Monday, June 21, 2010

Sexy Theory!

I've been listening to Dave Matthews lately, thanks to my nephew and my girlfriend. I even went to a live concert last Friday, which was actually my first authentic rock concert. I've been to blues festivals that have included some rock acts, seen plenty of small rock groups, and even played in two rock bands. But I had never been to a venue where I had to be patted down, carded, and exposed to that much pot smoke.

It is no mystery that many of DMB's songs are about sex, with lyrics like "You come crash into me/
And I come into you /I come into you /In a boys dream /In a boys dream" or " Sour as my fingers /Dirty pick pocket /I can still taste you /I won’t wash my hands." But I noticed that those songs seemed to share particular musical features, so I've been starting to catalog those features. Things like hypermeter, melodic contour, syncopation, these all tie together to mimic the sexual experience in subtle ways, or sometimes not so subtle ways. This research will take some time, as I haven't done much with popular music before, so I need to familiarize myself with the current state of research.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Virtuosity as Vice

This weekend I went to a Folk Music Festival, and got into a
discussion about amateur vs professional attitudes about music. At
first we talked about musicians on the stage who were clearly non
pros, but then it shifted to the observation that even the pros (those
who perform/teach folk music as their main source of income) had a
certain roughness or plainness to their singing and playing. I came to
the conclusion that in at least some genres of folk music there was a
disdain for polish or virtuosity. Authenticity in these circles was
shown by knowing lots of songs in the canon, and through communal
performances. Time spent by oneself working on performance craft is
less time spent performing with others. I wonder what would happen if
classical music took more of that attitude, valuing community over
individuality and broader knowledge over specific virtuosity. Jazz has
more of that balance, respecting individual skill but also valuing
communal improvisation and memorization of the canon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Great Art/Pop Divide

Finally catching up on some blogs the other day, I was reading 8bb's blog and came across an interesting idea in the comments, written by composer Stephen Hartke. Stephen writes,
And, guys, I’m sorry, but the art music experience is not the same as the pop music experience. Art music is about a one-on-one communication between the creator of the music via the performers to individual members of the audience. (Stravinsky said that he didn’t care about the audience, but that he did care about the individual souls that made up the audience.) Pop music is much more about a group dynamic — and I don’t say this as a criticism but rather as an acknowledgment of a fundamental aesthetic and cultural reality — in which the continuous and active participation of the audience is an intrinsic element of the art form itself.

This is an interesting definition of the difference between art music and popular music that I hadn't really considered before. I can see where he is coming from, with our desire to have absolute silence during an artistic performance so we can be totally immersed in the music. But that itself seems to be a group experience, one based on mass silent devotion rather than mass dancing or mass singing. Just as people gathered in silent prayer at a church, temple or mosque are a very different experience than praying alone, the idea of listening silently in an audience is not the same as sitting alone in front of the stereo or with earbuds in. Our behavior is different when we are in a group, thus any musical work will affect people differently in a live group situation rather than a recorded individual setting.

I've listened to rock music very carefully on my iPod, getting totally immersed in the experience of the music rather than in any audience participation (including my own physical reactions). I've sung along to classical music, and danced madly to opera. I've been distracted by the music enough to forget to clap at the end of an improvised solo at a jazz concert, and felt the strong desire to whoop and clap at the end of an inner movement of an orchestra concert.

Looking at Stephen's definitions more carefully, I think he is suggesting the intent of the composer rather than the actual behavior of the listener. When a composer is creating an artistic work, s/he is intending the listener to react on an individual basis. When a composer creates a popular work, s/he intends the listeners to react in a group way. With that definition, we can find some symphonic works that would be labeled as popular, and some rock songs that would be labeled as art, thus providing some informative worth. This creates some interesting questions, like how the original intention of a composer might be superseded by shifts in cultural behavior. Waltzes that were originally intended to be group dances are now performed in the concert hall. Concert works are mashed-up at raves. Does the current state of cultural behavior redefine the pop/art aspect of the work, or is it still dependent fully on the composer's original intention? If we cannot find any direct evidence of the composer's original intention, what indirect evidence is considered most reasonable?

Does anyone know of any musicological work in this area? It seems likely that someone has already addressed this issue.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

SatPod: May

Happy May Day, everyone!

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

2. "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton on Best. Concert. Ever.

3. "May It Be" by Enya on the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack.

4. "Maybellene" by Chuck Berry.

5. Mayn Yingele by Frederic Rzewski on Rzewski Plays Rzewski.

6. "Now is the Month of Maying" by Thomas Morley, performed by the King's Singers on Madrigal History Tour.

7. "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Rolf Smedvig and Michael Murray.

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

All Aboard the Zug!

John Adams is making the funny. With theory jokes! (I have a friend whose been working on a Schenker Sensor.) I can't possibly excerpt it, just go visit his blog.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I am hereby resolved!

This weekend I was listening to Terri Gross's interview with Steven Sondheim, and was struck by a very amazing claim that the musical master made: harmonies can resolve, but melodies cannot. He really said that. Gross was asking about the ending of a song in Sweeny Todd, and asked how Sondheim had picked the final note to sound so unresolved. Sondheim replied that the note couldn't sound unresolved by itself, it was because the harmony was unresolved that the note stuck out. This should be of immense surprise not only to the countless theory text authors who have distinguished between Perfect Authentic Cadences and Imperfect Authentic Cadences, or to every theorist who is an advocate of voice-leading, but also to Carole Krumhansl and her followers who showed through probe-tone experiments that melodies do indeed create expected resolutions. I think Sondheim is relying too much on his piano background, and not enough on the things he learned from Milton Babbitt.

Earlier in the interview he told Gross that "discordant" meant "incorrect" and was not synonymous with "dissonant." Not according to my dictionaries and thesaurus! I got the feeling that Sondheim was really making these statements to act as a high priest of music, creating barriers to the sacred mysteries of melody and harmony through insistence on idiosyncratic jargon. He was putting the layperson in her place, making clear that only a trained adept could comprehend how "Send In the Clowns" was structured.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Try the Thlon!

I completed my first triathlon yesterday, a sprint distance - 400m swim, 20k bike, 5k run - held at Purdue University. I had a lot of fun, and didn't complete embarrass myself, with an overall time of 1:29:32.40. Swimming was okay at 8:44.65, biking a little worse at 46:45.60, running was pretty bad at 31:17.95, and my first transition was awful at 2:44.20. To put it in perspective the first-place winner did his transition in 23.15 seconds. I look forward to doing more of these throughout the summer and into the fall, and will be sure to bore all of you dear readers with my stats that will hopefully improve.

Friday, April 23, 2010

FriPod: Cleveland Orchestra

Continuing the theme of orchestras for TAFTO month, this week's FriPod features the Cleveland Orchestra. As you could see from last week's posting, I've got tons of Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings. When I was growing up and while at Lawrence University, Chicago was THE orchestra to go to. Yes, we had to travel over three hours, and Milwaukee was closer, but Bud Herseth was the man! When I went to the University of Akron for my first master's degree, we often made the trip up to Cleveland to listen to the Cleveland Orchestra. Severance Hall is beautiful, and I loved the sounds of the woodwinds, principal trumpet Michael Sachs, and principal trombone Joe DeSano. Plus I felt smug because I knew how to pronounce "Dohnanyi" from listening to the commercial classical radio station, WCLV.

1. Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Johannes Brahms, conducted by George Szell.
2. Symphony No. 5 in Bb major by Anton Bruckner, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.
3. Symphony No. 6 "Tragic" in A minor by Gustav Mahler, conducted by Dohnanyi.
4. Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by Dohnanyi.
5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart, conducted by Dohnanyi.
6. Le Poème de l'extase by Alexander Scriabin, conducted by Lorin Maazel.
7. Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky, conducted by Pierre Boulez.
8. Petrushka by Stravinsky, conducted by Boulez.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quick thoughts

I've been swamped with a variety of work that has kept me from the blog, and am still swamped so consider this a quick drive-by.

1) Some students excel at melodic dictations, but are horrible at identifying musical forms. Others have the opposite problem. What cognitive strengths/deficits differentiate these two skills?

2) How can the written word "sound" sincere or insincere? I've read things that I just know I don't trust, but can't point to a particular aspect of the writing that would clue me in. Likewise with reading things that seem very sincere, but again I can't tell why I trust that author.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SunPod: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

It would've been perfect to put this up on Friday, as on the same day that my TAFTO essay was published, I took a friend to see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I only have one recording of the ISO, so I couldn't do that for a FriPod, but it still would've been good to feature another orchestra. As it was, after getting my new bike fitted, grading exams, and then going to the concert, I didn't have time to blog. Same thing yesterday, so we have SunPod instead. All of the pieces are performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, so I will only mention the composer, conductor and any soloists.

1) Correspondences by Milton Babbitt, conducted by James Levine.
2) Cantata No. 202 "The Wedding" by J.S. Bach, conducted by Levine with Kathleen Battle.
3) Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 by Bach, conducted by Levine with Adolph Herseth et al.
4) Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 by Bach, conducted by Levine with Donald Peck and Samuel Magad.
5) Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók, conducted by a) Fritz Reiner, b) Georg Solti.
6) Music for String, Percussion and Celesta by Bartók, conducted by Reiner.
7) Hungarian Sketches by Bartók, conducted by Reiner.
8) Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Solti.
9) Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms, conducted by Solti.
10) Symphony No. 2 by Brahms, conducted by Solti.
11) Symphony No. 3 by Brahms, conducted by Solti.
12) Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, conducted by Solti.
13) Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, conducted by Solti.
14) Tragic Overture by Brahms, conducted by Solti.
15) Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage, conducted by Levine.
16) Variations for Orchestra by Elliott Carter, conducted by Levine.
17) Nocturnes by Claude Debussy, conducted by Solti (1990 and 1992).
18) La Mer by Debussy, conducted by Solti.
19) Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Debussy, conducted by Solti.
20) The Planets by Gustav Holst, conducted by Levine.
21) A Faust Symphony by Franz Liszt, conducted by Solti.
22) Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler, conducted by Levine.
23) Symphony No. 5 by Mahler, conducted by Solti.
24) Symphony No. 7 by Mahler, conducted by Solti.
25) Symphony No. 9 in D major by Mahler, conducted by Pierre Boulez.
26) Pictures At An Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, conducted by Solti.
27) Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, conducted by Levine with June Anderson, Bernd Weikl, and Philip Creech.
28) Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov, conducted by Reiner with Artur Rubinstein.
29) Rhapsody On a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov, conducted by Reiner with Rubinstein.
30) Spectra for Orchestra by Gunther Schuller, conducted by Levine.
31) Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss, conducted by Daniel Berenboim.
32) Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche by Strauss, conducted by Berenboim.
33) Fireworks by Igor Stravinsky, conducted by Boulez.
34) Quatre Etudes by Stravinsky, conducted by Boulez.
35) Romeo And Juliet Overture by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, conducted by Berenboim.
36) Francesca Da Rimini by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Berenboim.
37) Capriccio Italien by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Berenboim.
38) 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Berenboim.
39) Symphony No. 4 by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Solti.
40) Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Claudio Abbado.
41) Symphony No. 6 by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Claudio Abbado.
42) Marche Slave by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Abbado.
43) Voyevoda by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Abbado.
44) Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner, conducted by Solti.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Because it's about ME!

My article is being featured tomorrow at Drew's place, but it is already up at the dedicated TAFTO site. I've been enjoying the other entries, especially seeing all of the sites in Robert Birman's video that my kids and I visited during Spring Break in Louisville. But seriously, read my contribution, because it will BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Though I may have gone a little too far in suggesting that all conductors should wear wet suits...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Music Theory Apologetics

I can understand why professional musicians sometimes develop a hatred of "music theory." They were forced to take tests on part-writing, chord labeling, non-chord tone labeling, and other hyper-focused details that killed a little part of their souls each time they took those tests. I'm killing some souls right now as I write this post, with a classroom of sophomores busily creating a form diagram of Beethoven's Bagatelle No. 8 in G minor, Op. 119, No. 1 and realizing figured bass progressions with lovely augmented sixth chords. But any good music theory teacher would emphasize that music theory doesn't stop with labeling. The analysis begins after the labeling is done. Knowing what the chords are, what the form is, what the contour of the melody is, these are the musical facts that are used to shape and defend an interpretation of the music. And it is that interpretation that is the analysis. Knowing this, I am frustrated when I read Jeremy Denk providing an excellent analysis of Bach's Violin Sonata BWV 1017, and come to this statement:
That’s why it sometimes seems to me that music theory is one of the most despicable disciplines there is, because you’d probably label the bass of that magical chord a “passing tone,” and once you’ve labeled it a passing tone it’s a bit deflating … doink!, it goes in the bin with all the other passing tones. Somewhat like passing through Trenton on your way to Philadelphia: unremarkable. In the same way, once you call something Spaghetti and Meatballs, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ve understood anything about pasta, or that you should serve it to paying customers, or why a pianist might eat such a ridiculous thing before a concert, or any of the related questions that might come up. But Bach had that way of using passing tones so that you could meditate on the passing-ness of things, what it is to pass, to move on, to leave beauties behind … of labeling the labels with meaning, breathing life back into the most basic, even the most unassuming, words.

Notice that right after Jeremy criticizes music theory for labeling a note, he uses that exact label to explain his interpretation of the beauty of that note. It is indeed a lovely passing-ness, and yes it is different from other passing tones. But it is still a passing tone, and that identification of the context is what helps to figure out why the previous chord can be interpreted as existing in two worlds, or two time-lines.

My guess is that Jeremy would correct himself that he meant "bad" music theory, the kind that does indeed stop at labels without providing any interpretation. I know those kinds of music theory classes exist, for two reasons: 1) The classes are so huge that the teacher has no time to get beyond the basics, as the prospect of grading 100 analytical papers for a single class is very daunting. 2) The bad theory class is taught by a studio professor whose only theory training was another bad undergraduate theory program. The teacher finds him/herself teaching a subject s/he hates because s/he didn't recruit enough bagpipers to fill the studio. However, too many people read these statements, or make them themselves, and start forgetting the crucial "bad", blaming the discipline instead of bad teachers.

So, don't hate the game, hate the bad playas.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The enemy of the good

I just found out about a new blog and book, The Musicians' Way. I'll
explore the book and author more later, but one of the posts resonated
with me. Contrasting perfection and precision, the author talks about how impossible it is to create a truly perfect performance. This goes along with my previous post about allowing students to take chances, that it is good to risk a bad performance, and that beauty often lies in imperfection. An emotionally charged cracked note, a rushed and uneven tempo due to
excitement, or a hushed sound that stops too early because the player lost the vibration, these imperfect performances can inspire and elevate our own imperfect selves. And trying to get rid of these imperfections can squash some beautiful sounds due to paralysis of analysis. So let good performances reign, and may you never be cursed with perfection.

Friday, April 09, 2010

FriPod: New York

I thought I'd try something different today, featuring a specific group: The New York Philharmonic. I'll list the piece, composer, and conductor/soloists.

1. Symphony No. 3 by Aaron Copland, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
2. Quiet City by Copland, conducted by Bernstein, with Philip Smith (trumpet).
3. Symphony No. 8 by Antonín Dvořák, conducted by Kurt Masur.
4. Symphony No. 9 by Dvořák, conducted by Masur.
5. Slavonic Dances, op. 46 by Dvořák, conducted by Masur.
6. Slavonic Dances, op. 72 by Dvořák, conducted by Masur.
7. Symphony in D minor by César Franck, conducted by Masur.
8. Les Eolides by Franck, conducted by Masur.
9. Symphony No. 5 in D minor by Dmitri Shostakovich, conducted by Bernstein.
10. On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams, conducted by Lorin Maazel, with the New York Choral Artists and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
11. Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček, conducted by Masur.
12. Symphony No. 1 in C major by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Bernstein.
13. Symphony No. 3 in Eb major "Eroica" by Beethoven, conducted by Bernstein.
14. Symphony No. 6 in F major "Pastoral" by Beethoven, conducted by Bernstein.
15. Consecration of the House Overture by Beethoven, conducted by Bernstein.
16. Leonore Overture No. 2 by Beethoven, conducted by Bernstein.
17. Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.
18. Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov, conducted by Bernstein.
19. "Dance of the Tumblers" from The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov, conducted by Bernstein.
20. Capriccio Italien by Piotr Tchaikovsky, conducted by Bernstein.
21. Polonaise by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Bernstein.
22. Waltz from Eugen Onegin by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Bernstein.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

So That's What He Meant!

A colleague passed along these "helpful" translations of Mahler's performance directions. Apparently they made the round of blogs last year, but what the hey. I did change the order of words, to increase the funny.


Langsam - Slowly

Schleppend - Slowly

Dämpfer auf - Slowly

Mit Dämpfer - Slowly

Haupttempo - Slowly

Hier ist ein frisches belebtes Zeitmass eingetreten - Slowly

Sehr einfach und schlicht, wie eine Volksweise - Slowly

Im Anfang sehr gemächlich - In intense inner torment

Alle Betonungen sehr zart - With more intense inner torment

Alle Betonungen sehr zart - With smallish quantities of fairly mild inner torment

Sehr gemächlich - With indescribably horrific inner torment

Etwas gemächlicher als zuvor - Slowly

Gemächlich - Intermission

Am Griffbrett - As if in tune

Getheilt (geth.) - Out of tune

Noch ein wenig beschleunigend - Slowing down but with a sense of speeding up

Etwas bewegter, aber immer noch sehr ruhig - Somewhat louder, though still inaudible as before

Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden - As if wild animals were gnawing on your liver

Ohne cresc. - Without toothpaste

Ohne Nachschl(age) - Without milk (sugar)

Mit dem Holze zu streichen - Like a hole in the head

Mit Parodie - Viola solo

Dämpfer ab - Eyes closed

Nicht eilen - No eels

Ploetzlich viel schneller - Even more ploddingly

Den ersten Ton scharf herausgehoben - Do not play until the buzzer sounds

Aeusserst zart, aber ausdrucksvoll - Radiantly joyful, despite the itching

Noch breiter als vorher - Better late than never

Lang gestrichen - Heads up

Lang gezogen - Heads back down

Immer noch zurueckhaltend - With steadily decreasing competence

Wieder zurueckhaltend - Increasingly decreasing

Ganz unmerklich etwas zurueckhaltend - Slowly

Allmählich (unmerklich) etwas zurueckhaltend - Much faster (slower) than conductor

Allmählich in das Hauptzeitmass ubergehen - Do not look at the conductor

Allmählich etwas lebhafter - Screaming in agony

Von hier an in sehr allmählicher aber stetiger Steigerung bis zum Zeichen - From this point on, the spit valves should be emptied with ever-increasing emotion

Die werden allmählich stärker und stärker bis zum (fp) - In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What is good?

Clearly I have not been a good blogger, letting this poor site linger untended for so long. I have been busy, writing an essay for Drew McManus' TAFTO project that will be published next week, finishing my contributions for the Daily Book of Classical Music, working on a phenomenology of musical time project, and traveling to Louisville with the kids for Spring Break. I've also been training to do my first triathlon in a few weeks. But now I've got stuff to blog about, so hold onto your pixels.

I've been thinking about the goals for student performances. Twice recently I've heard criticisms of student efforts to tackle musical projects that were very difficult, perhaps too much for the current level of these students to perform to levels expected by these critics. I can understand that it isn't always pleasant to be in the audience for a performance that is very rough in implementation. However, these kinds of experiences can be very rewarding for the students. First of all, the path taken to develop these projects provides many opportunities for learning. Whether it is discovering the challenges in acquiring scores or broadcast rights, or figuring out how to tune chords which you have never heard of before, these are valuable lessons. Second, realizing that you gave a rough performance is a humbling and embarrassing experience, but this realization is also a window into personal growth. The embarrassed student can learn that success is not guaranteed, despite one's best efforts. This student will also learn that failure does not mean the end of the world. Third, the students who are encouraged to take musical chances in the safety of high school or college will be more comfortable taking chances when they are in the less forgiving adult world. And whether those new adults are professional musicians or avid music enthusiasts, the willingness to take risks can only help take music to new levels of awesomeness.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Top of the YouTube Charts

Okay, not at Ahmed the Dead Terrorist levels, but the music program at a New Jersey Episcopal Church has reached 1.4 million hits with its YouTube videos of the pieces performed during services. Bravo to Wayne Burcham-Gulotta for putting these videos up in an effort to educate and serve his parish. It is a model that all music programs should consider, though ticket-selling groups may have to consider how best to navigate rights and dilution of product. Give audiences the opportunity to rehear a work so they can understand it better. Provide an analysis so they can appreciate some of the nuances. Spark a desire to learn more about the piece, the composer, the ensemble, the genre, or the time period. In the case of religious groups, combine musicology and theology in the education process, or provide musical sources of pastoral care. I've been thinking about the mission of musical groups lately, and the clear rightness of these videos (simple, no splashy production values but with good information added) really speaks to me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

SatPod: House

A friend just bought a new house, so this is dedicated to her.

1. "Birdhouse In Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants on Flood.
2. "Consecration of the House" Overture by Ludwig von Beethoven, performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
3. "Dovehouse Pavan" by Alfonso Ferrabosco, performed by the American Brass Quintet on Music of Renaissance, Baroque.
4. "Oh How I Wish That I Was In My House" from The Greater Good by Stephen Hartke, performed by Christine Abraham and the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra with Stewart Robinson.
5. "Hawkins' Barrel House" by Coleman Hawkins on Classic Tenors.
6. "The House I Live In" by Earl Robinson, performed by Paul Robeson Jr. on Songs of Free Men.
7. "The House On the Hill" by Aaron Copland, performed by Camerata Singers and Timothy Mount.
8. "If I Leave the House" by D'arc on Woman On Fire.
9. "In the Jailhouse Now" by Jimmie Rogers, performed by the Soggy Bottom Boys on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
10. "Invading Elliott's House" by John Williams on the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial soundtrack.
11. "Jailhouse Rock" by Lieber and Stoller, performed by Elvis Presley.
12. "Life In a Glasshouse" by Radiohead on Amnesiac.
13. "Master Of the House" from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, performed by the Broadway Cast.
14. "Pent-Up House" by Sonny Rollins, performed by the Guy Baker Ensemble on The Talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack.
15. "The Housewife's Lament" by Frederic Rzewski on Rzewski Plays Rzewski.
16. "Swing House" by Gerry Mulligan, performed by Stan Kenton on New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm.
17. "This Is No Longer Your House" by James Horner from the House of Sand and Fog soundtrack.
18. "Warehouse" by the Dave Matthews Band on Under the Table and Dreaming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The danger of knowing too little

I've read other bloggers kvetching about being assailed by crackpot theorists. Physicists are especially hounded by those who have just proved Einstein wrong. I've also gotten contacted by a few people with their own idiosyncratic music theories, but those aren't offensive, because for the most part they aren't trying to disprove any established musical facts, only trying to put together a grand unifying theory or different interpretive theory. And most often I learn something from those attempts, even if I judge the overall effort to be in the wrong direction. But what I do find offensive is a more directly applicable example of too-little-knowledge causing wrongful judging in the world of music: the choir/band/orchestra parent. I've experienced* parents who have decided that their children's impressions of how to run a rehearsal are more valuable than the impressions of the director. While the director may have over 10 years of training and another 10 years of experience as a professional conductor, his/her rehearsal schedule is a waste of time if the 12-18 year-old child has deemed it so. This is the closest musical equivalent to creationists criticizing evolutionary theory or Pat Robertson claiming that Haitians made a deal with the devil. In each case, a few facts are divorced from the all important context so they can be twisted into a different hypothesis. Pat Robertson falsely equates Voodoo spirits with Satan, creationists falsely equate conjectures with essential axioms, and ensemble parents falsely think that five years of ensemble experience makes their child an expert on running rehearsals. I do not deny that there are bad ensemble directors out there. And sometimes the children are correct in their critiques. But I know I would want some serious corroborating evidence before criticizing a conductor, and that is said as a trumpeter who has dealt with "the hand" in many orchestras.

*Fortunately not directed at me, as the last time I conducted an ensemble was 15 years ago, and that was all college students. And I've only had to deal with helicopter parents three times.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The new sketchbook

Many musicologists and theorists study the sketchbooks of deceased composers in efforts to determine how masterpieces or compositional styles were developed. Jonathan Coulton reveals the Web 2.0 version of sketchbooks, by posting the pre-songs of five of his hits, along with explanations of his thought processes for each of the pieces. I envision doctoral programs of the future requiring data mining in the coursework, just as past programs have required learning how to handle old parchment and handwriting analysis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FriPod: Tower

In honor of our guest composer, Joan Tower:

1) "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan, performed by a) Jimi Hendrix, b) U2.
2) Monster on a Leash by Tower of Power.
3) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack by Howard Shore.
4) "Black Topaz" by Joan Tower, performed by Laura Flax, Patricia Spencer, Jonathan haas, Deborah Moore, Stephen Gosling, Mike Powell, Chris Gekker.
5) "Eiffel Tower Polka" by Francis Poulenc, performed by Wynton Marsalis.
6) "Petroushskates" by Joan Tower, performed by eighth blackbird.
7) "Snow Dreams" by Joan Tower, performed by Carol Wincenc, flute, Sharon Isbin, guitar.
8) "Stepping Stones" by Joan Tower, performed by Edmund Niemann, Nurit Tilles.
9) Concerto for Orchestra by Joan Tower, performed by Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
10) "Made In America" by Joan Tower, performed by Slatkin and the NSO.
11) "Tambor" by Joan Tower, performed by Slatkin and the NSO.
12) "Tres Lent (In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen)" by Joan Tower, performed by André Emelianoff, Joan Tower.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tower in the Ivory Tower

This week is our annual Music of the 21st Century festival. The guest composer this year is Joan Tower, long-time composition professor at Bard College and former member of Da Capo Chamber Players. Yesterday many of my students were complaining about preparing her music, especially the very-wet-behind-the-ears First Year students. So I tried to give them a cold splash of reality, pointing out that unknown does not equal crappy. So many students come to school assuming they know almost everything there is to know about music, and just need a little polishing. With that attitude, they then think that anything new, anything they had never heard of before, must not be worthy of knowing. Fortunately most of these students outgrow this attitude, with or without the Mallet of Loving Correction. Those that don't learn to embrace the new end up unhappy as a musician and often unhappy in life. Because it isn't just about being comfortable with atonality. I expose my students to new ideas about music and new pieces of music so they will become life-long learners, whatever the subject may be that they are learning about.

Tomorrow I am moderating a public discussion with Joan Tower, as I do every year with the guest composer. I always take the opportunity to ask some questions of my own before calling on the audience. I plan to ask her about her views on the current state of the classical music industry, teaching composition, and why combining text with music is so unappealing for her. Let me know if there are any burning questions you would ask Joan Tower if you were here. And for my DePauw readers, please come and ask questions tomorrow. 11:30 in Thompson Recital Hall.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I've been talking with my sophomores about mode mixture, and this next week we get to the use of mode mixture as text painting in German Lieder. Steven Laitz talks about the dramatic role of the bVI, using Schumann's "Waldesgesprach" as an example. The bVI is supposed to create mystery through its otherworldly sound, foreshadowing the revelation that the woman encountered in the woods is not human. The harmony certainly is unexpected, taking a deceptive progression V - vi which is already surprising and adding extra chromaticism to it. But does that chord, really a key area in this song, sound otherworldly? Popular music and contemporary classical music has blurred the lines between major and minor modes so much – with the use of polymodality, pantonality, and world music modalities – that a simple borrowing from the parallel minor may not be striking anymore. We can still make statements about Schumann's efforts at text painting, since in the 1840s a bVI would definitely sound otherworldly. But can we assume that a typical audience will still find it so? I also wrestle with this issue of recontextualization when talking about parallel fifths and octaves with my first year students. I assure them that Bach kills a kitten every time they write one, because I can't rely upon their ears to tell them that it sounds wrong. Power chords and Debussy have broken the dependent voice taboo, so I have to rely upon stylistic practice to teach the concept.

This leads to the question, why teach it then? The quick answer is that enough Common Practice Period music is still performed that the students need to understand how it works, and how subsequent styles differ from it. But as we travel further and further away from the 18th century, I wonder how much class time we theorists will be able to devote to the stylistic nuances of that time period, at the sacrifice of 20th and 21st century stylistic practices.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Guest Post: Rossini's Turco vs Italiana

Kim Witman of the Wolf Trap Opera Company is celebrating today’s announcement of the WTOC 2010 season by doing guest blog posts and interviews in a few places across the blogosphere. Link back to Kim’s blog at for a complete list – all of the links should be active by midday on Tuesday, February 9.

Rossini’s Turk in Italy had a rough start. Just the year before, Rossini had a huge hit with an opera called The Italian Girl in Algiers. The set-up was simple enough: culture clash and comedy ensue when an Italian bombshell is washed up on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Italian Girl was written for Venice and was a wild success. When Rossini decided to turn this plot device on its head and write a new opera about a Turkish prince who finds himself in Naples, he was obviously planning on cashing in on the popularity of its prequel.

Well, audiences in Milan (where Turk was premiered) didn’t agree. They must’ve felt as if they’d been fed an imitation of the original opera seen in Venice, and they were (as Italian audiences tend to be) pretty vocal about it. It’s a shame, for Turk is in no way inferior when experienced on its own. Nevertheless, it has spent most of its life eclipsed by the popularity of Italian Girl.

I love drawing little diagrams that describe the relationships between operatic characters. (I do the same things for books of fiction with insane multi-generational character lists.) Selim is the Turk, and he’s only one of the three men involved with the lovely Fiorilla. (One of those three is Fiorilla’s husband…)

Stendhal tells a great story about the Turk performances at La Scala with the legendary buffo singer Luigi Pacini, who created the role of Geronio, Fiorilla’s cuckolded husband. It seems that there was a certain celebrity (a Duke, I think) whose wife was famously cheating on him. Pacini thought that it would be entertaining to incorporate some of the Duke’s recognizable gestures and mannerisms into his characterization of Geronio. According to Stendhal, the audience was quick to catch on, and the poor guy (who was watching from his box seat, with his cheating wife) was made a laughing-stock.

We probably won’t get involved in celebrity gossip during our production, but a good time will be had nevertheless. One of the great things about Turk is that there’s a character (the poet Prosdocimo) who breaks down the fourth wall and provides an entertaining bridge between audience and players. Add Rossini’s trademark vocal fireworks and high-energy ensembles, and you’ve got a wonderful night in the theatre.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Dipping a toe in the TAFTO

Drew McManus has invited me to contribute to the annual Take A Friend To the Orchestra, (shouldn't that make it TAFTTO?) so it is a good thing that I've been attending the ISO recently. I have some time before I have to think about my perspective on this. I've taken my children to countless concerts, I've taken students, I've taken grown-up family, I've taken romantic interests, and yes I have taken friends. I have also encouraged nonmusician friends to go to concerts, even though I didn't escort them there. I love hearing works that I know well, reflected through a new pair of ears sitting next to me. I also love the challenge of thinking about a new piece as I hear it, knowing that a musician friend sitting next to me will want to talk about it. So many possibilities!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Best of the Rest: 2-2-10

So classes started yesterday, reminding me how exhausting it can be to stand up in front of groups of students for four hours. I have the same basic schedule as last semester, just moved up one in the sequence of courses: Theory II, Theory IV, and Musicianship IV. I really want to teach an upper level class again soon.

Since I haven't done this in a while, the Best of the Rest are blogs that are not in the top 25-50 classical blog lists, but that I feel deserve some extra exposure.

1. Theme and Variations: Robert teaches us about the composer/violinist Charles-Auguste de Beriot.

2. 2'23": Philip Gentry explains that Lady GaGa is at the front edge of a new movement in virtuosic provocation, in The Law of GaGa.

3. Hearing the Movies: Jim Buhler extols the Wikipedia article on Illustrated Songs, and provides a video example from 1909.

4. Classical Convert: Things I Learned from the Cleveland Orchestra strike.

5. Feast of Music: Peter Matthews explains why the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is one of the best orchestras, pound-for-pound, in America.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

52nd Grammy Awards

Live blogging is now over. Enjoy the dialog below.

11:28 Scott: Country really is king right now, isn't it? I'd like to thank you, SHB, for providing great insights tonight, and keeping me blogging way past my bedtime!

11:27 SHB: Wow. I bet Lady Gaga wants to hit her over the head with her hairpiece. She needs to stop talking.

11:25 Scott: Yay to Santana. And here goes the final award, just before I fade for the night. And I actually own one of the albums nominated!

11:20 Scott: Okay, that censoring really ruined the rhythm of that performance for me. Why bother if it is going to ruin the song to stick to broadcast standards?

11:16 Scott: Yes, that was a super skinny bass. That was a lot of blank space in this rap song [Eminem and Lil Wayne]. I think the censors are being a little paranoid.

11:06 SHB: What was that yellow instrument? Like a super skinny bass?

11:04 Scott: Cool! And now some very justifiable love for Les Paul. It would've been so cool if Jeff Beck had played on one of Paul's original Logs.

11:02 SHB: I love David Darling. Eight String Religion is excellent for yoga.

10:58 Scott: Including Indiana's own Chris Botti and Alison Krauss. Plus the Best New Age Album went to David Darling's Prayer for Compassion. David Darling is the improv teacher/mentor/friend of my colleague Eric Edberg.

10:57 SHB: I own that album!

10:53 Scott: Best Classical Crossover Album went to Yo Yo Ma and Friends for Songs of Joy. and Peace. Lots of friends: Odair Assad, Sergio Assad, Chris Botti, Dave Brubeck, Matt Brubeck, John Clayton, Paquito d'Rivera, Renée Fleming, Diana Krall, Alison Krauss, Natalie McMaster, Edgar Meyer, Cristina Pato, Joshua Redman, Jake Shimabukuro, Silk Road Ensemble, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Wu Tong, Alon Yavnai & Amelia Zirin-Brown.

10:50 Scott: Best Classical Contemporary Composition (composed within the last 25 years), to Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto, performed by Colin Currie with the London Philharmonic.

10:49 SHB: During this commercial break I would like to comment on all the smokin' black leather jackets that some of the men have worn. Ricky's was slick and I liked Jon Bon Jovi's leather anorak.

10:48 SHB: Can her earrings be any bigger? Wow.

10:47 SHB: Halo!

10:45 Scott: I want to hear more of the horn line. I know I'm biased, though. I was always frustrated when I played in a funk band and they kept us horn players low in the mix.

10:43 SHB: See how he [Dave Matthews] knocks his heels together? Every live song he does that - usually barefoot.

10:36 Scott: Ravel's Bolero to introduce the Academy President!

10:33 Scott: Best Classical Vocal Performance went to Renée Fleming for Verismo Arias.

10:31 Scott: Best Small Ensemble Performance went to David Lang's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Little Match Girl Passion performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen & Theatre Of Voices. This is the first winner that I already own.

10:30 Scott: Yes, that was a nice combination. Quite often the classical/popular voice styles don't mix, but that worked well, and a nice arrangement.

10:29 SHB: So can Mary performance of the night so far.

10:27 Scott: Bridge over Troubled Waters in Italian, pretty cool. Andrea Boccelli can sing.

10:21 Scott: Oh, you know you are just waiting for Dave Matthews!

10:20 SHB: He is a collaborator that's for sure. I guess he is not there. The Mary J and Boccelli thing should be interesting.

10:18 Scott: Why don't they just call that award [Rap/Sung] the Kanye West award? 3 out of the 5 nominees, please!

10:16 SHB: That song was released as a country single last year. I cannot believe he just mispronounced Placido Domingo's name.

10:13 Scott: That was more like Country Rock. I didn't think Nettles' voice and Bon Jovi's voice blended very well. Hers is very strident and clear, whereas his is husky.

10:10 SHB: Jennifer Nettles is SO good. She is one part of the duo Sugarland.

10:09 Scott: Hair Rock is back!

10:05 Scott: Best Chamber Music Performance went to the Emerson Quartet for Intimate Letters, with String Quartets No. 1 and 2 by Leos Janacek and Three Madrigals by Bohulav Martinu.

9:57 Scott: MJ really could wail, much more than any of the live singers, though Carrie Underwood is pretty close.

9:55 Scott: Well, the visual doesn't seem that interesting anyway.

9:54 SHB: Oops no 3D glasses.

9:52 SHB: Finally the MJ tribute.

9:50 SHB: Thank God you agree. I can't carry a tune in a bucket but it kind of sounds horrible.

9:48 Scott: ooh, Taylor is not singing in tune with Stevie Nicks. She is very flat.

9:46 Scott: Was Taylor Swift the one that was interrupted by Kanye West?

9:43 SHB: I am getting pumped up for the MJ tribute. Shout out to Cincy!

9:41 Scott: I'm using the commercial breaks to announce the classical winners, since they don't get their own screen time. Best Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra went to Evgeny Kissin with the Philharmonia Orchestra for Prokofiev's Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3.

9:39 Scott: Wow, nice allusion to bluegrass by the Zac Brown Band at the end of that song.

9:34 SHB: Chris O'Donnell is just one tall drink of cold water. But regarding your question, I feel like Green Day has been around about as long as DMB. AC/DC makes them all seem old. DMB should have won.

9:33 Scott: Is it just me, or was Green Day quite different generationally from all the other nominees for best rock album?

9:30 Scott: Best Choral Performance also went to the Mahler recording by the San Francisco Symphony, with the Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Symphony Chorus & San Francisco Girls Chorus.

9:28 Scott: Best Instrumental Composition went to Michael Giacchino's "Married Life" from the movie Up.

9:26 SHB: The Slash move was OTT. Over the top.

9:25 Scott: Slash from GnR, that should make you happy, SHB!

9:21 Scott: Hey, that's not nice making fun of opera! Especially with so much AutoTune, Jamie! AutoTune is a means of fixing pitch problems. It can be subtle, or make the voice sound like a synthesizer.

9:21 SHB: Jamie Fox is cool but I think he must use something to enhance his voice??

9:19 SHB: Nice win for Kings of Leon.

9:11 Scott: I actually knew all of the nominees in the comedy album category.

9:08 Scott: I really liked that, especially the way they used the country yodel in a very contemporary and lyrical way.

9:05 SHB: What does the Dr. think about Lady Antebellum?

9:01 Scott: Boston Symphony Orchestra. Best Opera Recording went to a London production of Billy Budd, with Ian Bostridge, Neal Davies, Nathan Gunn, Jonathan Lemalu, Matthew Rose & Gidon Saks. Fellow blogger Anne-Carolyn Bird was nominated with the Wolf Trap Opera company for their recording of Volpone by John Musto.

9:00 SHB: For us less educated, BSO stands for Ball State Orchestra?

8:57 Scott: Okay, he is really singing. Helped by AutoTune, but it doesn't help his breathe control problems that are slowing him down a bit.

8:54 Scott: While listening to the Black Eyed Peas, the best Orchestra Performance went to James Levine and the BSO performing Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé.

8:48 Scott: So is this a signal that country is the growing trend, with them winning best new artist?

8:47 SHB: I love the Zac Brown Band. They have a song that has a line, "I've got my toes in the water, ass in the sand." It doesn't get more country than that.

8:44 Scott: I don't like the combination of piano and blues guitar in this instance. This is a very elaborate production. I don't believe she is really singing, while doing all that spinning.

8:42 SHB: I feel like she just tagged the cover on the end but let's not argue. I like the glitter falling all over Pink. Wow. She just stripped and now she is dripping wet.

8:37 Scott: I didn't notice the trumpeter. I know what a cover song is, but she inserted in the middle of "If I Were a Boy", not a usual practice for a cover.

8:36 SHB: Did you notice the female trumpet player in her band? Do you know her?

8:34 SHB: That's what we call a cover song. I don't think it was very good.

8:33 Scott: Does her song usually have the quote from Alanis Morrissette in there?

8:31 Scott: Okay, it looks like there are semi-regular fans in the audience, the way they are reacting. Though the guy she lifts up out of the audience was clearly a plant.

8:27 SHB: Beyonce can rock it. I wish I had a subway grate thing like that in my room that could blow my hair around and make me look cool.

8:26 Scott: Well, now my kids know who Taylor Swift is. Wow, she wrote all the songs herself, that is impressive.

8:16 Scott: So another musical based on a rock album, like Mamma Mia and the Billy Joel one. The cast singers are good, I'm not crazy about the Green Day lead singer's voice. I do like the song though, especially the orchestrated version.

8:12 SHB: He is annoying. Go Beyonce. Her red carpet outfit was just okay so I am sure she will bring it in her performance. Okay. Musical cast and Green Day together. Let's watch.

8:11 Scott: Ooh, iPad!

8:06 Scott: It works for me. I could do without the smudge marks on the face, but their voices blend nicely and she keeps up musically with him.

8:05 SHB My Dad just called her Lady ZaGa. HA!

8:03 SHB: Okay Scott, can she hang with Elton?

8:02 Scott: She still scares me, but Lady Gaga does have an interesting voice. Lots of different colors.

7:56 Scott: Another classical award, Best Instrumental Soloist Performance without Orchestra went to "Journey to the New World" performed by Joan Baez and Mark O'Connor. So a performance by a folk singer and a fiddler, hmm.

7:51 Scott: Some of the comments at the Fashion Cam are really catty. But I like it that they identify the people for ignoramuses like me.

7:46 Scott: Lady Gaga scares me a little.

7:41 SHB: E! has live coverage now too. Lady Gaga is too much. Love her.

7:38 SHB: For anyone interested, the Fashion Cam on is priceless.

7:34 Scott: Probably very few. We aren't as pretty as the pop/rock people.

7:32 SHB: Does that mean none of the classical people will be on the red carpet? Because I need you to ID all the people I can't.

7:12 Scott: Of course the classical awards are given out off-camera. The Best Engineered Classical Album went to MTT and the San Francisco Symphony's recording of Mahler: Symphony No. 8 in E-Flat Major - Adagio from Symphony No. 10.

5:51 SHB: Got it. Coverage starts in 9 minutes on TV Guide Channel. Woot!

5:46 Scott: This is the preliminary post of our liveblog.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guest Bloggers

I'm going to be trying something new in the next few weeks, having some guest bloggers. First up, SHB will be providing color commentary as I attempt to liveblog the Grammy's tomorrow night. And then in a week Kim Witman of the Wolftrap Opera Blog will be writing a guest post about the upcoming season. As the Wolftrap Opera Company is nominated for Best Opera Recording, this makes for a nice connection.

Friday, January 29, 2010

FriPod: Love

A little early for Valentine's Day, but any day is a good day to listen to music about love.

1. "Love" performed by Chet Baker on Chet Baker With Strings.
2. "Love Came to Town" by U2 on Rattle and Hum.
3. "Love For Sale" by Cole Porter, performed by Dexter Gordon on Go.
4. "Love Is Here To Stay" by George Gershwin, performed by Stanley Irwin on Irwin Sings Gershwin. (RIP, Stan)
5. "Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)" by Sting on Ten Summoner's Tales.
6. "Love Is Teasin'" arranged by Paddy Moloney, performed by Marianne Faithful & The Chieftains on The Long Black Veil.
7. "Love Me" by Victor Young, performed by Art Tatum on Solos (1940).
8. "Love Me or Leave Me" by G. Kahn, W. Donaldson, performed by Basie's Bad Boys on The Essential Count Basie Vol. 1.
9. "Love Rescue Me" by U2 on Rattle and Hum.
10. "Love Song" from Pippin by Stephen Schwartz, performed by John Rubenstein & Jill Clayburgh on the Original Cast album.
11. "Love Walked In" by George Gershwin, performed by a) Chet Baker on Chet Baker With Strings, b) Stanley Irwin on Irwin Sings Gershwin.
12. "Love Went A-Riding" by Frank Bridge, performed by Arleen Augér on Arleen Auger, American Soprano.
13. "Love You To" by George Harrison, performed by the Beatles on Revolver.
14. "Love's Philosophy" by Roger Quilter, performed by Arleen Augér on Arleen Auger, American Soprano.
15. "Lovely Ladies" from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, from the Broadway Cast recording.
16. "Lovely Rita" by Lennon/McCartney, performed by the Beatles on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
17. "Lover Come Back To Me" by Hammerstein and Romberg, performed by a) Mildred Bailey & Her Orchestra, b) Dinah Washington on Dinah Jams.
18. "Lover Lay Down" by David J. Matthews, performed by the Dave Matthews Band on Under the Table and Dreaming.

Remember that you can listen to these tracks in the left sidebar, and purchase them there if you wish. Yes, I get a little cut if you do it from those links.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I've been told that salons are coming back. Small, intimate spaces where people share their talents and converse for entertainment. Just in time, Schubert, king of the salon, is getting a make-over:

Granted, these fine young gentlemen will be performing in public, at St. Mark's Church in NY. But the spirit is still that of something fun, eclectic, and intimate. I wonder what kind of business model musicians could come up with to make salons profitable. Or perhaps salons will signal the rebirth of the amateur musician, with a piano/guitar/accordian/didgeridoo in every house.

Friday, January 22, 2010

FriPod: Funny

Tonight I'm going to see some stand up comedy, thus today's theme.

1. "My Funny Valentine" by Rodgers and Hart, performed by a) Chet Baker, b) Matt Damon (!) on The Talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack.

2. "It's a Funny Thing Waking Up Under Occupation" by Stephen Hartke, performed by Dorothy Byrne and the Glimmerglass Opera.

3. Feelin' Kinda Patton comedy album by Patton Oswalt.

4. "Track by Track Video Commentary" by Spinal Tap on Back from the Dead.

5. III. Giocoso from Concerto No. 2 for Trumpet (1954) by André Jolivet, performed by Wynton Marsalis.

6. IV. Allegretto Giocoso from Sonata For Trumpet and Piano by Fisher Tull, performed by Terry Everson.

7. III. Finale: Giocosa-Allegro from Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (1949) by Henri Tomasi, performed by Wynton Marsalis.

8. III. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace from Concerto in D, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms, performed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

9. Intermezzo in C major: Grazioso e giocoso, Op. 119 No. 3 by Brahms, performed by Radu Lupu.

10. Giocoso from Heldenmusik by Georg Philip Telemann, performed by the Empire Brass.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are YOU hip and cool?

My students and non-musician friends often rib me for being clueless about contemporary popular music. So I've been given a list of forty songs to know "when you are a classical expert and want to be hip and cool" by one of these non-musician friends. I knew a grand total of five (bolded below) before being sent the list, and am now slowly working my way through the rest. As I know from chats with other classical musicians, I am not alone in my cluelessness about Fiona Apple or The Fray. So here is the list for all of you. And for you readers who are worldly in that new-fangled pop music, feel free to add your own songs to the list.

1. "Long December," Counting Crows, Films About Ghosts: Best of Counting Crows
2. "Nightswimming," R.E.M, Automatic for the People
3. "White Flag," Dido, Life for Rent
4. "Mercy," Duffy, Rockferry
5. "November Rain" Guns and Roses, Greatest Hits (you'd think I'd know this, but not one of the GnR songs I'd experienced back in the day)
6. "Look After You," The Fray, How to Save a Life
7. "Stay," Sugarland, Enjoy the Ride
8. "Secret," Maroon 5, Live from Le Cabaret
9. "Say Goodbye," Dave Matthews Band, Crash
10. "Come Back to Bed," John Mayer, Live
11. "If my heart was a house you'd be home," Owl City, Ocean Eyes
12. "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin, Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits
13. "Cream," Prince and the New Power Generation, Best of Prince
14. "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel, So
15. "In My Dreams," REO Speedwagon, Best of REO Speedwagon
16. "Chasing Cars," Snow Patrol, Eyes Open
18. "Shadowboxer," Fiona Apple, Criminal
19. "Mysterious Ways," U2, Achtung Baby (I know many U2 songs, but not this one)
20. "Help Me," K. D. Lang, Tribute to Joni Mitchell
21. "Wicked Game," Chris Isaak, Best of Chris Isaak
22. "Sign your name," Terence Trent D'arby, Introducing the hardline according to Terence Trent D'arby
23. "Halo," Beyonce, I am Sasha Fierce
24. "Champagne Supernova," Oasis, What's the Story Morning Glory?
25. "Bittersweet," Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Sister Sweetly
26. "Look After You," The Fray, How to Save a Life
27. "Come on Get Higher," Matt Nathinson, Some Mad Hope
28. "Last Request," Paolo Nutini, These Streets
29. "Love Song," 311, Greatest Hits '93-'03
30. "Too Funky," George Michael, Ladies and Gentleman
31. "Down to the River to Pray," Allison Krauss, O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack
32. "Bless the Broken Road," Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits vol 1
33. "Wind it Up," Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape
34." Just Dance," Lady Gaga, The Fame
35. "Lips of an Angel," Hinder, Extreme Behavior
36. "Sexyback," Justin Timberlake ( featuring Timbaland), FutureSex/Lovesounds
37. "Dreams," Cranberries, Stars: The Best of the Cranberries (I have one Cranberries CD, but not this one)
38. "Land of Canaan," Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls
39. "Jealousy," Natalie Merchant, Retrospectve (1990-2005)
40. "Viva La Vida," Coldplay, Viva La Vida

Some of these groups I've never even heard of, so this will definitely be an education. Coming soon, a list of classical pieces to show that one is hip and cool.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

I couldn't do much to celebrate MLK Day today, as there was school to make up for a snow day (I'm not happy with that display of priorities by the school board) and I had a sick child at home, preventing me from going to one of the local events. I did listen to some MLK speeches on NPR while waiting to pick up the healthy child from school, and talked about MLK with both kids. What inspires me about Martin Luther King is that he knew that when a righteous battle seems hopeless, that is exactly when you need to fight most. Of course, it becomes more difficult when it isn't clear that the battle is righteous, or that the means of conducting the battle are the most effective. May we all have the wisdom to determine the right course and the strength to follow it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

FriPod: Sacred Spaces

Yes, the first thing that may come to mind may be churches or other religious houses, cemeteries, museums, or a hidden valley, but sacred space can also be something spiritual rather than physical. A zone of conversation kept free of the troubles in life can be a sacred space, or a series of shared beautiful experiences. In all of the cases above, a sacred space helps build special relationships with ourselves, with a higher power, with other people.

1. "O magnum mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen, performed by the Robert Shaw Festival & Chamber Singers.

2. "Down to the River to Pray" performed by Alison Kraus on O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

3. "God Only Knows" by Brian Wilson, performed by Petra Haden.

4. Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8, Adagio by Arcangelo Corelli, performed by Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields.

5. "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar, performed by Andrew Davis; BBC Symphony Orchestra.

6. "I Will" by Lennon/McCartney, performed by (a) the Beatles on the White Album, (b) Jonathan Coulton.

7. "Not the Same" by Ben Folds, performed on Ben Folds Live (the audience singing along gives me chills every time).

8. "I'm Your Moon" by Jonathan Coulton, performed on Best. Concert. Ever.

9. Danses Sacrée et Profane by Claude Debussy, performed by Yolanda Kondonassis.

10. "Gloria" from Missa Pater Peccavi by Andrea Gabrieli, performed by His Majesty's Cornetts and Sackbuts, His Majesty's Consort.

There are many more, I just picked the first ten that I saw in my lists that spoke to me about this subject.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It wants to be free!

Apparently January is Math Madness Month, at least at Taylor & Francis publishing company. They are offering free online access to the current and back content for all of their math and statistics journals through January 31st. Why am I mentioning this here, on a music blog? Because one of these free journals is the Journal of Mathematics and Music. (They also have the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.) This is a new journal, only 3 years old, on the uses of mathematical analysis to explore various aspects of music. This isn't a new thing, heck Pythagoras (or someone else) talked about the mathematical relationships in musical sounds back in the 5th century BC. But new things are constantly being found, and it was decided to give a common home to a variety of approaches to this general subject from the perspectives of music theory, neuroscience, mathematics, statistics, and physics. As an example, here are the articles in the most recent issue:
"Minimum description length modelling of musical structure" by Panayotis Mavromatis (a friend from grad school).
"Ionian theorem" by Thomas Noll.
"Counterpoint in 2k-tone equal temperament" by Octavio A. Agustin-Aquino.
"What pre-whitened music can tell us about multi-instrument compositions" by R.E. Dumas and A.P. Georgopoulos. (Apparently pre-whitened music is music with the melody and harmony removed, so only timbre and rhythm is considered. This looks interesting to me.)

So if you find your month not nearly math-mad enough, go on over to the website and browse through some math-tastic music or musical math.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Music Plagiarism

I've been reading Popdose lately, partially to bring my pop sensibilities to the twenty-first century, partially because Chad Orzel quoted part of their Mellowmas series and it was too funny. In my readings I came across this comparison of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" and 4 Non Blondes "What's Up?", both from a pop era with which I am much more familiar. First, this reminded me of a post I wrote awhile ago on Nickelback, about what makes up a song's identity. To be fair to Dw. Dunphy, the melody starts almost identically for McFerrin and 4 Non Blondes, allowing for the shift from reggae beats to a straight four on the floor. But the second half the stanza for "What's Up?" is different, and it is definitely the hook for that song. And, I really like the mashup between these two songs, the juxtaposition of opposite emotions on the same harmonic base appeals to me.

Second, this story reminded me of an NPR story I heard recently about Men At Work getting sued for plagiarizing "Kookaburra" for their song "Down Under." I have a problem with extended copyright in general, because of this sort of nonsense that could impede the creation of new art. Does "Down Under" significantly sample "The Kookaburra Song" (a friggin' 4-bar melody)? You judge (listen to the flute part in the Men At Work piece):

This idea of egregious lawsuits deserves unnecessary censorship (though no one deserves Barney):

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Technology and Blues

Last night I was eating dinner at 14 West, which had a great pianist/singer providing music. But what was notable was the fact that he was using a music tablet. SHB and I noticed this, and started debating whether he would know a particular song, the Frim Fram Sauce.
SHB felt that he was such a good musician that he would definitely know the song. I said that since he was relying on the tablet for about half of his pieces, that he wouldn't know it from memory, and would have to use the tablet, if it was in there. SHB felt that any decent music list would include this song. So SHB went to request the song, and he proceeded to look it up on the tablet. He didn't know it, but sightread it (piano and vocals) incredibly well. It was very exciting to see a tablet used this way, allowing a great musician to expand the repertoire in such a compact way.

Later we joined some others at the Slippery Noodle to hear a great blues band, the winner of a Blues Jam contest. They were from Mooresville, and had lots of friends and family in the audience which created a very festive environment. The others teased me for my lack of knowledge about some of the blues songs, especially as one of the others was a major blues expert. Ah well, I smoked them on Beethoven trivia.

Friday, January 08, 2010

FriPod: Frogs to Funk

1. "Frogs" from E.T. soundtrack by John Williams.
2. "From Border to Border from Quiet Flows the Don" by Ivan Dzerzhinsky, performed by Paul Robeson Jr. on Songs of Free Men.
3. From me flows what you call Time (1993) by Toru Takemitsu, performed by Andrew Davis and BBC Symphony Orchestra.
4. "From Me to You" by Lennon and McCartney, performed by (a) Arthur Wilkinson Orchestra, (b) Bobby McFerrin, (c) The Beatles.
5. "From the Steeples and the Mountains" by Charles Ives, performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
6. Fugue for string quartet in Bb major ("Grosse Fugue"), Op. 133 by Beethoven, performed by the Alban Berg Quartet.
7. Fugue from Violin Sonata No. 1 by J.S. Bach, performed and arranged by Christopher Parkening.
8. "Fulgebunt Justi" by Orlando Di Lasso, performed by Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer.
9. "Funeral of Amenhotep III Edited" by Philip Glass on The Orange Mountain Music Philip Glass Sampler Vol. 1.
10. "Funk the Dumb Stuff" by F.R. Prestia/S. Kupka/Castillo, performed by Tower of Power on Monster on a Leash.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tom Selleck was right!

Remember that scene in Three Men and a Baby, when Tom Selleck's character is reading an article about boxing to the little baby? Steve Gutenberg is horrified, but Tom says that it doesn't matter what the words are, just the tone matters. Well, a new study in Infant Behavioral Development shows that the tone does indeed matter. CD Tsang and NJ Conrad of the University of Western Ontario did a study on infants' pitch preferences in lullabies and and playsongs. The babies preferred low-pitched lullabies and high-pitched playsongs, showing that tone is indeed the most important communication of emotion. Tom. Selleck. is. a. genius.

CD Tsang and NJ Conrad, "Does the message matter? The Effect of song type on infants' pitch preferences for lullabies and playsongs," Infant Behavioral Development, Dec 2009.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Over on Crooked Timber, an aesthetic discussion broke out, provoked by an outrageous line in an article by Richard Dorment:
The single most important thing you can say about a work of art is that it is real, that the artist to whom it is attributed made it. Until you are certain that a work of art is authentic, it is impossible to say much else that is meaningful about it.

As would be expected, most commenters followed John Quiggin's lead in denouncing this claim, pointing out that the artwork should have some worth outside of its provenance. And I certainly agree with this. But then I read a comment by Bad Jim, who asks a provocative question:

"Does anyone even bother to try to fake music from folks like them [Brahms and Schumann]? And if so, why not? An original manuscript of Mozart’s variations on “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” would be pretty damned valuable; how much more would his noodlings on “Happy Birthday” fetch?"

This is an excellent question, and one to which I didn't know the answer. I am familiar with the probable forgery of Shostakovich's memoirs, and of the Joyce Hatto plagiarisms. There are certainly pieces that were once attributed to someone famous, like the pieces in the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook that are now believed to not be written by Johann Sebastian. But those were honest attempts that were corrected as more facts became known. The closest thing I can imagine is David Cope's EMI project, but he was always upfront about the provenance of the Chopin-esque or Bach-ish pieces his software composed.

Let's assume there haven't been any serious attempts to forge a piece by one of the masters. There certainly is motive for doing so, a Beethoven score sold for $2 million in 1991. There certainly is a large amount of expertise needed to create such a forgery, but that is the same with paintings. Is it because the forger would need to be a expert at composing in the style of a master, and be an expert at copying the handwriting of the master, two very different skills? Certainly a painting forger has the single skill of painting in the style (yes, there is brushstroke vs. structure vs. color palate vs. materials used), but that is all still very closely related to the art of painting. Whereas a music forger would need to master the counterpoint, melodic construction, orchestration habits, notational idiosyncrasies, paper and ink properties, handwriting, and means of properly aging the score. A team of experts would be needed to carry off such a forgery, cutting down on profits and increasing the likelihood of someone getting caught and spilling the beans.

As it turns out, there is a history of musical autograph plagiarism, at least in the 1930s. A man named Charles Weisberg forged scores by the American composers Francis Hopkinson and Stephen Foster, and sold them to various collectors during anniversaries of these composers. He was caught, thanks to the efforts of musicologists and rare book experts, but his efforts have apparently caused some havok to music librarians, according to this article in Notes: "Forgery in the Music Library: A Cautionary Tale" by Gillian Anderson, et al (Vol 60 No. 4, June 2004), 865-892. Apparently the forgeries were not good at all, being copied from Sousa marches and Rubinstein's "Melody in F", college fight songs, and an opera by Grétry. The only reason Weisberg had any success at all was due to the lack of fame and ability of Hopkinson. Musical ability that is, he was a well-known satirist and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, which is why his scores were collectible.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Hi, how's it going? Yes, it's been a little while since I last wrote in this blog. My writing efforts were going towards some academic articles and a book to which I was contracted to contribute, The Daily Book of Classical Music. I was in charge of 39 days, all about compositional structures. I particularly had fun figuring out how to explain rotational form without getting too technical or too philosophical, in 250 words. This has been a fun experience, with very good editors and a nice paid venue for all my blog-style writing. Now that I've submitted my final batch of days, I can get back to my (mostly) non-paid blog-style writing here, on a blog. And I'll start with some resolutions:
1) I resolve to post at least 3 times each week, unless I get another paid writing gig.
2) I resolve to participate in at least one triathlon (sprint level) this year, which means I need a good road bike. I will probably run in another marathon, but I will wait until the summer to start training for that.
3) I resolve to be better at communicating with family, friends, acquaintances, and commentors.
4) I resolve to get to bed by 11 pm on school nights, allowing 30 minutes of leeway per week.

I have some other resolutions, but those will be saved for my journal.