Friday, September 29, 2006

Bragging rights

John Scalzi has two tongue-in-cheek examinations of Technorati rankings. He also points out that the number of links measured by Technorati has nothing to do with the number of readers coming in. I've been rather consistent in my Technorati ranking, with about 160 links from 43 different blogs. This places me at 63,717 right now, out of 55,400,000. I'm nowhere near the top 100 that John mentions, but I am in the top .015% of all blogs. But while my links have remained constant, my readership has increased recently. I had been hovering around 50 unique visitors a day, but in the last month it has increased to about 90 visitors a day. Most of these visitors are coming from Google searches, and this readership puts me on the D-list of bloggers. But that's an improvement from the X-list.

Solfège battles

Today my counterpoint class got waylaid by a discussion of movable-Do solfège versus fixed-Do. One of my students has absolute pitch, and is completely convinced that fixed-Do is the way to go. She also studied in France for a year, so she may be influenced by the Conservatoire system. As I've written before, fixed-Do solfège relies upon a strong pitch memory, and this memory requires constant reinforcement. My student tried to argue that fixed-Do is an interval system, but it is only a generic interval system. The C - E major third is sung "Do Mi," as is the C# - E minor third and the C# - Eb diminished third. So at best, singing "Do Mi" signifies a third, but cannot specify which kind of third it is.

I teach my students that solfège is meant to remind one of aural images. Movable-Do solfège reminds the singer of tonal functions. Tonic is Do - Mi (or Me) - Sol, Dominant is Sol - Ti - Re. This holds constant regardless of the key, so students can rely upon the aural image of these functions to aid in singing. Fixed-Do solfège reminds the singer of pitch classes. Tonic functions switch with each new key, but pitch names remain constant.

I actually use both systems in my own teaching. My students learn Movable-Do syllables, and also sing on letter names without accidentals. The latter system is exactly like Fixed-Do in that a C# and a C are sung exactly the same way, but without translating from the English name to the Italian name. I emphasize the Movable-Do more than the letter names, but being aware of specific pitches while singing is of practical benefit to instrumentalists. The letter system also allows the practice of clef reading and transposition. I actually got this idea from Bill Marvin, current director of aural skills at Eastman. Bill uses movable numbers (One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Sev) to indicate the scaled degrees and uses the Fixed-Do syllables, so switched from my practice. As Eastman has a large number of students from countries that use solfège syllables as note names, this makes some sense. However, it is rather difficult to sing numbers with any speed, given the ending consonants of the last four numbers. Letter names also have that problem (try singing "eff gee" six times very quickly), but as I emphasize the movable system more than the fixed system and the letter system has only one note that ends with a consonant, it still ends up winning the contest.

To me the most important thing is that my students can sightread well, can look at a score and play the music in their head, and can listen to music and recreate it on a staff or on their instrument. For the 95% of students who do not have absolute pitch, movable-Do will help in these tasks; fixed-Do will not.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dancing about architecture

I challenged my seminar students to write creatively about music this week. I was rather worried that it wouldn't work out, especially when one student told me he had composed two wordless musical works for the assignment. But it ended up really stretching them. There were several poems: sing me, Music Box, Music Poems, Music is..., music is, Music in that this is creative, Never to be Forgotten, serious?... nah.
Two compositions: "That Day" and "brown" and "gray". (I'm working on getting the latter online.
A word puzzle, a visual poem, and a John Cage post. (I'm debating whether the last one fulfills the assignment.)

What is your impression of this assignment? I told them, "For this assignment I want you to write about music in a creative way. It could be a poem, a screenplay, a short story, a word puzzle, or even a song." As always, useful critiques at the class blog are highly encouraged.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


This press release I received is a good way to start off the new year. See this video for examples of the group.

David Glukh International Ensemble (piccolo trumpet, violin, accordion, bass and percussion) is excited to announce a new concert season 2006-2007.

This season we will be traveling across the USA to Midwest, South and West Coast. Of course it is going to be plenty of performances
around our homebase, New York City and throughout Northeast.

We are kicking off our season at the Joe's Pub in New York City ( on September 28, 2006 at 9:30 PM (New York Festival of New Music for Trumpet)
The following day we will be performing in Baltimore, MD as a part of Performing Arts Exchange Conference.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

L'Shana Tova

Today I played one hundred blasts on the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hoshanah. I found out that each little sound counts as a blast, so each shevarim is three blasts and each t'ruah is nine blasts. So my previous count of forty blasts was a little off. We have a new Religious Studies professor who chanted the Torah reading. He has a very nice voice and gave an interesting talk on the reading afterwards.

I found a better online example of each call: Jacques Online!.

NOT the Texas Institute of Theory!

I just discovered that The Texas Tech University Music Theory Department has a blog. There are some good (old) discussions of theory pedagogy there, and I'm sure they will continue.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Drumroll please

As promised, I now direct you over to Cognitive Daily to see the results of that musical preference test you all took. You all participated, right?

Hey-la-day-la my iPod's back!

My replacement iPod (see here for why I needed a replacement) is the next generation. A little sleeker and rounded, and a new color. My old one was black, the new one is silver. I don't mind, as it matches my new MacBook Pro.* The new version of iTunes took some getting used to, particularly setting up the selection of music to sync with the iPod. Because my iPod has 4 GB and my computer has 16.5 GB of music, choices must be made. I'd prefer it if iTunes would cycle through the whole library slowly, replacing recently played files every time I resync. Any suggestions on how to do that?

* Okay, it is really DePauw University's new computer, but I get to use it exclusively for the next three years** so let's not quibble about de facto versus de jure.

** Tenure Review Committee, Dean of Faculty, and University President willing.

New CD

From Francois Carrier:
Spool Records is releasing a live recording titled “Open Spaces” with Dewey Redman, Michel Donato, Ron Séguin, Michel Lambert and François Carrier. This recording was made during a series of concerts in Quebec City, Quebec in 1999. Playing, improvising and sharing with legendary Dewey Redman during these three nights of concerts was a deep spiritual and joyful experience. Dewey left us on Saturday, September 2, 2006 but his music is very much alive and always will be. A great source of Inspiration and a life time dedicated to Freedom, Soul and Spirit.
Do The Math has a nice tribute to Dewey Redman.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ask a Question...

One of my recent visitors was looking to learn how to realize figured bass.

Figured bass is a way of notating harmonic progressions without spelling out all of the notes of each chord. It is Old School lead sheet notation. The bass line is given, with some numbers (figures) written under some of the notes. Here are the rules:

1) If there are no figures under the note, the chord is a root position triad.*
2) 6 by itself under a note indicates a first-inversion triad.
3) 6/4 indicates a second inversion triad.
4) 7 is a root position seventh chord.
5) 6/5/3, 6/4/3, and 6/4/2 are the first-, second-, and third-inversion seventh chords respectively.
6) Because scribes were lazy, the previous figures are usually shortened to 6/5, 4/3, and 4/2 (or just 2).
7) An accidental sitting by itself (# or b) alters the third above the bass. NOT the third of the chord (necessarily), but the note that is a third (plus octaves) above the bass note.
8) A slash through a number is the same as writing a sharp before the number: raise the referred note by a half-step.

There are many more rules about suspensions and the like, but that gets the basics. Now, how to put it in practice. First, play the bass line solely with the left hand, and leave all other notes to the right hand. Second, keep your right hand from leaping around the keyboard. Properly realized figured-basses have very smooth (i.e. stepwise) motion in the upper voices. So, grab any convenient notes for the first chord, and look for the closest possible notes for the next chord. Continue until you reach a cadence, then reset. When possible, move the right hand contrary to the left hand (this helps avoid parallel fifths and octaves).

This advice does not guarantee a flawless realization, but it will produce a convincing realization. If the above is too simple, the next steps are to consider tendency tones: the leading tone Ti and the chordal seventh. These notes must never be doubled, and must resolve the way they intend (up and down respectively). Speaking of doubling, root position triads double the root, first inversion triads generally double the soprano, and second inversion triads always double the bass. But again, these rules need to be heeded for a polished performance, but not for a rudimentary performance.

Above all, keep the rhythm! If you aren't sure what chord to go to next, fake it. If you are afraid you will play parallels, go ahead and play them anyway. Performances are not perfect.

* Hard-core keyboardists know that many old figured-bass scores do not include all of the figures. The scribes figured that EVERYONE knows a Do-Re-Mi must be I - viio6- I6, so the 6's would be omitted.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Acting! Genius!

The MacArthur Foundation awards have been announced for this year. Two musicians were awarded the "genius" grants: John Zorn and Regina Carter. Zorn is a musician I had never heard of before I started reading music blogs. Kyle Gann, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, and various members of Sequenza 21's Composers Forum have been educating me on both very new music and 20th century music that didn't get covered in music history classes for the 1980s and 1990s.
Zorn fits in the latter category, part of the downtown music scene that Kyle Gann vigorously champions. In fairness to my music history teachers, Zorn became influential after I had taken my classes, and I did learn about some of his artistic ancestors, like the Fluxus movement.

Regina Carter is an excellent musician. I heard her on NPR, talking about getting permission to play on Paganini's violin. Besides the concert mentioned in the linked article, Regina also recorded After a Dream on "The Cannon." While much is made of the rarity of jazz violinists, I think it is making a comeback. Several violinists at DePauw are interested in jazz, and the canon has encompassed enough jazz-styled music that most young string players are being trained in the art.

Do you like it?

Dave Munger has posted the background information for the musical preference experiment I told you about. The inverted-U figure is common in preference studies, but with the weaknesses that Dave lists. The choice of musical examples is very important, coupled with a clear definition of "complexity" and "preference." Psychologists and cognitive scientists cannot assume that because they took piano lessons they are qualified to make these decisions themselves. As a commenter on Cognitive Daily points out, musical complexity is multi-dimensional. There is complexity of melody, complexity of harmony, complexity of rhythm, complexity of form, and complexity of timbre, for starters. Then within each of these categories there are many hierarchical levels of complexity. I offer my services as musical consultant to any interested scientists, or can recommend several music theorists or composers who would collaborate well.

In comments, Dave promises to give us the results of his Casual Friday study in a few days.
Update: Dave has a second post with details of the second Orr/Ohlsson study.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Metablogging, old school

Today I gave an invited presentation on class blogs at DePauw. Our Faculty Instructional Technology Support (FITS) sponsored a workshop called "Beyond Technology in the Classroom." My presentation was part of a session on online writing projects. Other sessions included using laptops in the classroom and using classroom projection. The workshop started with talks by two professors and the Dean of Faculty on the state of instructional technology at DePauw. The focus for the whole workshop was on the pedagogical benefits and drawbacks of these various types of instructional technology, rather than on the nuts-n-bolts of how to do it.

I talked about my seminar blogs (see class blogs to the left), and why I use them. My original purpose was to get students more concerned about writing to an audience. By expanding the audience from one (me) to at least their classmates they already expand their vision of audience. I also wanted the students to get quick feedback from me, feedback from each other, and feedback from the interested public (you, Dear Readers). I also found that the dialogue made in comments helped form communal bonds between the students, which is a main goal of our first-year seminars. The class blog is also important given the unusual set up of the music seminars. My students rotate through four other professors for eight weeks in the middle of the semester. The blog allows me to keep in close contact with the students, allowing me to form bonds with the students.

Negatives include the amount of time the professor must spend reading and responding to the blog posts. I can't complain about that, as I spend a lot of time reading other music blogs anyways. The students tend to develop more informal writing voices than in a traditional paper, which could be undesirable to some professors. I prefer the authentic voices my students have developed, with the goal of personal investment and thoughtful expression. It is difficult to produce a formal research paper on a blog. The Chicago Style of citation (standard for music scholarship) requires footnotes that demand more advanced HTML skills than the students have.

One of my colleagues who presented today has an excellent solution to this problem. He has his students write about 13 blog posts through the semester. Three or four of those posts are developed into 3-5 page papers, and one of the papers is developed into a 10-page research paper. The students get the practice of regular writing through the blogs, but also practice formal research skills as well.

What are your experiences with class blogs or other online writing projects?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Who, What, Where, When, Why?

"Who made thee, Hob, forsake the plough?" The King's Singers
"Who Struck John" Duke Ellington
"Who' Sit" Louis Armstrong
"What A Diff'rence A Day Made" Chet Baker
"What A Wonderful World" Louis Armstrong
"What Am I Here For" Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet
"What Kind Of Quest" Shrek (Original Motion Picture Score)
What's That Spell? Dogs of Desire / David Alan Miller (Michael Daugherty)
"Where Are You?" Dexter Gordon
"Where or When" Clifford Brown
"Where Or When" (Live) Erroll Garner
"Where The Lazy River Goes By" Roy Eldridge
"When I Grow Too Old To Dream" Putney Dandridge And His Orchestra
"When It's Sleepy Time Down South" Louis Armstrong
"When My Baby Smiles At Me (Live)" Benny Goodman
"When The Saints Go Marching In" Louis Armstrong
"When You're Smiling" Louis Armstrong
"When Your Lover Has Gone" Sarah Vaughan
"Why Shouldn't I ?" Chet Baker
"Why Wait To Be Wed-You Thought Wrong" Shrek (Original Motion Picture Score)
"Why, No One to Love" Arleen Augér

You've got a face for radio

I just got an offer to join BlogTalkRadio. I'll let Alan Danzis describe it:
BlogTalkRadio allows bloggers/podcasters to broadcast live streaming radio shows, while accepting telephone calls from listeners and hosting show guests. (And it’s free!) In addition to broadcasting live, shows are archived forever at as podcasts.
I'll pass on this opportunity. I've been devoting less time to blogging as it is, and I definitely do not want to be held to a schedule of when to broadcast/blog. I could see some benefits for music blogs, though. Something along the lines of Kyle Gann's PostClassic Radio, that allows the blogger to provide audio feedback. But then again, we've got the ability to imbed podcasts into our blogs right now, as shown by Prent Rodgers' Podcast Bumper Music. This allows audio, flexible scheduling, and discussion, without having to hear my voice.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Unanswerable Question

Each week my seminar students have a different writing project for the blog, usually sparked by a question as well as a description. Week One's musical autobiography had the question, "Who am I as a musician?" The CD review of last week were supposed to answer "What do I value in music?" This week's question was quite perplexing to them: How do I debate about music? But I found this to be their most interesting week of writing, as the posts reveal their inner journeys to discovering more about themselves. This growth is what I find most rewarding about teaching. And quite often the most growth comes from being confronted with the Other. A completely different experience, a question you never thought about, these are the reasons to go to college. You can read the essays here, here and here. Please feel free to interact with the students through comments on their blog.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Musical preferences

Dave Munger has set up an online experiment on musical preference over at Cognitive Daily. Go take the test, so he has a good assortment of music junkies as well as psychology junkies. I'll post an update when he publishes the results.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Review the reviews

My seminar students have posted their CD reviews. My assignment to you on this lovely Labor Day is to A) critique the reviews, and B) find the post that has this sentence: "Simply put, if disco and metal had sex, and then disco did a lot of coke while she was pregnant, electric six would be the product." Every year my students learn the most from outside feedback of their writing. And that sentence is the funniest yet most accurate thing I've seen a student write.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Violin Idol

Following the same idea as Eric Edberg's experimental recital, I offer Irwin Tessman's suggestion on how to boost attendance at the opening rounds of the International Violin Competition. No, Simon Cowell will not show up to make fun of the violinists hairdos. Instead, Tessman wants the Competition to offer an Audience Favorite award along with the normal jury award. I have mixed feelings about music competitions in the first place, as art should be collaborative rather than competitive. But it is another way to appeal to the non-traditional audience. The only question is whether the voting will by by text message or button-boxes attached to the armrests.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Friday Fun

Since all the Kool Kids do fun things on Friday, I thought I would join in. But to be even more kool, I procrastinated and have it in a day late. I find that some music is fun to listen to, but not so fun to perform. Other music is a blast to perform, but rather boring from the audience's perspective. My example of the latter is Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. I had fun performing this, but find it too long and repetitious. Examples of the former are mostly limited to piano pieces that are beyond my technical ability. I can trudge through many of Beethoven's piano sonatas, but the development sections can become quite tedious as I struggle with diminished arpeggios. But listening to Alfred Brendel or Edith Vogel breeze through the same passages is a true joy.

What are your examples?