Friday, August 31, 2007

Chopin redux

The gauntlet has been thrown, and I shall strive to mix metaphors with it until the dead horse is whipped. First I will restate a point from my old analysis in italics, James Cook's response to it in plain text, and my rejoinder in bold, in fine debate format.

1. I said the prelude begins with a tonic triad which is in inversion, thus unstable.

JC - [I'll ignore the straw man version of harmonic theory James describes first. I made none of the claims he states about composer intent, thus I do not have to defend them.] "I think that, instead of saying it begins with a “tonic chord”, we ought rather to say that it begins with a B in the top voice, which is counterpointed by a G in the bass, along with a couple of inner voices starting on B and E. Each of these notes then sets off on a journey of its own through some region of diatonic space — in the process of which it elaborates (or “composes-out”) some particular gesture that the composer wished to convey."

SS - James' statement leaves out the idea that we have begun with the tonic note that will be the eventual goal of this piece. I find this to be an important point, that we as listeners have started in the place to which we shall return. We know it is the tonic triad, since Chopin starts with a conventional dominant pickup, identifying the melodic B as the dominant of the E minor triad. James' analysis also misses the idea that we begin with an uneasy sonority, since the triad is not in root position. Thus we listeners expect something to happen, even as the B sustains and the underlying chord pulses along. Plus James' statement suggests there is no relationship between each of the four voices, since they each has a journey of their own. Nay, in tonal music the voices journey together, even when they take different paths.

2. SS - "The next chord is the dominant chord, though with a suspension: the E refuses to let go."

JC - "Except for the “next chord” business, this is very well put."

SS - How can one have a suspension if there is no chord? The E is in dissonance to the other voices only if one considers harmonic relationships. If you are thinking only in contrapuntal interval relationships, then there is also a dissonance between the A and the B, but James doesn't state this.

3. SS - "When this suspension does resolve, Chopin "misspells" the chord with an Eb instead of a D#."

JC - He actually says nothing about this verbally. His graphs also don't say anything about the unusual nature of this Eb.

SS - Any musician would find the Eb odd, since it is not in the diatonic space of E minor. It sounds fine, since it is enharmonically the same as D#, and thus fits with the expected dominant chord. James' analysis does not show this at all.

4. SS - "The melody turns this dominant chord into a diminished seventh chord,"

JC - "To say that “the melody turns this dominant chord into a diminished seventh chord” is an extremely awkward way of saying “the B moves up to C”; but it also carries the suggestion that there is a sort of “conspiracy” among the voices — as if they said, “let’s now form a diminished seventh chord!”. Now, conspiracies of that sort can certainly happen in music, but this is not one of those occasions. Here, it seems, we simply have a note moving to its upper neighbor, without any concern whatsoever for what its fellow notes are doing at the same moment. (Just as in real life, it takes quite a lot of work to establish a musical conspiracy.)"

SS - James doesn't state his criteria for creating a conspiracy, much less show why my example is not one. My justifications are (a) the way Chopin chooses the notes spells a fully diminished seventh chord; (b) fully diminished seventh chords are very recognizable sonorities; (c) it is an expected sonority in the E minor pantheon, being an inversion of the viio7; (d) it is an expected chord to follow the V65 chord, since both are dominant functions and composers throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries have had V7 chords move to vii07 chords; (e) it explains how the next chord makes sense, as it is quite unexpected in E minor diatonic spaces. And I said that it was a melodic motion, since it repeats the neighboring figure from the first measure. What is interesting here is that in the first three measures the melody is exactly the same, but the harmonic rhythm changes - measure 1 is one chord, measure 2 is two chords, and measure 3 is three chords. James' analysis misses this, probably since he doesn't have any truck for chords. But the speeding up of harmonic rhythm is something that Schenker appreciated, and an interesting way for Chopin to create variety while keeping the same melody and surface rhythm.

5. SS - "diminished seventh chord resolves as a common-tone chord to a secondary French augmented sixth chord!"

JC - "Well, a “French” augmented sixth chord is the kind that has scale degree 2 in it; thus in E minor we would be talking about pitch-classes C, A# (the augmented sixth), E, and F#. However, our chord is a secondary chord, meaning evidently that it is a French sixth when viewed from the perspective of some other key. Now, the pitch-class content of the sonority I presume Spiegelberg is talking about (namely the one on the first half-note of m.3, immediately following the “diminished seventh chord”) is F, A, Eb, B; if we thought of the Eb as D#, this would spell a French sixth in A minor. What Spiegelberg is claiming, then, is that, at least for the first half-note of m.3, we are locally in A minor — and in particular the Eb is a raised scale degree 4! Needless to say, I have absolutely no idea how one could arrive at such an analysis: as far as I am concerned (see the graphs above), there is nothing in the entire Prelude (least of all in the first three measures) that requires one to think in terms of any key other than E minor — not so much as a single secondary dominant, let alone a secondary French sixth!"

SS - And this is exactly where James' analysis misses something wonderful. First of all, the secondary French augmented sixth could resolve to an E minor triad, basically like a tritone substitution in jazz theory. This progression is somewhat rare, but found in Tchaikovsky and other High Romantic composers' works. However, we don't know if that will be, because the common-tone resolution of the viio7 from measure 2 has cast everything in doubt. By the way, James doesn't comment on this point, but a common-tone resolution of a diminished seventh chord holds one note steady (two, A and Eb, in this case) and moves the other voices by step, usually downward. This is opposite of the normal resolution of a fully-diminished seventh chord, where one note resolves upward by half-step, the local leading-tone to tonic resolution. In this case, we could be modulating to A minor, or staying in E minor, it just isn't known at this point. But the French Augmented Sixth chord is very unusual and therefore highly evocative.

6. SS - "By this point, only the third measure, the listener is quite confused as to where tonic is, even though the chords progress by very small steps with many common tones."

JC - "Not only am I not confused about where the tonic is, I don’t even see how one could be confused about that in this context. What note besides E is even a candidate for tonic status?"

SS - Play the first 2.5 measures to some listeners, stop right there and ask them to sing tonic. I guarantee that you will get at least two different answers, as long as your sample size is above 2. You ask what harmonic analysis has that Westergaardian analysis doesn't, and this is one of those things. Yes, you can explain abstractly how the voices progress by logical melodic motions, but it misses the tensions built up by the relationships of the voices to each other.

7. SS - "The augmented-sixth chord does not resolve correctly, instead shifting to a chord progression that fits best in the key of A minor: iiø43 - viio42 - V7. By half-steps the dominant chord gets transformed, leading us back to the key of E minor. A minor is hinted at several times, and the final cadence of each phrase (there are only two phrases in the 25-measure prelude) includes an oscillation between the dominant B7 chord and the A minor triad."

JC - [skipping the translation, though ø is not redundant as modal mixture is quite common in minor tonalities, plus the quality is part of my argument for the implied tonality.] "Well, we do indeed find an instance of that particular (partially-ordered-by-register-pitch-class-set)-sequence (for that is what a “chord progression” is) in mm. 3-4 — provided, of course, that we don’t take into account the C on the last quarter of m.3! (Remember that the presence of an exactly corresponding C in m.2 compelled Spiegelberg to posit a “diminished seventh chord” for that timespan — what’s the difference here?) The question, however, is whether this “progression” has the analytical significance that Spiegelberg is attributing to it. I don’t see any good argument for this at all. A “V7 chord”, for example, is by definition composed of scale degrees 5, 7, 2 and 4 — but is the E in the bass in m.4 a scale degree 5? Is the G# a scale degree 7? If so, when exactly did E cease to be scale degree 1, and why?"

SS - First, sometimes a melody note is a chord tone, sometimes it is not. Even in Westergaardian analysis one would add notes at different stages (I presume, it is certainly the case with Schenkerian analysis). In this case the C in measure 3 is a dissonance just as the C in measure 1 is, whereas the C in measure 2 is not. If Westergaardian analysis cannot make that distinction, then that is something else about tonal music that that theory cannot explain. Second, a V7 is not just scale degrees 5, 7 , 2, and 4, it is also a sonority of the major minor seventh chord – a major triad with a minor seventh added – which is a highly distinctive sonority. Play the first chord in measure 4 by itself and ask your sample of listeners to sing tonic, they will all sing A. Play the beginning of the Prelude through to the beginning of m. 4 and ask listeners to sing tonic, there may be two different answers. I certainly can hear both E and A as possibilities, hence my original claim. I also allow that there are people who are adamant in hearing E alone as tonic, such as James. In theory classes I often talk of flexible versus steadfast listeners, with no intent of casting aspersions on either type. Steadfast listeners want to stick with a given tonic, meter, or other established pattern despite potential disruptions. Flexible listeners float with any new direction in meter, tonality, or pattern. As an example, a steadfast listener is more likely to hear chromaticism as tonicization, whereas a flexible listener is more likely to hear it as modulation. I've practiced hearing in both manners, so as to better appreciate the positions of fellow performers and my students, whatever type of listener they are. James is clearly a steadfast listener for this prelude (I have no idea what type he is for others, I find people often change with different pieces), not giving up the idea of E as tonic regardless of Eb's, F naturals, Bb's, and G#'s. When I hear the combination of a distinctive half-diminished seventh chord* with a fully diminished seventh chord and a dominant seventh chord, with the roots following the tonally powerful pattern of descending thirds, this pulls me to a new tonic, or at least a tonicization of A at very local levels. In Westergaardian terms, the notes of measures 3 to 4.2 fit the A minor diatonic collection rather than the E minor diatonic collection.

8. SS - "By half-steps the dominant chord gets transformed, leading us back to the key of E minor. A minor is hinted at several times, and the final cadence of eac phrase (there are only two phrases in the 25-measure prelude) includes an oscillation between the dominant B7 chord and the A minor triad."

JC - "Spiegelberg and I agree that there are exactly two “phrases” in the prelude (although this is something of a contradiction on his part, since he has analyzed mm. 3-4 as a cadence in A minor!). However, to speak of “an oscillation between the dominant B7 chord and the A minor triad” is once again misleading, even if literally accurate. Yes, we do get the pitch-class set C-E-A occurring in measures 10 and 11; but this is the purely accidental result of simultaneous neighbor-note motions in the two lowest voices — a very mild conspiracy, in which the A is not involved at all (it just happens to be there, like an innocent bystander). In fact, far from being the “root” of an A-minor triad, this A is actually a dissonant 7th, as you will see by referring to Stage 2(b) of the above analysis (second page). Needless to say, I do not understand how this phenomenon could possibly be said to reinforce any sense of A minor, which is what Spiegelberg implies."

SS - I apologize for have the misleading "final" before the word "cadence" in my analysis, as it implies there is more than one cadence per phrase. That was not my intent, as I firmly believe each cadence ends a phrase, and firmly believe this piece has only two phrases, thus only two cadences. I did not, however, analyze mm. 3-4 as a cadence in A minor. I said that the progression makes sense in A minor, but did not say that it cadences there. Instead, I pointed out that the V7, which is far too unsettled both as a sonority and by harmonic rhythm standards to be a half cadence, gets transformed through linear motion (which I would have thought James would appreciate) back to E minor tonality. The dissolution of the G# to G natural leads the way, followed by many other fascinating progressions through m. 13. I admit that many of them are best understood by linear motion alone, rather than harmonic root motion, hence my original statement. As for being misleading while being accurate, I would apologize if I understood how that was possible. How could A not be involved in the progressions of m. 10-11, when it is in the melodic line, accented by a grace note in m. 11? As for claiming that it is a dissonant 7th, that is a reasonable interpretation at a midground level, but not at the surface level I was wallowing in. (I'm using Schenkerian terms here, I trust they equate reasonably to Westergaardian Stage 2 versus Stage 9+). Play beat four of measure 10 or measure 11 and there is no dissonance, but indeed a "literally accurate" A minor triad. I do not deny that this A minor triad is functioning as a iv6 that prolongs the dominant and the lovely Phrygian half cadence. But my statement of oscillation does not contradict this function either. What I was trying to imply was the neat design that Chopin created, whereby the A minor tonality that was implied in mm. 3-4 relates to the A minor triad in mm. 9-11 even though E minor is the governing tonality of the whole phrase.

9. SS - "This prelude is all about the tensions between the melody and the harmony, with the harmony clearly winning. But what is so striking is that the exotic harmonies are created by simple means, small little movements of the left hand, and this slow harmonic rhythm creates such emotional intensity."

JC - "Well, since I don’t believe there is such a thing as “harmony” (in the traditional sense), obviously I can’t agree that the harmony “wins”. The fact is that these “small little movements of the left hand” are perfectly comprehensible — if ingeniously and subtlely timed — melodic motions through various parts of the E-minor scale. It is, indeed, Chopin’s highly refined sense of timing (and not any exotic modulations to other keys) that is responsible for the mysterious magic of this Prelude."

SS - I stand by my statement. The melody is striving to move somewhere, but is stuck in these oscillating patterns while the harmonies pull in all sorts of directions. If Westergaardian analysis cannot capture this interpretation, then it does not capture how I hear the piece and is therefore incomplete. I am curious how James distinguishes "perfectly comprehensible [...] melodic motions through various parts of the E-minor scale" that don't form triads or seventh chords that are found in E minor tonality. As an example, shift the entire right hand part of the Prelude over by one beat, so it starts at exactly the same time as the left hand. The melodic motions of the top voice are the same, and the four voices have separate journeys, so the Westergaardian analysis should be the same, except possibly for the alignment of the upper voice with the lower voices. But then, each voice has a separate journey, so what difference does it make if they don't line up? Is it the intervals? But if we care about vertical intervals, why not vertical sonorities created by all four voices? How would the analysis be changed without referring to harmonies? Would the modified piece still be in the E minor tonality, and if so, to the same extent as the original Prelude? The last question is one that can be answered by harmonic analysis, but I don't see how it is answered by Westergaardian analysis.

Finally, harmonic analysis is not the Piston-ian straw man James is tilting windmills at. Harmonic analysis as it is taught in many music schools is a mash-up of Rameau, Schenker and Riemann, with Meyer/Narmour/Huron implication/realization, Hatten/Agawu topoi, and various tricks of form and the like thrown in in many places (I also bring up gender theory and disability theory sometimes). A classmate of mine, Ian Quinn, has been rocking the theory world with his system of harmonic function without primary triads that he has been teaching at Yale for the last few years. This might change things everywhere eventually, especially if Ian writes a textbook based on it. But harmonic analysis is not just slapping Roman numerals on and being done with it. If that is your experience with harmonic theory, then you had a crappy teacher, not a crappy theory.

*I always tell my students that I associate half-diminished seventh chords with a bittersweet striving that ultimately fails.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Women do listen differently

Studies done in my favorite Dutch city have found that when listening to white noise the primary auditory cortex has a significantly higher activation in the brains of women than in the brains of men. However, both sexes have the same activation when listening to music, significantly higher than the noise stimulus. This means both men and women pay more attention to music than to white noise (not surprising), but women pay more attention to white noise than men. I leave it up to you whether this result is surprising or not.

Ruytjens et al, "Functional sex differences in human primary auditory cortex." European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Imaging, 2007 ( E publication).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Teaching Creativity

In both of my main classes, theory and musicianship, I incorporate creativity through composition and improvisation activities. This creativity is a crucial aspect of being a musician, regardless of the primary role a musician will have in life. I have a pretty good handle on how to coach students through improvisation, but with stylistic composition I sometimes have trouble getting some students to treat the assignment as an act of creation. Today I gave the sophomores their semester-long composition assignment, and we practiced composing a period together. Many of the students were joyful in creating a new work, or excited about the idea of composing their own works. But there were some who were scared or reluctant about the project. So, how do you light the creative spark in these types of students?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In defense of harmony

In my last post I promised to defend the chaste honor of harmony, which has Marc Geelhoed intrigued. The dastardly besmircher of harmony is Mathemusicality's James Cook, who criticizes an old analysis I did of Chopin's Op. 28 No. 4. I don't have a problem with the voice-leading analysis James uses to start his post, said voice-leading graphs being very important tools in music analysis. However, James has some very odd ideas about harmony, namely that it doesn't exist. He is attempting to move us back to pre-Rameau (1723) days where chords don't exist, everything is counterpoint alone. I was tempted to address his critique line by line, but I think I would end up repeating myself a lot, so I'm making a larger view.
Update: Spurred on by James, I have made a line-by-line critique here. And welcome to NewMusicBox readers.

Harmony does exist. Chords do exist. There are recognizable qualities of triads, seventh chords and extensions that engender clear tonal functions in any culturally invested listener.* A Major-minor seventh chord is rightly nicknamed the dominant seventh chord because its very sonority creates a sensation of dominant function, creating a desire to resolve to the triad a fifth lower, that mythical tonic chord. Likewise a fully diminished seventh chord will automatically be heard as a leading-tone chord, whether or not the listener is consciously aware of the categorization. If you play this fully diminished seventh chord and walk away, any listeners (including yourself) will sing, hum, play or think a resolution tone a half step higher than one of the notes in the seventh chord (it could be any of the four, if the chord was devoid of any other context). Thus far my examples, gleaned from years of teaching and party tricks, have been solitary chords, lacking any larger context. As soon as two or more chords are played together, they start creating perceptibly stronger harmonic relationships. And if there is a good melody along with it, there is no stopping the tonal functions from being present.

Heinrich Schenker's greatest realization was that the rules of counterpoint – set by 16th century compositional practice – had been altered by the evolution of tonality. Rules of voice leading had to take into account the scale degrees being used, something unheard of in modal counterpoint (except at cadences).

So, this is my first attempt at championing sweet Harmony's cause, undoubtedly hampered by my rusty blogging chops and the Leinenkugel Berry Weiss I just drank. I hope others will take up the cause celebre, or at least say that they believe in chords. I mean, c'mon, they're chords.

*By this I mean a listener who has either grown up in or been educated in Western music culture. These days this covers average people from nearly all industrial nations.

Monday, August 27, 2007

And We're Back From Commercial Break

Classes started last Wednesday at DePauw. The School of Music is in a new building, so I have a new office, new classrooms, a new music library, and new bathrooms. We also have a new dean, a new departmental secretary, a new music librarian, a new recording arts specialist, and a new assistant to the dean. And I'm teaching third semester theory with a new text book this year. So, same old, same old.

I'm almost done with my tenure file. All letters from students and faculty were due today, and my completed folders are due next Monday. If any of you are determined to have a say in my tenure decision, you can send me an emailed letter, which I can still include in the files by next Monday. The School of Music has two tenure decisions this year, along with two interim reviews and a promotion to full professor. I'm up first, so I'll know my colleagues' decision in October. DePauw has an open file policy, so I get to see everything in my file, including the report written by the School's personnel committee. I also get to write a response to their report, which is then passed along to the University's Committee on Faculty, which has the unenviable task of reviewing all the promotion, tenure, and interim reviews (and term reviews) for the university. I don't know when I will hear from them, probably sometime late in November by mid-December.

In running I've gotten up to 10K distances, though I'm pretty slow at those distances. I will be running in a local 4-mile race at the end of September, and will look for a good 10K for October.

I have finished a new draft of my articulation article, and am waiting for feedback from an adviser before sending it off for hopeful publication. I have a publisher's review to work on now, and then I'm going to start whittling away at the other two articles I was supposed to work on during my pre-tenure leave. Fortunately my teaching schedule leaves Fridays open for research, and unfortunately my personal life leaves many afternoons and evenings free for both research and class prep. So I hope to make some significant progress in my research.

I'm also ready to start back into blogging, though I have marked all 1400 posts in Bloglines read so I apologize for missing any excellent thoughts you have made. During my blogging sabbatical I watched the complete extended Lord of the Rings (yet again) and read Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End. Right now I'm watching the documentaries from the Lord of the Rings DVDs (yet again) and reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Stay tuned for my defense of harmony.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Press Release: Wordless Music

The Wordless Music Series has announced preliminary details of its 2007-08 season, which will include the much-anticipated U.S. premiere of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver for string orchestra. The series, which brings together classical and contemporary rock and electronic artists in nontraditional chamber-music spaces, will feature performances in the fall of its second season from Do Make Say Think, Beirut, Múm, Colleen, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Sandro Perri, Bing and Ruth, Hauschka, Torngat, and Electric Kompany. Also appearing will be classical soloists and ensembles performing the music of Bach, Bartók, Chopin, Scriabin, and György Ligeti, as well as contemporary composers Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Gavin Bryars, Osvaldo Golijov, Jacob TV, Nick Didkovsky, and Marc Mellits.

The 2007-08 season of Wordless Music will open with a concert by Toronto big band Do Make Say Think and New York new-music quartet the Electric Kompany on Friday, September 14, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Central Park West and 64th Street. Continuing in the Wordless Music tradition of offering concerts in alternative and unconventional spaces, shows will also take place at Good-Shepherd Faith Church and The Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan, as well as the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in Fort Greene. Beginning with the 2007-08 season, in a special new partnership, Wordless Music concerts will take place for the first time at venues outside New York City, at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

The 2007-08 season will also include an extremely rare full-orchestra program on January 16-17, 2008, with music exploring the subjects of religion, technology, and modernity by contemporary composers John Adams (Christian Zeal and Activity), Gavin Bryars (The Sinking of the Titanic), and Jonny Greenwood (Popcorn Superhet Receiver). Commissioned by the BBC in 2005, when Greenwood was named the BBC's Composer-in-Residence, and premiered in November 2006 at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London by the BBC Concert Orchestra, Popcorn Superhet Receiver is a 20-minute work inspired by the phenomenon of white noise and the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti, and Olivier Messiaen. For its U.S. premiere, the work has been revised by the composer and will be performed by a string orchestra comprising 18 violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos, and 4 double basses. The Wordless Music Orchestra will be led by conductor Brad Lubman, known for his work conducting the Steve Reich Ensemble, and will feature a one-time gathering of 50 instrumentalists, who represent many of the brightest talents in New York's classical and new-music community. They come from a diverse group of bands and ensembles who have drawn inspiration from the music of Jonny Greenwood and Radiohead throughout the group's 15-year history, including members of Alarm Will Sound and So Percussion.

Tickets for all 2007-08 Wordless Music shows will be on sale beginning at noon on Friday, August 9. Planning for Wordless Music concerts in the winter and spring is in progress and will be announced soon. Full schedule details and ticket sale info are available at

Wordless Music
2007-08 Season

Friday, September 14 (at the New York Society for Ethical Culture) will be headlined by the Toronto big band Do Make Say Think, with support from the amplified new-music ensemble the Electric Kompany, who will perform music for rock quartet by the composers Jacob TV, Nick Didkovsky, and Marc Mellits.

Thursday, September 20 (at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple) will be headlined by Beirut with support from Fifth Veil, a clarinet-and-string-quartet ensemble from the Bard Conservatory of Music that will perform composer Osvaldo Golijov's The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind (1994), which combines Klezmer clarinet playing with classical string quartet writing.

Monday, September 24 (also at SEC) will also be headlined by Beirut with support from the French cellist/electronic artist Colleen, as well as the pianist Katya Mihailova playing solo pieces by Chopin and Scriabin, followed by duos for piano and violin (with violinist Colin Jacobsen) by Arvo Pärt and Bela Bartók.

Saturday, September 29 (at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis) will mark the first Wordless Music concert to take place outside New York City, and will feature a large ensemble led by composer Nico Muhly and producer/electronic artist Valgeir Sigurdsson.

Friday, October 5 (at Good Shepherd Church) will be a showcase devoted in part to the Bedroom Community label in Iceland, with a large ensemble led by composer Nico Muhly and producer/electronic artist Valgeir Sigurdsson, best known to date for his work producing records by Bjork, Múm, and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The show will open with music from Toronto musician Sandro Perri.

Friday, November 9 (at St. Paul the Apostle) will be headlined by Múm with support from Torngat, a horn/percussion/keyboard trio from Montreal with Pietro Amato from Bell Orchestre/Arcade Fire, along with the cellist Jihyun Kim performing one of Bach's solo cello suites and György Ligeti's sonata for solo cello.

Saturday, November 10 (at SEC) will again be headlined by Múm, with support from Hauschka, a German pianist and composer on the Fat Cat label, as well as Bing and Ruth, a rotating "ambient orchestra" of ten or more instrumentalists and vocalists, mainly living in Brooklyn. Bing and Ruth's set will open with a brief solo piano program by bandleader, composer, and pianist David Moore, who will perform a selection of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Wednesday & Thursday, January 16 & 17 (at St. Paul the Apostle) will feature a full Wordless Music Orchestra led by conductor Brad Lubman, performing a program of works exploring the subjects of religion, technology, and modernity, including the U.S. premiere of Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver for string orchestra, as well as music by John Adams (Christian Zeal & Activity) and Gavin Bryars (The Sinking of the Titanic).

Tickets for all 2007-08 Wordless Music concerts go on sale at noon this Friday, August 10, via

Taking time off

I will be taking the next week or two off from blogging, as I have a few things on my plate:
1) finish my tenure file(s)
2) finish my article on cognition of musical articulation
3) compute final grades for my IU class
4) prepare my six(!) classes for DePauw
5) get my kids ready for school
6) go to the state fair
7) give a presentation on library use to new faculty
8) hire a part-time instructor in musicianship
9) torment the cats
10) there is no number 10.

In the meantime, there is a recent article in Memory Cognition (2007, 35(2):242-253) about how to learn song lyrics: "Learning lyrics: to sing or not to sing?" by Racette and Peretz.
According to common practice and oral tradition, learning verbal materials through song should facilitate word recall. In the present study, we provide evidence against this belief. In Experiment 1, 36 university students, half of them musicians, learned an unfamiliar song in three conditions. In the sung-sung condition, the song to be learned was sung, and the response was sung too. In the sung-spoken condition, the response was spoken. In the divided-spoken condition, the presented lyrics (accompanied by music) and the response were both spoken. Superior word recall in the sung-sung condition was predicted. However, fewer words were recalled when singing than when speaking. Furthermore, the mode of presentation, whether sung or spoken, had no influence on lyric recall, in either short- or long-term recall. In Experiment 2, singing was assessed with and without words. Altogether, the results indicate that the text and the melody of a song have separate representations in memory, making singing a dual task to perform, at least in the first steps of learning. Interestingly, musical training had little impact on performance, suggesting that vocal learning is a basic and widespread skill.

And you can go visit James Cook's post explaining why I'm wrong about Chopin. Related to that subject, see Scott Strader's analysis of Chopin's A minor prelude. Scott also just wrote a good post on Krenek and Sorabji.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Can I play?

Alex has come up with a new game, which has been played by Matthew, Rex, Lisa, Robert, Charles, and John (Alex has all of them, except Lisa's The Schenker Youth). Alex declares the Robert Ludlum Compendium closed, but this is too good a meme to let die. I have:

The Saariaho Reflection
The Pärt Contemplation
The Tavener Orthodoxy
The Gorecki Epitaph
The Stockhausen Aberration

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Faster than a speeding tuba

This morning I ran in the Circle the City 5k race, supporting the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. A brass quartet was set up on the Memorial steps to entertain us before and after the run*, with a string quartet playing at the first mile marker and a pianist at the second (I couldn't tell you what was played at either marker, I was too busy keeping my feet moving). I imagine there were more along the 10K route. I did okay, finishing 49th out of 262, and 4th out of 13 in my age group, with a time of 24'34". I had hoped to make it in 24 minutes, but this is still one minute faster than my previous 5k. It was also nice to chat with colleague Jim Beckel who played in the quartet, and with a student who is interning with the symphony this summer.

* When the CEO of the symphony finished his race, the quartet played "Hail to the Chief."

Friday, August 03, 2007

FriPod: Alone and Separate

I've got my reasons.

1. "I Don't Want To Be Alone" by Billy Joel on Glass Houses.
2. "Creatures of Pan appear and frighten the pirates, who flee in terror, leaving Chloé alone with a shining crown" from Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel, performed by Charles Munch, Conductor / Boston Symphony Orchestra / Robert Shaw, Director / New England Conservatory Chorus And Alumni Chorus.
3. "Alone Together" by Dietz and Schwartz, performed by Dinah Washington on Dinah Jams!
4. "Alone" from The Mission soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.
5. "Eating Alone" from the Shrek soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell.
6. "Far from home / E.T. alone" from the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - Remastered & Expanded soundtrack by John Williams.
7. "Separate Lives" by Stephen Bishop, performed by Phil Collins on Serious Hits...Live!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Listening to Maps


Part of this new venture makes sense, as National Geographic produces many films and TV shows, thus it needs to have music supervision of all these projects. But they will also be launching syndicated radio shows, promoting live events, selling MP3s (many from their own record label), and a publishing house that will manage "the music publishing assets of the Society, representing over 12,000 copyrights." I had no idea National Geographic owned the rights to printed music.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New music blogs

Recently I've been made aware of several music blogs new to me.

Mathemusicality is a new blog by James Cook, exploring advanced theoretic views of music.
Classical Convert describes Ben's new discovery of classical music, having only started listening when he was 23. He also maintains a larger website with advice for newcomers to the classical world.
the search for artistry is Phil Giampietro's blog on (duh!) the search for artistry in music. He's also a euphonium player.
The Sibelian Conspiracy is a group blog by composers to promote their music. There is some discrepancy in the mission, since the subtitle of the blog is "about music, art, and literature."