Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jokes to make a theorist smile

A colleague sent me this one:
Musical intrigue at the bar:

A 'C,' an E-flat, and a 'G' go into a bar. The bartender says: "Sorry,but we don't serve minors." So the E-flat leaves, and the C and the G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished and the G is out flat. An F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

A 'D' comes into the bar and heads straight for the bathroom saying,"Excuse me. I'll just be a second." Then an A comes into the bar, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and exclaims, "Get out now. You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight."

The E-flat, not easily deflated, comes back to the bar the next night in a 3-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender (who used to have a nice corporate job until his company downsized) says, "You're looking sharp tonight, come on in! This could be a major development." This proves to be the case, as the E-flat takes off the suit, and everything else, and stands there au naturale.

Eventually, the C sobers up, and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. The C is brought to trial, is found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Imbedded Carnivals

The Bookish Gardener has posted a lovely Carnival-within-a-Carnival of Music #13. Besides the wonderful linky goodness, Monsiour Gardener has a great discursion (or is it recursion?) into the opera-within-the-movie Jackie Charlie Chan Goes to the Opera.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

21st Century Strings?

The New Violin Family Association is holding a festival, Octet 2005, to celebrate the Hutchins violin Octet, a family of string instruments based on Jascha Heifetz's Guarneri violin. The instruments are spaced about a half-octave apart for each member, ranging from C2 to E7 (well, the treble will be able to play higher than E7, that is just its highest open string.

The traditional string family is actually a combination of two different types of instruments, the viol and the violin. The violoncello, viola, and violin are all members of the violin family, whereas the contrabass is from the more ancient viol family (though it is not fretted like its ancestors). Differences include the tuning of the strings (in perfect 4ths for viols, in perfect 5ths for violins) and the shape of the shoulders (very slanted for the viols compared to the high, round shoulders of the violin family). In addition, the viola is an instrument of compromises (insert your own viola joke here). It should have a larger body for the range of notes it plays, but then it could no longer be played on the shoulder, making it difficult for violinists to transition to the viola (the most common path to playing this instrument). This compromise is what led Carleen Hutchins to develop first the vertical viola, which became an alto member of her 8-violin family. It will be interesting to see if the new instruments will become popular, or if tradition wins out.

Friday, August 26, 2005

New Class Blog

A new semester means I have started a new class blog. You can judge whether this year's First Year Seminar has picked a better blog name than last year's. I'd appreciate any critiques you can give to the students' vocabulary definitions. These definitions are supposed to be appropriate for college-level students who have not had training in music.

[I was going to make this a Friday iChing post as well, but it is clearly cursed. Several times what I typed in was deleted by Blogger. I shall not tempt the fates further.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Baritones galore

Today I was wafted into bliss by the incredibly beautiful voice of Gabriel Crouch. Formerly of the King's Singers, Gabriel is the new choir director and a professor of voice here. We had our opening convocation at the School of Music, where four new faculty members performed. Gabriel sang "Here the Deities Approve" from Purcell's Welcome To All the Pleasures, the ode to St. Cecilia, and "Music For A While". He performed them with only the groundbass continuo played by our sabbatical replacement cello professor, Steven Ruck. The way he shaped the phrases was astounding, the tone color pure and velvety, the vowels open and clear, and the emotion was perfect. I look forward to seeing what he will do with the two choirs on campus.

I was also excited to see that Tom Meglioranza is coming to perform here for his first recital of the season. The kids will have to come with me, but there's no way I am missing this performance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

That'll buy a lot of Doritos

Economist Extraordinaire Brad DeLong illuminates us as to how valued music professors are:
Division of Labour: Academic productivity: From the Aug. 20, 1905 NYT is a report that Dr. Fred Wolle accepted the position of Chair of the Department of Music at California Berkley for $5000 per year.
According to Historical Economic Services:
In 2003, $5,000.00 from 1905 is worth:
$103,803.77 using the Consumer Price Index...
$479,058.79 using the unskilled wage
$605,051.85 using the GDP per capita
A century ago college teachers were upper class. Now we are upper middle class (or middle class).

I'm at the lower end of salaries at my university, being a lowly, untenured assistant professor. Therefore I'm decidedly middle class, not even close to upper middle class yet. Of course, I went into music for the money (and the chicks).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lehrer's Physics

The July issue of Physics Today has a collection songs about physics. The article is behind a subscription firewall, but for those of you who don't subscribe, I offer four songs from "The Physical Revue (a music drama in one scene)" by Tom Lehrer. He was a mathematics graduate student at Harvard at the time.

A LITER AND A GRAM (to "A Bushel and a Peck" by Loesser)
I love you a liter and a gram,
A liter and a gram, and it's crazy that I am,
A meter and a yard and anewton and a watt,
A newton and a watt, and I wanna know a lot
About you, about you
(A meter and a liter,
nothing could be sweeter.)
'Cause I love you a liter and a gram,
And it's crazy that I am for you.

I love you a poundal and a dyne,
A poundal and a dyne, and I wanna make you mine,
A foot-pound and an erg and a joule and a calorie
A joule and a calorie, and I wanna spend my salary
On you, on you
(Centigrades and Fahrenheits,
You lift me up to darin' heights."
'Cause I love you a poundal and a dyne,
And I wanna make you mine, I do.

THE PROFESSOR'S SONG ("If you give me your attention" Arthur Sullivan)
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am.
I'm a genius and a physicist (and something of a ham).
I have tried for numerous degrees, in fact, I've one of each:
Of course, that makes me eminently qualified to teach.
I understand the subject matter thoroughly, it's true,
And I can't see why it isn't all as obvious to you.
My lectures all are masterpieces, excellently planned,
Yet everybody tells me that I'm hard to understand,
And I can't think why

[snip the second verse, it isn't as funny]

Consider, for example, oscillation of a spring:
The force that acts upon it is a very simple thing,
It's kx3, or kx2 – no, just kx I'll bet,
The sign in front is plus (or is it minus? ... I forget).
Well, anyway, there is a force, of that there is no doubt;
All these problems are quite trivial, if you only think them out.
Yet people tell me: "I have memorized the whole term through,
Everything you've told us, but the problems I can't do."
And I can't think why.

The other two songs are "Relativity" (to the melody of "Personality" by van Heusen) and "Don't Major in Physics" (to "The Trouble with Women" by Kurt Weill). The article also lists songs written by physicists, showing how well they can rhyme obscure Greek symbols and German names. If you have a strong stomach, and access to Physics Today, you can listen to these . . . gems. They are even holding a contest, encouraging such behavior.

Monday, August 22, 2005

To B.A or to B.Mus?

Okay, I didn't find the time to do my acoustics post today. Placement exams and meetings got in my way, though I was excited to find that five students passed out of the first semester of music theory, five times as many as last year. Tomorrow I should have time to blog, in between advising appointments. Advising can be a challenge, as we have seven different degree tracks for music students to pursue:
1) B.Mus - Performance, the most popular major, but high pressure
2) B.Mus.Ed, a very difficult major with many requirements. Students have to decide very early on to be an education major.
3) B.Mus.Arts - Music Business, a misnomer as most recipients of this degree go into arts management rather than opening a business.
4) B.Mus.Arts - double major, choosing a discipline from the college of liberal arts to take seven or eight courses in as well as music courses.
5) B.Mus.Arts - general. Not as many music classes as the B.Mus, but more than option 7. Students who were pursuing option 1 but fail the sophomore performance proficiency end up with this path.
6) B.Mus (Performance) and B.A (Some other major) - the double degree is like option 4, but the student also fulfills the general education requirements for the Bachelor of Arts, taking classes in all six Groups (science, philosophy/history/religion, fine arts, literature, foreign languages, and sports/ensembles/studio art). For the student who really likes music, but really likes the liberal arts education and some other subject as well. (I did this as an undergrad, getting my B.Mus in Trumpet Performance and the B.A. in Chemistry.)
7) B.A in Music - only seven credits in music are taken, with the remainder fulfilling general education requirements and other liberal arts explorations. For the student who isn't sure whether music is their vocation, and for those that have many academic interests.

For options 3 and 4, the student can also choose the Performance emphasis, requiring the sophomore performance proficiency and two recitals.

So much of my time tomorrow will be explaining these different paths to my first-year advisees and helping them to choose the best path.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Tacet, attaca Oral Sensations

I've emerged from the slew of events and obligations that kept me away from the blogosphere. Tomorrow I plan to write a post on musical acoustics, based on some recent discoveries revealed at the latest ASA conference. Why tomorrow? Because my references are in my office, and I ain't commuting on a Sunday for a blog post!

For today, I offer the realization I had while playing the last show of Pippin last night. I think all performers rely on tactile feedback as much as aural feedback in making corrections. This isn't always the case. A possibly apocryphal example is that of Adolph Herseth, former principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In the 1950s, Herseth was in a car accident that injured his lips. He started playing again soon after the accident, but the scar tissue and nerve damage prevented him from having tactile feedback from his lips. He therefore relied on his ears, knowing what sound he should have and making adjustments so he produced that sound. (The car accident is a fact. I am uncertain whether the damage really prevented Bud from feeling the contact of mouthpiece and lips.)

In my case, the tactile response is less that of the lips vibrating, and more that of the air vibrating inside my mouth. I can feel the shape of the inside of my mouth as I play, from the arch of the soft palate to the position of the tongue, from the angle of my jaws to the pull of my mentalis muscles. And I can feel how the air in my mouth reacts to these different shapes, as it pulses in pressure waves. Proper trumpet playing requires a steady air stream exhaled. This air stream builds up pressure in the mouth when the lips are closed. The pressure is released when the lips open, allowing the air to flow into the trumpet. The buzzing of the lips is a very quick opening and closing of the lips, at periods related to the pitch that the trumpet plays. The important air pressure waves are in the trumpet itself, but they are directly related to the pressure waves in my mouth. I'm not counting the pressure waves, but rather "tasting" them, feeling the vibrancy and the shape of the waves. For each pitch and each sound color, the waves are stronger in different parts of my mouth, and I adjust the shape to encourage the proper waves.

I never thought about how the inside of my mouth felt before, beyond the pure mechanics of tonguing and tongue arching for lip flexibility. But it is amazing how vivid this feeling is. String players have very visible physical sensations, from the movement of the bow arm to the finger placement and vibrato of the left hand. Pianists also have visible physical motions of their hands on the keyboards. But wind players have to seek the physical sensations inside. This can be challenging to understand bya novice, and hard to explain by an experienced performer. However, when it clicks, the feeling is marvelous.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Monday thoughts

This week's Carnival of Music is hosted by Jeff Low at Solitude in Music. He's done a fine job, creating a much more organized carnival than my silliness last week.

As I'm wrapping up this year's class on 20th Century Theory and Literature, I'm wondering about what pieces to focus on next year (assuming I teach it again next year). Should popularity be a criterion? Or should the students be exposed to composers they wouldn't learn about in the concert hall? Illustrate as many different musical languages as possible, or limit the class to those rigorous techniques that have been used by many composers? Part of this is a pedagogical question, part of it is a matter of canon. I don't have any jazz, pop, or rock music included, no film music (except Glass who will be covered by a student presentation tomorrow), and a woefully Euro/US-centric selection of composers. What did you learn or wish you learned in your 20th century classes?

Today should be my wife's favorite day, as her favorite number is 8. Our eighth anniversary is coming up next week (8/16, another great date for her). The traditional gifts are bronze/pottery, and the modern gifts are linens or lace.* Our anniversaries are often rushed affairs, as we were usually moving to another state/job at that time of year or getting ready for a new school year to begin. We have plans to have a nice lunch after taking our kids to the first day of school, but I'd like to come up with some additional presents/plans as she absolutely deserves it and it is a special anniversary in her numerology. (She also reads this blog, so I can't brainstorm specifics here.)

*Another site said rubber instead of pottery. Rubber is just weird as a gift medium.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Who am I?

Despite the fact that I am in the House of Ravenclaw, I am apparently Hermione Granger.

You scored as Hermione Granger. You're one intelligent witch, but you have a hard time believing it and require constant reassurance. You are a very supportive friend who would do anything and everything to help her friends out.

Hermione Granger


Remus Lupin


Albus Dumbledore


Harry Potter


Severus Snape


Sirius Black


Ron Weasley


Draco Malfoy


Ginny Weasley


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?

Not only that, but I'm an Interested Reader with a basic knowledge of Geek Lore:

Interested Reader
You have a Geek Lore rating of 62%

Your knowledge of the speculative fiction field, while far from
encyclopedic, is still solidly above average. You probably have a
healthy interest in the field rather than a driving obsession; either
that, or your memory's just not what it's cracked up to be...
Link: The SF/F Opening Lines Test written by winternight2 on Ok Cupid

And my sense of humor is characterized as Light and Clean:

the Prankster
(47% dark, 30% spontaneous, 27% vulgar)
your humor style:

Your humor has an intellectual, even conceptual slant to it. You're not
pretentious, but you're not into what some would call 'low humor'
either. You'll laugh at a good dirty joke, but you definitely prefer
something clever to something moist.

probably like well-thought-out pranks and/or spoofs and it's highly
likely you've tried one of these things yourself. In a lot of ways, yours is the most entertaining type of humor because it's smart without
being mean-spirited.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Conan O'Brian - Ashton Kutcher

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 83% on dark
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 0% on spontaneous
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 33% on vulgar
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid

Saturday, August 06, 2005

FridaySaturday iChing: Pippin possibilities

The iChing is late today because I was at rehearsal last night. In fact, this rehearsal leads to the iChing question for the week: how will the production of Pippin go? That’s right, Fred “Slacktivist” Clark should be gnashing his teeth right now, picturing yet another community production. But the Putnam County Playhouse's production (say that 10 times fast) does have an interesting take: after Pippin rejects the big finale and walks off with Catherine, Theo suddenly stands up and starts singing the refrain to "Corner of the Sky," thus accepting the big finale (flaming death) that Pippin had rejected. Pippin and Catherine look on in horror as the players return, surrounding Theo with their costumes and sets. It leads to several possible interpretations: the musical sets up a big circle, with Theo set to play the part of Pippin in the next generation (though Theo is not the son of the Holy Roman Emperor); or that Theo never did accept Pippin as a substitute for his dead father; or that Theo never got over the death of his duck*.

Well, here are the dealt MP3s:
Covering: Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, IV. Adagio. Più andante. Allegro non troppo, ma con brio, Sir Georg Solti; CSO
Crossing: Schumann's Kinderszenen: 8. Am Kamin, Claudio Arrau
Crown: Vivalid's Four Seasons Concerto 4 - Winter (RV 297): II Largo, Itzhak Perlman/LSO Root: Rachmaninov's Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor - 1. Allegro moderato David Helfgott (piano), Milan Horvat & The Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
Past: "You Go To My Head," Clifford Brown The Best Of Clifford Brown
Future: Clara Schumann's Polonaise Op. 1, no. 1 in E-flat Major, Jozef De Beenhouwer Questioner: Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21: III Rondo: Allegro Moderato - Prestissimo, Vladimir Ashkenazy
House: Clara Schumann's Variations de Concert sur la Cavatine du Pirate de Bellini Op. 8, Jozef De Beenhouwer
Inside: Telemann's Concerto no. 2 in D: II. Allegro, Hakan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Outcome: Delibes' Lakme - "Scene Et Legende De La Fille Du Paria" (arranged), Maurice André (trumpet)

This is unusual, all of the selections are Classical/Art Music, and many are piano pieces. The Outcome is the legend of the Girl of Bet, from an opera with a very limited plot (think Madame Butterfly set in India). Is the outcome like that of Lakmé the character, who kills herself by eating lotus blossoms? Or is that of Lakmé the opera, which gained some popularity when the duet was used in those British Airways commercials? Or is the outcome like that of the Girl of Bet, who seems to attract the attention of the foreigner, saving him from the wrath of the Rajah (though I'm having trouble translating the lyrics). Of course, the piece is performed by the greatest trumpeter ever, Maurice André, so that bodes well for my own trumpet playing at the least.

The future is a cheery polonaise by a composer whose works were often credited to her husband. There is plenty of dancing in the show, perhaps the success due more to the background choreographer than to the actual actors. The best thing that can be accomplished (The Crown) is that beautiful Largo from the Winter concerto. I doubt it means that it will snow during the shows, but instead that some true beauty can be created during the run. That is a pleasant thought. The past is lingering "like a haunting refrain." The prevailing attitudes of others (The House) are reflected by thematic variations from an opera by Bellini, Il Pirata. Bellini injects the moral that deep passion leads to pain and suffering. Does Pippin have too much passion for the general public? I don't think so. Perhaps, just as Bellini's moral is suspect, so is Pippin's. Fred Clark certainly thinks so, and I think I agree. Pippin is never quiet and thoughtful enough to realize what he wants out of life, which is why he keeps flitting from thing to thing.

* I recall a real duck being used in the high school production my brother was involved in. The PCP is using a large stuffed animal, allowing a great moment when the duck dies. (Pippin reaches out and tips over the stuffed duck.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Harry Potter and the Carnival of Music #9

(Note: this post is spoiler-free.]

Ron looked disgusted as he slammed down the pile of books from Flourish and Blotts. "I thought I was just going to learn about magic at Hogwarts. Now they tell us we have to learn this quadrivium nonsense!" he grumbled. "Look at all the books we have from Professor Gann alone! The spells on how to defend against a critic seem useful, but I don't get the rest of the lot."

Hermione looked exasperated. "Ron, it is essential that we understand La Monte Young's theories on sound frequencies, given their interactions with thaumaturgical particles. And Professor Gann is clearly concerned with how music's development might be hampered by the hagiography of Mozart."

"Hagiography? Is that another group of spells we have to learn?" Harry looked quite befuddled as he looked through his course list again. "I'm just upset that we have to spend time in the Astronomy tower, even though we're not taking Divination any more. Though the MP3's included with the Astronomy book have some neat music from Saturn, by John Scalzi."

Music Pieces Phantasmagorically Performed were convenient, though Harry though the sound quality of Pliable's magic discs were better. With a simple tap of the wand and utterance of Audiophonica maximus,raindrops could actually be heard in the background of his recording of Perotin.

"Be careful, Harry," cautioned Hermione. "I read in Mind Hacks that listening to too much music on your iPod could cause musical hallucinations."

Ron sneered, "That's clearly what happened to that Ravenclaw, Jeremy Denk. He's gone off the deep end after he spent the summer running from one festival to another."

Hermione responded peevishly, "Oh, Ron, you are still jealous about the recital from last spring? I did not swoon over him, I merely appreciated some fine piano playing. After all, my Muggle friend, Tom Meglioranza, was waxing rhapsodically about two very different pianists, and he can't possibly be interested in snogging both of them!"

Harry did not want to think about snogging, so he responded hurriedly, "The ones with musical hallucinations are clearly the new team captains of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Hucbald has been going on and on about this Beethoven fellow, even though he hates the last movement of the guy's last symphony! And Jessica Duchen has been imagining what discs she would take with her to a deserted island, when she isn't making weird sounds like 'E-V-E-R-Y W-O-O-O-R-D F-O-R M-A-A-A-A-A-A-X-I-M-U-U-U-M E-M-O-T-I-O-O-O-O-N A-A-A-A-L-L T-H-E T-I-I-I-I-M-E W-I-T-H-O-U-U-T A-N-Y V-A-R-I-E-T-Y-Y-Y-Y'."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Jessica was not hallucinating, she was trying to make a point, apparently beyond your thick head! Anyways, I can't stay, I've got to get a start on my reading. The Solitude writings on minimalism, ernestoburden's treatise on world music, and the Wiki on new music should be a good start."

"Jeepers, the school year hasn't even started," Ron exclaimed. "Besides, all you have to do is visit Jeff Harrington's Reblog on New Music. I'm going to catch up on Talvi's latest article in the Daily Prophet I hear he skewers a bunch of those administrators."

Harry waved good-bye to his friends. To keep his mind off of snogging, he decided to contemplate the synthesis of the mental, physical and psychological as the beauty of Bach, from that textbook by Heather Voss. It sure beat worrying about Lord Voldemort!

Thanks to Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Don McClane, and Jeff Low (who will be hosting next week's Carnival) for contributing to this carnival, and to John for letting me play host. Apologies to J.K. Rowling and all HP fans (and to Don for misspelling his name).