Saturday, December 23, 2006

not much else to blog about

At least not for now. I'm fully aware I haven't yet blogged in more detail about Tamulionis or Koshkin in a while. I'm sort of distracted of late and having no computer of my own makes it tricky.

Well ... that's about it. Happy holidays and the like. :)

the limited generational appeal of middling shows

In other words, how did Starsky & Hutch ever become a feature-length film? We really ARE getting a "live action" Transformers movie? Don't get me wrong, I DID love the show Transformers when I was a kid but, seriously, there's a tiny generational appeal for the original series and it seems that the generation that grew up seeing that has since gone on to have enough money to make a movie on this franchise.

I'll go see it. It's probably the one movie Michael Bay was BORN to make. Isn't his film-making style perfectly suited to big anthropomorphic talking robots blowing things up? I just hope he sticks to big robots and doesn't give us some lame human-interest story about character's we're supposedly supposed to care about. That kid in the show, never liked him. For that matter I always wondered why the Decepticons, who had no less than three F-15s, were always beaten by the Autobots. An F-15 has a thrust to weight ratio to take off with its own empty weight in payload. You'd think one of the jets could just do a fly-by and carpet bomb the Autobots into atoms. The absurdity of the continuity of this level of destruction being possible or not possible was evinced painfully in that movie back in the late 80s where Megaton kills dozens of people with that gun of his that was never allowed to make so much as a scratch on characters hit with the SAME GUN in the TV show. Why is it that Ironhide can survive a shot to the shoulder with no sign ofinjury and then gets his head blown clean away in the first five minutes of the movie? I don't get it and I wanted to play along and be nice.

Well, hey, what can you do? I suppose that at least Peter Cullen is back as the voice of Optimus Prime. I wa sannoyed by how utterly perfect the character was but he was a whole lot better than the replacement. When I was a kid my friends saw the Transformers movie and warned me that Rodimus Prime was lame. My friends did not lie, at least not that time. I can't vouch for their honesty on other topics. Besides, that was possibly two decades ago.

But as I was saying, it seems that in each generation there exists the money to transform a TV show into a movie against all evidence that it need be done. Dukes of Hazzard? Yeah, riight. Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke is a bad joke even on the dubious supposition that the character of Daisy Duke herself isn't a bad joke. Yeah, I watched the show when I was a kid (and the Incredible Hulk, and those shows were your best options as a six-year old in the early 1980s) but it just seems like some forms of nostalgia are best kept as they are. You don't actually want to watch old episodes of Transformers that often, or at least I don't. I'm not sure I could really handle doing a marathon of the A-Team. Mr. T was cool and all but I have my limits. I still remember the theme music from his cartoon anyway and can probab ly still sing some of the brass parts. No, really. Not kidding about that one.

As the man himself would have put it at the end of every episode, "Take it from me, Mr. T."

cowardly composers

In the ream of sacred choral music most 20th century composers are total wimps. Why? Because they all chicken out in setting the Credo, most of them. Vaughan Williams gets a pass for composing a Credo, and a pretty good one at that. Penderecki set JUST the Credo in a musical juggernaut that's well worth checking out. Fear not, this is not the Penderecki of the notorious Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. I've been listening to his 7th symphony and it's fun, though something you admittedly have to be in the mood for.

More recently I have been looking at Frank Martin's Mass for double choir, a very nice piece. His contribution to the tradition begs the question of whether Calvinists can do ANYTHING to make a decent setting of the Mass. I mean, Martin's Mass is cool but his Calvinist credentials are not fully settled that I know of, in my ignorance. More to the point, even if we're sure of his Reformed lineage this is ONE GUY in centuries of Western musical heritage. :) Most of the time Calvinists suck mightily at writing classical music, which is usually more ably handled by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox. I mean, Catholics have Palestrina, Byrd, and basically almost any Renaissance composer by default. Anglicans get Byrd, too (hah, lucky them indeed!) and a couple others (I guess) but the English Renaissance composers are about all England has, which is good enough for them, fortunately. Lutherans have Bach and Schutz, too, I think, and probably win just for that. The Orthodox get Stravinsky, Arvo Part, conscripted numbers from Rachmaninov, and a couple other pieces. The Anglicans fare badly, actually, after the 18th century.

But the Calvinists? Dude, what do they have? I mean, black American music is cool but in the world of classical music Calvinists are more than just a little pathetic. I suppose their historical stance is they've got better things to do than break the 2nd commandment by actually writing any music. Okay, half kidding now.

My own beliefs lean quite a bit more Reformed with snippets of Lutheran, Anglican, and Pentecostal in my background so I make fun of the Reformed traditions pitiful and mostly useless contributiions to actual art music from the perspective of wanting to contribute in some tiny way to being an exception. I mean, even simple artistic mediocrity would be a step up. I hope one day I can at least accomplish that much.

But the real losers in my mind are the composers who write sacred choral compositions as a musical challenge and then just dump the Credo for some silly reason like:

In the 20th century the evils and bloodshed of fascism and fundamentalism cast doubt on whether or not there is anything one can firmly believe. Or the Credo gets short shrift for some huge Agnus Dei that is upposed to be a big "plea for peace". Settings of the Mass are settings of the Mass, not dumb songs by the Byrds' that mangle Ecclesiastes for the sake of making a hippy anthem (which is not saying I think Vietnam was in the least bit a good idea for foreign policy). Settings of the Mass are, you know, functional at some level.

I admit I give slack to Poulenc for not writing a Credo but he only barely gets a pass because he did so much better than average writing all the other parts of the Mass.

For now my favorite Mass in a smaller scale form (i.e. it doesn't require 2 CDs) is Frank Martin's Mass. I even like it better in some ways than Kodaly's Missa Brevis, though not quite as much as Part's Berliner Mass. Ah, but if you don't know any of these pieces there's no point in my rambling on about them.

meditation on gender stereotypes in gifts

Supposedly a diamond is a girl's best friend and men like power tools. That would mean the perfect wedding gift for a newly married couple ought to be a diamond-tipped drill.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

blogging sure is tricky without your own gear

Due to the exigencies of relocation I am without my own computer or net connection and so must blog from places a bit remote from my new abode. That works out okay because lately I have relatively little to blog about. Regular readers of the blog (however many of you there may actually be) know that I'm not one to divulge tons of personal information.

I did, however, pick up a recording of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth on CD. It's been out on the market for a while and has thus gotten pretty affordable. Handy, especially since I've been wanting to satisfy my curiosity about the opera that single-handedly and inadvertantly ushered in the baleful cultural phenomenan (sic) known as Socialist Realism.

So far I've only managed to listen to about half of it since Thanksgiving weekend is full over family related visits about which I will not blog. :)

I also picked up a recording of Takemitsu's "In the Woods", his last work for solo guitar. Cool stuff. The first of the three pieces in the set is the most charming.

Now that I'm settled into the new pad I plan to have time to actually read books, study music, and catch a movie or two. I probably won't blog much until I have a system of my own, though.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Five Sacred Trees

You know, I was meaning to write about this piece but I don't feel up to it having caught up on a ton of personal email and other reading stuff by the time I got around to adding anything to the blog. For now let me simply say this:

Five Sacred Trees is better than most of John Williams' soundtracks from the last decade but is not on par with the tried and true Star Wars soundtradcks, the Superman soundtrack, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Five Sacred Trees would be a little more fun if there were only four of them but I'll see if I can flesh out that sentiment later. It's less grating to me than anything by Pierre Boulez but it's still a little sad to hear Williams is doing good but now awe-inspiring work. Wellk, correction, parts of the bassoon concert ARE awe-inspiring but not as many as I had hoped.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

the paradox of pitbulls

Pitbulls are physical tough specimens, no doubt about it. But the paraadox of their physical toughness is that at the level of doggie emotions they are total weenies. And sometimes they chicken out at strange, unexpected times. I don't say this from personal experience or from owning pitbull but from observation of the creatures of others.

I recall an incident in which I was spending time with some family and we left their house and the pet pitbull was so distraught at being left behind for even a short time she bayed and howled and wimpered and whined and blubbered as though she were having one of her legs removed. She might as well have been crying in English, "Oh no! Jesus has come back to judge the living and the dead and I have no soul because I am a lowly dog!"

Well, EVENTUALLY they get used to the idea of being left to their own devices just a little bit but that isn't always a great thing. Even so, I recall a babysitting task I did for the relatives who have a kid and a pitbull and when they came back they asked how things went for me looking after the baby. To that I replied, "Oh, the baby was fine and it was the DOG who acted like a baby."

But pitbulls have an existence I can understand having a purpose, despite their emotional high weenie-hood. It's chihuahuas whose existence still mystifies me. To me chihuahuas are proof that humanity is a fallen race just by having bred them at all, to say nothing of what terrible things it says about us that we not only make breeds of dogs who are useless but for whom we also knit sweaters. What more can be said? Nothing, at least for this blog entry.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ten years of South Park?

I remember seeing early episodes of this show and thinking it was the dumbest show I had ever seen. THe attempts to be offensive were merely offensively strained. The idea that four eight year old boys would be potty-mouthed had all the novelty of, well, nothing, really. The earliest episodes had forced jokes and plots that just didn't gel together. The show was simultaneously "irreverant" yet remarkably preachy. It seemed to be less an animated accomplishment than even Beavis and Butthead, which seemed the greater precurosr.

And so I held this view about South Park for about three years.

Until I saw Trapper Keeper.

A show that could so ruthlessly but gleefully make fun of James Cameron's Terminator franchise, Bill Cosby, Akira, Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and the 2000 election for president whie implicating Dawson's Creek ... ?

Well, I was from that moment sold on at least giving the show a chance, if not just plain loving the show.

And then, just a year or so later I stumbled upon Christian Rock Hard.

And then I was hooked.

Well, for me, if you've seen the episode and know Romans 2 the rest is self-explanatory. NOt that you have to actually go see the episode where Eric Cartman starts a Christian rock band or anything. For me what Parker and Stone were able to do in making fun of CHristian subcultures is point out how true Malachi 1 and Romans 2 can be. There are times when Christians offer sacrifices that were apparantly snagged from someone else walking down th eroad. Instead of "ooh baby" someone replaced the drippy phrase with "Jesus". ANd thus Eric Cartman encapsulates the most absurd and obscene aspects of the Jesus-as-girlfriend song form. One could also include the Jesus-as boyfriend paradigm. I won't belabor the point since Cartman (and accordingly, Parker & Stone) made the point so eloquently for me.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

postscript

As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."[

Romans 2:24

Maybe this makes no sense but when I saw the South Park episode "Christian Rock Hard" THIS was the verse I thought about.

That and Malachi 1

But I digress. I recognize that not everyone wh watches South Park thinks of those verses as he watches Cartman start a Christian rock band. Then again, I can always blog here to suggest people put those things together, can't I? :)

cartoon renaissance

It seems obvious to me, on the release of Justice League Unlimited volume 1 on DVD, that for the last, oh, fifteen years we've been living in a cartoon renaissance. I'm obviously biased toward Burce Timm and Paul Dini's creations, especially as a Batman fan from days of yore. But the 1990s ushered in an age of cartoons like no other. Sure, I'm acknowleding that Looney Toons are classic and that Bugs and Daffy and Disney did great stuff in the Golden Age but I think we're easily in a new one.

In the early 1990s you had stuff ranging from Animaniacs, Duck Tales (hey, really, it wasn't at all bad), Tiny Toons (at least early on before they sucked), Freakazoid, Batman: the animated sereis, Superman: the animate dseries, Gargoyles (that I never saw but heard good things about), Beast Wars (frankly, better written overall than the firs Transformers cartoon), and eventually Justice League. I don't really need to mention the Simpsons because their cultural significance is indisputable but I'll mention them anyway. And then there's South Park, only recently become a favorite of mine. Yes, I like cartoons, and I obviously don't discriminate based on restrictions about style or content. I enjoyed Ranma 1/2 and what I've seen of Samuai Champloo. I do want a good story and interesting characters.

Then there's Pixar and the ascendancy of Miyazaki's work into American animation markets and Brad Bird's Iron Giant and, of course, the SOuth Park movie. It's hard to imagine a wider variety of styles, subjects, and stories available in animation now. But some people seem to think things were better fifty years ago. I submit that they were just as good but in a very different way.

I think to some degree we can credit the surge in good cartoons to people who get blamed for bad movies: Lucas & Spielberg. I don't know if this was always intentional or directly caused by these two guys but I read somewhere in some interview with Paul Dini that he thought these two guys had behind the scenes credit for getting a lot of great cartoons started. I suppose some could snipe that glorified cartoons are what those directors are good at. I think that's a bit unfair. On the one hand such a move presumes that animators working on Looney Tunes knew they were making classics. Maybe they did but the fun of those cartoons is they weren't acting as self-important as "important" film-makers have sometimes come across.

And the insult "glorified cartoon" is passe because it makes an assumption about a whole field of art that, if applied to two different groups of people instead of two fiels of artistic expression, would be seen as being as stupid and ethnocentric as it is. Putting down cartoons for being cartoons is sort of like ripping into American Indians for being American Indians. Harsh overstatement, perhaps, but I'll stand by it. I've seen some more real human emotion in The Incredibles than in stupid films like American Beauty. If people wonder where all the intelligent films have gone since the 1970s (as I see a few bemoaning) I wonder if they would stop looking only at live action once in a while.

Speaking as a single guy I have heard some people lament how sometimes there seems to be a meat market around them. I think this is analogous to complaints about a loss of "intelligent" film. The thing I ask is, by analogy, is the meat market always there or did you bring it with you? Did the intelligent film-makers stop making intelligent films or did you overestimate them based on the best sampling of their work when their just like all the others, fallible artists who got lucky?

I'll admit I can be snobby about a few things but even I know that sometimes having fun is the first prerequisite to discovering something is art. Fun and art don't have to be contradictions in terms. But not everyone is going to have fun with Messiaen at first hearing. The best education is an invitation to find new ways to have un rather than impose a definition of fun on the student and that's a problem everyone can stumble into.

Well, I've had my rant for the day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

GInastera's Guitar Sonata

Okay, here's where I rant about a piece that some people adore.

Ginastera's Sonata for guitar sucks.

Mind you, I like some of Ginastera's piano music. Some. But on the whole I find the work for guitar to be feather-brained. There are a few ideas that could have turned into something cool if we were talking about, I dunno, Brouwer, or Chavez, or a couple of other folks. I once didn't care for Roberta Sierra but Ginastera has gotten me to warm up to Sierra's work REALLY fast.

I'm at a loss to explain exactly why the Sonata drives me up the wall, still less why I got a CD of music by Ginastera and others for piano and guitar. I wanted to be generous but finally could only console myself that instead of just buying this CD that I won't name I also got a Takemitsu score. Takemitsu is like Villa-Lobos in that he, in my opinion, could do no wrong in composing for the guitar.

Well, since sleep is good and I could probably use more of it I'll just leave things as they are. If you adore GInastera and his guitar sonata, more power to you. I'm just using my blog to complain about one of the apparant warhorses of the guitar repertoire.

old CDs at new fangled prices

Years ago, when I was just out of college, I came across a CD> The CD was by Fabio Zanon and it was full of the complete solo guitar music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. On the off chance that you're reading this blog and don't know who Heitor Villa-Lobos is he's he's like a Mozart or Haydn or Bach in guitar literature. You WILL study, hear, or play his works at some point. It is inevitable. It is your destiny.

But the thing is that though all Villa-Lobos' great works for solo guitar are bound to be on CD any time anywhere until the end of electronic civilization not all Villa-Lobos CDs are necessarily equal. My personal favorite I unfortunately lent out to someone who has not returned it to me for about two years, the aforementioned Fabio Zanon CD> I had no idea at the time I boughht it that it was based on the 1928 manuscripts rather than the puboished edition, i.e. the first published editions that some recordings are based on.

Why is this important? Well, because some of the original edition bits of the 12 Etudes, for instance, don't make any sense as written. The 1928 edition Zanon plays from does. Since the CD was released an actual sensible format of Villa-Lobos' scores seems to have come out so weird repeats aren't in Etude 1.

Thing is that Zanon's CD is scarce. YOu can only get it used and whilst shopping for my replacement copy I found that four vendors on Amazon have two basic prices for it. About twenty bucks and about eighty-five bucks. Eighty-five dollars! I did NOT make that up. That price is a rip off even for one of the finest Villa-Lobos recordings I've ever heard in my life. Thirty and maybe no we'll talk.

I say this ont to discourage anyone from hearing this great CD but to say that sometimes people are aware of how scarce something is and jack up the price. Maybe I'm not as devoted as the next Villa-Lobos fan who will pay nearly ninety bucks--or at least that much if you factor in tax and shipping and handling fees.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to bite the bullet for something you really want to pick up. I paid probably thirty bucks for the Gyorgy Kurtag score for piccolo, tenor trombone, and guitar, and that was to have it imported to me from Italy. Thanks to Clarius. :)

But there are points where if you have to pay a certai amount of money for recordings of scores that you can get for a quarter of the price yo uhave to ask yourself why you're not playing through them yourself. Oh, yeah, because I'm not a professional and am too busy composing to learn all of Villa-lobos. But then that's not something I can complain about. I've managed to find a copy of Zanon's CD for a price I'm willing to pay. If you don't already have the CD Norbert Kraft has a Cd that's almost as fun that takes the Lullaby etude way too fast for my tastes but sounds okay. Still, it's not my favorite compard to Fabio.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

a change of scenery

I think a change of scenery is in order. I'm not sure I have much to elaborate on why that is. It's just where I'm at for the time being. Until such time as the change of scenery taes effect I am probably not going to write tons and tons of stuff. Plus, in my current line of work things actually start getting busy.

Owing to a not-quite legal borrowing program some stranger embarked upon I have been a bit technologically deprived of late. The same reason I don't have the axe I have been racticing upon for some of my musical projects. This has a nasty habit of obstructing blogging, at least if you're me.

Well, at the end of the month Justice League Unlimited comes out on DVD. I'm enough of a cartoon geek to admit that this is one of the mass entertainment media events of my 2006 year.

I wish I had more to say but for now I can't really wax rhapsodic about how fine Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice is. I've got that pending change of scenery to consider and prepare for.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

third time is the charm, I guess

After two different vendors (Guitar Solo PUblications, and Hal Leonard) failed to fulfill a planned order of Gyorgy Kurtag's Op 15b, The LIttle Fix (or "The LIttle Predicament", depending on how it gets translated). I finally came across avendor who actually had the score.

Ironically, the actual publisher never got back to me about selling me a study score directly so I found a vendor in Italy. Fortunately for me the bulk of the sales page on the websie was in English. I have bluffed my way through foreign language purchases before! I know just barely enough Spanish and Vulgate Latin and a smattering of koine Greek that if you present me with a web page that has an order form in a foreign language the bbasic logic of the visual design will tell me what I need to know.

And so I managed to get the score. But first I had to contend with the inherent laziness of postal workers who refused to walk p an admittedly steep drive-way to get a signature from me. So after two non-attempts by the United States Postal Service I ended up having to bus out to well, kinda the middle of nowhere, to pick up the score at a "local" post office. Fortunately for me I have today off because of an appointment I made with a sleep specialist to see if I have any problems. I probably do. Well, it gave me a chance to actually pick up a music score I probably wouldn't have sen if left to the ever eager hands of local United States Postal Workers.

For anyone actually trying to get Kurtag scores I advise the obvious, check out Editio Musica Budapests' webpage and contact Hal Leonard for most of the big and obvious Kurtag entries. For more obscure ones, especially Op 15b. Go with Clarius' web page. Just make sure that when you pladce the order it's to a delivery address you know that you personally can sign for when the big envelope arrives.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ramble on

These two most recnet blogs were really long, I know. I'll see if I can be a bit more streamlined in subsequent posting.

Then again, I'm sort of blogging for lost time. I had quite a weekend of concerts. I could write a bit about the Friday concert in which I heard, thankfully enough, an Aaron Copland piece that was NOT the usual over-played Americana stuff I keep getting tired of hearing over and over. Music for Theater was cool. So were Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Brahms' Third Syphony. Those are works, I know, that some people tire of hearing. YEah, they get overplayed on radio sets and in symphony halls but here's the deal ... DON'T listen to the radio and don't GO every time the symphony gets played and the symphonic works won't lose their beauty or power to inspire. Sometimes I listen to Hilary Han playing Mendelssohn's concerto and I do it when I REALLY feel like hearing that concerto. Great art can diminish in the mind and heart's perception through overexposure.

And the type of exposure is crucial. I would rather hear very little music but hear that music with my mind at work than to hear hours of sonic wallpaper. There are few things more offensive to me than music that is not chosen, music that you are subjected to. I don't mean to say that it is literal torture, or perhaps even that it is mental torture. I just mean to say that after a whilie I'm gonna tune out all those Kenny Loggins songs with conversation or work or something like that and then even the purposes for which Kenny wrote those stupid songs are no longer truly served. Music that is written to be forgotten goes against the heart of why anyone bothers with the struggle of the creative enterprise. So if you're going to have music on have it because you're actually listening to it.

Having said that, I DO listen to music that I just sort of zone out to once in a while and it's usually music I've listened to. Not only that it's usually music I've studied the score for a number of times. When you can sing the whole exposition of Haydn's Op 76, 1 you can give yourself the luxury of not really paying attention to it beyond the generally good vibe it brings you. :)

to dance or not to dance

Public education can be the nadir of many a good thing about the arts. By this I don't mean that public schools shouldn't have music education or art education or anything like that. No, I mean to say that the single greatest reason I disdained dance as an art form and pasttime was the public school system of the state of Oregon. Truth to tell the state itself is not so important as the nature of compulsory education.

Dance and appear to be inextricable. The old joke that having sex standing up looks suppciously like dancing is going to be around for as long as humans are. Point noted. That dancing is considered grounds to determine the sexual vitality or suitability of a potential or actual partner is also a commonplace.

But for me all that was moot because I was compelled to take physical education classes and when I had to choose between one of only two options of swimming or dancing I chose dancing. I think those were the options and that was surely my Scylla and Charybdis moment because I just sink like a stone and the only thing that would be more humiliating for a thirteen year old boy who was self-conscious than dancing would be to have no idea how to swim and be around a bunch of other hormonally lobotomized simians wearing a swimsuit. So I took the dance class in seventh grade.

Whether it was seventh grade or eighth I don't clearly recall now so much as that I remember "sock hops" held in the gymn during lunch hour from time to time. THis was apparantly the low-rent variation of prom and it was considered a big deal. The lights were low and various soft rock standards by Journey or Foreigner were playing. It was the late 1980s, after all. I never ventured in to the gym for any of that because it all seemed like some kind of custom wanting a justifiable explanation. Boys and girls asked each other out without regard to a junior high school having a sock hop. And most of the dancing didn't seem to be dancing so much as opportunites to stand holding each other while rotating, as it were, on invisible turntables while some awful song by Eddie Money played amidst dim lights.

Well the dance class would relieve me of my misconception that dancing didn't involve moves. I learned a couple of simple and simly irritating country dance styles. During this time the boys and girls were paired off randomly (in theory) and then every boy ended up dancing with every girl in sequence. This must have been terrible either for the reason that you wanted to dance with just a handful of cute people of the opposite sex, or that you didn't want to dance at all. There were, no doubt, other reasons. It was the whole compulsory nature of it I grew to detest. I grew to detest that the dancing was always based on the motiff of sexual pairing every single time. The idea that dance had some expressive or social function apart from the sexual bond never got explored and I was a wallflower type so I most dreaded the end of each session.

Slow dancing.

Damn it, this was why I didn't go to those stupid sock-hops. It was literally a ree for all until you were literally the wall flower and then you were told to find someone, anyone, and dance with them. I was always one of the people chosen last or had someone chosen for me, usually, to be quite blunt, a fat and inscure girl who didn't deserve to be forced into it any more than I did. I'd occasionally get made fun of for getting who ever it was I got stuck with. The only thing worse than being the last kid picked to be on a team sport is to be the last kid picked (and entirely not by your own choice) to dance with someone you don't know and don't like and don't consider attractive. What's there to like about it? Does it build character?

Now if people like dancing, cool. I'm happy for them. If people consider dancing to be a sign of character, though, I'm afraid I must always disagree. Gene Kelly kicked ass. Really, I love Singing in the Rain, and I totally dig how Kelly elevated dandce to a level where a non-dancer can appreciate his art for its narrative and archtypal value. But, dude, most people are NOT Gene Kelly or Cyd Charisse. For one thing they don't look that good and for another thing they surely dont' dance as well.

I know, it's sort of cowardly to not like dance or dancing as a personal activity for these reasons but I was really soured on the whole idea by that formative experience. If you don't win a kid over to the idea of dancing at that point then basically the average boy is going to feel like any dancing that doesn't involve a female is going to be pretty gay. I know, not exacty PC or caring or thoughtful but I'm revisiting teenage trauma, for want of a better phrase.

I will say that there have been a tiny handful of times when I have danced. I have a five-year old niece who likes to dance and because she likes to dance I sometimes dance with her. I might put on Stravinsky's Petrushka (see, I can connect this to my earlier post on Spectrum). Or I might play Stravinsky's awesome violin concerto. My dances are simple pogo jumping deals and my niece doesn't mind that simplicity.

ANd I can have fun doing it even though it's tiring and I don't think I'm great at it because the five year old girl isn't judging me by any preconceived criteria and it's not about some mandatory pairing off of guys and girls in some tacitly endorsed mandatory dating ritual or something like that.

In short, I dance with my niece because it is a form of expression that isn't tied to a social requirement imposed from the outside but because I care about my niece. THIS is what dance should be about, in my highly biased non-dancer opinion.

I've never been very good at sports ofteam activities. I never had the eyes for them, really. So I'll admit to being small-minded about the value of the two arts in which the body is most front and center--dance, and theater. In film and TV the body is still present and there is often dancing but the screen is a mediator. In a live setting something seems faintly silly about actors and dancers. It's as though the certainty of the ilusion cannot be revoked and the fourth wall is not the fourth wall so much as the very medium of perception. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is what it is because it produces at a meta-level the meta-entertainment of ripping into bad movies. Watching a TV show about puppets watching bad movies just drives the point home more forcefully.

Whereas in a theater production or a dance production the mediation, the barrier, isn't there. It's just you and the people up there on the stage. Where actors and dancers, it seems, sense some kind of sacred connection or interaction for me it merely amplifies and reinforces the distance. My eyes are bad, after all, so what I don't see are the various shades that actors and dancers may bring that for them carry the heaviest weight. And sometimes the acting is just laid on so thick to project from the stage that there is no subtlety to it. It is sometimes said that theater is life, film is art, and TV is furniture and I, as I must have said somewhere before, believe that distinction to be reversed. If you have the disposable time and money to go out of the house to see a dance or theater production you are buying a form of cultural furniture that proves you have some status as an intellectually-functioning being. It sounds really harsh, harsh than I actually mean it to be because film snobs and music snobs aren't any better and, believe me, I know I'm a music snob. I'm a cartoon snob, too!

I have tried over the years to appreciate every form of art and here is my rambling account of why in at least one medium of artistic expression that journey took a while because of some mundane but very trying and irritating formative expriences.

dance of the S&M fairies

This Saturday the Spectrum Dance Company staged Petrushka (music by Stravinsky) and The Miraculous Mandarin (music by Bartok). Being a fan of both composers I did what I could to attend this concert. Now that I have my feelings are decidedly mixed. My brother had never been to a ballet production before and I was anxious to take him to an event that had music I know he loves. He adores th emusic of Stravinsky and Bartok. Who doesn't? Well, who doesn't who would ever read this blog? That might be an irrelevant question. So noted.

At any rate the big event came and I and my brother went down to the Moore theater to check out the event. The Moore is, first of all, qute a bit smaller than I thought it might be. We're not talking the Paramount here, let alone McCaw Hall, and the Moore as a theater is more the broom closet to the living room in terms of sheer size.

This didn't have to be a bad thing and it wasn't. It meant I didn't need the binoculars I brought with me after all. I brought 8x binoculars on the assumption that I wouldn't be able to see much of anything. Not the case. I managed to see a decent amount.

Sort of. Don Byrd came out and seemed to half apologize for staging these "violent" and "disturbing" productions. The program notes spoke of the latent racism, misogyy, and homophobia in the ballets. Homophobia? Where exactly is homophobia in Petrushka or The Miraculous Mandarin? I mean, I've read through the score and read the basic story and I'm not sure where the homophobia is. Maybe because I'm not gay I just don't see it.

Racism? Ah, yeah, I TOTALLY get that there are are racist bits in the two ballets. The Mandarin as the "other" is obvious and perhaps too obvious for a sophisticated Seattleite to fret about. I mean, come on, who would really be shocked that people from an aristocratic Russian background with nominal Russian Orthodox history like Stravinsky would think gays are the greatest thing on earth? More or less ditto for Bartok. That's sort of like being shocked that Bible believers attend fundamentalist or evangelical churches. Now speaking as the son of an interracial marriage I'm hardly condoning racism but it just seems, as my brother pointed out, that if you apologize too much in advance for all the things you find objectionable about the ballets what on earth are you staging them for?

Apparantly the solution or explanation was to restage Petrushka in an S&M club. Great. So the audience was regaled with a black woman reading boldly about the "definitions of terms" as said definitions pertain to sadism and masochism and power and pleasure and so on. Then we got a techno/mod dance routine in which the basic power inequalities that come out in Petrushka are presented in advance. On the one hand I liked that the basic essence of Petrushka's plot could be distilled into a single scene, on the other hand, it annoyed me that the whole story and its most rudimentary meaning had to be telegraphed out to music that I found boring before I got to see the actual Petrushka staging I had ostensibly paid money to see.

And then we got to Stravinsky. Turns out the smallness of The Moore meant we got a trio performance. Two pianos and one percussionist. It was a bit underwhelming. Getting Stravinsky's music without Stravinsky's orchestration is, I don't know, it's sort of like seeing black and white photos of Rita Hayworth and being told she was a sultry redhead. Well, cool, hot redhead, so I'm told, but I have to take people's word for it. Similar deal with hearing Petrushka without the instrumentation.

But I want to be generous so I watch all the dancing and I guess it's okay but I keep hearing these people, mostly women, screaming. Why they're screaming I'm not really sure. It's a bit beyond me. I'll admit to being mostly a neophyte and a Phillistine on the matter of ballet. I know that I thought Pacific Northwest Ballet's staging of the Firebird, Apollo, and Rite of Spring was a lot of fun. I also had the distinct sense that this staging of Petrushka was, to put it nicely, a bit overcooked.

The black dancer came back on stage and turned out to be the magician. The magician apparantly has a much bigger role than a short perusal of the score would tell you. As in she's on stage the whole time. I've never seen any other stagings of Petrushka and if I'm to believe the program notes the likelihood of seeing another staging is remote, but I just wondered what the deal was with the Magician turned young black woman dominatrix was about. Is it supposed to mean something? I mean, the idea that an old white guy with magical powers is abusing his puppets I could sorta see maybe.

But it could also be that most dances and dancers are not that great at telling stories, at least not stories like Petrushka. Truth be told when I look at the story of Petrushka I see something that makes about as much sense as an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. No, seriously, I like some Aqua Teen Hunger Force I'm just not sure that means it makes a whole lot of sense. Well, Petrushka's plot is sort of like that. Magician brings puppets to life and the puppets proceed to bicker and fight and have amorous relations with each other while a huge circus rolls thorugh town, replete with a dancing bear.

I knew where that came in and I knew that in addition to the two pianos being in place of the orchestra I was not going to see any dancing bear. Call me small but I wanted to see a dancing bear! Come on, people! Dancing bear.

Since so little of Petrushka lends itself to the least bit of explication as narrative I get to the end quickly here. Petrushka gets killed and there's no ghost of the little guy taunting the Magician, the Moor has this whole time been a big beefy white Aryan dude who beats people around. At the cl.imactic moment of Petrushka's demise some dancer screams "What are you waiting for?" Was this because a dancer missed a cue? Was it supposed to indicate that the Moor was compelled to action by peer pressure? Does this have something to do with a somewhat nebulous "violence cure" talked about in the program notes to the effect that 20s art relied on violence as a resolution in contrast to a "talking cure" advocated by Freud? Well, if so, wasn't Petrushka composed and staged BEFORE the 1920s? This study provided by Spectrum's program notes seems a bit ahistorical.

So the production of Petrushka ended and well, what can I say? It was competently danced, even well-danced. The music was Stravinsky's and it was fun to listen to but the whole thing seemed overdone and yet underdone. If the ballet was or is as problematic and strange as described why not have the nerve to stage it as it was? Why recast the entire drama into an S&M club and then tweak the end a bit?

So then came the Miraculous Mandarin. Here Spectrum seemed closer to the mark in as much as they stayed closer to the story in the ballet Bartok wrote music for. Since this is Seattle the guy who was the "brute, the Moor, in the Petrushka production is now the Mandarin in the Bartok ballet. How obvious. Symbolically the idea that the abuser becomes the abused and that the abused becomes the abuser holds traction in a work of art if the two switches happen within the same dramatic work, the same story. Merely juxtaposing two drasticallly different tales and then making that juxtaposition via casting just comes across as too knowingly PC and self-conscious.

Okay, so the set-up is a dreary little flat in which two guys and a girl lounge about. SOme kind of conjugal something or other happens and then the girl gets out of bed, off the floor, and rather comic and absurd slowness puts some clothes on. This is the girl who is going to seduce two or three guys throughout the production. I heard a few people snort and ssnicker and my hunch it was because the gestures were too obvious. I don't mean merely in the sense that lingering on an undressed dancer in a stage production might be cause for tittilation or something. No, it's that the staging was done in such a way that it conveyed the sense that this was supposed to be defused.

See, in my limited experience no artists have greater pretense to relevance and profundity with so little grounds for the presumption as theater troupes and dance troupes. Why? Well, because who watches the stuff who hasn't already consigned themselves to a cultural elite that is rare? I implicate myself. Dude, I am part of the middle clas and I know it. I have the disposable income to see art productions. So to me the pretense of art troupes to confront the indifference of the middle class is pretty stupid since they need the money of patrons to do that. Tangent, yes, I know. That's what blogging is for.

TO put trhings another way, if you're casting a dancer to be aseductress then if her dances are so mechanical as to be comic that COULD be a commentary on the artifice of seduction. Okay, cool, I'm there with you. The big 80s hair suggests as much. But by now I'm wondering about the fcomment about misogyny. Maybe, maybe there's something to it. But at the same time the idea of having the one woman in the ballet as a whore is subversive in a way that from a modernist angle would make sense. If you're really upending the expectations of dance as a traditional form then by having the only female in the ballet as a prostittute shows how you upeend ballet's presentation of women as iconic of what is beautiful and salutory about the human race. I mean, we could even consult something no further away in Stravinsky's output than, say, the Firebird, or Apollo to see what seems to be a more conventional deployment of the woman as dancer. It makes sense even to a neophyte to dance like myself.

Mandarin worked as a ballet staging for Spectrum partly because they stuck to the story and partly because there was a story, a simple one, but a story. In terms of dance as naarrative I'm not sure I'm likely to see anything cooler and more narratively senseible than Gene Kelly's huge set piece in Singing in the Rain. But here, too, the experience felt a bit small without Bartok's orchestration. In Bartok and Stravinsky you have two 20th century masters of orchestration. The tone colors and sounds they coaxed from instruments were amazing! And even though Bartok's music survives a purely pianistic approach for the sim ple reason that Bartok could shred on the keyboard it was still a let-down.

I wouldn't say the productions were altogether bad but they just seemed overdone and overthought. So apologetic were they for elements that the troop thought unsavory and offensive that it left me wondering why they bothered. Why are things like homophobia, misogyny and racism so particularly bad in THESE productions and not in countless other ballet productions that reflect the same nasty tendencies in human nature? It's a strange thing for the dancers and choreographer to find the material more offensive than I, schmuck from the street, find it.

This hasn't put me off ballet by any means. It's just put me off trusting the advance self-praise of the Spectrum Dance company.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

shows and shows

This weekend features a few concerts I'm going to visit. Tomorrow night Seattle Symphony plays Mendelssohn's violin concerto and Brahms' Third Symphony. Both of which are awesome pieces. Then Spectrum statges Petrushka and The Miraculous Mandarin this weekend, which I am ALSO going to see. I have hardly ever gone to see ballet productions and remain diffident at best toward dancing. Dancing and I do not have any pleasant memories, personally speaking. If I merely mention the words compulosry physical education class you might start getting the basic idea. Where most people may see dancing as fun or at least neutral I actually have only bad associations with it as a form of recreation.

But as an artistic endeavor I see value to it. I own Singing in the Rain, for instance, which is a cool movie. But I'm not here to expound upon my lack of happy thoughts connected to dancing. I plan to write about ballet stuff as a total layman sometime after this weekend is done. So bear with me if I seem to have no idea what I'm taokling about with respect to dance stuff. But I at least know a pittance about Bartok and Stravinsky.

Friday, September 29, 2006

another villanelle

Feline grace is merely an illusion
Held by those who have not seen a cat stumble
Of course the cat will accept this conclusion

Even as his paw makes the miscalculation
That will send him a long a nine-foot tumble
Feline grace is merely an illusion

But the supple spine is the cat's possession
That lets him refrain being humble
Of course the cat will accept this conclusion

For that supple spine resists concussion
As his paws on the ledge merely fumble
Feline grace is merely an illusion

As he falls through the air, his meditation:
Quick-healing bones permit him to bumble
Of course the cat will accept this conclusion

With hours of purr-filled sleep, recuperation
Is too near that the cat should grumble
Feline grace is merely an illusion
Of course the cat will accept this conclusion.

Obviously not as effective as the earlier villanelle but I wanted to experiment to see if the form was as difficult as its reputation. In some ways, yes, because writing a villanelle where the structurally commanded repetitions are what they are makes it hard to find lines that both serve the structural purpose and invited developmental significance throughout the form.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which if you just nail lines 1 and 3 of the 19 lines with an ear for their rhetorical/structural significance and their function in the logical sequence of an argument there is a sense in which villanelles write themselves as long as you start one with the clear understanding that you're making a single point with manifold implications.

It's like setting up the recipe for a cake. After each key instruction in the process you're reminding people that we're baking a cake and the non-repeating lines should explicate the significance of each progressive step in the baking process. Then at the end you explain what you just accomplished that you said you were going to do at the start. So, in a way, you begin with a question or premise that can become its own conclusion.

Perhaps it is the recursive, even circular nature of the rhetoric created by the form that makes the form hard. People don't like circular arguments but, as some philosophers note, not all circular arguments are false. This is especially handy when thinking of writing out a villanelle, or so it seems to me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

posting fuzz

I just watched Jet Li's "last" film. Fearless is fun, though as an artistic accomplishment it's similar enough to Hero that I would have put Hero last if I were Jet Li. Oh well. I'm not so Jet can do what he likes.

A VILLANELLE

After sending a raven

Sea foam is full of the filth of the world
Life-giving water is poisoned by salt
From this all things known as life have been hurled

Now the dreams of countless dreamers have swirled
Together within the watery vault
Sea foam is full of the filth of the world

Though each dream might be embroidered or pearled
In each one was found a terrible fault
From this all things known as life have been hurled

And as each dream its own banner unfurled
It did above others itself exalt
Sea foam is full of the filth of the world

So dreams exalted themselves in the world
Prompting the sea to begin its assault
From this all things known as life have been hurled

Now the countless dreams and dreamers have swirled
Together within the watery vault
Sea foam is full of the filth of the world
From this all things known as life have been hurled

I wrote this in a couple of days. No fooling. Mainly on the 22nd and the 26th. The beauty of the form, just as a form, is that the repetition makes it easier to develop patterns for the language. It's a good thing, too, because not a whole lot of words rhyme with "world" or "salt". I think I covered all the most likely candidates.

As to the theme, well, that's self-explantory. Even without any biblical literacy the motiff of the flood or the sea as agent of destruction is simple enough. After my little alphabet poem the villanelle is positively easy.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Superheroes in modern Western culture

It is occasionally popular for literary critics to proclaim the death of or the general irelvancy of the traditionally defined hero for the modern age. And perhaps the surest harbinger of post-modernism, whatever that was, was the transformation of Space GHost from a violent basher of putative evil to a self-absorbed idiot hosting his own talk show. Personally I prefer the Space Ghost: Coast to Coast show to the highly over-rated orignal show. By that I mean if people have sentimental attachment to SPace Ghost I'll understand that but not loytalty to the actual and actually terrible original show. It's just a few steps up from Rubik the AMazing Cube or Turbo Teen.

But the mutation of Space Ghost from hero to moron was perhaps as emblematic as anything else in demonstrating the idea that the heroes of yore are not relevant the way they once were.
But that would be an utterly mistaken supposition.

The ob office numbers tell us a different story, a story that critics at the Village Voice or Salon may or may not want to pay attention to. Someone at the National Review may say that a good chicken mcnugget is just that but I bet I won't hear or read him saying that about his favorite rock bands even though the same elitist trope is more salient in snubbing the Beatles than it would be in snubbing Batman, Superman, or Spiderman.

Why?

Well, it's simple. The three superheroes that any non-comics reader would care about, per Paul Dini, all have a few traits in common which place them squarely in the traditional hero category despite us being in an age when people are supposedly too sophisticated to believe in those kinds of heroes anymore.

The differences between Superman, Spiderman, and Batman are real and obvious but fanboys tend to let those issues obscure the deeper points of commonality. In all three characters we see a few things in common.

1. ORPHANS

Each one of these heroes is an orphan and is raised by an adoptive set of parents. For Clark Kent the surrogate is obviously Jonathan and Martha Ken. For Bruce Wayne the surrogate parent is Alfred, the family butler. For Peter Parker the surrogate parents are Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Batman is the unusual member of the trio for witnessing the death of his parents first hand and for seeing them murdered. That accounts for the temperament he has but it's also true that that is not something to be set aside as being entirely different from the shared origin, the dead parents and the upbringing at the hands of a surrogate family.

Spiderman, of course, came about in response to Peter Parker's realization of his coimplicity with his Uncle Ben's death. He never knew his original parents So his story is unique amongst the three in that guilt over his part in the death of his surrogate father impels him to be a hero. BUt that gets us to the second point.

2. HEROISM AS A MEANS OF HONORING FATHER AND MOTHER

Despite what Christians might consider ostensibly pagan or neo-pagan trappings, Batman, Superman, and Spiderman all do what they do as a way of honoring the legacy of their parents. Honor your father an dmother, that's it. I think that here is probably the simplest reason for the appeal of the characters. If they were in it merely for revenge we wouldn't consider them heroic, would we? They'd be antiheroes. But that they are spurred to act on behalf of the death of people they love would be hard to dismiss as being something unheroic regardless of how we might interpret the way the characters are written.

3. RELUCTANCE TO KILL

This didn't become a common point until the Silver Age because in the Golden Age stories Batman and even Superman were perfectly willing to let people plummet to their deaths and don't get me started on Robin the boy wonder. That little punk killed four people in tthe first issue in which he appears. But over time and thanks partly to editorial fiat and partly to the Comics Code all three major heroes became reluctant to kill even though they all existed in settings in which it was easily within their power to do so.

The shared reluctance Superman, Batman, and Spiderman share with regard to killing seems to spring partly from phliosophy and partly from the realization that their parents died violent and horrible deaths. Ben was murdered. THomas and Martha Wayne were murdered. Clark Kents parents died on an exploding planet, which is pretty violent to say the least. In early c9omics Superman's parents BOTH died before he became SUperman so if we consider the earliest versions of the characters Spiderman was unique because he had one of his surrogates still alive and now dependent on him.

In the case of SPiderman, my favorite initial run, we get an interesting dramatic arc in the original run Stan Lee wrote. Peter Parker becomes Spiderman to make money as a professional wrestler and when he realizes he has become responsible for not stopping the mugger who eventually killed his uncle he becomes a hero. So complicity in his surrogate father's death by inaction spurs him to guilt which spurs him to become a superhero. At the end of issue 90 Captain Stacy, Peter's adoptive surrogate father via his girlfriend Gwen has filled the gap lost with Ben's death, for a short time. But ironically Peter Parker's activities axs Spiderman, specifically his battles with Doctor Octopus, actually CAUSE the death of his second surrogate father figure, Captain Stacy.

It's maudlin, of course, but most tragic arcs are. Spiderman's actioins as a superheo are the catalyst for the death of the second father figure where his refusal to act was the ctalyst for the first father figure. The dramatic irony is certainly obvious but no less effective if you are willing to set aside snobbery long enough to noitce the thematic arc across the 90 issues of Amazing Spiderman.

ANd you get a similar dramatic reversal with Norman Osbourne, the Green GOblin. After the death of his wife he is so obsessed with material success so he can provide for his son he becomes alienated from the person he loves most and his business methods become crooked. IN the process of trying to provide for his son with possessions he denies his son emotional and personal bonds that are what the son really wants. Finally Osbourn's experiments cribbed from a work associate backfire and he unknowingly develops a psychotic second personality in attempting to create human performance enhancers. They work, of course, but at the price of creating a personality he isn't aware of. The tragedy of Peter Parker's plight as Spiderman is he is all too aware of his double life and how it could harm his family. NOrman Osbourn is totally oblivious to his double life and how it came about from things he had already done to harm his remaining family. This is why the Goblin and Spiderman are such well-matched foils.

This is also why I submit that after Stan Lee's inital run most of the stories lionized by Spiderman fans are actually stunts in comparison. If a person didn't find Captain Stacy's death striking but found Gwen's death striking then they are more impressed with the less impressive story. It's really easy to kill off the pretty blonde girlfriend of the hero as a way of making drama. But it is a drama which in some sense is more alien to the nature of Spiderman and his origins than the losss of the second surrogate father.

Most comic book runs, especially comic book runs in superhero titles really DON'T have this level of literary value or, to put it another way, they don't really REWARD literary analysis at the level I've described, which itself is pretty basic. But that doesn't mean, as some of my old college associates have maintained, the superhero comics are incapable of dealing with serious themes. It's not a matter of art style because no one questions the lkterary value of Maus even though over time I suggest that repeated readings of Maus reveal that it is not necessarily more thought-provoking than Spiderman 1-90 by Stan Lee or even necessarily more subtle in its presentation of morality. Spiegelmann can object but I don't he has any reason to. Besides, I never said anyone shouldn't read Maus. Maus and Spiderman issues 1-90 are both great works of comics as an art form.

Of the three superheroes I'd have to say SPiderman is the only one with a continuous run by a single author that I think holds up with literary value. Batman and Superman easily have the characters, basic story, and potential to have stories that are of substantial literary value but I've simply yet to see many stories that fit that level of craft. There are some great and terrible tales in the DC titles. Some of the trouble is the tendency to obsess with c9ontinuity that should have come about naturally as the result of the creative work of a single cohesive creative team. Stan Lee had that with his company and DC didn't really have that despite having characters that in some ways are better and more enduring characters overall.

And if we consider heroic characters from earlier period sof literature we get Odysseus, Hercules, Beowulf, Samson, and a number of other characters who moderns tend to consider poorly sketched in terms of psychology or plausibility. This is one of the recurring mistakes of modernist and post-modernist literary criticism, which is basically to pretend that the nature of the reading experience must be the yardstick by which we assess narratives that frequently derived from more oral cultures. And in the case in which a story was written we are still looking at cultures in which paper was at a far greater permium than it is now. Paper was harder to come by and the reasons to use it tended to compell a different sort of narrative. It's not for nothing that pulp fiction was named what it was named. The real problem has less to do with pulp fiction than with pulp literature of every strip,, fiction or non-fiction. As Ecclesiastes put it, of the writing of books there is no end.

And, of course, the same goes for blogging.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Christian" music

This is always a curious topic and one that I have been considering lately because sometimes I visit a few forums by conservative Christians whose views I sometimes respect and sometimes disagree with. I also occasionally get books run my way on the development and evolution or demise of Western music or about Christendom and the West and music in general.

I sometimes come across statements like "tonality is Trinitarian". Well, cool, I suppose diatonic scales and equal temperament "could" be Trinitarian but I'm at a loss fot he acoustic principles and physics that exlpain that one. The ubiquitous presence of the melodic and harmonic perfect fifth seems like a case for universal conceptions of tonality until you dig into Pythagorean, mean-tone, and other forms of intonation. The whole doctrine of affections in Renaissance and early Baroque music clearly derives from the practical issues of how nasty B minor sounds on an instrument using mean-tone intoation compared to an instrument using Pythagorean or equal temperament. A piece that wouls sound like Hell, as the old saying might have it, might not sound so hellish thanks to equal temperament.

So there's that. And then there's the broader question of the connection between the medieval/ecclesiastical modes that evolved into the majorminor key stem and what connection, if any, can be established between these tonal organizational principles and ancient Greek or Hebrew music.

The case is fuzzier than some people would have you believe. I've read Aritstoxenus, who is cited as a refernce by Plato and others on the matter of music and the sad truth is is that experts in the field admit to being at a loss for what these dudes were really talking about. A decent guess is that the ecclesiastical modes may have been inversions of the Greek modes but this, too, is fairly speculative.

I'm all for Western music and tonality and I dig the music of that tradition at least as much as the next guy but the idea that tonality can be proven to be Trinitarian and Christian and that the West embodies Christian precepts still seems shaky to me. Not because I am not a Christian or don't believe that Chrsitianity is foundational to the development of Western culture. My hesitancy is based on my understanding that Christianity is global in its scope and that the differences between ancient Middle Eastern music and even ancient Greco-Roman music and the medieval musical legacies that led to the Renassiace and Baroque periods are underplayed for the sake of political expediency by polemicists interested in saying this or that musical style is less Christian than another.

For instance, modal music and tonal music are not exactly the same deal. They sound similar but that'snot the same as saying they are actually organized along the same principles. The simplest explanation of how these differences manifest is that in modal music a descending melodic sixth is rarely endorsed whereas in functional harmony from the major/minor system this kind of melodic interval happens frequently. Why? Because conceptually there is a sense of tonic over which the descending interval can be tuned. In the earlier style the melodic consideration took precedence of the idea of a home base for a key center.

"Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" is not a song that you're going to find written prior to the advent of functional harmony.

Conversely, most really great modal melodies predat the Baroque era because Greensleeves and other modal melodies did not necessarily survive their, if you will, sword-point conversion to functional harmony. Most people know "What Child is This" in natural minor rather than dorian. That is one of the few modal tunes that survived the transition that I can think of, or that most of us can think of. "What Wondrous Love is This?" is yet another onee.

IT is only in the context of functional harmony that a perfect fourth could be considered a consonant interval (thank you, second inversion chords).

Why am I saying all this? Well, where the rubber hits the road is when Christian commentators say that this or that composer wrote music that defied the Trinitarian ideal of functional harmony by injecting rampant chromaticism. There are problems with this approach from a historical and musicology standpoint. The first problem is that Bach opened the floodgates of chromaticism in his generation in a way not entirely different from the way Gesualdo wrote chromatically far-out music in HIS time. Mozart and Beethoven both employed chromaticism in ways that were highly unusual for there time and then you get folks like Chopin or Berlioz. By the time the pet whipping boy of Christian conservative commentators appears, Wagner, most of the revolutions they decry and attribute to his music had basically already happened.

And then you get the slow and spotty assimilation of non-Western musical styles or the employment of ecclesiastical modes apart from the voice-writing precepts outlined from the era in which they were initially employed. Debussy did not invent dorian or mixolydian but what he did was to employ the modes iin fixed form without regarding for the intervalic strictures of the pre-Baroque era. That's what made his music sound trippy in its day. Debussy also incorpoated elements from styles where ever he dug them.

How does this connect to Christianity and more "modern" music? Well, I could write some more about that but feel like saving that aspect of the discussion for another time.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

scores that are advertised but hard to get

Sometimes a publisher will advertise a score on their catalog or website they can't exactly get right away ... or at all. This is one of the downsides of hunting for chmaber music for classical guitar. It probably can't be helped as it is a bit hard to keep something in print just because it's cool chamber music if no one buys the stuff.

Take The LIttle Predicament for instance. I discovered this awesome little piece for piccolo, trombone (tenor) and guitar and the Hugarian publisher has it around but Hal Leonard may have problems getting it and my local Hal Leonard procurment point Capitol Music seems undecided on whether or not the piece is available or unavailable. It wouldn't be the first time I've asked them to hunt for obscure chamber music that may not be easy to get. It took me three years, I think, to find Castelnuovo-Tedesco's SOnatine Op 205 for flute and guitar.

Anyway, here's hoping I can actually get the Gyorgy Kurtag piece because it's a sweet little piece. If anyone happens to know how I can get it feel free to post something here. :)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

The distinction between a bad and a gloriously bad movie probably just comes down to whether the movie is what you might call "self-aware". I have friends who can't stand the element of self-awareness or anything reflexive in a genre flick, or at least they give me that impression. But a film that is aware of its innately silly premise is qualitatively different than a film that presumes you should be scared. So a gloriously bad movie might be something on the order of Eight Legged Freaks and, of course, Snakes on a Plane. A merely bad movie would be something like The Butterfly Effect though to be fair to this very day I defend Ashton Kutcher's performance. It's not Kutcher's fault the film was as bad as it is. The SCRIPT is the reason the film is as lame as it is.

Since I'm on that topic a bad movie is one in which a mechnanism is needed to accomplish the plot which is abandoned as the mechanism by the time the film is over. Exhibit A ... well, you've already got Exhibit A. Let me break down the breakdown.

Dude has memory gaps and can't explain why they happen. Dude is told to keep a journal to write down what he DOES remember. Mysteriously the dude who can't remember what happened during his blackouts can actually write down EXACTLY what happened and in the process of writing down exactly what happened that he can't remember he is transported back in time to that moment that he never remembered to begin with. Gee, this is sort of like a bad episode of Quantum Leap without the faintest semblance of internal continuity.

Of course flashback after flashback allows him to interact with his past so that he has a multiple choice past but is not fundamentally a different eperson for it. The whol epedophile dad incident actually never changes which gets to another glaring plot problem. When the final home-movie time travel incident happens and Kutcher's character decides he can't have met the girl, ever, he spurns her and is able to somehow have fixed the problems that led to her eventual demise. Sort of. The pedophile dad isn't out of the picture, though, so effectively none of the bause and trauma he (Kutcher's character) is hoping t9o avoid, is ever actually avoided, just his direct presence or participation in the events as they unfold, which somehow fixes everything, or so we're supposed to believe, I guess.

The problem is the film is played serious and not for laughs. Snakes on a Plane has spectacular plot holes that don't beg explanation but merely beg the suspension of a hefty amount of disbelief. A story that just asks you to suspend disbelief is a more honest story in some ways than a story that bets you take the story seriously and then can't keep its internal facts straight. This is why parables work more effectively than didactic tales sent via spam that are putatively based on real events. We can accept the unreality of the parable long enough to accept that it is making a point about the real world. A spam that claims to be about a real confrontation between a professor and a student in a classroopmm about the existence of God or the evils of this or that president that claim to be real events tend to seem like mere parables. The street definitely doesn't go both ways.

This was ostensibly supposed to be about Snakes on a Plane but I suppose it's not now. :)

Friday, August 18, 2006

80Studies part 2

They'e cute. I can see why they've still been in print since 1978.

That was a short part 2, eh? Seriously, I could write more but I'm writing this at about midnight so I'm not sure I'm lucid enough to be writing much of anything about them.

I have recently discovered a piece that was recorded by David Starobin that was written by Gyorgy Kurtag for piccolo, trombone, and guitar. I would dearly love to know which trombone this piece was written for so I can find out if a guy I know and I can play the piece. If tenor trombone then rock on! I'd just need to find someone who plays piccolo. If not, well, I'd like to pick up the score and recording anyway.

Starobin is a guy I should have checked out by now, really. My pet interest is chamber music for guitar and exactly why I haven't picked up any CDs by him before or listened to works he's commissioned has basically been a matter of me being too busy writing or being lazy to get around to it. Then again I haven't been totally lazy. I know chamber works by Ourkouzounov, Koshkin, Takemitsu, Piazzolla, Pagannini, and so on. I'm not even close to being good enough to PLAY these pieces but I happen to have the scores and have studied them a bit.

Works for trombone and guitar are extremely rare, it seems, and are almost as rare as works for trumpet and classical guitar. There are a handful of pieces for French horn and guitar but these, too, are few and far betweeen and no one has recorded them in the United States. Perhaps this is because the interesting pieces for these brass and guitar combinations are more common in Europe? Either way the only recordings of brass and guitar works I know of are Jack Sanders and Anthony Plog playing Frank Campo's Two Studies for trumpet and guitar and now my belated discovery of Kurtag's The Little PRedicament for piccolo, trombone, and guitar.

There should be more music written for brass instruments and guitar. I don't know exactly how I'm going to pull this off but I say someone should write a piece for tuba and guitar. I'm sure it's been done already but perhaps not in a "classical" style of any stripe? I don't really know. If any of you readers happen to know of a piece for tuba and guitar let me know where it's published. :)

The whole subject of writing for brass instruments with our six-stringed friend interests me because of the drastic contrasts in tone color and volume the instruments are capable of, to say nothing of the routine contrast between ostensibly monophonic/monodic and polyphonic instruments. I know just enough about Berio to know that limited polyphony is possible on brass instruments.

Mutes. Lots of mutes I suspect may be necessary. But the trombone and the guitar have a surprising overlap in natural range. The guitar obviously goes quite a bit higher but with not even a tenth the volume-production capacity of the trombone. And it should go without saying some neat little tricks are shared in common by the guitar and the trombone for those who have even the slightest knowledge of blues. Yep.

But I suppose I'm gertting ahead of myself and letting my mind wander. Sometime this weekend I am likely to watch Snakes on a Plane. I make a distinction here between movies that are simply bad, like the original Friday the 13th movie, and movies that are GLORIOUSLY BAD, like Freddy vs Jason. Snakes on a Plane looks to be more in the gloriously bad category.
What do I mean by gloriously bad? Well, if it's not completely self-evident I don't know if I really CAN explain it but I suppose I could try ... some time later.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

8 studies in harmonics by Van Der Staak

Got them in the mail yesterday. Indie obsessives can gripe all they like but for Americans on a budget Guitare Diffusion is great! There's a bit less in the way of harmonics than I had expected but "Clockwork Lullaby" is a darling little exercise. I'll admit that I'm somewhat biased in favor of my own recently finished set of six studies in harmonics (and those of you in cyberspace who saw my random posts on that may know what of I speak).

You know I keep forgetting to write more about Tamulionis. I need to fix that.

George Rochberg

I hae only heard the string quartets composed for the Concord string quartet (I think). The pieces are okay, I guess. Truth to tell I'm not entiely sure what to make of them. The moxie and emotional honesty to recognize serialism or atonality as it was in the 1970s was a dead end is braev, to be sue, but the music doesn't quite draw me in the way Part's does or Penderecki's. I'm not entirely sue why. I suppose compaed to Conelius Cardew or Milton Babit ochbeg is WAAAAAY moe interesting to listen to.

But lately I'm starting to listen to Messiaen's recordings of his own organ music. I've also picked up Helene Grimaud's CD of Gershwin and Ravel's piano concerti. A friend of mine from college somewhat guiltily said Helene is a pretty great pianist ... for a girl. She explained to me that women pianists tend to wilt on music where they need to play like pile drivers and that Grimaud doesn't shrink back when the music demands that she hammer the ivories ... like Bartok. :) Boulez conducted the thre Bartok piano concerti for DG just last year, I think, and it's a fun CD to revisit.

One of my sometime associates has said it well, I guess. I like music that is "really new" or "really old". I think I like eally old music that was looking ahead about as much as newer music that has a grasp of the past (which is not to say enslaved by it).

Back to Rochberg. I'm thinking of studying him a little bit ut I may not manage to get around to it.

doggerel

An ambling autonomous amber
Beattle builds baricades by
Carefully collecting chopped celery.
Desperate disheveled dogs despondently
Enter every emasculated evening
Forlornly facing fearful Fate.
Gone, grateful gorillas, gone!
How helpless humans hate
Isolation! In inimitable intimations
Jaundiced Justice jostles joylessly,
Killing katydids, krill, kestrels;
Lashing lost labradors like
Mightless musty mites malformed.
Now new Nero never
Opens obsidion obolisks over
Prolonged protean propellers, pulsing,
Quill-like; quintessential quail quote
Rhyming restless rubbery rats.
So sing solemn sailors,
Tearing taupe tuxedos taken
Upon unctious undulating urethane
Vibrating voles vibrantly vaulting
Wilting wolves where wildly
Xerxes' `xasperating xylophone Xenon's
Yellow yolk yelps "Yippee!
Zipping zippers zag zestfully!"

I know, it means nothing and it's not a particularly good poem but I spent a month on this thing off and on and finished a good chunk of it in the realm of the WESTERN meadowlark.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

which state has the state bird of the meadowlark?

Pointless trivia or a clue to where I am on my vacation.

I am in a tiny little town visiting relatives, parents to be precise, a town where you probably had best not let the dogs out at nght so that bears don't eat them! Here I am listening to American V and classical guitar music played by a Chinese guitarist. I don't remember her name off-hand but she put out a CD in 2005 through GSP publications that is pretty cool. I do feel that the whole cover-girl art theme is overdone. It's not that she's a bad looking woman or anything but we really only need one mug shot and can afford more space for fun stuff like, um, liner notes. The album is called Si Ji, which I guess means "Four Seasons" and there's some neat stuff on the CD.

I'm really digging "God's Gonna Cut You Down", too. Cash's new album is quiet and sombre and the the most beautiful downer of an album I think I've heard in a long, long time. On the way to where I am now I studied the passacaglia in Hindemith's Op 32 string quartet. Op 32 isn't as awesome as the Op. 22 quartet but then few string quartets in the history of the whole medium are quite as aawesome as the OP. 22 quartet Hindemith wrote. I have a CD which reissued the Amar-Hindemith string quartet's original late 1920s performance of this musical gem and I learned very quickly why hardly any string quartets play this piece!

But Op 32 is the subject of study for that closing passacaglia. See, I'm working on a sonata for tenor trombone and guitar for an associate of mine and I'm dabbling with ways to create a musical arc that caters to the unique sounds and strengths of the pairing. A passacaglia seems like a neat idea for a brass instrument, especially one which shares most of the same written range as the guitar. It's a very natural set up to have a brass instrument take the tune and have the guitar take it over and increase the complexity of variations within the form from there.

In the last month I have begun an internship with a local metropolitan symphony orchestra and it has afforded me the opportunity to see how things work behind the scenes in the orchestra's music library. The work itself is nothing spectacular by itself but it afford me an opportunity to check out the scores of some neat pieces commissioned by aforementioned but un-named symphony orchestra.m I'm talking stuff that has been performed but neithernecessarily published or recorded.

It's tripppy how much music gets published that I've never even heard about and by composers whose names have never before met my eyes. I don't really know who Peter Mennin is or Pierre Jalbert but they have had works published. I have never before seen so many scores by Walter Piston, despite my knowing something vague about who he was. I think I stumbled across the parts for Part's Lamentate once. Mahler is monstrous even when you're just handling part extractions! So this internship is fun even if I am not sure it will necessarily afford a career path as such just being able to see behind the scenes and having a chance to study scores I could literally not see in any other way is cool. I mean there's literally no other orchestra on earth that has one of the pieces I am determined to study in more detail. Other orchestras should eventually play this piece, though, because it's a pretty killer piece and I went t to hear it twice. Twolocal Seattle music journalists and composers writing for weekly papers will probably guess what I mean, working on the rather huge assumption they'd ever have a reason to read my blog. :)

That is one small downside to vacations, not being able to be in two places at once. I had to skip out on the Seattle Composer's Salon in order to make sure I was properly prepared for my trip to the meadowlark state. My music doesn't seem to really fit the new-music vibe of the salon events but I like to hear new music once in a while and even if I don't care for what I hear there's a general principle of wanting to find a way to support new and local music even if I don't quite undeerstand it. The way I see it it's entirely possible people may not understand my music so it's only fair that I try to be supportive in whatever ways I can.

It's peaceful down here, very peaceful. Up in Seattle I have fun with friends but I also don't have the kind of peacefulness I have down here. Who knows? I might even have time to finish a good chunk of Augustine's City of God or John Stott's book The Cross. I might even work up enough nerve to read The Year of Magical Thinking. I had a relative die in the last year and Didion's book might hit just a little too close to home so I keep postponing the book. Didion is one of my favorites from my college days and one of the few people from whom I got an autograph. The other people are as follows

Bruce Campbell
Ana Vidovic

I didn't get his autograph but I shook hands with Bishop N. T. Wright when he came to Seattle last year and gave some talks at Seattle Pacific University. I don't agree with everything he writes but he's one of my favorite living theologians and he's a really friendly guy. He mentioned there's a book in manuscript form by Richard Bauckham that's coming out some time this year or next, perhaps, that I might have to pick up. I still haven't gotten around to reading any D. A. Carson but I suppose I should get to him later. Augustine is quite a bit of work.

Buce Campbell's autograph? Well, I love Army of Darkness.

Ana Vidovic? Well, she's a fantastic guitarist who I saw play in Seattle a year or two ago and to whom I pitched a guitar sonata in f minor. She might never play it but I'm glad she wrote me back herself and at least looked at the piece. And I'll admit that getting the autograph of an adorable Croatian guitarist just seemed like a good idea at the time. One guy at her recital told me he was going to take a master class with her just because she was really cute. I'd like to think learning something about playing the guitar would be a BETTER reason but I've never managed to set up lessons of any kind successfully since college so I don't know. Different people have different motives. :) So, Ana, if you don't play my piece I won't feel bad but if you do, cool. I still hope to pick up your next CD when it comes out.

There's also a new CD in the works by the d'Amore Duo that I'd encourage all you fans of chamber music for the guitar to check out. How I know this CD has been in the works is a matter of personal correspondance I don't feel like elaborating on. If you can find a copy of Simplicity, their first CD, try to get a copy. There aren't that many dedicated oboe and guitar duos out there so I try to keep track of them.

There's a bassoon and guitar duo in Canada I discovered a while back fro whom I hope to finish a sonata for bassoon and guitar.

Yeah, I know, I'm writing a lot about my own music that none of you can hear and considering I've gone to some length to say so little to let you identify me if you don't already know me personally or through correspondance that all this stuff may not be useful. I guess the way I see it I've already given away more than enough information for anyone at all to figure out who I am. Anyhow, if I can work through the sonata for bassoon and guitar soon I'll be happy but I've got this feeling it may take a while.

What takes longer, though, is writing a Mass. Maybe I'm too Protestant to een be bothering with writing a Mass but I get tired of composers setting the text and omitting the Credo. The ony composer who gets away with it in my opinion is Poulenc and even him I'm a little iffy about. PEnderecki wins poits in my book for setting the entire Credo on its own. That was supposed to be part of a Mass but he decided the Credo itself was too big. I sort of see his point and yet I'd love for Penderecki to flesh out the rest of the Mass anyway. Krystof, I'm certain you're NOT reading this blog but PLEASE write a full Mass and I'LL buy it. Pretty please?

SO I have only trudged through the Kyrie and GLoria and the Credo is a pretty scary text to set. I am trying to see if there are any settings that use an altered binary pattern of ABA'B'. My reasoning for using this musical structure are essentially theological and yet I need THEMES to get this structure to work The way it works is the Creed says the Son and Father are one in substance so it seems pertinent to have the Father and Son share the substance of one musical theme. The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection constitute Christ's earthly ministry and therefore require a new and separate theme. Since the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son (unless you don't agree with the Filoque) it seems reasonable that the segment on the Spirit should share a thematic continuity with the musical material describing the Father and Son. Since the Church is the body of Christ and continues Christ's mission here on earth it seems natural that the musical material of the Church, it's mission, and the hope of resurrection to come should be based on the musical material used to describe Christ's mission and His resurrection. Makes sense right?

Except that no composer I can think of has ever used such a format. Maybe Vaughan Williams comes close and an old college associate who's a music director at a Lutheran church said I should check VW's Mass in G minor out. Been working on that. Still, it's tough finding ways to get my proposed musical form to work without sastifying themes. Part of me wants to deploy a conventional incipit to the Credo as a way to spin out material for the persons in the Trinity but the problem there is that the material I'm coming up with so far is a little less than awe-inspiring. Maybe I shouldn't bother with awe-inspiring material and just work like mad to get SOMETHING done. I've got two sketches, one based on a standard incipit which is gloriously public domain and the other based on an original idea that takes up an idea from the GLoria I have written and tweaks it. The trouble is that the second idea is totally jacked up where a reasonable rhuthmic setting of the text is concerned so I'm not sure I can really use it as an introcuctory theme. On the other hand I MIGHT be able to use it as the secondary theme I had been planning to have but don't actually have. The incipit-based idea is in C sharp dorian and the fanfare idea is in E major so the two would work and maintain a tonal architecture already laid out by the Kyrie and Gloria.

I keep having this feeling the best way to text-paint the Sanctus is to cast it in the key of C major. My precedent for this is William Harris' Faire is the Heavene. Heh, how's THAT for digging up an obscure English anthem? Well, maybe it's not that obscure at all and in any case I only learned about it in college as part of a class but it's a neat piece for double choir. The idea of beginning in D flat and progressively notching out the flats to get to C major in describing the highest level of holiness and purity of the beings who worship God is a cool cohnceit. Amazingly abstract but not for nothing did my choir director tell me I'd love the piece. Yep, I'm kinda brainy in my theory that way.

ON the subject of choral music, why didn't Messiaen write more than one unaccompanied choral work besides O Sacrum Convivium? Gorgeous little piece and Messiaen is for a capella choral music the way Hindemith was for guitar, I really wish both composers had done more for that idiom than they actually did.

OKay,I have seriously rambled all over the land here. I had better just sign off. If you've read this far my thanks for sticking with me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ah, comments

They don't necessarily assure me that people are reading this stuff but some of them do. When someone tells me I need to correctly spell the title of a work by Tallis I know they're writing a comment that amounts to more than a spamish additive. I'm more concerned that people just know who Tallis is than fret about spelling on a post I wrote some time ago. Call me petty but in blogging that sort of detail can be considered secondary to what I hope is a small scale promotion of musical literacy.

I've started listening to American V by Johnny Cash. I've only heard through three and a half tracks and what I've heard so far is pretty awesome. I don't write only about "classical" music after all.

Well, I confess I have relatively little on my mind to blog about these days but I should post a little something anyway.

I have discovered in my research that Peter (Pieter?) Van der Staak has written eight studies in harmonics for solo guitar. I have just placed an order for these and plan to study them in some detail. The idea of a set of studies devoted to such a unique aspect of guitar playing intrigues me. This seems to be the only dedicated set of studies for the technique I've come across that has been published since about 1978. It happens that little etudes or practice pieces appear in some guitar manuals but a lot of these studies are, the ones I have seen, not especially memorable.

But first I have to see them and get them in the mail. Per a long-ago injunction by Mantanya Ophee to any guitarist in general and in consideration of a wonderful gift from a friend of mine from Japan I'm picking up Yamashita's Pictures at an Exhibition transcription. So if I don't write quite so much you'll know why.

Actually another reason why is I've been pecking away at a set of motets for male voices on texts from Ecclesiastes. While I don't prefer KJV as a translation it's public domain and that's something for the lowly composer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

IBAN?

Importing music can be expensive, especially if your bank charges a rate of $40 for an international wire transfer! I recently ordered a few CDs from a European composer and have discovered that in Europe a number of methods that are convenient for them are exasperatingly impossible for an American. What's worse for me, though, is that there aren't any American stores, local or otherwise, that really even have the stuff I want to look at. To pick a not entirely random example, how many local classical guitar shops can YOU think of that carry Annette Kruisbrink's Five Dances for guitar and double bass? I had a feeling there wren't many.

Fortunately the internet makes the world a little smaller for us fans of chamber music for the guitar. Unfortunately with something nasty like a $40 fee for international wire transfers you could easily pay between 50-150% the cost of a CD or score just to buy a single piece of music. True story. I had that experience buying a neat little duo for French horn and guitar and if you're reading this and your name if Volkmar you know the duo I'm talking about. :) It was worth the trouble of getting the music but the poor vendor had to wait two months, not knowing if I'd ever pay him back for certain, while I went and bickered with banks about whether or not there is even an international postal money order in euros that can be sent to Germany. Not to disparage the fine United States Postal Service but it really stunk that it couldn't help me on this particular issue.

Finally, thanks to obtaining an IBAN and a number of other important pieces of information I set up the international wire transfer and the fee cost me more than the music, almost twice as much again for the fee as for the music itself.

Now I've seen some people in cyberspace complaining about places like Guitare Diffusion and Amazon.com and about how they cut out business from little independent artists and publishers and recording labels. I really do understand the complaint, too, but the sad reality is for an amateur guitarist and composer who isn't actually in the music business the cards couldn't possibly be stacked more unfavorably in terms of the obscurity and expense of finding the little guy or finding someone local in the United States who knows who the little guy is (if the little guy or gal is in Europe). God help you if you try to ask a local music shop, even one that's pretty good about handling special orders like Capitol Music, to find music by Annette Kruisbrink.

And this doesn't simply apply to an established composer and guitarist in the Netherlands who's been around a while. There's this weird habit publishers have of dropping important works for the repertoire altogether. I'm talking about YOU Boosey & Hawkes. I once got an email from a customer service representative who told me BARTOK'S STRING QUARTETS were out of print. Out of print? Seriously? Well, no, two months later Boosey & Hawkes belatedly delivered me the complete string quartets of Bela Bartok and I forked out sixty dollars for the hardbound book. Worth it? Yeah, mostly, but that doesn't mean Boosey & Hawkes didn't piss me off just a little bit by having one of their representatives tell me six of the most important string quartets of the 20th century were "out of print" when 1) they shouldn't have been to begin with for as many quartets actually perform and record these works 2) the works were NOT out of print, after all.

Maybe this is venting a little too much spleen but I tell you that it sometimes seems that in some areas "chamber music" really just means "more than one guitar". More than one guitar is cool, especially if you're the Katona twins. :) But around here it sometimes seems that chamber music consisting of one guitar AND another instrument that's not a guitar feels a bit scarce. I know there was an oboe and guitar duo out around somewhere in Seattle. I hope they stage a comeback. I'd be happy to go hear them in concert.

Peraps I lack the networking and social graces to plug for chamber music myself but it's something I hope to see a little more of in Seattle. Right now the most I can probably do is plug for pieces I think deserve more attention on this blog (even though odds are pretty good almost no classical guitarists read it). I can also write music and pitch it to other people as I have opportunity.

Come to think of it, I should write another post some time about Chanson du Soir.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

ambling summer days

I haven't posted much and I've meant to get around to writing about some cool albums I've come across in the last few years. One of the challenges of being into chamber music for the guitar is that albums get released with almost no fanfare or publicity and you have to go hunting on the internet, sometimes for a year or so, before you stumble upon a headline or search hit result that gets you what you've been looking for.

For instance the Schubert Club (and I don't even like Schubert's music all that much) out in Minnesota, I think, put out a CD by the Kachian/Klemp Duo called Falls Flyer. It's got a great album cover of what seems to be a slightly older couple sporting about on a fast little motor boat out on a lake. It looks more like the cover of a 1950s rock album than an album of chamber music for oboe and guitar. It's a sweet CD and a big selling point about it for me waz David Evan Thomas' Sonata for Oboe and Guitar. What's more all the works on the CD were written, commissioned, and performed within the last roughly ten years. It's hard to overstate how significant that is for "new" chamber music. The closest thing to a standard repertoire work for oboe and guitar so far is Napoleon Coste's La Montagnard and THAT piece was composed at least a century ago, if not more than a century ago.

And sometimes the CD is out of print and you don't find out about it for quite some time. Sad to say, though, not all CDs that get released of chamber music really seem that cool. I found a used CD of Giuseppe Gasperini's music for bassoon and guitar. It's a cool idea in principle and the actual sound of the bassoon and the guitar together is a great idea bu tthe music itself is so much aural wallpaper it's hard to suggest anyone dig this CD up as some lost and unjustly neglected treasure. Some CDs, it has to be said, sim ply deserve to go out of print.

Not to be totally unfair, Gasperini's music has a certain charm to it if you don't feel like concentrating on the music at all and there is a sense in which it must be more fun to play than to simply listen to. But Gasperini's output is simply not sturdy enough to constitute an entire album devoted just to his music in the way that Napoleon Coste's or Sor's music would be, is and does. Gasperini's music isn't even remotely close to being as substantial as work by Britten, Takemitsu, or Koshkin, or Brouwer. In fact I'd say it's better to pick up Michael Niccollela's Shard than get anything by Gasperini.

But, again, the IDEA of a CD of bassoon and guitar music rocks. And I'm starting to appreciate from the sheer tedium of Gasperini's work why so many musicians take a potpourri or buffet approach to repertoire. It's really, really hard to find a set of guitar pieces from just one com0oser or even one period that is so substantial you can make a program from it. And for those composers whose works reward a recital program all to themselves you've got the old canard of can you work up the chops to play the Bach suites for solo guitar? Can you play the solo partitas and sonatas? And then I'm back to the question of whether or not I couldn't go hear Hilary Hahn or another violinist playing the works? Personally I've got Zoltan Szekely's version on CD I found in a bargain bin.

But I got sidetracked. Go get Falls Flyer and check it out. The Kachian/Klemp Duo will appreciate it and Mr. Thomas will appreciate it. His sonata for oboe and guitar is quite possibly the beszt work for oboe and guitar I've ever heard. I'd write more about their neat CD but I've been trying to nail down part of a small choral cycle for men's chorus using texts from Ecclesiastes. And I also want to finish off part of a song cycle for soprano and guitar using texts by 20th century Aerican poets.