Marriage Act is needed

Chris Brooke has dug deeper into the Country Music Suicide issue. Apparently, there is a strong correlation between listening to country music and divorce, with divorce as the strongest cause of suicide.
The GSS figures report that 27.4% of country fans report marital disruption as opposed to only 18.4% of nonfans, and they're quite a bit more likely (61.8% to 40.2%) to have a gun at home, too, as Table Two, "The Relationship between Musical Preference and Having a Gun in the Home, 1993" clearly shows. But with the new figures they're using no longer suggesting a straightforward relationship between the amount of country coming through the radio and the tendency of whites to top themselves, they explore a different angle, suggesting that "country music might be associated with suicide through indirect effects, as well as interaction effects... For example, given its preoccupation with the travails of love, it is conceivable that country might be predictive of urban divorce rates". And, yes, a simple regression shows that "country music had the strongest relationship to divorce" and that "divorce, in turn, is the strongest predictor of suicide." My goodness. And among the divorced population itself, the authors hypothesize, those who like country music might be the ones more likely to kill themselves, as "divorced people would be the most apt to be receptive to the sad messages in such songs". Indeed.

It is clearly time for our intrepid Congress and Administration to protect the sanctity of marriage from the insidious effects of country music. Sure, the defense of marriage is really a matter of states' rights, but can we really trust Tennessee to make the right choice and bomb Nashville? Clearly a Constitutional Amendment is necessary.

The Music Teacher did it

Last night Mary and I went to the last night of the university’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Three-quarters of the cast and pit are current or former students of mine, who had been pestering me for the last two weeks about when I was going to attend. I foolishly thought that my students, including the lead actress in the role of Chairwoman Eliza Cartwright, merely wanted me there to boost the audience and to possibly get feedback from a respected professor. I found out that I had never been so right and so wrong at the same time.

But first I must explain some features of the musical. It is a play within a play, something that confused some students in my First Year Seminar class who reviewed last week’s performances. The interior play is a dramatization of Charles Dickens’ last and unfinished novel of the same name, a mystery about the disappearance of a young English gentleman who could’ve been murdered by his jealous uncle (and music teacher!), his fiancée, a rival for the affections of his fiancée, the rival’s protective sister, an Anglican priest, the priest’s assistant, the drunken crypt keeper, or the opium den owner and former prostitute. The exterior play is the production of this mystery by the troops of the Music Hall Royale, a parody of Victorian theater, complete with a famous male impersonator in the title role, a missing actor (he’s drunk) forcing the Chairwoman to assume the role of Mayor as well as narrating the show, and “Going to the Races.” The exterior players interact with the audience before and during the show, with plenty of ribald jokes both planned and improvised.

Because Dickens died before solving the mystery, Rupert Holmes decided to make the musical a “Solve-it-Yourself” production, in the same vein as the movie Clue or the play Shear Madness. First, the cast conducts a mock vote on whether Edwin Drood really died, or if he merely went missing. He always dies, so the actress can rant about how she was screwed over and flounce off the stage. In this production the actress storms back across the stage later, wearing her Victorian street clothes and carrying a very cute (and remarkably well-behaved) 8-month old dachshund. Next, the real identity of a mysterious bearded man is determined by audience vote. As a rag is held over each candidate character, the audience votes by applause. Last night a run-off was required by a tie between two characters, resulting in the unlikely result of Rosa Bud disguised as the old man. The vote for the murderer is conducted by the exterior players who mingle among the audience and tabulate the choices. (Last night it was the drunken cryptkeeper, Durdles.) After these choices are acted out, the Chairwoman announces that a love story must be concluded. So the audience must vote for a female character and a male character to fall in love. Unfortunately, the vote-by-applause for the female character ended in a tie after two run-off elections. So the Chairwoman uses this opportunity to wreak vengeance upon her innocent theory professor. Perhaps I called on her too many times for sightsinging, or made my exams too hard. After all, I am unimaginably evil.

Chairwoman Eliza Cartwright, who in real life appears to be a delightful young woman, announces that a single person will break the tie: me. She makes me stand up and announce my choice. As the first choice, “Helena Landless”, is a current student of mine and the second choice, “Princess Puffer,” is a former student, I naturally said, “This is hard. I’ve had both of them in my classes.” Given the bawdy nature of the whole production, an instant outburst of laughter masked the last three words. So it appeared that I had announced sexual relations with two of my students. And the Vice President of Academic Affairs was in the audience. I’m looking forward to my interim review this year! Thankfully my file is officially closed for the review, though there is always the tenure review in two years. As a typical oblivious professor, I blithely continued on. “I pick Helena, as I will have to face her Monday morning.” Thinking the torture was over, I sat down. But then the vote was taken for the male part of this democratic matchmaking. This vote was quite clear, as the plentiful number of SAE members in the audience cheered on their frat brother, “Neville Landless,” the sibling of Helena. So not only had I said that I had “had” one of my students, I also picked her to be part of an incestuous relationship. Many people made sure to point that out to me after the show was over, including my students, my colleagues, and “Helena’s” mother.

Theater is dangerous business.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Tim McGraw, patriot or health risk?

In my high school speech class I gave a persuasive talk on the dangers of country music. I detailed the monotonous harmonic progressions that could hypnotize drivers; the suggestive lyrics that could encourage divorce, drinking, and truck driving; and the potential for certain vocal twangs to puncture ear drums. It was a very popular speech, and apparently one ahead of its time. Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Jim Gundlach of Auburn University have published a study of "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide." They found that listening to country music did cause an increase in the white suicide rate, "independent of divorce, southernness, poverty, and gun availability."

Yes, I did become aware of this study because it won the Ig-nobel Award in Medicine this year. But it is also a good example to include in the unit on music and social behavior of my psych of music class. And frankly, everyone should be aware of the dangers inherent in country music. I'm watching you, Faith Hill.

(via Pharyngula)

Perhaps an improvement?

In an effort to connect with those security moms, Dick Cheney and George Bush have embraced their feminine sides.

Handbook of Music Psychology (2nd ed)

I think I have found the textbook for next semester's course on the psychology of music. The Handbook of Music Psychology, edited by Donald Hodges, is more rounded than Diana Deutsch's The Psychology of Music. It includes discussions of music therapy, the social psychology of music, and has a great introductory chapter on the discipline of music psychology as a whole. It doesn't go into great detail in places, but that's where handouts and supplemental readings come in. Now I need to make up the syllabus and create the handouts. Thankfully I have some free time in January to finalize all the details.