Friday, May 30, 2008

FriPod: Birth

My children's birthdays were this week, with a joint birthday party held tomorrow. By the way, I'm experimenting with Amazon's MP3 widget, providing examples of the current FriPod list to the left. You can click to listen, and purchase the MP3 if you are interested. Yes, I get a small cut for each purchase, but nothing for clicking.

1. "Birth of the Red Violin" by John Corigliano from The Red Violin soundtrack.
2. "Birth" from "Lieutenant Kijé" Symphonic Suite, op. 60 by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by a) Dallas Symphony Orchestra, b) Los Angeles Philharmonic.
3. Birth of the Cool performed by Miles Davis.
- "Move" by Denzil Best
- "Jeru" by Gerry Mulligan
- "Moon Dreams" by Chummy MacGregor and Johnny Mercer
- "Venus De Milo" by Gerry Mulligan
- "Budo" by Bud Powell and Miles Davis
- "Deception" by Miles Davis
- "Godchild" by George Wallington
- "Boplicity" by Cleo Henry
- "Rocker" by Gerry Mulligan
- "Israel" by Johnny Carisi
- "Rouge" by John Lewis
- "Darn That Dream" by Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What is Music Theory?

This summer Carlos and I are revamping the four-semester music theory curriculum here at DePauw. We want the students to become independent thinkers, not relying upon a textbook to tell them how to perceive music. While we will still use a textbook as a reference source for the short term, we will also be assigning readings from scholarly articles and monographs for discussion. It will be particularly interesting when the students encounter opposing viewpoints. They will have to think about which perspective they agree with, and why (or why they disagree with both perspectives). I had some success this semester with the final analysis papers. The students had to analyze a multi-movement or multi-song Common Practice work, developing their own theses to argue. Several students looked for articles or books on their subject, but then confronted these previous analyses, arguing for or against various points. I was very pleased with the results, as well as their responses to my constant challenges to write of their personal reactions to the music, using specific musical facts to explain their reactions. They also practiced this type of analysis in their blogs, though they tended to stick to answering the questions posed in the exercises rather than using the questions as jumping points to create their own theses. The new curriculum will include compositional exercises, as part of the See it, Say it, Read it, Write it pedagogical stance. I want the students to be able to recognize musical features, and an important way for them to learn this is to compose these musical features for themselves. There are additional benefits to compositional exercises as well, but that is my main purpose for this curriculum.

I was sparked to start blogging again, and to write about my summer efforts, because of James Cook's misunderstanding of my perspective on music theory. I do like to talk about harmony, but my conception of harmony is not as a discipline that can be separated from counterpoint, form, or motive. I mash together Schenker, Riemann, Meyer/Narmour/Huron, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Helmholtz, Rameau, Weber, Koch, Riepel, Tenney, and countless others for my understanding of how notes interact horizontally and vertically. I like Schoenberg's conception of key relationships, Schenker's wisdom on hierarchical organization and harmonic prolongation through contrapuntal functions, neo-Riemannian spaces that show how strange progressions can make sense as part of a cycle*, David Huron's expansion of Meyer's and Narmour's work on expectancy, Hindemith's conception of harmonic tension and how it can be generalized to plus-triadic harmonies, Weber's and Helmholtz's very different empirical examinations of music, Tenney's exploration of consonance and dissonance, etc. I want my students to explore at least some of these theories for themselves, to develop their own conceptions of harmony, as well as rhythm, timbre, and various bigger pictures like semiotics.

As I'm thinking about this, one thing I need to include in the theory curriculum is a discussion on what music theory is for. TTU Music Theory Department explains the two basic approaches, analytical and compositional. I won't repeat Michael Berry's excellent explanation, follow the link to read it. Also follow the link to read James Cook's view on what music theory is for: to explain how music is composed, and to provide a metalanguage for describing all music. I want music theory to spark new ideas on how to perform music, to spark new ideas on how to listen to music, and to inform us more on our interactions with the arts. But again, I don't want to shove my definition down the throats of the students. I want them to wrestle with this, encountering James Cook's view as well as many others.

I welcome any suggestions of reading materials, perspectives, or topics to consider as Carlos and I work on our curriculum.

*At some point I will blog about the recent Science article, "Generalized voice-leading spaces" by Callender, Quinn, and Tymoczko. This is a recent development out of neo-Riemannian theory that is quite interesting.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Time to start

Today was DePauw's Commencement ceremony, made more poignant because it was the last for our retiring President Bottoms after 22 years of service. The student speaker pointed out that he was only six weeks old when Robert Bottoms became president. I waddled over in my post-race legs to play in the band, thus allowing me to get up and stretch during the individual names. Playing in the band did not save me from the dangers of regalia, as most performing faculty robe up. The suggestion of hiding things under robes came up today while chatting with a junior saxophone major. He wants to do something exciting when he walks across the stage next year, and I pointed out that he could hide a soprano sax in his robes and play a lick after getting his diploma. A colleague solved the handshake-grab-diploma problem with the neck-strap. I know, not an obvious solution for a saxophonist, but it still works.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I survived the half marathon, but as I predicted, it was a long 13.1 miles. 2:31:36 long to be exact. I had hoped for a 10 minute mile pace, and kept with that through the first seven miles. But as the table shows, miles 8-13 were not kind. There were hills that slowed my running to a crawl, and eventually forced me to insert some walking. I did manage to run the last 1.1 miles continuously, though it was very slow. My last 5k was a laughable 41:56, almost twice what I can normally run that distance. I am now going to put on some Biofreeze that the free masseuse gave me, and go to bed.

Mile Pace
1 -- 9:51
2 -- 9:42
3 -- 9:52
4 -- 10:23
5 -- 10:13
6 -- 10:12
7 -- 10:21
8 -- 11:56 (big hill)
9 -- 13:11 (started walking)
10 - 13:58
11 - 13:31
12 - 14:45 (make the hurting stop)
13 - 12:24 (I have a little pride)

Average Pace: 11:35

Friday, May 16, 2008

FriPod: Long

I've been locked away grading since getting back from Wisconsin. That, combined with an exhaustion from the various emotions I've expressed lately, has led to my blogging silence. It has also kept me from running for the last three weeks, and I am participating in the first Geist Half-marathon tomorrow. Hence the FriPod topic: it's going to be a LONG 13.1 miles.

1. "As Long As I Live" by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, performed by Benny Goodman Sextet on Charlie Christian: Genius of the Electric Guitar.

2. "Behrani's Thoughts - Long Ago" by James Horner on House of Sand and Fog soundtrack.

3. "How Long Blues" by Carr, performed by the Count Basie Orchestra on The Essential Count Basie Vol.1.

4. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" by George & Ira Gershwin, performed by Sarah Vaughan on How Long Has This Been Going On?

5. "The Long Black Veil" by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Hill, performed by Mick Jagger & The Chieftains on The Long Black Veil.

6. "Long Day" by Spang A Lang on Spang A Lang.

7. "The Long Run" by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, performed by the Eagles on Eagles Greatest Hits Volume 2.

8. "Long, Long Journey" by Leonard Feather, perfomed by Louis Armstrong with the Duke Ellington Orchestra on The Best Of Duke Ellington: Centennial Edition.

9. "Through the Long Night" by Billy Joel on Glass Houses.

Friday, May 09, 2008

FriPod: Death

This was a difficult week. Besides the normal end-of-semester activities, I already had planned to attend my grandfather's memorial service in Wisconsin this Saturday (tomorrow) with my kids and ex-wife. But on Tuesday, Jane Acres, Mary's cousin and my daughter's godmother, died after battling cancer for years. And her funeral in Canada is scheduled for the same day. Naturally we all had overwhelming feelings from Jane's death. She was an incredible person, so spiritual, so funny, so full of love. Jane was a great role model for Kate, showing how to face death with grace and spirit. So Kate and Mary are up in Canada for her funeral, and I'm in Wisconsin with Ben (the five-year-old) for my grandpa's memorial. He was also a special person, sharp as a tack the day he died at 96 years, spirited and a lover of life.

1. "Come to Me (Fantine's Death)" from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boubil, Herbert Kretzmer.
2. "Death and the Maiden" by The Clogs on Lantern.
3. "Death of Anna" by John Corigliano from The Red Violin soundtrack.
4. "Death of Kashchei" from The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, performed by Philharmonia Orchestra; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor.
5. "Etudes; Death of Kaspar" by John Corigliano from The Red Violin soundtrack.
6. "Let Us Garlands Bring, Op. 18 - 1. Come Away, Come Away, Death" by Gerald Finzi, performed by Bryn Terfel, Malcolm Martineau.
7. "Kijé's Death" from Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by the Dallas Symphony.
8. "O Death" performed by Ralph Stanley on O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
9. "O Death, where is thy sting?" from The Messiah by George Fridrich Handel, performed by Florence Quivar, John Aler; Andrew Davis, Toronto Symphony, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
10. "Ogre Hunters - Fairytale Deathcamp" by Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell, from Shrek soundtrack.
11. "People's Revolution; Death of Chou Yuan" by John Corigliano from The Red Violin soundtrack [a lot of death in this movie!]
12. "Since by man came death" from The Messiah by Handel, performed by Andrew Davis, The Toronto Symphony, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
13. "War is Declared / The Death of Charles" by Max Steiner, from the Gone with the Wind soundtrack.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Make me weep

Dave Munger reports on a new music cognition study. Andrea Halpern et al, have shown that non-musicians can identify the difference between major and minor melodies, but only when they are labeled as "happy" or "sad" rather than "major" or "minor." This gets at the difference between perception and cognition. Musicians and non-musicians (I hate that label) alike can perceive the modal differences, but interpret them differently. This difference remained even when trained on either strategy. Now, the training was in the form of playing major and minor melodies and saying "this is major" and "this is minor", with no other theoretical underpinning. So it makes sense that nonmusicians would be more comfortable with antonym-pairings that make sense outside of musical jargon. The brain electrical activity maps are cool, showing typical denial-of-expectation reactions for the minor music among the musicians, and no expectations among the non-musicians (I still don't like that label).

Dave has written about other music cognition research here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Name that Tune

Another meme has caught my attention, and is a fine way to procrastinate from reading all of those student papers. I am to list the first line of 25 random songs from my iTunes collection, and let you dear readers guess the names of the songs and the artists. I'm sticking with vocal numbers, and only those in English. In many cases the title will be easy, but the artist may not (though I'm not listing any obscure personal recordings). I do include classical music if it is in English.

1. Born to lose, I've lived my life in vain.
2. He was a friend of mine.
3. One Two Three One
4. If the night turned cold, and the stars looked down,
5. I'm a gonna tell you how its gonna be.
6. C'mon baby, let's do the Twist.
7. Friday night I crashed your party, Saturday I said I'm sorry.
8. I wonder as I wander up under the stars.
9. Good day to your Honesty.
10. Patching the roof, and pitching the hay, is not my idea of a perfect day.
11. Ali dances and the audience applauds.
12. There, out in the darkness, a fugitive running, fallen from grace.
13. I thought I'd write to Juliet, for she would understand.
14. High row de boatmen row float in down the river Ohio.
15. Oh when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you.
16. Gospel train is comin', you'd better get your business right.
17. Black black black is the color of my true love's hair.
18. There she goes, there goes my baby.
19. Care of St. Ignatius House, Willoughby Drive.
20. The Lord gave the word.
21. Unchain my heart, baby let me be.
22. He was a hard headed man, he was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty.
23. I'm nobody's baby, I wonder why?
24. You better come on in my kitchen, babe it going to be rainin' outdoors.
25. I have a lover, a lover like no other.

As you guess the right answers, I'll strike them out, just like Phil has been doing. And feel free to mock my listening choices, or lack there of.

Friday, May 02, 2008

FriPod: May Day

1. "But Who May Abide" from the Messiah by George Friedrich Handel, performed by Samuel Ramey with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Davis.

2. "May It Be" by Enya on The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring soundtrack.

3. "Now is the month of maying" by Thomas Morley, performed by The King's Singers on Madrigal History Tour.

4. "Sheep May Safely Graze" by J.S. Bach, performed by Rolf Smedvig, trumpet/Michael Murray, organ.

5. "You May Be Right" by Billy Joel on Glass Houses.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Harvard-Lyrica Dialogue

The Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations is pleased to announce the fourth and final of its annual Harvard-Lyrica Dialogues, scheduled from 4-6 PM, 9 May 2008 at Lehman Hall, Dudley House, 2nd Floor, in Harvard Yard.

This season's Dialogues are themed "Music and Memory -- Music as Memory", and the final Dialogue, "Revolution and its Discontents", will be an historical and sociological round-table discussion of Francis Poulenc's opera "The Dialogues of the Carmelites", set to the play by Georges Bernanos, in turn based upon based on the novella "The Last on the Scaffold", by Gertrud von le Fort. Von le Fort's story, a study in crises of conscience, recounts the massacre of the nuns of the Carmelite convent in Compiègne during the French Revolution, and the panel will deliberate Beranos's and Poulenc's masterful incarnations.

Panelists will include Jeffrey Mehlman of Boston University, Mark DeVoto, Emeritus, Tufts University, Jann Pasler, University of California, San Diego, and Paul-André Bempéchat, Harvard University.

Admission is free, and all are welcome.