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.