Saturday, November 21, 2009

live performance

I went and played my six studies in harmonics for guitar at the local guitar society open mic last night. I played to an audience of about nine people. The pieces went mostly well, though I fumbled on the second study (contrapuntal works for solo guitar are fraught with peril even when they DON'T consist of counterpoint written entirely using harmonics). But to play six pieces entirely in harmonics for an audience consisting of classical guitarists meant I was playing for the most sympathetic and understanding audience I could have asked for. The pieces went over well.

This is the third or fourth time I have ever played live in the last three years. I tried playing some work at the Seattle Composer's Salon a few years ago and while they were nice I felt as though what I played was not a very natural fit for the stuff they are into. They were nice enough to not say anything bad about my piece but, other than a local music journalist who told me my piece was very good and a welcome change of pace from what he usually heard at those events, I didn't remember anyone saying they really LIKED the piece. Music either appeals or it doesn't and while a person can acclimate themselves to understanding and appreciating music I realize this can be a steep learning curve and a long process, a process and learning curve many people don't bother with because the effort is great. I can understand this because time and repeated exposure have not led me to like The Doors anymore now than when I heard them twenty years ago. I still don't like their music!

So I'm still applying for different jobs and while I do that I am dusting the cobwebs off of my badly atrophied chops and playing music. I had originally intended to play my prelude in B flat minor last night but realism prevailed and I quickly prepared the studies in harmonics, which was the wiser move to make. In a few months I hope to have more preludes and fugues from my set ready to perform live. The B flat minor one could be particularly nice because it evokes Bach more readily and, dare I say it, successfully. It feels the most Baroque and developed as a combined prelude and fugue. It is also going to be much easier to prepare for public presentation than my prelude and fugue in G major. The G major pieces are easily my favorites but the fugue ... the fugue is a nearly five-minute long juggernaut.

For now it's better to start small and be happy with small. It is too tempting to try to go for broke, think big, and do more than needs to be done. Years ago my composition professor said one of the common temptations of young composers is to try to say everything they want to say in just a single work. I feel fortunate my first serious forays into music were in rock and pop. I mutated the impulse to say everything big into cyclical composition. For me the big statements are not in giant movements or even in multi-movement works, for me the big ideas and big statements are what happens as a thing that emerges from the sum of the parts and goes beyond the sum of the parts. My big statement is something woven into multiple sonatas that you would have to see as a unified cycle of works. That probably means that no one is going to notice that stuff. When your big ideas are a gestalt that emerges from within a body of work there is a good chance the forest will be missed for the trees.

Oh well, I'm an unknown so I can have my metatheme worked into individual works and so long as the individual works at some point get some traction with listeners and musicians I don't need to worry about whether or not people "get" what the sonatas for guitar and woodwinds are moving toward as a unified whole. Now it is more important to get up in front of people, overcome anxieties, and play music.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In which I post yet another link

Once I break the pattern I break it consistently. This is a link to an Estonian broadcast of music I heard about through Niccola (former Delcamper, I think). Her actual name is Kristiina Jalakas and she is a good guitarist. I am also linking the whole thing not just because that's how it links and because I want Kristiina's playing to get more exposure, but also because there are some sweet Arvo Part performances on this broadcast. For years I have been interested in music from the Baltic republics (very long-time readers of this blog may remember the plug I did for Jonas Tamulionis' work and the great CD the Corona Guitar Quartet did of his work). Baltic Voices 1-3 are also good CDs to go pick up if you want more familiarity with choal music from Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The whole broadcast is in Estonian (which I admittedly don't know) BUT the program listing is easy enough to read even if you're not conversant in Estonian.

In other news, this week I received in the mail the newest CD by Atanas Ourkouzounov, which I am excited about. I wish to compose a separate blog entry about that CD and it may take up to a week for me to fully digest the music and articulate my thoughts about his newest recording and to provide these thoughts in the context of my appreciation for his recorded output over the last roughly six years.

In which I link to a sermon and write down some thoughts about it

Although I was situated to have heard sermons from this pastor before it was Michael Spenser linking to John Haralson Jr's sermon on Psalm 41 that first caught my attention. I heard the Psalm 41 sermon around the time I was expressing my difficulties with the Psalms as biblical literature. I listened to quite a few of Mike Gunn's sermons on the Psalms and found myself wishing that a certain church Gunn was once affiliated with had even half as good a set of sermons on the Psalms. Well, along the way of listening to sermons on the Psalms I listend to Haralson's sermon on Psalm 41 and that got my attention.

At the church I had been attending, to be brutally honest and with a good chunk of sadness about saying this, the church I was at had a long and miserable history of being pretty irresponsible with Old Testament texts. This has particularly been the weakness of the main teaching pastor, though (to be fair) other pastors have done some great preaching from Old Testament texts. In fact one pastor's sermons on Jonah were great, so great I found them rather convicting and a catalyst for the realization that I actually needed to do the thing I feared doing, starting the search to find a new church to consider home.

So all that I wrote should not be taken to mean the church is the worst church out there, I just got to a point where I realized that my own weaknesses as a practicing Christian and a reader of the scriptures were not going to get helped by being where I was at. Haralson's sermons on Old Testament texts impressed me by being responsible expositions of the text, not the fanciful decorations of Old Testament scripture as an excuse to talk about pet topics I became convinced was a weakness at the church I was at (though, again, to be fair, there's just one who has a particular weakness for that).

All of that is to explain why I have just linked to a sermon when I obviously don't have a habit of linking to sermons. In fact, I don't even really expect you to download the sermon or listen to it because one of the tropes in Christian blogging is to write some big rambling blog entry about some sermon where you have to hear the sermon in order to fully appreciate the three to five sentences of "oh my gosh that was the bestest sermon ever!! Preacher XXXXXX is the best preacher and no one is like Preacher XXXXXX." I realize this entry has already become that and that is why I don't wish to make it a habit.

But the illustration Haralson used resonates with me because, well, I'm a musician. The tale of the musician who wanted to jam with Miles Davis and his band; did so and that disastrously; and who was advised by Davis (so the tale goes) to learn harmony and then come back later--it is a story that makes sense to me even if (as many internet borne tales are) it is simply a modern-day parable. One can be a musician and not a particularly accomplished musician. Haralson built from this to observe that though the grace of God saves us there are promises in the scriptures that are still conditional. I could attempt to explain things in more detail but I don't feel up to it, I'm afraid. I know I would ramble and it will take time to reflect on the sermon, time I would rather spend reflecting in some other setting besides a blog entry.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Totoro Man vents about "If you don't forward this spam you're part of the problem" emails

It happens that every so often you get emails forwarded to you that declare in the highest of alarms and with the most intense rhetoric that if you don't forward said email to everyone you know you are what is wrong with America, or part of the problem. There was a brilliant Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin is talking about a chain letter he received that he doesn't plan to keep. Then he reads a postscript explaining that some kid like him decided not to keep the letter going and got run over by a bus. And so it goes ... .

Perhaps Totoro Man has simply been reading the sorts of emails I occasionally actually read. He isn't really the type to just read any email because it is forwarded from someone. He and I instinctively ignore forwards because most of them are scams, spams, and plans. I don't really think a federal employee has a jackpot of money for me if only I would send my personal information. I don't suppose that I'm the sole surviving distant relative of someone in Nigeria. Even back in the early 1990s I ignored emails like that because I was told anything that sounds too good to be true isn't true and probably not very good, either. There are times when I have hoped those who have advised me thus had heeded their own warnings about a few things but we can't perfectly implement our own advice all the time, perhaps not even most of the time.

Yet, for all that, I suppose that is one way in which proverbs are passed down to us. Proverbs mostly work, if they are actual proverbs, and proverbs become the riddles we can reflect upon to measure ourselves and not just rules of thumb to live by. We can have rules of thumb because we have opposable thumbs ... for too long monkeys have been under the thumb of humans and the time has come to OPPOSE that thumb! Sorry ... I digress.

there is a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to buy take out and a time to cook

Monday was a time to cook. I know this has nothing much to do with a biblical text but there is a time when a bachelor can afford to buy food at a restaurant and there is a time when it is more cost effective to cook his own meals instead of having someone else cook meals for him. Since I am job hunting I have determined that this second phase is the phase of life I am in now.

Having known a few Mars Hillians in the last decade who have latched on to concept of "community" with a quixotic obsession even more touchingly absurd than that of some people at the little school by the canal, I have endeavored to cook both for my own benefit and to make myself useful to housemates. It is hard to find something more communal in community living than food and to this end I am attempting to master the mundane art of cooking pork bulgogi. If I can compose fugues for solo guitar to the number of 8 then by now I can follow simple instructions on how to cook a spicy Korean dish that includes pork, green onions, yellow onions, and (in my case) prodigous amounts of cayenne pepper and crushed garlic.

It has been a source of some amusement for me what some people consider an approach to community life. One of my associates who is most fascinated by "community" has an interest in community that, paradoxically, does NOT extend to food! Perhaps the fact that he has some kind of hereditary condition in which he no longer has a working gall bladder accounts for this. On account of that I make a few accomodations, even though I admit to having been cynical about his fascination with "community" since ... well, to be honest, I was jaded about "community" being at the little school by the canal and after the glow of honeymoon passed with the anthill of Ares I became even MORE jaded about the idea of community, which I began to realize was a significant problem.

Appropos of nothing the story behind Aeropagus is that one of the sons of Poseidon, who (in varying accounts) either raped or attempted to rape one of the daughters of Ares. Ares killed the son and Poseidon was angry and brought Ares to trial before a tribunal of the gods, who acquitted Ares, thus providing the story for why the Aeropagus is called by its name. In certain regions it would be known as the place that inspired the name of a church founded by a trio of pastors.

There is something strangely fitting that the pagan account of how the mound of Ares was named would fit perfectly into the metanarrative of masculinity presented at the anthill of Ares. A father decides to kill the son of someone important for attempting to rape his daughter. It is interesting how many fathers in the biblical narratives DO NOT do this sort of chivalrous thing. Jacob was apparently going to let Dinah be married to her rapist. David did nothing to discipline Amnon for raping Tamar. Men in the Bible are nowhere near as manly or masculine as the Greeks were if we go by the narratives connected to religious texts. Samson doesn't count because he was lured by foreign women. Then again, I do not see the biblical texts as having as their main interest the exoneration of Greek gods, or even Jewish patriarchs. Instead the story is about how the Jewish patriarchs and the nation of Israel were shown mercy and generosity by the Lord despite the fact that they not only very obviously did not "deserve" this generosity but in many cases initially did not seem particularly interested in getting the things God promised. And a whole generation of them got wiped out in the wilderness ... but I digress.

Now that I am not "plugged in" there I find I'm starting to have a less cynical and more healthy appreciation of communal life. I had to figure out how I could remedy some things in myself and I trust God is using this period of my life to help me providentially learn how to do some stuff I haven't bothered to do. It is interesting to discover that I find it easier to cook precisely when I am not just cooking for me. It may be I spent so much of my life in extended family situations of some kind or another I have discovered that it is hard to be motivated to cook for just me. I don't cook for fun and though I may eat comfort foods or eat and find enjoyment in it I am not a foodie in the sense that say, Remy from Ratatouille is.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

preludes and fugues for solo guitar (again): mine and Igor Rekhin's

This one is in A major. At some point I had to stop composing in just the tough key signatures and go with something easier. I'm at C sharp minor, E flat major, F major, G major, G sharp minor, A flat major, B flat minor, and now A major. The G major prelude and fugue may "sound" easy because of the key, and the prelude is easy enough but the fugue ... the fugue is a nearly five-minute juggernaut of constant activity with a lively allegro (144 bpm, quarters) and a marching subject more or less in 11/4. Very Shostakovich meets Bach. Once I knock out a prelude for this newest fugue in A then I will be one third of the way through the project.

I have since learned that Igor Rekhin beat me to the task of composing 24 preludes and fugues twenty years ago and between 1985-1990 he composed his set and has published them. He is a guitarist as well as a composer and I look forward to the possibility of studying his works. He is the master whose precedent leads the way. I am excited to realize that someone has tackled this project before. I plan to eventually get to studying the pieces and seeing about performing them.

So far as I have been able to discover not one guitarist has recorded the entire set of Rekhin's preludes and fugues. Dmitry Illarionov has recorded three of them and Vladimir Tervo recorded 14 of them but no one has recorded the entire cycle and I, being unemployed, am hardly situated to get recordings! I am not sure the Tervo recording is even in print. I'm enough of a score collector that I will inevitably obtain the scores but recordings, probably will just settle for Illarionov's Naxos recording. I can imagine the entirety of such a set would take hours to perform and I wouldn't be surprised if for the most part people were not interested in listening to such a monumental work for guitar.

When I finished the A major fugue recently I felt, at first, my newest fugue was demonstrating that I was getting into a rut. I tend to use countersubjects 1 or 2 from my expositions as chorales near the end of my fugues. I also tend to use subjects themselves as chorales a la giant blocky barre chords. Being a guitarist I am also fond of using insistent pedal points. One of many reasons I am cutting myself slack on this project when I feel that I could be doing better is the realization that of all the guitarist/composers on earth only Rekhin has finished a set of 24. For that matter he studied under Aram Khatchaturian, is a guitarist, and started his cycle at the age of 44.

I have started mine as of 2 years and 3 months ago. Basically I started my project of preludes and fugues at the age of 33, eleven years earlier in my life than Rekhin started his project. I have nothing more than an undergraduate degree in communications with music as a minor. In other words, I cut myself some slack because I have almost no formal training compared to someone who studied under Khatchaturian! I'm not going to negatively compare myself to his works (since I haven't had a chance to really hear them or study them) I am also not in a position to say that what I come up with will be "better". I do, however, take encouragement knowing that as Ecclesiastes put it, there is nothing new under the sun and that which has been will be again. It does not make my process of discovery any less fun for these things. In other words, I am such a patent amateur compared to Rekhin anyway that what I do for fun needs no comparison to the work of an established guitarist and composer who is basically twice my age. I wouldn't mind pinging him for advice on practical considerations in composing such a set of works but I also imagine he's a busy man and doesn't speak or write English necessarily.

Meanwhile, whatever flaws I may have in this or that piece as I compose my way through the set I can revise. I revised one of the preludes with some help from oblivionmusic over on Delcamp. I am also honored to be able to say I have gotten some feedback from Atanas Ourkouzounov about a few of the pieces, since he is one of my favorite living guitarist/composers. When I get a copy of his new CD, by the way, I intend to write about it and will attempt to provide an overview of his recording career so far.

For the few of you who probably track this blog you have some idea how long I have been composing my preludes and fugues. I am excited to realize that I am nearly a third of the way through this already. A prelude in A major and I will have 8 of 24. I am also about one third of the way through my sonata cycle for guitar and the various instruments of the orchestra. Since I am just half way from 35 to 36 I am happy to realize that two very large projects are both a third of the way finished. I have not as yet been published and I hope that situation changes in the next ten years.

I hope that a guitarist/composer who completes 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar and completes a twelve or fourteen sonata cycle of duo sonatas for classical guitar can at least get SOMETHING published. Admittedly the sonata for tuba and guitar may not be an easy sell and may rarely get performed but I want to write such a piece. There's an axiom that men like to have a sense of accomplishment that drives them, a passion that pushes them forward. I guess I have found one of mine. Composing for the guitar inspires me, the work itself is what brings me joy. If I were not able to do this I like to think I would adjust but as yet I do not have to set it aside and my hands and mind work just well enough with my ears that I hope to keep working on these projects for years to come. When I finish them I still have several string quartets and a mass to keep tackling. I have given myself more music to compose that I really want to compose than I think I may manage to tackle in my lifetime. There are certain types of "impossible" tasks that make life more fun, maybe not "worth living" but more fun. Demonstrating mastery is not as fun as continuing to learn.