Smetana: Vltava (Moldeau)
Dvorak: The Wild Dove
Suk: Fantastic Scherzo
Technically not a tone poem, but whatever.
Technically not a tone poem, but whatever.
I love this essay:
One possibility of experiencing time is the path. It is what lies ahead at the start of a performance: the composition develops, takes first one direction then another, perhaps doubles back, sets an accent here and there, focuses on certain sonorities or thematic levels. It unfolds continuously, and the more we hear of the piece, the more of a past the piece acquires. This past lays a path in our memories, we remember it as fragments of a sound edifice we have traversed with our ears, or as something more organically grown, evolving its path in time. The questions arising here are in the nature of: How will the piece go on? Why will it go on? What direction will it take? And at what speed?
Another possibility of experiencing time is expanse. Music consists of sound; unchanging and unchanged, it expands in space. Attention is not trained on the individual event but wanders in space, laying claim to space just as sound does. Composition and space merge, and both are components of a sonic situation without temporal direction, a situation that may even be unbounded and, through its very presence, determined by sound, space and listeners. Memory is shaped less by the individual details than by a situation in which one has spent a certain period of time. The questions here are: How do boundaries come to be? Where are those boundaries? How do special qualities come to be? Where is the core of the composition, the core that accords the situation its identity and its energy? What gives sonic and compositional texture to the work as a whole?
Finish reading: http://www.timescraper.de/_juerg-frey/texts-e.html
John Morton’s the composer/arranger is one of several texts on jazz composition and arranging that have appeared in recent years. Having just read Richard Sussman and Michael Abene’s Jazz Composition and Arranging in the Digital Age, it was with great interest that I picked up John Morton’s volume.
Morton’s book has understandably been used by prestigious colleges and universities around the world. Clearly informed by 45 years of practical experience, Morton’s book is comprehensive overview of the technical and practical issues behind composition and arranging.
The volume is divided into 10 books: (1) Form and rhythm, (2) Melody, (3 & 4), Common-Practice and Jazz Harmony, (5, 6 & 7) Instrumentation and Orchestration, (8) Counterpoint, (9) Composition, and (10) Notation. Book nine synthesizes the first eight books and then smartly provides a clearly explicated example of how those principles are practically applied in a real score. Book ten functions more as an appendix. Though it lacks an index, the book has a strong table of contents. The writing is conversational and inviting, though it would have been benefitted by some occasional editorial trimming and clarifying.
Although Morton uses a fairly typical pedagogical arrangement, reading his book feels more like exploring a tool box than following a text book. Morton does not give pedagogical exercises along the way nor does the text direct how the concepts it presents should be used. In this, he lives up to the dictum presented in the introduction that “We should never say `that is forbidden’ but rather, `of you do this, that will happen’” (3). Morton accordingly fills his volume with fascinating insights into music theory and shows how these materials could be used. The book is also peppered with philosophical asides (reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony: 100th Anniversary Edition) that remind the reader that music isn’t just a functional craft but a humanizing endeavor. In sum, as long as you approach it as a tool box and not as a novel, you won’t be disappointed.
The book will greatly please readers who are self-directed and are seeking specific input from an expert voice. It will also work well for those who have a teacher to guide them through it. Because the book requires that readers bring their engagement to the table, I would not recommend it for readers who don’t know where to start or who are timid about getting their hands dirty. Though such readers would be better served by Sussman and Abene’s book, I prefer Morton’s overall.
I also think that I’ll end up referring to it for years to come and not just for the jazz materials (with which I otherwise have little experience). In the book, Morton explores the hierarchy of patterns in music and how these patterns can be transformed. These ideas have formed the basis of several of my recent works including Marginalia, Wasabi, and Under an Orange Sky.
Of all my artistic influences, musical and otherwise, the most impactful has been Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack for the anime series “Cowboy Bebop.” At first listen, Kanno’s music is striking for its stylistic variety. Although jazz forms the core of the music, it branches out to blues, country, rock, heavy metal, and even late Romantic opera. Yet underpinning this seeming hodgepodge is a unified rhythmic sense. In every style, Kanno nurtures a rich ecology of rhythmic relationships. The music moves and flows in complementary streams, and that harmonious interpenetration resonates to the core of my musical aspirations.
In technical terms, what I’m feeling are its polyrhythmic grooves, the meaning those grooves create for surface syncopation, and the sheer energy all this movement generates. More artistically, this music affirms that, for me, movement is the soul of music, that music is first a corporeal — rather than merely aural or intellectual — experience, and that, because it increases awareness of both your physical existence and your interconnectedness, music is fundamentally a celebration of life, a religious experience.
Now “Cowboy Bebop” doesn’t have the only music in which I hear this textural richness. I’m attracted to it as well, for instance, in the music of Anton Bruckner, Elliott Carter, John Williams, Stevie Wonder, and, of course, J. S. Bach. But though I value that music, too, I always return to Kanno’s work as a touchstone for the feeling of life that I want my music to carry.
2012 was a good year, but 2013 promises to be even more exciting.
In 2012, blogging was my neglected step-child. This year, expect a steady and frequent stream of posts as I keep you in the loop about how my music is progressing, what I’m listening to, and what other thoughts and cool things I find over the coming year.
The next couple months I launch into my largest project ever: an hour-long Easter oratorio for choir, soloists, chamber ensemble, and dancers. The text comes from the Bible, primarily the four gospels. I’ve already started work on the music, and in the coming weeks, I’ll blog more details about the work and its upcoming performance.
Once that piece is done, I have several other projects on deck. For the AWEA Duo, I’ll be integrating fangled contraption into a set of bagatelles for flute and saxophone. I’ll also be writing a flute duo for Amber Seeley and Nicole Okeson. Later on, I intend to dust off my performing chops and write myself a piece for violin and electronics. All this composing should take me through spring, which brings us to . . .
In addition to those for sure pieces, I have at least half a dozen other ideas and requests. In the coming months, I need to sort out how serious they and I are about those plans. Could this be the year I finally write the tuba ensemble piece I’ve been imagining since 2007?
So far I’ve attended three different summer festivals: EAMA, Brevard, and highSCORE. They’ve all been great, but I’m still not sure where I’ll be headed this summer. Will I go back to one of those? Will I go some place new?
This year I also hope to expand my exposure by applying to more contests and calls for scores and by reaching out to create more collaborative opportunities. This year might be the year I start my doctoral work. In any case, it’ll certainly be my year of “how to stay happy and fed while establishing a career.”
So, stay tuned for news on these and other escapades. Do you have any suggestions for the coming year? Pieces I should write? Places to go? People to see? What are your dreams for 2013?
It’s been a good year for composition. It hasn’t been such a good year for blogging, so it’s time to highlight the best of 2012 and the opportunities coming in 2013. I’ll start in this post with 2012.
My biggest milestone this year was finally having pieces enter performers’ regular repertoire. I wrote “Icarus and Daedalus” in February for Arianna Tieghi, who since performed it twice this summer.
“night flocks of angels trumpet” was an excerpt from A Field Guide to Natural History that I arranged for violinist Katie Jensen, who performed it earlier this month. It’s my favorite movement from an otherwise long, difficult, and unusual quartet (read “unlikely to be performed”). Field Guide was performed twice in 2011 in its original form, and now with this arrangement for violin and piano, I hope the music will have a continued life. (Violinists, I will soon post an excerpt from the performance. Seriously. Check it out: it’s really pretty.)
Finally, “fangled contraption” continues to be my surprise hit. It was performed only once in 2012 but already has 5 performances scheduled for 2013 by the AWEA Duo, at which point it will have been performed 10 times. Sure, the New York Times won’t be picking up the story any time soon, but it’s sure cool (and reassuring) to see my music starting to have a life among performers.
In other significant news, in April I finished my MM in Composition at Brigham Young University. Seven years of study later, my time as a BYU student is finally over. Studying at BYU gave me exceptional performance and teaching opportunities and honed both my musical perceptions and my ability to articulate them. Perhaps in another post, I’ll give more highlights.
Since then I haven’t really gone anywhere. I still work for the College of Fine Arts and Communications as an editor. But being on campus doesn’t feel the same when you’re staff. Considering the lack of finals (or any assignments), great checkout priveldges at the library, employee discounts at the Bookstore, etc., it’s better.
Over the summer, I attended the highSCORE Festival in Italy, where I made some good friends, heard their great music, and got to have a new string quartet performed. I also got to have some inspiring lessons from Amy Beth Kirsten and Dmitri Tymoczko.
Some of the most fun I had this year was in collaborating with Neil Thornock. Dr. Thornock was my composition teacher for part of my undergrad and much of my grad work. He’s also a great organist and carillonneur. In January, he commissioned me to write “Marginalia” for organ, which was premiered on a Salty Cricket concert in March. Later in the summer, I wrote “Under an Orange Sky,” which we recorded in November.
All in all, 2012 was a good year for me. I was able to work with some great performers, expand my network, and grow as a composer. Stay tuned for what’s coming in 2013.
Stumbled across the following in an article about teaching jazz within an historical context:
A musician, even a great one, has far less control over the general course of his art than we might think. The broad outlines of a style, it seems clear, are shaped by ideas in society. Thus, a player like (Marion) Brown (who claims to have no outside influences) cannot escape tapping into the social currents of his time, and if enough listeners hear those currents in his playing they ate just as ‘right’ about his music as he is.
Food for thought as I continue to refine what I mean to do and be as a composer.
Now, a self-conscious composer could ask, “What are the ideas of our times?” But what Harker implies in this passage is that you don’t have to go looking for those influences. You don’t have to play journalist or historian or pundit for the times to speak through your music. They’re already in you. They don’t take any special reflection to reveal themselves.
(Fast summary: According to Tenney, just as we usually divide time into years, months, days, and so on, music can be divided hierarchically. This hierarchies arise in music because of musical differences from moment to moment (and phrase to phrase, section to section, etc.). The shapes of these differences — and the similarities that bind sections together — are how form emerges.)
Today I found a great piece that demonstrates this kind of thinking: Psappha by Iannis Xenakis. The most obvious of the hierarchies is created by the different percussion sounds, but you can also hear groupings emerge due to the different rate of events and the pauses between them.
For the truly nerdy, you can go read my paper and delve more into how this works.
Otherwise, you can just enjoy the cool sounds of an artsy Guitar Hero (ht: Josh Harris).
. . . prompted by discovering I had a recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, op. 54, on my computer. In chronological order.
. . . prompted by discovering I had a recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, op. 54, on my computer. So, in chronological order:
I love the first movement of this concerto. Growing up, the public library a series of videos about the orchestra featuring the Schleswig-Holsetein Festival Orchestra and Sir Georg Solti with Dudley Moore as narrator. Turns out Dudley Moore is also a fine amateur pianist. He played the solo part of this concerto in those videos, which is where I first really got to know it.
As it turns out, most of the rest of my favorites were written in a roughly 10-year span:
I don’t know how I found this piece first, but I love so much about it: the harmony, the viscerality of it, the way the vigorous sections are contrasted with ethereal ones, and how it all flows together in one continuous movement.
How can anyone not like Gershwin? Enough said.
Ravel’s two concerti are the holy grail of concerto writing for me. They’re very contrasting works. The Left-Hand Concerto is dark and profound whereas the Concerto in G is light and winsome. The Concerto in G also contains 9 of some of the most beautiful minutes of music ever in the Adagio Assai.
I heard lots of Rachmaninov ever since I was a kid, but out of all of the concerti, this one is my favorite (followed by 3 and 4 in that order). I love the variety of moods and colors. As with the Ravel and Korngold concertos for the left hand, Rachmaninov does a great job pulling along the narrative without a movement break. [Note—For the video below, I found a really good remastering of Rachmaninov himself at the piano.]
In some ways, I hear this concerto as companion piece to the Ravel Concerto in G. They have a similar arch to them except that the Shostakovich is darker and more visceral. [In the same spirit as the Rachmaninov above, I’ve included the composer’s own rendition below, though you’ll have to follow the links in the comments to movements 2 and 3 for this one.]
So, yeah, “no Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, or Brahms”? Nope. And no apologies — but you can write your own list, if you like . . .
. . . and why I’ve liked them. Articles about notation software, the European/American musical divide, and bell towers.
. . . and why I’ve liked them: