Friday, December 04, 2009

Blogroll update

I've finally gotten around to (partially) updating my blogroll, because I finally got around to reading through my old emails that were piling up and got some link exchange requests that prompted the editing. One particular new blog that I want to highlight is The Taruskin Challenge, by Zach Wallmark and Mark Samples. I met Zach at an improvisation conference a few years ago, where he gave a great paper on the jazz pianist Andrew Hill. Zach and Mark are working their way through Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music, ten pages at a time. As this is a 5-volume set, they will have fodder for quite some time. Right now they are up to Josquin, and are having an interesting debate about the musical "middle" as inspired by Tinctoris' description of the middle style. One thing I like about their blogging style is the Week in Review, which oddly falls on a Wednesday. They summarize the previous week's worth of posts, which is very helpful in providing a larger picture than the 10-pages posts can give by themselves.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Rocking' the Advent

After spending the first Sunday of Advent at a Lessons and Carols in Indianapolis, and preparing to perform in another Lessons and Carols this weekend, it is only fitting that I pass along this announcement from Amazon: from today through Christmas Day, Amazon will be giving away a free mp3. Each day will feature a new song, "hand picked by Amazon MP3 editors" that is appropriate to the holidays. You can treat this as your own musical advent calendar. Today's free song is "Joy To the World" by Casting Crowns, which looks like a Christian Rock group. The press release by Amazon names Tori Amos and Lady Gaga as other artists on the list, and suggests that "traditional classics" will also be included. I'm guessing that I'll end up deleting many of these songs, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Bad Musicologist, Bad!

This video has been making the music scholarship rounds, as a poke at musicology:

While I acknowledge the humor to a certain extent, I have to say that our knowledge of events 1000 years ago is more complete than the video suggests. Yes, the average person on the streets may think that Charlemagne and Emperor Constantine lived at the same time, but the historians would never make that mistake. And while music creates it's own issues given the possibilities of losing audio evidence, thus giving rise to the performance at the end of the video, academics are also careful not to make claims that don't have clear evidence. Joining Scottie Pippin to the Beatles, and the Beatles playing in the Super Bowl, would take some massive misunderstandings of our current culture, suggesting that a major cataclysm wiped out practically all of our cultural products, like recordings, posters, books, and Larry King. And that doesn't match with our experience of the last 1000 years. After all, Larry King is still alive.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Preparing for Advent

Chad Orzel is taking a poll of the most annoying Xmas tunes. To make up for it, he provides a link to a very amusing skit by Patton Oswald (warning, NSFW unless your workplace doesn't mind swearing and you wasting your work hours on humor).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Temperamental Piano

Via Jonathan Bellman, here is a video on a new design of piano that allows the performer to adjust the tuning of each string with the use of sliders. Jonathan talks about the ability to change temperaments for his beloved Chopin. I can see possibilities in performing works by Gann, Young, and others who experiment with new scales. Or microtonal compositions. Or perhaps adding vibrato to a piano sound. I have some problems with the timbre of the piano itself, it sounds very tinny to me. It could be from the quality of the video, or the addition of the horizontal harp to the piano (see 2:20 of the video) which could vibrate sympathetically to strengthen the upper partials of the sounds. I'd like to hear the sliding system on a standard-sounding piano, one that doesn't attempt to sound like an Indian instrument. Here are some views about the hammer design that may have created this different sound.

The Fluid Piano will get its debut on Saturday at the University of Surrey, featuring composer/pianists Matthew Bourne, Nikki Yeoh and Pam Chowhan, and works by the inventor, Geoff Smith.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Fool and his Groundbass

Elaine Fine has found an interesting website all about La Folia, including the chronological and geographical progression and as many quotes in music throughout the ages as the authors could find. There isn't much on the structural elements of the groundbass, definitely more music history than music theory.

Sing We Our Praise of Idolatry

Today while I was running in the park, I listened to a PRI's The World story about a popular Indian song, "Vande Mataram," and recent Muslim opposition to it. Some clerics have issued a fatwah against singing the song, as the first line is about bowing down to the motherland. This is interpreted as idolatry by some (but not all) Muslims, particularly since "Motherland" is considered a goddess by Hindus. Disregarding the theological arguments for a second, I think it is healthy for any patriotic movement within a country to have a vocal opposition. If all Indians fell lockstep into beatifying their country, that could lead down the slippery slope to regarding other countries as inferior, and thus ready for conquest. Descriptions of the song reminded of other jingo-esque jingles, including some of the songs I sang (the videos are not of me, just a representative of the songs) as a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. A friend who was not in the fraternity pointed out to me that most of the songs were basically saying "look how awesome we are, we are the greatest group of guys around." Which implies that anyone who is not a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia is not awesome. These kind of songs are great morale boosters, but they also strengthen boundaries between "us" and "them". So it is good to prick those boundaries with opposing viewpoints from within the "us".

Friday, November 20, 2009

FriPod: Thanks

Some of my family have been posting what they are thankful for every day on Facebook. Since I don't want my students to know what I'm thankful for, I'll just put up some iTunes tracks that are thanksgiving-ish. I know, the first Parsifal example isn't really thankful, but it sets up the much more thankful excerpt that follows, and it gives me ten tracks.

1. "But Thanks Be to God" from Messiah by G.F. Handel, performed by Andrew Davis, The Toronto Symphony, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

2. "Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben" [kneeling with thanks, kneeling with praise] from Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach, performed by Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Wiener Sängerknaben & Hans Gillesberger.

3. "Danksagung an den Bach" [Gratitude to the Brook] from Die schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert, performed by Ian Bostridge.

4. "Ah! Mme. Follenvie, We Thank You" from The Greater Good by Stephen Hartke, performed by Andrew Wentzel, Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra & Stewart Robertson.

5. "Nun Danket Alle Gott" [Now Thank All God] by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, performed by the Empire Brass and Michael Murray.

6. "Nicht Dank! Haha! Was Wird Es Helfen?" [no thanks! haha! what will it help?] from Parsifal by Richard Wagner, performed by Dieter Selmbeck, Franz Crass, Gwyneth Jones, Heinz Zednik, Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele & Pierre Boulez.

7. "Recht So! Habt Dank! Ein Wenig Rast!" [right! thanks to you! rushing a little bit!] from Parsifal by Wagner, performed by Bengt Rundgren, Franz Crass, Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Pierre Boulez & Thomas Stewart.

8. "Thank Goodness" from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz, performed by Carole Shelley & Kristen Chenoweth.

9. "Thank you for the music" by Abba, from Number Ones.

10. "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" by Duke Ellington, performed by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Friday, November 13, 2009

FriPod: Last Composer Standing

Norman LeBrecht has posed a question: What 10 currently living composers will still be performed in 50 years? Rather than accepting his five "certainties," I'm starting fresh and will name ten composers in my iPod mix that I believe will stand the test of time.

1. Paul McCartney. His compositions with the Beatles and a few solo works will continue to thrive in 50 years.

2. Eric Whitacre. I actually prefer Morton Lauridsen's choir music, but I think Eric is more prolific, and thus casts a wider net. Speaking of which, his YouTube choir experiments are fascinating.

3. Osvaldo Golijov. His mix of world, popular, and classical musics are very organic, not forced or too topical that will confine them to a single time period (the problem with Michael Daugherty's work). I absolutely heart his "Last Round" and "Lullaby and Doina".

4. I was going to write down Sondheim here, but it is a harder call than Norman thinks. Most Broadway musicals reflect the popular idioms, and any revivals are done for nostalgia rather than because the music feels fresh. I can see revivals of Sondheim musicals, but I have a feeling that newer forms will dominate Broadway. Instead, I offer John Williams. Yes, he steals from other composers at times, but his music is both effective within the films, and survives on its own as well. Plus notice his being tagged for the inauguration piece this year.

5. John Adams. No question about it. He is represented in a variety of genres (piano, chamber, orchestral, opera), and has continued to evolve in his compositional style while maintaining a recognizable voice.

6. Phillip Glass. Ditto here, though his compositional style has not evolved as much as Adams'. But he has also done film music, and his Einstein on the Beach marks such a pivotal role in opera that it will continue. Steve Reich I am less certain about, and I'm sure that the only thing of Terry Riley's that will be performed in 50 years is "In C".

7. David Lang. The combination of the Bang On a Can juggernaut and winning the Pulitzer will keep David's music in the public conscious for 50 years. Particularly because there are strong feelings about his work in both directions, and hate can keep a work alive much more than indifference.

8. Thomas Adès, probably. It is wild and energetic stuff, musicians love to play it and audiences love to hear it.

9. Avo Pärt, because he best hits that balance of stasis and interest, moreso than Tavener or Gorecki.

10. Bob Dylan. Yes, I will never hear the end of it from my sister-in-law, but while Dylan himself is not an inspiring performer anymore, his music has clearly inspired countless musicians in a variety of genres. The poetry is haunting and complex, and usually coupled so tightly with the music that they cannot be easily separated.

What are your top 10 survivors? Suggest them here, and at Slipped Disc.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And now for some politics...

Today's Indianapolis Star had a front-page article about a Purdue University professor who blogs on conservative issues. Bert Chapman is the Government Information & Political Science Librarian and a Professor of Library Science at Purdue. The reason he made the news is for writing a post called "An Economic Case Against Homosexuality." A grad student discovered the blog post and reported Chapman to the university's Office for Institutional Equality, leading to protests in the campus newspaper and onward to the local news.

I agree with the university's decision that Prof. Chapman did not violate any rules, and therefore should not be punished. He put up a required disclaimer stating that his views do not represent those of Purdue University, and thus far there is no evidence that his political and social views have corrupted his professional behavior. I do disagree with a few of the other conservative bloggers cited in the IndyStar article who criticize the students and professors at Purdue for protesting against Chapman's homophobic views. Jonathan Katz calls the protests "bullying and an attempt at censorship." From the perspectives of students at Purdue, the majority of the protests are not attempting to get Chapman fired, or even to get him to take down his blog post. Instead the protests were a means of disputing the facts put forth by Chapman, thus continuing the debate. Sadly, many people who say controversial things get upset when other people have the temerity to disagree loudly and publicly. It would be bullying if Professor Chapman had expressed his opinions at a small dinner party, and found his remarks being protested in the newspapers and on campus afterward. But he made his viewpoints quite public through a popular conservative site (, so any response that attempts at equal footing must be made loudly.

As for the merits of Professor Chapman's "case," I see several problems. First, AIDS. This is not a homosexuals-only disease, nor only spread through "morally aberrant sexual behavior (including heterosexual promiscuity in Africa and elsewhere)." Blood transfusions, shared needles, these also spread HIV. And even if you could make the argument that we could wipe out AIDS by discouraging promiscuity, that is an argument FOR homosexual marriage. What is marriage but a social encouragement to be monogamous? Surely Professor Chapman doesn't think that people will simply stop having sex if they can't get married. The lack of social acceptance for homosexual relationships in the past drove gay people to casual, promiscuous relationships that did indeed help to spread AIDS. The fear of being caught prevented any attempts at long-term relationships, but the physical desires for sex could not be simply ignored. These are historical facts, along with the fact that gay couples have the same rate of breaking up as cohabiting heterosexual couples (16 and 17% respectively), while married couples have a break up rate of 4%. You want homosexual people to stop being promiscuous and thus stop spreading AIDS? Get them married! This also corresponds to Chapman's concerns about the economic costs of STDs in general.

Second, prison rape. Rape has nothing to do with gender preference, and everything to do with power. Just as heterosexual rape does not equate at all with a loving heterosexual relationship, prison rape does not equate at all with a loving homosexual relationship.

Third, health insurance. Ignoring the odd complaint of a self-avowed Christian that helping others with health insurance keeps him from getting more health insurance (Jesus would not be happy with that argument, see his views on the poor and how to get into heaven), these companies and and universities that offer domestic partner coverage are not being forced to by any government concerns, it is purely through the "invisible hand" of economics, which isn't that invisible. All market pressures are really social pressures, and these companies/universities have decided that they will either get better employees or look better socially and get more customers/better students from offering these benefits. Yes, some organizations might be driven by individual political beliefs, but if society – and thus the economy – did not support those beliefs then those organizations would fail.

Fourth, providing other services. Chapman's last full paragraph doesn't make any sense. If life insurance companies have more people to cover, the insurance pool is increased, thus reducing risk, and thus costs would decrease. In fact, insurance companies would make more money because of more potential policies to sell, and the increase in profits helps the economy. Likewise with lawyers and divorces or other legal considerations. Lawyers will have more opportunities to make money, so they won't have to create as high a profit margin, so our costs go down (or at least stay the same). And if the lawyers are making higher profits, the economy grows.

People were concerned about the economic costs of allowing women to work full-time. People were concerned about the economic costs of allowing slaves to go free. Economic costs were used to justify discrimination against Jews, Italians, Irish, Blacks, Hispanics, and any other minority group. These proposed economic costs never proved out. By expanding the number of people invited to participate in society, the society and thus the economy grows.

I hope Professor Chapman fully considers both the economic arguments against his position, and the myriad ethical and moral arguments against his stance.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Run, Theorist, Run!

I missed the FriPod this last week due to getting ready for my first marathon. I ran in the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, after training all summer and fall. My official results are 1208th place overall (out of 1978 who finished), 151st in my age group (out of 198 who finished), with an overall time of 4:28:57.1 My 10K split was 56:26.2, my half-marathon split was 1:59:41.0, and my 30K split was 2:57:10.1. My average pace was 10:15 per mile. I started out with the 9:10 pace group, and stayed with them through about mile 16. Then I started slowing down, though it felt very gradual until about mile 22 when I started walking longer times during my water breaks. I feel pretty good today, only very mild muscle protests in my quads and outer calf muscles. I'm still debating whether to do another marathon next, or try a triathlon.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Busy Day

Today my sophomores performed their third set of comprovisations, incorporating sequences for the first time. In between classes I shot one of my students and got stabbed in the neck by another, taking me out of the game. After classes I went over to the Union building for a faculty forum, including free lunch. After eating and discussing the evolution of language and music with some colleagues, I gave a very short presentation on students submitting self-recordings for homework. The forum topic was on how to deal with student absences due to illness, sports, or other reasons. I wasn't thinking about these reasons when I decided to have students record themselves sight singing with Audacity and submit the recordings as mp3s on our online course management system (Moodle). Instead, I was just trying to figure out a way to give 25 students in a musicianship class enough opportunities to perform for evaluation. With recordings, I can grade 50 students in 30 minutes, because the recordings remove all of the "ums," restarts, and other time eaters from lack of preparedness or nerves. It would take me at least three class periods, probably four, to grade the same number of students, and that would be without any opportunities for dictations or other exercises. But the system I use can also be used to hear oral presentations from absent students.

Right after giving my presentation, I ran back to the music building to play in a brass quintet for a student's senior recital jury. We will be performing Malcolm Arnold's Brass Quintet at the end of the month. Then I went back to the Union to get my laptop, which had been used by the other presenters at the workshop. And then back to the music building to advise two students on their class schedules for next semester and grad school plans, and tutor a student on species counterpoint. I finally had time to start writing the two exams I am giving on Monday for Theory I and III, before going to pick up the kids from school. There was no afterschool program today because of a book fair and pancake supper (see more about that below), so I had to pick them up right before 3 pm. We went home to clean the hamster cage so they would be ready to for show and tell tomorrow, and get dressed for karate class. I also started laundry, which was getting in desperate straits from my extended absence at the conference.

Piano lessons for each of the kids, picking out pieces for the end-of-semester recital. Karate class, hopefully to burn off some of the kids energy, while I continued to work on the exams. Then back to the elementary school for the semiannual fundraising event, the pancake supper. A quick and unsatisfying pancake dinner was followed by a very cute performance by the 2nd graders of music from Seussical the Musical, which the whole school will be seeing this year in Indianapolis. Then a quick visit to the book fair so the kids could burn their allowances on books, then back home for homework and more laundry. Plus playtime with a very antsy dachshund.

Notice how my day was so busy that I started shifting into Twitter/Facebook status-speak? There was no time for subjects or articles! Now the kids are in bed, 2/3rds of the laundry is folded and put away, and I have a tired dachshund curled up on my lap. My grammar is slowly coming back again. Good night!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shifts in attitude

When I was in college, from 1988-1993, jazz ensembles had become accepted on college campuses. My jazz director told about trying to get a university jazz ensemble started in the early '70s while he was a student, and the resistance that was put up by the faculty and administration. In my time there was still resistance, but it was of the idea that jazz could engender the same levels of scholarship that classical music inspired. There were professors who scoffed at the idea of extended tertian harmonies from jazz having anything in common with classical harmonies. And I personally heard opinions that performing jazz would be detrimental to one's development as a classical musician, though fortunately not from my own trumpet professors. We can also look at the lack of enthusiasm third-stream music received for a long time, with composers such as Alec Wilder regarded as novelty acts rather than serious artists.

I'm reminded of these old attitudes by an announcement that Chamber Music America is honoring Chick Corea with The Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award and a tribute concert on January 16-17 as part of their national conference. The SMT conference I just attended also shows this change of attitude, with many papers analyzing jazz and rock music within normal sessions, as opposed to the special sessions that these "canon-breaking" genres often had to be scheduled in to get considered. The canon has indeed been broken wide open, at least for the strong majority of academic environments. These shifts in attitude give me hope, both for my profession and for life in general, despite the recent political setback in Maine.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Conference wrap-up

I had planned to post some observations during the conference itself, but I was too busy either attending the conference, or socializing with people from the conference. Now that I'm home, I have (some) time to socialize with you, my internet companions. First off, I took part in my first biosensor experiment. On Halloween night, I was wired up with electromyography sensors on my frowning and smiling muscles in my face, with a pulse cuff and galvanic skin response sensors on my left hand, and a respiration monitor around my chest, providing an awesome Halloween costume. I and my fellow biosensor participants were treated to a live concert of three pieces – a madrigal by Arcadelt, a movement of a Schumann string quartet, and a new piece for an electronic instrument (the T Stick) that involves dramatic movements by the performer – while our physiological responses were recorded. Another group of participants at the same concert/experiment were asked to indicate their continuous emotional states in two dimensions – arousal and valence – on specially programmed iPods. Afterward we saw results from previous iterations of the experiment and discussed our reactions to the experiment. This was all hosted by CIRMMT.

I saw two very interesting papers on Copland's Quiet City for trumpet, english horn, and strings. Both papers discussed the shifts in diatonic collections within the piece, though one paper focused more on a system with a dialectic between fifths and half-steps to discuss the dramatic points, whereas the other paper worked on identifying the most stressed pitches, thus a sense of key for the different structural divisions. I disagree with both presenters about the most salient pitch at the opening, but appreciate many of the points they each made.

I'm tempted to read Proust after seeing a paper that explores a narrative of Debussy's instrumental music based on Proust's conceptions of time and memory. The three machines of the "Proustian narrative" are memory, eternity, and crisis, which the author (Michael Klein) identified in key moments of Reflets dans l'eau and the Cello Sonata.

I learned how to part-write Shape-Note hymns from a paper by Robert Kelley. He explained how the harmonic tradition of Sacred Harp music differed from standard harmonic practices, and developed a means for teaching the different way of harmonizing.

I'll finish with a brief description of the keynote address by Susan McClary, entitled "In Praise of Contingency: The Powers and Limits of Theory." Professor McClary is most-known as the author of polemic books such as Feminine Endings that explored how gender bias had influenced musical scholarship. She often beat up theorists for not considering social contexts enough when describing musical structures, so many of us were apprehensive about what she would say. Her speech was great. Funny, erudite, featuring the goblin who strides across the universe as a fitting Halloween topic. In the end, her talk was about a difficulty that was demonstrated in the experiment I described at the beginning of this post. Musicians are very good at performing emotions, but we are not good at describing, or even being conscious of, the emotions we feel when listening to music. Those participants with the iPods had difficulty remembering to move their fingers to indicate shifts in emotion, or to even be able to translate what they were feeling to the two dimensions of arousal and valence. Likewise, Susan McClary described how resistant people are to facing the goblins created by Beethoven's music, that the powerful emotions created are too strong or scary to be clearly identified, much less be analytically described.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

J'ai arrivais, eh?

I'm in Montreal for the annual meeting of the Society for Music
Theory. Tonight was spent in committee meetings and bar chat, the
papers begin tomorrow afternoon. In the morning I hope to run (my
marathon is in 10 days) and do some sightseeing, before learning about
composers who use triple sharps and the psychology of sadness in
music. I'll keep you apprised of memorable moments.

Scott Spiegelberg
Associate Professor of Music
DePauw University

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching as Manipulation, Manipulation as Teaching

Last night my daughter was asking me to explain how reverse psychology works, because she noticed that when her friends try to use it on her, it doesn't work. I explained that it was a form of manipulation, and really only works when the person doesn't know that they are being manipulated. We have an innate resistance to manipulation, though the line between that and education is a slim one. When designing my classes, I first determine the optimal outcomes: what a good student should know or be able to do at the end of this class. Then I try to figure out how best to get the student to that outcome, and finally how to evaluate for that outcome. The evaluation is fairly basic, and the thing I hate most about teaching. The process to the outcome is fascinating, though, particularly when talking about skills.

In my musicianship classes I am working with the students on how to understand what they hear, and how to translate music notation to musical sound as efficiently and creatively as possible. And what I find is that I need to manipulate my students to get them to develop these skills. I could just say, "1) Practice singing every bit of notated music you come across, using a system that forces you to think about pitch and rhythm relationships. 2) Practice transcribing every bit of performed music you come across. 3) Practice manipulating musical sounds, both in notation (composing) and in performance (improvising)." And then I could evaluate their progress at the end of each semester or month, and find that they weren't practicing enough, if at all. Because it is hard to motivate oneself to practice something difficult, unless there is a clear payoff.

So first I increase the motivation by explaining why I have designed these outcomes, and why all professional music programs include aural skills training. That helps somewhat, but isn't enough. So I assign particular bits of music to practice singing, particular bits of music to practice composing, and particular bits of music to practice improvising. I play particular bits of music for them to transcribe. This requires less self-motivation on the part of the student, some of the work has already been done for them. Then I manipulate them into practicing these assignments through the threat of regularly occurring grades. Each grade is a small percentage of the final class grade, but the good students cannot stand getting a low grade of any sort. Thus they are manipulated into regular practice, which is the best way to develop these skills. Cramming doesn't work, just as it doesn't when learning how to speak a new language.

These grades may be thought of as evaluation, but they really aren't. For me, evaluation comes at the end of the semester, when I see how the students perform on the final exams. That is why I weight the final exam grades much more heavily than any other grade. For me, these regularly occurring grades are manipulation tools, forcing the students to practice what I want them to practice.

The point of this post is to ask if there is a better way. I hate grading, and the students hate grading too. Is there some way to create an environment of encouraging students to do the activities that will lead them to the outcomes of the class, without using grades as a threat? Is subtle manipulation the answer? I don't use reverse psychology on my children, both because they are too smart for it, and because I don't like the inherent dishonesty. Rather than manipulating by lying, I'd much rather go for the brute approach of saying "Do this, or get punished." I suppose that is the equivalent of "Do this, or get a bad grade" in a teaching environment. But just as I rarely have to punish my kids with timeouts, and only have to threaten punishment occasionally, I'd really like to reduce grading to a minimum, left mostly for true evaluation rather than brute manipulation.

Friday, October 23, 2009

FriPod: Dr. Atomic

Right when I took my blogging hiatus, I received a review copy of John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony, performed by the Saint Louis SO, conducted by David Robertson. It only seems fair that I actually review it, even if 2 months after every other classical blog. My impressions are unsullied by any experience with the source opera, so take that as you will. First of all, the performance of the orchestra is phenomenal. Every sound is clear, nuanced, and directed. The opening movement, "The Laboratory" is the shortest, at only 2.5 minutes. It opens with proper foreboding about the creation of a military monster. The immensity of the bomb, both in physical size and in global effect, is portrayed with wide ranges, extreme dynamics, and densely dissonant chords. This movement does calm down, perhaps with the introspection that often begins a research project. "Panic" is indeed frenzied, lots of fast strings with intense brass and woodwind lines over them. This is great running music, much like Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The background pulse stays the same, but foreground rhythms change up the feeling of meter significantly. At one point the strings sound like a geiger counter. Over the 14+ minutes of this movement the style does change, losing the frenzy for isolated moments before panic sets back in. There is a nice trumpet solo in the middle, played very well by Susan Slaughter. The third movement, "Trinity" plays with layered rhythmic ostinati in a very minimalist way for the opening. The trumpet solo is almost heart-breaking, but something keeps it at a remove for me, I think there is some kind of disconnect between the trumpet and the accompaniment. In fact, it is somewhat reminiscent of Ives' The Unanswered Question, which Adams mimicked in his On the Transmigration of Souls. But something about this solo makes me want to have it connect with the orchestra, unlike the other two works.

I watched Gustavo Dudamel conduct the premiere of Adams' City Noir on PBS the other night, and had similar reactions as to this symphony. There are plenty of moments that make me want to turn to something else, but just as my hand reaches for the TV controls or the iPod, Adams throws in a sound that intrigues me and keeps me listening.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coloratura Tenors?

One of my former student's posted this on Facebook. (Listen to 4:00 onwards to understand the title.)

I haven't heard Anna Russell's humor for many years, so some nice nostalgia. More famous to me are her analysis of The Ring cycle, and Gilbert and Sullivan. Since I love you all so much, here they are.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

E = mF B D# G#

A scientist (or mathematician?) pseudonymed Thoreau describes how attending musical performances helps him solve research problems. may be thinking “So, you spent 5 hours not paying attention to the show?” but somehow a good music performance just gets me in that zone. One of the most important things that I worked out during my thesis research was done during Phantom of the Opera. And I loved Phantom.

I don't see a problem with this at all. I do the same thing, at musical performances, at plays, watching movies, reading books, etc. I don't tend to solve entire problems as much as get inspired to consider new problems or new approaches to a problem that I will complete later. This is because I get pulled back into whatever art I'm consuming at the moment, unless it really sucks. And then I will flit from problem to problem, including working on my grocery shopping list.

Bonus points to the first person who figures out the title of the post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Walk with the Instruments, Talk with the Instruments

There is plenty of debate on whether music is a language. But there is no debate that this friggin' piano is talking!

Actually, there was debate about this on the Auditory e-list, which prompted this article on sine-wave speech and this raw demo. Want to try it yourself? Here is a program that will convert any WAV file to a MIDI file, so go ahead and record yourself saying something, then convert it to a MIDI file to be played back with the sampled instrument of your choice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Best of the Rest: We Got Pictures!

Night After Night gives us some good pics of Bang on a Can's latest invention, the Asphalt Orchestra.

Darcy James Argue mourns the death of jazz drummer Rashied Ali, with a nice photo taken by DJA himself.

Music 000001 produces a very complicated graph of "the Phylogenetic tree of complete mtDNA sequences belonging to haplogroup L1c" from a paper about Pygmies and Bantu farmers by Quintana-Murcia.

Feast of Music has some pics of what he calls the misnamed Mostly Mozart festival at Lincoln Center.

Musical Assumptions shares a picture and a recipe for Hummus-Tahini Seitan.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Your Blogs on Brains on Music on er... Running?

Cognitive Daily reports that musically-inexperienced people are just as able to communicate emotions as experienced musicians when given only one pitch to express their emotions. The study by Baraldi, Poli, and Roda asked people to express eight different intentions by choosing one musical note on a keyboard and repeatedly playing that note as loud as desired, as long as desired, and as fast as desired. Look at the charts to see how similar the two groups (very small, only three people in each group) were in their choices. Likewise, 30 listeners (15 of them experienced musicians) matched the intended expressions pretty well (5 out of 8).

Mind Hacks reports on three things that affect my life. First, how does telephone hold music (Muzak) affect our perception of time? And more importantly, how can phone systems best use music to keep people from hanging up? Apparently the answer is for familiar music in short bursts, alt rock for women, classical for men.

Second, apparently my plans to run a marathon in November will put my body through the same mental stress as "soldiers during military training and interrogation, rape victims just after the attack, severe burn injury patients and first-time parachute jumpers." What the hell am I thinking?

And third, shifting your perception of location through the use of prism glasses affects your perception of time. Shift your vision to the right, and time durations seem longer. Shift your vision to the left, and time durations seem shorter (than actual clock-time durations). This is very interesting, given my interest in musical time. How could the manipulation of musical events be equivalent to shifting the vision to the left or the right?

Friday, August 14, 2009

FriPod: Wedding

First, the answers to the last FriPod:
1. "Song of the Plains" performed by Paul Robeson Jr.
2. "Nagen A Herzen Fuhl Ich" from New Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 65, performed by Catherine Edwards, John Alley, Jane Glover; BBC Singers.
3. "Pretty Woman" performed by Roy Orbison.
4. "Mein Tröster" from St. Mark Passion by J.S. Bach, performed by The Choir Of Gonville And Caius College, Cambridge.
5. "No One Mourns the Wicked" from Wicked, composed by Steven Schwartz, performed by the Broadway Cast.
6. "Try To Remember" from the Fantasticks, composed by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, performed by David Cryer.
7. "In My Life" from Les Miserables, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, performed by Broadway Cast.
8. "Bar Albor de Madrid" from Ainadamar composed by Osvaldo Golijov, performed by Dawn Upshaw.
9. "Born In Blood" from Woman on fire, performed by D'arc.
10. "Ode To My Family" performed by The Cranberries.

In honor of the wedding last weekend, here are this week's tunes:

1. Cantata No. 202 "Wedding" composed by J.S. Bach, performed by Kathleen Battle, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
2. "Wedding" from Lt. Kijé Suite composed by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by a) Dallas Symphony Orchestra, b) the Empire Brass.
3. "Wedding March" from The Golden Cockerel by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, performed by Yan Pascal Tortelier; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
4. "Wedding Chorale/Beggars At The Feast" from Les Miserables performed by Broadway Cast.
5. "Wedding March" from Midsummer Night's Dream by Felix Mendelssohn, performed by Rolf Smedvig.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Okay, I'm back home! I had camped with the two kids and the squiggly dachshund in Punderson State Park, Ohio and Verona Beach State Park, New York on the way to Boston. Punderson wasn't very exciting, but Verona Beach was beautiful. The campsites were right by the lake (Lake Oneida), with the beach a very short walk away. And they even deliver firewood right to your site!

The four days in Boston were jam packed. The first day involved tux fitting, a family BBQ, and swimming in the hotel pool. The second day involved a TV shoot*, more swimming, the wedding rehearsal, and an excellent rehearsal dinner. The wedding was actually an hour away from Boston, at a beautiful winery. And my rehearsing was very strenuous, both memorizing my best man duties and running through all the music with the rest of the brass quintet. We even missed the appetizers! Saturday was filled with the wedding, as I had to get myself and the kids dressed (my daughter was the most beautiful flower girl in the world, with gorgeous hair done by her incredible cousins), and get out to the winery by 11 am for pictures. Then I was very busy, playing prelude music and the processionals (Handel's "Hornpipe" from Water Music and Charpentier's Prelude from Te Deum), running to stand up in the wedding party, running back with my brother to play a sextet arrangement of "Ashokan Farewell", running back up to help catch the two dachshunds who carried up the rings (sort of), and then running back to play the recessional (Rimsky-Korsakov's "Procession of the Nobles"). Then the brass quintet moved to the reception area and we played some postlude music, so we missed the cocktails that were apparently very tasty. Add dinner, my toast, and dancing, and I was exhausted. We didn't get back to Boston until 7 pm, having a quick bite at my brother and sister-in-law's house while my kids "helped" open wedding presents. Sunday morning we had a family brunch, swam some more, and then my kids went with my sister's family on a duck tour while I proved how awful a golfer I am with my brother, parents, nephew, and brother-in-law. We all met up at a sports bar right next to Fenway Park for dinner.

Monday we headed back, making it to Bald Eagle State Park in Pennsylvania rather late because of highway construction. In fact, there was tons of construction going on throughout Pennsylvania, probably those shovel-ready projects related to the stimulus package. I was able to get enough of a fire started to heat up dinner, even though the park office was closed when we arrived, so I had to scrounge partially burnt wood from empty sites, and the tinder was rather damp from recent rains. But the next day we spent at Barkcamp State Park in southeastern Ohio, after listening to "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" about five times while passing through Wheeling. Barkcamp had a great beach and wonderful hiking trails. The only bummer was that there were no flush toilets, something I managed to miss when picking parks to camp at.

*My brother and sister-in-law managed to get involved with the PBS kids show "Fetch", with Fetcher kids decorating two wedding cakes that all of the wedding guests had to vote on. That Friday morning some of us went to a preliminary shoot at the bakery, including my dachshund and my brother's two dachshunds. Each of my kids had some good lines, we will have to see what makes it past the editing process when the show airs next year.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On the road

I was going to warn everyone that blogging would be sparse this week,
but the reason for the sparseness kept me from blogging to warn you. I
just finished camping my way from Indiana to Boston, where my brother
will get married on Saturday. What with packing up two kids and a
squirmy dachshund, my hands were rather full. But here is something to
tide you over: my kids discovered Potter Puppet Pals on Youtube and
have been exploring allof the different versions. Start with The
Mysterious Ticking Noise:

Then look at the sped up and backwards versions. What fascinated me
was that the song lost almost all meter when played backwards, except
"Severus" backwards did evoke a meter. But the downbeat was in a
different spot. Quite surprising.

Scott Spiegelberg
Associate Professor of Music
DePauw University

Sunday, August 02, 2009

What Beats in a Warm Summer's Night?

Stan Katz, director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, was concerned about the lack of things to do in the summer. He was pleasantly surprised to discover the So Percussion Summer Institute giving an outdoor performance. Read about his reactions to the concert at the Chronicle for Higher Education.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Stravinsky and Money

No, these are actually two separate topics, combined into one post. First, Michael Monroe has spent his summer well, creating Mr. Stravinsky's Random Accent Generator. Click through to see what and why (though the later question might well be WHY?!!!!)

Second, another article appeared in today's IndyStar about the Venzago/ISO stir. According to Venzago's manager, the issue was money. The ISO administration wanted Venzago to take a 50% cut in salary for this year, and to go with a podium fee payment system for 2010-11 instead of a standard salary. According to Drew McManus' compensation reports, Mario Venzago made $395,764 last year, with the base musician salary at $72,800. CEO Simon Crookall earned $256,823. I don't know if Simon will take a salary cut this year, I would certainly expect it as a good moral booster. Another part of the newspaper article mentions that the ISO had a budget shortfall of $293,000, and they laid off eight front office staff this year.
Update: I missed the little arrows in Drew's charts which show that Mario had a raise this last year, and Simon did indeed get a salary cut. I don't have a subscription to Drew's site to see how much the cut was. Mario's 2006-7 salary was reported in the newspaper as $388,695, so it looks like he got about $5000 raises each year.

Friday, July 31, 2009

FriPod: Answers

The answers to last week's FriPod are as follows:
1. "Rejoice Greatly" from Messiah by Handel, performed by Arleen Augér
2. "Cour D'amours: In Trutina" from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, performed by James Levine; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; June Anderson.
3. "Trockne Blumen" from Die Schöne Müllerin by Schubert, performed by Ian Bostridge.
4. No. 8 from Neue Liebeslieder Walzer by Brahms, performed by DePauw Chamber Singers, Pamela Coburn, Caroline Smith, Keith Tonne, Kyle Ferrill, Claude Cymerman, Amanda Hopson, Gabriel Crouch.
5. Doom. A Sigh by Istvan Marta, performed by the Kronos Quartet.
6. "When I Was One-And-Twenty" 6 Songs From "A Shropshire Lad" by George Butterworth, performed by Bryn Terfel.
7. "One Short Day" from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz, performed by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth.
8. "The Unnamable" from John the Revelator by Phil Kline, performed by Lionheart & ETHEL.
9. "Disappearing into..." by J. C. Batzner, performed by 'de ereprijs' (at least that's what it says on the mp3).
10. "Piangero" from Cleopatra by Handel, performed by Arleen Augér.
11. "Lights Were Shining" from The Little Match Girl Passion by David Lang, performed by Theatre of Voices & Paul Hillier.

That was fun, so here are this week's tracks (chosen randomly):
1. "Heros go riding across the prairie, yes with the Red Army go the heros." This version has both the English and the original Russian lyrics.

2. "Nagen am Herzen fühl ich eln Gift mir [Sharp poisoned arrow rankles at my heart's core]" I swear this was random!

3. "Cause I need you, I'll treat you right, Come with me baby, Be mine tonight" This should be easy.

4. "Mein Tröster ist nicht mehr bey mir, [My comfort is no longer in myself]" There is a question how authentic this is.

5. "Have another drink, my dark-eyed beauty, I've got one more night left, here in town, So have another drink of green elixir, And we'll have ourselves a little mixer" Ah, to have a dark-eyed beauty with witch to mix.

6. "Deep in December, it's nice to remember, Although you know the snow will follow." It was hard to find lyrics in this song that didn't have the title.

7. "There are times when I catch in the silence, The sigh of a faraway song" I understand, but you've got to move on.

8. "Fuiste Electra, Salomé, fuiste Antigona furiosa y Lady Macbeth [you are Electra, Salome, furious Antigone and Lady MacBeth]" Another song praising a dark eyed beauty, but now for her acting ability.

9. "A mother fills our gorge with milk, But we never lose our taste for blood." She is very angry, and perhaps insane.

10. "Unhappiness was when I was young, And we didnt give a damn" Are Irish families always unhappy?

Shake up at the ISO

News rushed out in the Intertubes yesterday that Mario Venzago would not be returning to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra this season. I received a notice through Facebook (I'm officially a fan of the ISO), and then read a little more about it from local blogger Chantal. But then today's newspaper had a very different take, and unfortunately somewhat tabloidy. The source for the information is someone, Cassie Goldstein, who had been laid off in February, someone who did not have president Simon Crookall on her favorite person list. And her statement that only one offer had been made to Venzago seems highly unlikely and is directly contradicted by Simon. Ms. Goldstein just seems to read like a hanger-on from celebrity scandals who try to make it sound like she knows more than she really does. I could be wrong, she might have been directly involved in the negotiations. However, I know Simon (he's the senior warden at my church), and while I'm not surprised that there could be a personality conflict between him and Maestro Venzago, I would be totally surprised that Simon would negotiate in bad faith. I prefer to think that it was a negotiation that broke down, perhaps because Mario Venzago wouldn't spend more time in Indy, perhaps because of money issues, perhaps about who makes artistic decisions. But that both sides did negotiate fairly and honestly, and just couldn't come to a consensus. Would you like to try on my rose-colored glasses?

It is interesting to read the comments in the online version of the story. This is actually the number one post on the newspaper's website right now, showing a high level of interest. However, some of the comments are by people who are attracted by the tabloid aspects rather than through caring about the ISO. And many of the comments show the same lack of awareness about the facts of most online venues. One commenter complained about the lack of new music, when the ISO actually does a good job of programming and commissioning new pieces.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

You should see him tap dance

Sorry Phil, I don't know if I have anything smart to say about Auto-Tune the News, but I do want to give a shout out to my former Congressman Steve Buyer for that awesome song about smoking lettuce. I don't think my new representative, Brad Ellsworth, has been given a solo yet.

Okay, my attempt at something smart. I actually found the arguments easier to follow, perhaps because of the repetition and slowing down both the rate of syllables and the rate of content. Plus the Auto-tuning made many of the voices far less annoying (Palin and Kristol, I'm looking at you). And four-part harmony makes everything better.

Wicked cool

I was listening to "I'm Not That Girl" from Wicked today and was reminded how much I like the final melodic note, ending on low scale degree five (Sol). There are two conclusive endings in the piece. The first one makes sense, being at the end of the A section – the song is in a typical ABA form, the B section is in a different meter and harmonically rather unstable – making the A section a parallel period (or double period if you count some inner contrapuntal cadences) of one large phrase (a1) ending on the dominant, and the second phrase (a2) ending on the tonic, both melodically and harmonically. When the A section comes back (a3 and a4), I expect it to follow the same pattern, especially when it is identical up through the dominant chord that ended a1. But this time that dominant isn't the end of a3, it leads to a closing tonic, with the melodic Re descending down to Do. The 'a' phrase repeats again, and again leads to a dominant chord that could be expected to be a half cadence like a1, or to resolve to the perfect authentic cadence of a3. The former would be very unusual, a switch of the weak and strong cadences from a typical period. The latter would be more typical, and therefore show less craft. Schwartz does neither of these things, instead leading a4's dominant to a tonic, but now with that final melodic note on Sol. We aren't done yet, though. The song begins with an introduction of Csus4 - C - Csus2 - C, Csus4 - C - Csus2. Besides forming the basis for the beginning of each 'a' phrase, the instrumental progression comes back at the end of a3 and a4, easily understood as a tag, or more theoretically as a tonic expansion. Except the final tag, after a4, never resolves back to a C chord, or to even end on the Csus2. Instead, this chord is replaced with a dominant chord, in second inversion! Beethoven finished the second movement of Symphony no. 7 on an A minor chord in second inversion, but at least it was the tonic chord. Schwartz leaves everything up in the air, and quite intentionally:

"There's something about ending on the five that I think, first of all it's gorgeous, but secondly, I always remembered that because it was unusual when I first encountered it on the Weavers album. The sense of non-resolution is significant for the content of the song, of somebody whose experiencing ambivalence or isn't sure about what's going to happen. And I thought 'I'm Not That Girl' is exactly that. It's a statement that trails off. You know that she's saying she isn't, but she hopes she is. It's an ambivalent song, obviously, in a lot of ways, and therefore I thought it was good if it ended ambivalently, (which is nice for art but not so nice when you're trying to get a hand from the audience)."
Besides the ambiguous ending, the song has many descending minor sevenths that add to the emotional angst. I'll look up the theory of emotion and melodic intervals to see how this fits.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some new online resources

I've added a few new online resources to the sidebar.

Classical Archives "offers more than 620,000 tracks, 7,800 composers, and 27,000 artists representing more than 110 record labels. "

voiceXchange is the new online journal from the Graduate Music Students of the University of Chicago. Volume 3, issue 1 ("Official Musics") has just come out with articles on music during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Detroit's Orchestra Hall, and reviews of four books.

Best of the Rest: 7-29-09

1. Roger Bourland: Our favorite UCLA chairman has started a new project, music for a short film. He might get a REAL trumpeter! And read on how to compose good melodies when using a keyboard.

2. Adventures of Wang: Our favorite "quirky alien" has plans for how to recharge her batteries as a graduate student in music.

3. A View from the Podium: Our favorite conductor who divides time between Britain and Eastern Oregon and is named Kenneth Woods writes about the best CD store in Madison, WI.

4. Matt Van Brink: Our favorite composer/pianist/accordionist shares two new songs - "The Old Switcheroo" and "Lost".

5. The Gathering Note: Our favorite lawyer/freelance arts journalist named Zach Carstensen gives the history of his 2-year-old blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday TPS: Chords

Last week I explained the basic space of melodic pitches in Fred Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space. Today I will look at the chordal level of basic space. Inspired by Riemann's Klangs, Fred arranges chords by proximity in the circle of fifths and by the number of common tones. The circle of fifths is pervasive in tonal theory, Fred briefly mentions the fifth motion prevalent throughout tonal progressions, the psychoacoustic strength of the perfect fifth within the overtone series, and the ability to generate the diatonic scale through fifth motion as reasons for using the circle of fifths to measure chord distance. Each step along the diatonic circle of fifths, either clockwise or counterclockwise, is counted as one step removed in distance. So from our tonic chord of Eb in last week's example, we can move one step up to Bb major (V), two steps up to F minor (ii), or three steps up to C minor (vi). And we can move one step down from Eb to Ab major (IV), two steps down to D diminished (viio), or three steps down to G minor (iii). Note that this is the diatonic circle of fifths, so Ab descends a diminished fifth to D so we stay in the major scale of Eb.

Distance by fifths are only one half of the chord distance measurement. The other half is the number of common tones between the two chords being compared, with the idea that the fewer common tones, the more distant the chords. This isn't simply calculated by saying the two triads have one or two notes in common, but by looking at the number of common tones throughout the five levels of pitch space. Here is the tonic chord from last week:

Level a: Eb

Level b: Eb


Level c: Eb



Level d: Eb
G Ab
D Eb
Level e: Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D Eb

Now here is the Dominant chord, Bb major, with all the distinctive pitch classes bolded. Note that levels D and E are the same, but level C now shows the Bb triad, with the root and fifth of that chord at level B, and just the root at level A.

Level a:


Level b:



Level c:




Level d: Eb
G Ab
D Eb
Level e: Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D Eb

So the total distance between the tonic Eb chord and the dominant Bb chord is 1 (step along the circle of fifths) + 4 (distinctive pitches) = 5. This will be the same distance for all tonic-dominant pairings. The summary of distances from the tonic to each of the other diatonic chords is:
I - ii: 8
I - III: 7
I - IV: 5
I - V: 5
I - vi: 7
I - viio: 8

These distances remain the same regardless of which chord comes first (it is a symmetric function). Distances between other chord pairs can also be calculated, but thankfully the relationships are transpositionally invariant. This means that if I - ii has a distance of 8, ii - iii will also have a distance of 8, as will every pair of sequential chords in the major tonality. So Fred can generalize that moving root motion by a diatonic step is a perceptual distance of 8, moving root motion by a diatonic third is a perceptual distance of 7, and moving root motion by a diatonic fourth is a perceptual distance of 5. Fred realizes this geometrically as a Chordal Space:


The horizontal axis is root motion by thirds, the vertical axis is root motion by fifth. Two dimensionally like this it keeps repeating over and over. It can be wrapped around to make a torus, a three-dimensional doughnut. One of Fred's main rules is to follow the shortest path when connecting two chords, and the length of this path demonstrates the perceptual distance in moving from the first chord to the second.

Thus far we have remained within a single key. Next week we will look at the regional level of TPS, to deal with secondary dominants and modulations.

Monday, July 27, 2009

For the Answers, turn to page 72

My last FriPod asks you to guess the songs based on obscure lyrics. Two of the eleven have been correctly identified by commenter IlJedui, #1 is "Rejoice Greatly" from Handel's Messiah (performed by Arleen Augér) and #5 is "Doom. A Sigh" by Istvan Marta, performed by the Kronos Quartet. I'll give the rest of the answers next Friday, but for those who can't wait, there are clues in the FriPod Clips to the left. They aren't in order, but you can treat them as Match the Numbers and Letters parts of a music history test. Otherwise, keep guessing in the comments. Googling the texts might help.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Top Classical Blogs, brought to you by

Technorati has gone haywire, leading me to not use it anymore for ranking, and AC Douglas had troubles with Google that led him to shut down his rankings of classical music blogs. Fortunately some pros,, have stepped in with a comprehensive ranking system based on a variety of stats, such as Feedburner RSS subscriptions, Yahoo links, Google PageRank, Alexa/Compete/Technorati ranks, # of visitors, etc. Invesp is an e-commerce consulting business. You may not like their results, and can complain to them about it, such as the inclusion of a photography site on the Classical Music Blog list (#19, Out of Focus). Plus I know some statistics are missing from my blog, apparently because it isn't listed on, the main source of monthly visitors for Frankly, I'm happy I won't get the complaints anymore. Unfortunately they only list the top 25, rather than the top 50, though others are listed in the single statistic categories. And only lists blogs they know about. So if you know of a classical music blog that you think should be in the list, let them know. They also maintain ranks of many other topics, such as science fiction and philosophy.

Here are the top 25 Classical Blogs as of today (they recalculate the statistics every day), with the change from my last Technorati ranking in parentheses. I don't have the links to the blogs, out of deference to Follow the link to their ranking and then click through to the blogs of interest.

1. The Rest is Noise: Alex Ross, music critic (no change in rank from my last ranking)
2. Sequenza21: Jerry Bowles, new music and composers (+2)
3. La Cieca, James Jorden, opera (+6)
4. Wolf Trap Opera (never been on my lists)
5. NewMusicBox (the e-magazine, I've never included this because it has non-blog elements)
6. Opera Chic (-4)
7. Ionarts: Charles T. Downey, musicologist and critic (no change)
8. On An Overgrown Path: Bob Shingleton, producer (+3)
9. Jessica Duchen's classical music blog, critic and author (+1)
10. slipped disc, Norman Lebrecht, music critic (didn't make the list last time)
11. Mind the Gap: Molly Sheridan, music critic (was too new for my previous rankings)
12. Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog: (+19)
13. Opera Today (another e-magazine, even harder to call this a blog than NewMusicBox)
14. Dial "M" for Musicology, Phil Ford and Jonathan Bellman, musicologists (-1)
15. aworks: "new" american classical music, Robert Gable, enthusiast (-2)
16. The Collaborative Piano Blog: Chris Foley (+10)
17. mostly opera...: (-2)
18. BIS New Releases (not really a blog, the listing of Naxos new releases)
19. Out of Focus (not a music blog)
20. Musical Perceptions: me (+1)
21. Adaptistration, Drew McManus, consultant to the stars orchestras (-5)
22. finding my singing voice: Catherine K. Brown, vocalist (new to me)
23. The Rambler: Tim Rutherford-Johnson, musicologist and critic (and British!) (-6)
24. Jason Weinberger's blog: conductor and clarinetist (new to me)
25. The Omniscient Mussel: Marcia Adair, music critic (didn't make my last list)

There are some heavy hitters from my previous rankings who clearly don't know about, like Kyle Gann (PostClassic), and Greg Sandow. Some of the other highly ranked blogs from my previous lists are found in subcategories, like the number of pages indexed by Google and the number of incoming links. I don't know how weights the stats that kept them out of the top 25, especially AC Douglas (Sounds & Fury), Steve Smith (Night after Night), and Lisa Hirsch (the Iron Tongue of Midnight).

Friday, July 24, 2009

FriPod: Show Me the Lyrics

I decided to do a Shuffle of the iTunes (except now it's called iTunes DJ) and pick those randomized pieces that have actual lyrics. I will list only some obscure part of the lyrics and my reactions to the music, and let you guess the piece itself.

1. "He shall speak peace unto the heathen." This is probably a very easy one. I love the text painting, that still fits nicely into the standard da Capo aria form.

2. "Sed eligo quod video, collum iugo prebeo: [But I choose what I see, and submit my neck to the yoke:]" So lovely, the closing flute duet is just gorgeous.

3. "Machen tote Liebe Nicht wieder blühn. [Don't cause dead love to bloom again.]" This is a very sad song, yet it avoids being too mawkish, perhaps because it keeps modulating to major keys at the cadences. The piano accompaniment is so simple, yet perfect. It sets off the lyricism of the vocal part, and actually emphasizes the harmonic movement with its sparsity.

4. "O wie linde ruht es hier, [Dreaming, by the world forgot]". This is so gentle, almost the opposite of #3 in that the pianos have the lyricism and the vocal parts are very sparse at the beginning.

5. I'll just say that the lyrics are in Romanian, with lots of crying interspersed. This is a disturbing piece, though the strings and percussion are beautiful in commenting on crying and the singing.

6. "The heart out of the bosom/Was never given in vain;'Tis paid with sighs a plenty/And sold for endless rue" Another depressing song, though not nearly as much as #5. 'Tis very British.

7. "There are buildings as tall as Quoxwood trees!" This song is intentionally cheesy, to set up the twist that happens.

8. "Can it be that one day, off it goes on, that one day I simply stayed in," I swear this sounds like Oompa Loompas. Cool and literate Oompa Loompas.

9. "Everywhere me disappearing into him, like water into the clay of a new jar." It doesn't sound like a love song, except as one full of longing, these are people who want to disappear but aren't at the moment.

10. "Ma poi morta d'ogn'intorno, il tiranno e notte e giorno, fatta spettro agiterò. [But when I am dead, my ghost will, wherever he may be, torment the tyrant by night and by day.]" Like #1, but much more extreme in the shift of emotions. A little too self-pitying for me, but beautifully set.

11. "Her little hands were frozen with the cold." The music is very icy, yet human at the same time.

Everybody's got a blog!

Even my church organist! Seriously, David Sinden, who is the kick-ass Assistant Organist/Choirmaster at Christ Church Cathedral has a great blog, imaginatively titled "". Here is a very interesting post on the history of American organ symphonies. What I want to know is, why am I listed under Archenemies?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Best of the Rest: 7-22-09

Music 000001: Victor Grauer has a whole series of posts on the relationship between the musical traditions of the African Pygmies and Bushmen, and the implications on the development of music in various cultures. He is up to 12 posts on this topic thus far, starting here.

Feast of Music: Peter Matthews describes the musical connections of recently departed Walter Cronkite, including the Grateful Dead.

The gentlemen at the Detritus Review ponder what a music critic is, with the help of Anne Midgette (complete with Part II).

ThoughtLights: Dan B. describes how to procrastinate at the National Archives while doing research on George Antheil.

Horndog Bruce Hembd gives us 10 ways to provoke a Horn Geek.

Critical Noise: Terry O'Gara has a rather lengthy essay on Music, Linguistics, and Network Theory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday TPS

As promised, I'm starting an explanation of Fred Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space. It certainly won't be as comprehensive as Fred's own book, but may be an introduction to the subject. First up, the different levels of Tonal Pitch Space. TPS is not a real space, but rather meant as a metaphor describing how Fred believes we understand tonal music. Later I'll go through some of the empirical research that may support TPS. Fred describes the "basic space" in five levels. The first level is root space, consisting of only the tonic pitch and its octave. So in the key of Eb major, root space is Eb. The next level is fifth space, reflecting the stability of the perfect fifth in tonality. So in our same key, fifth space consists of Eb and Bb. One rule of TPS is that a pitch found at a given level of pitch space must also be found at the higher levels of pitch space. So Eb will be found at all five levels of pitch space, and Bb will be found at four levels. The third level of basic pitch space is the triadic level, completing the tonic triad, in this case Eb G and Bb. Fred posits triads as the basic harmonic unit for Classical music, but does suggest the possibility of tonal spaces with sevenths as the harmonic basis for other genres of music, such as jazz. The fourth level is diatonic space, the complete diatonic scale for the given tonality. It could be the major scale, the natural minor scale, and Fred does show spaces with octatonic scales or whole tone scales as the basis. Our Eb tonality has the pitches Eb F G Ab Bb C D and Eb in diatonic space. The final level is chromatic space, all twelve pitches between the octave tonic pitches: Eb E F F#/Gb G Ab A Bb B C C#/Db D and Eb. Enharmonic equivalence is somewhat allowed here, so it doesn't matter if the given pitch class is spelled as F# or Gb, it has the same position in chromatic pitch space. But it does matter how the pitch is spelled in determining the distance between pitches, discussed below.

Level a: Eb

Level b: Eb


Level c: Eb


Level d: Eb
G Ab
D Eb
Level e: Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C C# D Eb

Within each level of space, a step is considered perceptually close. Chromatic space makes sense, each half-step is very close in frequency. Likewise at the diatonic level, our concept of scale steps fits well here. Less obvious is triadic space – a step up from Eb is G – and fifth space has one step between Eb and Bb. The distance between two pitch classes is calculated by the horizontal and vertical steps needed to traverse from one to another, by the shortest path possible. It takes five steps to the right from Eb to C in diatonic space, but only two steps to the left, so the shortest horizontal path is two steps. Vertical steps are measured to get to the lowest level of the most salient pitch. A is found only at Level e, G is found at Level c. So the horizontal distance between these two pitches is 2. A to Eb is four vertical steps. Fred combines the horizontal and vertical distances to measure the distance from each pitch to the tonic pitch. Fb goes to the left to Eb and then up the four vertical levels (1+4 = 5), E goes to the right to F, then up a level, then to the left to Eb, then up three levels to root space (1+1+1+3=6).

Combined distance: 056 4 66 3 57 6 26 75 7 6 4 0
Pitch:Eb Fb/E F Gb/F# G Ab Bbb/A Bb Cb/B C Db/C# D Eb

So the closest pitch to the root is Bb, the fifth. The furthest pitches from the root Eb are Bbb, the flat fifth scale degree; B, the sharp fifth scale degree; and Db, the flat seventh scale degree. This last pitch relationship is the odd one to me. I totally agree that chromatic alterations of all-important Sol is moving us far away from the tonic, but Te is much closer. Fred has a solution later by shifting from major diatonic space to minor diatonic space, but even as a simple chromatic alteration Te seems more like a 5 than a 7 (to pull a number out of my keister).

Thus far we have been dealing with pitches in melodic relationships. Next week we will move to chordal relationships.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When do we bifurcate?

Okay, a DJ created a mashup of Rick Astley and Nirvana (yes, you are about to be Rick-Rolled). Listen to/watch the video and tell me if Rick and Nirvana are using the same tonic, or two different tonics. Show your work.

I heard it as one tonic, with Rick creating some very extended harmonies and dissonant non-chord tones at points. Is this because I expect blues-influenced music to go beyond the triadic norm, or because my brain wants to find the simplest pattern to fit all the information? In other words, did I come to this conclusion top-down (schema driven) or bottom-up (sequential event expectancies)? Likely the two "strategies"* reinforced each other. I do know that if there were fewer common tones, or if the genre had led me to expect more melodic tonal closure, I would have heard two separate tonics, a la Milhaud.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Just Feet It!

The organist of Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street in New York City gave a tribute to Michael Jackson for the organ postlude:

A new view of musical space?

Mind Hacks reports on a a new study in Perception which determined that people's comfort zones for personal space was altered by listening to music on headphones. The music hampers the ability of people to aurally track other people, especially important when those people are out of visual range (behind the listener). So more personal space is needed to feel safe.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What is a musical experience?

Okay, it took a week to recover from the Mannes Institute. It was fabulous, but the intensive reading and thinking involved required many days of decompression. One thing that really struck me was a line in David Huron's plenary talk. He said he poses the following question to his graduate students every once in a while: "If you had a chance to talk to God, and could ask Her anything about music, what three questions would you ask?" David calls these the God questions, and says these are the questions that should impell a research agenda. It made me think about what things I'm really curious about, tempered by what my training and resources permit. I also had a great chat with Steve Larson on metaphor theory while jogging through Central Park, giving me a much better handle on that mode of understanding music. I'll start posting weekly about Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space, working out my understanding of this complex idea as I attempt to explain it to you.

But for now, I'm bothered by something I read today in Harold Fiske's Understanding Musical Understanding. On pages 25-26, Harold writes,
[Sculpture can be observed by any angle and for as long as the viewer desires.] Not so for music, where 'viewing' time for music is controlled exclusively by the performer. And once over, returing to the room in which the performance occurred would not afford continued experience with the same work. Once the piece is over, it is over. Even playing the piece again (a recording for example) does not represent a continued experience with the piece but rather a different experience, though it is the same music being listened to.

First of all, I don't believe the performer controls all aspects of the performance time. Besides the instructions of the composer, there are constraints placed on the performer(s) by cultural expectations, acoustic limitations of the venue, and general perceptual limitations. And the listener does have control of what performance aspects to which s/he pays attention. This attention is a main part of Fiske's thesis that musical time is very different from clock time, thus the listener does control his/her musical time experience.

But the second thing is more troubling, that rehearings are different experiences rather than a continued experience. It is troubling, because part of me agrees that rehearings (whether a physical rehearing or a mental replay) are indeed different experiences. The listener has different knowledge by the time of the replay, etc. But the two hearings share a commonality of the schemata of the performance. The order of the notes, the timings, the timbres are all the same, just as a sculpture keeps the same physical features. So I really want to say that the rehearing is a continuation of the experience of the piece, just as when I revisit the sculpture it continues my experiences with that artwork, even though I have different knowledge from the last time I experienced it. What say you? Is a rehearing a completely new experience, or is it a continuation of the same musical experience?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are you a Mannes or a Mouse(s)?

Tomorrow I am heading out to New York for the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory. As you can see from the preparation page, I have been rather busy doing my assigned readings for the last month. I'm in two workshops, Tonal Tension with Fred Lerdahl, and Music and Embodiment with Eric Clarke. Preparing for Fred's workshop is killing me, trying to get a grasp on his Tonal Pitch Space. But it is also very invigorating, makes me feel like I'm in grad school again. In fact, I will be with many of my former grad school compatriots, like Rich Randall and Ian Quinn. And to go really old school, I will be rooming with a friend from my undergraduate days, Peter Martens. This is more of a think tank than a workshop, as the website describes it: "The 2009 Mannes Institute on Music and The Mind will be a seminal collaborative think tank for serious music cognition and perception scholars from around the world." I'm very excited, and hope to have time to blog about it each day. Oh, plus I've been rocking the house with Rock Band 2, my Father's Day present.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Viral Dancing?

My sister sent me this Youtube video of a "happening" in Antwerp. As a promo for a Belgian reality show searching for Maria for a revival of Sound of Music, 200 dancers started dancing to "Do Re Mi" in the Antwerp Central Station. Even though it has a commercial purpose, it does capture the spirit of brightening peoples days with unexpected art. This sounds like an interesting project to get my college students involved with, not necessarily dance mind you. Especially not me dancing, except to horrify my friends and family.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last night I saw Wicked at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis.  While I prefer "Popular" from the Broadway recording, the actress playing Elphaba had this gloriously warm and almost husky voice that was wonderful* in "I'm Not That Girl."  Her name is Carrie Manolakos, the standby on this tour.  In honor of the show, here are some complete musicals and operas that I have on my iPod.  (not including separate arias or numbers)

1. Les Miserables, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, Broadway Cast recording.

2. Ainadamar, composed by Osvaldo Golijov, conducted by Spano.

3. Pippin, composed by Stephen Schwartz, Broadway Cast recording.

4. Wicked, composed by Stephen Schwartz, Broadway Cast recording.

5.  The Greater Good or the Passion of Boule de Suif, composed by Stephen Hartke, Glimmerglass Opera.

6. La Bohème, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Etc., Herbert Von Karajan; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

7. Tosca, composed by Puccini, performed by Price - Di Stefano - Taddei - Corena - Wiener Philharmoniker - Herbert von Karajan.

8. Bluebeard's Castle, composed by Béla Bartók.

*appropriate word for the musical.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tom Sawyer in Academia

I received an interesting call for papers. The idea of "the cognitive function of riffs and other music in expressing difficult ideas" seems very questionable. How is Neal Perl's drum beat communicating Ayn Rand's concept of objectivism, separate from any lyrics? Answer: it isn't. There can be text painting, but that is a far cry from the music expressing the difficult ideas themselves. Even program music needs the words of the program to help make sense of the story.
The rock band Rush resonates widely for musician-fans and others interested in structural complexity, individualism, and a range of literary and stylistic influences. The group has explored such genres as heavy metal and hard rock, progressive and synth-rock, and post-progressive "power trio," along with various secondary influences. However, the band has also wandered among such lyrical interests as relationships, fantasy-adventure, classical mythology, European and world history, science-fiction, libertarianism, atheism, science, and technology.

We are looking for short articles (of around twenty pages) to add to this proposed anthology for the series that began with "Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing" (2000), but since 2005 has also included (see music-related books about hip hop, Bob Dylan, U2, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, and Jimmy Buffett. Writers in philosophy, musicology, economics, and psychology have already committed to "Rush and Philosophy," and they are exploring the following areas from across Rush's career (1974- ):
-personal tragedies, self-determination, and Sartre
-the anthropic cosmological principle and atheism
-Canadianness in Anglo-American genres and in lyrics and images
-tribute projects of the band's music in death metal, trip-hop, and classical strings
-the band's combination of secular humanism and mysticism
-libertarianism and left-libertarianism, rather than "right-wing"
-the cognitive function of riffs and other music in expressing difficult ideas
-a roundtable on political economy, Ayn Rand, and Rush's "2112"

Contributions from women, minorities, and people from outside of North America are most welcome! Particular areas of interest for further articles include: balance through instrumental “songs,” humour, roundtables on music technology and rock critics, live albums as career anthologies, and recent "sightings" of the band in the mainstream media.

Deadline for one-page abstracts: July 19, 2009
Deadline for completed first-drafts: August 31, 2009

Please send to Durrell Bowman and Jim Berti:;