November 30, 2006

The Price Is Right

Looking for a choral introit, cheap? The rest of the above (representing the last of my Advent composing and arranging obligations) is now available for free—for free—at the Choral Public Domain Library.

I have a fair pile of choral music that's accumulated over the past few years, and every so often, I'll send it off to publishers here and there, just to see the season's new rejection letters. My favorite is from one of the local concerns, who were kind enough to tell me that their refusal to publish my music "was in no way a reflection on the quality of [my] work." Really? How are you guys making your decisions over there—running hamsters through mazes? Darts? Haruspicy? Anyway, their loss is your gain. (If anybody uses it, let me know how your choir likes it. My choir did so much moaning and groaning over my Lenten introit last year that I'm currently trying to squeeze my budget enough to commission a new one from Dennis Báthory-Kitsz. Not free—but still a steal.)

Theory Review: Row Forms

The Beatles--John (Prime), Paul (Retrograde), George (Inversion), Ringo (Retrograde Inversion)

November 29, 2006

Ora labora

The church musician part of me has been in overdrive this week, gearing up for Advent, which starts Sunday. I'd be the first to admit I'm a fairly unlikely church musician, all the more so since what I get less of a charge out of the spiritual effects of music than its more complicated, fallible human side. I've rationalized this into a virtue: my job (I tell myself) is to make sure the music is performed as well as it possibly can be—if I take care of the nuts-and-bolts end of the music, it provides the opportunity for the spiritual end to happen on its own. (I wouldn't claim any advantage for this approach; I've seen music directors who do the exact opposite, and it works just fine.)

An unfortunate combination of insomnia and the necessity of a lot of driving this week led me to throw a few gospel CDs in to the car; they do a good job of keeping me awake, and having some lady shout at me that Jesus died for my sins tends to make instances of road rage too ironic to perpetuate. Anyway, as of this week, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is now my favorite gospel singer ever. Here she is doing what she did best.

This performance dates from sometime in the 1960's, when she was attempting a comeback. Tharpe had recorded a series of non-gospel blues records in the 50's that managed to alienate both her sets of fans: the spiritual ones who listened for the gospel, and the secular ones who had made hits of her more jazz-inflected sides of the late 30's and 40's. Then again, Tharpe had always seemed a little too worldly for ecclsiastical propriety. She got her start singing and playing in her mother's church, and first became famous with a group of records recorded with swing bandleader Lucky Millinder. Here they are in a badly-edited 1941 short; if the combination of "Lonesome Road" and a quartet of Josephine Baker look-alikes strikes you as suspiciously incongruous, well, you're starting to get the idea. (The cut to the dancers' legs on the line "look up and see your maker" might just be the most hilariously blasphemous thing I've seen all month.) But Sister Rosetta (sans guitar) loves every minute of it, and inevitably, you do, too.

Here's the thing: take Little Richard (who was heavily influenced by Tharpe). He's quite a gospel singer in his own right, but he's spent his entire career seesawing between gospel and rock and roll, never quite sure how to bridge the divide. In his version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," (you can listen to it on Rhapsody), his adopted ministerial baritone straddles the line between an homage and a impression: it's so stentorian that when the real Little Richard suddenly appears at the tail end of a melismatic riff here and there, the effect is almost comedic. It's like he sees his pop music and his gospel music as two different personae, two costumes that he can change in and out of at will.

For Tharpe, though, there is no divide. She is who she is, and that's who you get—there's no difference between the little girl in church and the sassy lady rocking the house with her Gibson SG, between the preacher warning you (with a smile) to get right before Gabriel blows his horn and the celebrity who was able to sell 25,000 tickets to her third wedding. (True story.) It's not just that she's spiritual and worldly all at the same time, she's spiritual because she's worldly, because she knows all the ins and outs of entertainment, she knows how to grab your attention, she knows how to put on a show, and so you end up listening to the Good News. And the musicianship is so ingrained that it's inseparable from the fact of her: she's not "being" a gospel singer, she's not "being" a blues guitarist, she's at the point where she's just being.

Here's a terrific Sister Rosetta clip. It's from a 1964 British "Gospel Train" TV special; hence the bizarre outdoor train station set. I love the fact that the absurdity of the staging doesn't faze her in the least, I love the fact that she's performing in a big pink coat (I know it's black-and-white, but you just know that coat was pink), and I love the fact that she wins over the crowd like it's her birthright. But my favorite part is when she pulls on her guitar, strums a chord, and doesn't like what she hears—at which point she coolly turns to the pianist and says, "Give me the key." Which he apparently does, and she's off and running.

Why does this little detail move me so much? It's a reminder that Tharpe was a pro first and foremost, and that in order to get at the spiritual aspect of music, there's an awful lot of worldly work that has to be done first. That's the work I love. Is it going to save my soul? Probably not. But if I can ever make it look as effortless as Sister Rosetta, it might save somebody else's.

November 28, 2006

"Who can turn a can into a cane?"

It seems the idea of a composer has become so vague for many English speakers that the word itself is being co-opted as a sort of discount substitute for composure. (The proper term for this is an eggcorn, coined by the fine minds over at Language Log.) Google turns up the following:

  • "regained his composer": 203 hits
  • "regained my composer": 137 hits
  • "regained her composer": 102 hits
  • "keep your composer": 50 hits
  • "keep my composer": 89 hits
  • "regain his composer": 107 hits
  • "regain her composer": 50 hits
  • "regain my composer": 74 hits
  • "maintain his composer": 31 hits

  • (All the other permutations I tried had at least a handful of examples.)

    A number of these come from lyrics to hip-hop songs, but I'm nowhere near cool enough to know whether it's an actual variant in the urban lexicon or just bad transcription. "Maintain my composer" (30 hits) appeared in an unusual number of NC-17 sources, which I suppose could be considered either flattering of frightening. As far as I could tell, only this was consciously making a pun.

    On the plus side, our friend Mark Meyer noted in a comment that his computer's spellchecker keeps insisting that "Poulenc" should be "opulence." So there's hope.

    November 27, 2006

    "Can it be that it was all so simple then?"

    Over the weekend, the Globe's Jeremy Eichler looked at Boston, looked at Steve Reich, and asked, "Where is the love?" It's true, the town I call home (but which will never be my hometown—non-native New Englanders know what I'm talking about) hasn't exactly been clearing the shelves at iParty in honor of the man's 70th. Truth be told, though, I hadn't noticed. In fact, I don't listen to a whole lot of Reich's music anymore.

    Now, I have nothing against Reich's music; I liked it when I first heard it, and I haven't stopped liking it, but I haven't needed to hear it for a while. I think it's when I first heard it that's important. Reich entered my consciousness in my late teens—right around the time, in fact, when I first got hooked on Richard Strauss. Don Juan and Music for a Large Ensemble both got many a spin on my turntable (and lest you think that turntable makes me even older than I am, keep in mind that I didn't even buy a computer until the late 90's). I still have my copies of Different Trains and The Desert Music, and like Zarathustra and Sinfonia Domestica, they don't get a lot of play.

    Glenn Gould once divided the world into two camps: those who outgrew their youthful enthusiasm for Strauss, and those who didn't. The implication was that there's a certain age at which all listeners (all boys, at any rate) who come into contact with Strauss's music become infatuted with it, and that age usually falls around late adolescence. Gould was on to something, I think: there's something about Strauss's music, a talent for turning the raw materials of nerdishness and awkward enthusiasm into the most grandiose of triumphal statements, that's irresistable to the teenaged mind. But even more than that, there's the sense that Strauss had figured it all out, that he had cracked the code, that this was the way music was supposed to sound.

    I remember thinking that when I was 16 or 17. For a while, I thought that, like Gould, I would be in that minority that didn't outgrow their Strauss-o-philia, but my ardor cooled, and now my fondness is limited to his songs. That's not to say I don't relish a nice Heldenleben when the opportunity presents itself, but that pleasure is in large part nostalgic: for a little while, I can remember what it was like to blast it through my headphones late at night (the Karajan recording, the one where the trumpets cack on the high note), reveling in the hedonistic glory of a wildly over-orchestrated 6/4 chord.

    Reich's music doesn't have very much in common with Strauss, with one exception: to my not-quite-adult ear, it sure sounded like he had squared the circle, that this was a way of making music that had worked out all the 20th-century kinks. I don't think that anymore—I don't think any less of the music, it's just that I've wised up about things a little—and I have a suspicion that, if I had encountered his music later, when my mind was more attuned to possibilities than solutions, I'd probably hear it much differently (and would have continued to hear it in new ways for a much longer time). But, like Strauss, it was a particular type of music at a particular time, and that initial impression was indelibly strong. I still enjoy a serendipitous chance to hear it; maybe Boston, it its curmudgeonly way, will celebrate Reich's 71st birthday just to reassure everyone that they're not jumping on some passing fancy of a bandwagon. If they do, though, some tangle of hard-wired teenaged neurons will insist on making it into a trip down memory lane.

    "It might be that you / are in need of a clue"

    Thanksgiving sure ends abruptly, doesn't it? We were planning on staying home all day Friday, but as it turns out, we needed this and that, so out we went. And the holiday season seemed to have dropped onto the world en masse as if it were the marshmallow avalanche crushing the EPA guy at the end of Ghostbusters. It's full-metal Christmas out there, all goodwill and happy thoughts and twinkling lights and reindeer and novelty swag and you name it.

    It's like of some horrible plague! But worry not: our anti-social friend Kid Seditious has the cure. Head over to his MySpace page (zero friends as of yesterday; glad to see he's keeping up appearances) and click on "Insensitivity (Wishing a Jew Merry Christmas)."

    November 24, 2006

    Get a Job

    help wantedIf you're unemployed or just underemployed....

    Pseudoxanthoma elasticum: the Opera! Or maybe Tourette Syndrome. Or possibly Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. UK-based Santé Communications is being coy on the subject, but they're looking for a composer "capable of penning a 20-30 minute opera (possibly for a few principles, small choir and instrumental accompaniment of sorts) around an extremely medical theme". Imagine the possibilities: a minimalist portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder! An aleatoric masterpiece depicting ataxia! The mind reels—although that could just be a subfrontal meningioma.

    On the other hand, if those voices in your head are unremittingly paranoiac, you might just be the person Universal Music Group is looking for to be their new Associate Manager for Digital Rights Management. Requirements: a lack of any sense of irony, an essentially Hobbesian view of human nature, and the ability to see the hardened criminal lurking behind a baby's eyes. All applicants will be required to submit to a criminal background check and a drug test, even though we already know what they're going to say, you coked-up little thief.

    Speaking of thievery, if those pesky notes are eluding you, how about words? This guy would like you to write new lyrics to a catchy jingle by that mainstay of the charts, Antonio Vivaldi. With a few changes, of course.
    As the song is written now, single words are sustained for many notes and I would like it broken up with more words so that it will be easier to sing, and also, so that modern audiences will relate to it better.
    So that's what's alienating modern audiences—melisma! Somebody tell Norman Lebrecht!

    But if you're really desperate, you could try this.
    What I am seeking quite frankly is a mate that is tall, slender, blue eyed. I want to pro-create the blue-eyed human being. This is not hate, just preservation of the vanishing blue.

    I am seeking you my darling Goddess. You may look here just for fun, but are now perplexed at this opportunity and are even moved to respond even though you would never do that anyway. Yes this is real. We are the Golden ones. We must be proud and preserve our ways.

    About me. Beautiful Blue eyes that can see right into your soul. Young looking. light brownish golden hair. Tantra connection. Tall medium build, strong. Enough income to support babes and us. Extremely knowledgeable in healthy living. Hands on construction and auto mechanics. A ballroom dancer and composer.
    Percy Grainger is still alive?

    November 22, 2006

    Holiday (II)

    The Plymouth Rock sheet music coverTomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the US, which supposedly commemorates the Pilgrims and the Indians getting together for a feast in 1621. Let's be honest: if you know anything about history, you know that the mythology behind Thanksgiving is pretty sketch, and if you live in New England, you know that the people who were here before you were don't think much of the entire holiday. But I'm not going to bad-mouth Thanksgiving; for most people, it's just an excuse to get together with family and friends and eat way too much food, and, if anything, the world could use a lot more excuses for that sort of behavior. Now, if you're a pessimistic sort, you might think that there's a lot of people out there who have neither friends, family, or food—but that's just because they haven't met you yet. So introduce yourself already: click on over to the nearest food bank (around here, it's the Greater Boston Food Bank; you can search here to find your local equivalent) and give 'em a few bucks. (You'd be surprised how far they can stretch one of those new metrosexual-Hamilton ten-dollar bills.)

    And since it's all about the food, here's some appropriate dinner music: the DJ Food masterpiece Raiding the 20th Century, the meta-mash-up to end all mash-ups (via UBUWEB). I've been listening to this all week. It's so much fun I can barely stand it.

    The missus and I (and Moe, of course) will be mooching of off friends this year, but there's one thing we won't share, and that's a big batch of my Mom's stuffing.

    Mom's Stuffing

    1 lb. pork sausage (like Jimmy Dean)
    1 lb. Italian sausage
    8 cups unseasoned bread cubes

    Sauté the meat in a large skillet, stirring and breaking up. When browned, add the bread. Stir well to mix and let the bread absorb the fat. Remove to a large bowl. In the same skillet, melt:

    ½ cup butter


    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    2 cups finely chopped celery (stalks and leaves)
    1 cup chopped onion
    2 cups shredded almonds
    1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
    ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
    ¼ cup finely chopped green pepper
    2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. poultry seasoning
    ½ tsp. ground pepper
    ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
    pinch cayenne pepper

    Cook gently until the onions are soft. Add:

    ½ cup condensed beef consommé
    ½ cup dry sherry

    Cook until everything's hot, then add to the sausage and bread mixture, tossing lightly. (If it looks a little dry, add more consommé and sherry.) Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake at 350º until it's done to your liking. (Or, cool the mixture and then stuff your bird with it.)

    Holiday (I)

    Maderno sculpture of St. Cecilia

    Stefano Maderno (1576-1636). St. Cecilia. Marble, 1600.
    Church of St. Cecilia in Trastavere, Rome.

    In 1599, the tomb of St. Cecilia, martyr and patron saint of musicians (feast day: November 22), was opened during a renovation of the church. Before it was closed again, so the story goes, Pope Clement VIII commissioned Maderno to sculpt a reproduction of the miraculously preserved body inside. Image via the Web Gallery of Art.

    November 21, 2006

    Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo

    My current reading is the fancy new reprint of Leszek Kołakowski's Main Currents of Marxism. Terrific book, although I kind of wish they had kept the original three-volume division—trying to keep this thing propped open on my lap is like a Pilates workout. Anyway, Kołakowski sets the stage for Marx's appearance with a quick history of the philosophical traditions that fed into his thinking. This includes Neo-Platonism, so he discusses Plotinus, generally considered the first Neo-Platonist (and no, not because it's kind of a pun on his name). Here's how Kołakowski paraphrases Plotinus:
    The attenuation of existence is measured by the descent from unity to multiplicity, from immobility to motion and from eternity to time. Movement is a degradation of quiescence, activity is enfeebled contemplation, time is a corruption of eternity.
    To which, as a musician, I can only respond oh, great—no wonder we're always the red-headed stepchild of the visual arts. Let me explain.

    Most analyses of Plotinus talk about the three hypostases, or underlying realities, that form the basis of his concept of reality. There's the One, or the Absolute, something vaguely like either God or a Prime Mover (part of the quality of the One is that you can't really say anything specific about it)—but since Plotinus says that the One is self-sufficient, that doesn't explain the presence of non-One reality, so he needs more. He postulates the Intellect as just below the One in his hierarchy; the framework of reality, as we can express it, is the result of the contemplative activity of the Intellect (making the Intellect a creative force in and of itself in this regard was one of Plotinus's innovations). But the Intellect is merely the foundation of existence, as created by the One. The specific location of that existence is what Plotinus calls the Soul. Although there's a "higher" part of the Soul that remains in contact with the Intellect, the Soul is the medium by which the Intellect interacts with the physical and the temporal, and it's corrupted as a result. Here's how Plotinus lays it out in his main work, the Enneads:
    Now if there is a coalescence, the lower is ennobled, the nobler degraded; the body is raised in the scale of being as made participant in life; the Soul, as associated with death and unreason, is brought lower. How can a lessening of the life-quality produce an increase such as Sense-Perception?

    No: the body has acquired life, it is the body that will acquire, with life, sensation and the affections coming by sensation. Desire, then, will belong to the body, as the objects of desire are to be enjoyed by the body. And fear, too, will belong to the body alone; for it is the body's doom to fail of its joys and to perish.
    Picking up on this note of transience, Kołakowski does something really interesting: he frames his whole survey of this head-scratchingly esoteric business around the idea of man's contigency, an Aristotelian term that refers to the fact that even though we exist, it isn't strictly necessary that we exist. This is bound up with our experience of time; as Kołakowski puts it, "Every created thing has a beginning in time; there was a time when it did not exist, and consequently it does not exist of necessity." What's more, the fact of time is what separates us from the One; because time continually passes, we can remember what we were, or imagine what we will be, but we can never know what we are—we're permanently alienated from a unified sense of our own existence. Hence the relative philosophical shoddiness of movement, activity, and time itself.

    You may be saying to yourself: bending one's mind around these ideas is perhaps a not unpleasant way of avoiding actual work, but ultimately, why should I care? Here's why you should care: because St. Augustine read Plotinus. In fact, Book XI of the Confessions is pretty much Plotinus run through a Christian filter. The big difference? Plotinus says that our alienation will end when the contemplations of the Intellect raise the Soul back into unity with the One. But Augustine says that the only cure for the temporal blues is the salvation of a loving God.
    Thus through [the Lord] I may lay hold upon him in whom I am also laid hold upon; and I may be gathered up from my old way of life to follow that One and to forget that which is behind, no longer stretched out but now pulled together again—stretching forth not to what shall be and shall pass away but to those things that are before me. Not distractedly now, but intently, I follow on for the prize of my heavenly calling, where I may hear the sound of thy praise and contemplate thy delights, which neither come to be nor pass away.

    But now my years are spent in mourning. And thou, O Lord, art my comfort, my eternal Father. But I have been torn between the times, the order of which I do not know, and my thoughts, even the inmost and deepest places of my soul, are mangled by various commotions until I shall flow together into thee, purged and molten in the fire of thy love.
    Contemplation of the passage of time has become something that mangles the soul until it can be purified in the Refiner's fire. Now, Augustine's writings became the foundation for the entire edifice of Christian theology. And Christian theology was, for the better part of the millenium, one of the driving engines of Western civilization. Even in this nominally secular age, those threads have been woven pretty deep into the fabric of society.

    What does all this have to do with music? Think about it: the fundamental subject of music is the passage of time. I mean, yes, the visual arts are experienced in time, but music actually rubs your nose in it. Paintings, sculpture, architecture—they all create an illusion of timelessness, of being outside our poor alienated sense of the world. It's all there at once; it provides the comfort of knowing that, at least in theory, there's a unified reality, even if we can't quite grasp it. But music is not only not all there, it's not even there at all. It's constantly on the move, shifting, disappearing into the past and running off into the future. It not only reminds us of our fractured experience of time, it is our fractured experience of time, made manifest and explicit. It's a soul-mangling extravaganza.

    My sense is that, throughout Western history, music has been the recipient of an unfair share of pious horror. Whenever you chance across a commentary, old or new, warning you about music because it's too sensual, or too overwhelmingly emotional, or too likely to corrupt the morals of young people, etc., ask youself: aren't other art forms guilty of all these sins? What is this really about? I think they're all distant echoes of an Augustinian big bang. The real scare is this: music is the slippery temporal nature of our worldly existence acknowledged, brought to the fore, and most dangerous of all, rendered damned beautiful.

    November 20, 2006

    The Wrath of Khon

    If you remember, a few weeks back the military took over the government of Thailand, with the support of jazz saxophonist, composer, songwriter, and, oh, yeah, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. So, um, how's that coup going, anyways?
    Thailand's new military-appointed government has threatened to shut down an operatic version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, ostensibly over fears one of its scenes may bring bad luck.
    That's from an AP report about Somtow Sucharitkol's new opera "Ayodhya," which premiered in Bangkok last week. The Thai Culture Ministry (hmmm, army generals controlling the ministry of culture, no comedy there) objected to a scene containing the on-stage death of the demon king Thotsakan (that's him at the right), the principal antagonist in the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana. Supposedly the depiction of Thotsakan's death is taboo, although really the restriction only applies to Khon, a highly stylized form of theater-dance in which all the characters wear masks and don't say anything—raising the possibility that the leaders of the junta are simply unusually catty critics.

    The best part of the story? The composer "said the officials told him that 'if anything happened to anyone in power in Thailand, it would be blamed on this production.'" Applying theatrical superstition to future national misfortunes like some sort of post-dated karmic check—those Thai generals are really on the cutting edge of political spin, aren't they? Look for Dick Cheney to pre-emptively pin the blame for the next two years of the Bush administration on the Washington National Opera's production of "Macbeth."

    Somtow is quite a guy: he conducts the Siam Philharmonic and the Bangkok Opera in addition to composing. In the 1980's a "severe case of musical burnout" resulted in his writing over 40 mostly science-fiction and horror novels. (His bio, which includes a pleasantly surreal testimonial calling him "the J.D. Salinger of Thailand," also manages to name-drop Wolfgang Wagner and Takashi Miike.) Somtow himself warned that the new opera, inspired by American action movies, might "appall" some of his fellow Thais. You can listen to a bit of "Ayodhya" on Somtow's website, and it is grand and fun in a late-Romantic Hollywood sort of way. Somtow keeps a house in Los Angeles as well—enterprising movie producers might want to look him up.

    Update: ANABlog has a nicely pithy take on this. And the AP report has been updated to include reported comments from Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who regards the whole situation as silly as we do.

    November 17, 2006

    "Altho' no opera sung ever has it..."

    "...ragtime is great when you jazz it." (Click the cover for the rest.)

    The Galli-Curci Rag cover
    (Via the University of Colorado Digital Sheet Music Ragtime Collection.)

    November 16, 2006

    The Skills to Pay the Bills

    A short one today: I'm actually trying to get some composing done. (What's that you say? Most people would stop posting for a day? You have not mastered the way of procrastination, grasshopper.) Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution points to an article by economist Ed Glaeser picking apart a proposal to alter Harvard's Core Curriculum. The money quote:
    Harvard’s system of general education should emphasize methodology over topic because methods are harder to teach and learn than facts. Facts become easier to absorb by one’s self once one has a handle on methods. Harvard students can learn facts about the United Nations Security Council or the Federal Reserve Board from the New York Times or Wikipedia, but they cannot learn the tools to make sense of these institutions so readily. As students learn to think rigorously about society and how to use data to test their thoughts, they acquire a set of tools that can then be used to acquire knowledge in any setting.
    Can I get an Amen? It's one of the biggest deficiencies in higher music education as well: the emphasis on "applied" over "theoretical" knowledge. Most students regard ear training and theory as drudgery to be survived rather than the fundamental basis of everything they're going to do. I can kind of understand why: the focus of their education is, for the most part, public performances and preparing jury repertoire. But in retrospect, my three most important teachers were: my high school choir director, Jack Olander, who also taught theory and drilled the bejeezus out of my ear; my undergrad piano professor, Dmitry Paperno, who opened my eyes to the futility of attempting to play any piece without understanding it theoretically; and my graduate composition professor, Lukas Foss, who never let me forget that the greatest idea in the world would sink like a stone without solid technical execution (and for all his legendary absentmindedness, he could pick a harmonic or contrapuntal flaw out of the most dense and dissonant texture with a frighteningly uncanny focus).

    I learned stuff from all my teachers (I'm lucky in that regard), but it's those guys that I think of the most often, just because it's the things they taught me that I use every single day of my working life; a working life, I might add, that's not exactly what I thought I'd be doing when I graduated. They didn't just teach me facts or literature or repertoire (Professor Paperno would be horrified to know that my colander of a brain has kept exactly one piece in my memory out of the four years in his studio), they taught me how to deal with a piece of music—how to read it, how to hear it, how to interpret it, how to communicate it.

    Most college-level theater programs do a sophomore cut: at the end of sophomore year, the faculty decides whether you're good enough to stick around for the next two years of the program. I've always thought music programs should do this too; and the more I think about it, the more I think the criteria for promotion should be based around the drudgery of theory and ear training. The people I know who have made a success in this business have varying degrees of skill, technique, and repertoire mastery—what they all have in common is steel-trap musicianship. That's how you make a living as a musician.

    (Thus endeth the sermon.)

    November 15, 2006

    Training the High School Choir: A New Approach

    There was a special way that freshmen were obligated to deal with the mistakes and errors they inevitably committed. The slogan was "The error of one is the error of all." It was wrong and destructive to permit a new teammate to believe that an obvious error—in conduct or in performance—was his alone. Instead, when such infractions occurred, we freshmen formed two lines face to face and were required to hit each other. By doing this, each one of us could feel that it was necessary to be both sorry and responsible. There was no slacking off either. The upperclassmen who watched would make you hit again if they felt the blow you delivered was too light. I always hit hard because I did not want to be made to strike a second time. I hit hard and in turn was hit hard myself. This happened more times than I can remember.

    Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner,
    Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball
    (New York Times Books, 1984)

    November 14, 2006

    They've got a little list

    Some quick videos while I wait for dinner to come out of the oven.

    Our friend Rebecca Hunt sent along this video from the Helsinki Complaints Choir. Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen collect everyone's major and minor annoyances, then make a choral setting of them. They've organized choirs in Birmingham, St. Petersburg, and Hamburg as well, but you can't beat that Scandinavian choral sound.

    Apparently, what the world needs now is a marching band version of "Verklärte Nacht." You might not recognize it at first, because it's the filling in a medley sandwich, encased in two slices of Shostakovich. This is the Stephen F. Austin High School Marching Band and Dance Team, based in Sugar Land, Texas—that's Tom DeLay's old district, isn't it? You Texans are wacky.

    And what of those crazy kids across the pond? Here's Michael Tippett (who provided the name for this blog, so we always like him) conducting the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra, circa 1969, in a bit of Charles Ives' "Putnam's Camp." The students nail it—not just technically, but that goofy mash-up Ives spirit as well. Why more children's concerts aren't all-Ives affairs I'll never know.

    Coming distractions

    Those of you in the Boston area looking for something to do this Saturday night (November 18): as part of Boston Conservatory's New Music Festival, I will be a proud temporary member of the student-run Ludovico Ensemble, performing Morton Feldman's "Three Pieces for Piano" (1954). Festivities start at 8 pm in Seully Hall.

    It's a cool piece that makes for an interesting problem: how much do I interpretively acknowledge Feldman's mature style in playing this early music? The "Three Pieces" are sparse and quiet, but also much more pointillistic, dissonant, and non-repetitive than Feldman's later, better-known music. Do I stretch the time out to make the piece sound more like you expect a Feldman piece to sound? Do I emphasize the Webern-esque nature of the writing to highlight where Feldman diverges from the prevailing mid-1950's path? If I try to strike a balance, will that just make the piece bland? I still have the rest of the week to tinker with it—right now I'm trying for the temporal disorientation I love in so much of Feldman's output, but the expressionistic side of me may yet win out. Suspense! Drama! All your burning questions will be answered Saturday night.

    (It also strikes me that Feldman could be considered yet another exception to the increasingly suspect rule regarding composer careers I promulgated in yesterday's post. I'm telling you, it takes me forever to wake up on Monday mornings. I still stand by the unwitting persistence of the idea of musical progress, though.)

    The Festival runs Thursday through Sunday and includes perfomances by the Argento Ensemble and Harvard's White Rabbit. (Scroll down this page for a schedule.) The emphasis is on Webern's influence in America—serialism, pointillism, miniaturism. All the posters have this logo:

    I heart Webern
    Do you think a bumper sticker of that on your car would result in more traffic tickets, or fewer? (Just don't drive near the mess hall.)

    Update: Tears of a Clownsilly has analyzed the automotive ramifications of said bumper sticker with admirably typical brilliance.

    November 13, 2006

    Are we there yet?

    Quick: name a composer whose "late period" music is less complex and adventurous than their "early period" music. Not many. It's easy to imagine why—the more music you write, the more fluent you get with music's constituent elements, and the more comfortable you are experimenting with them. Often there's a trade-off: the surface level becomes less active and dense, but the relationships between elements and the formal structures become more intricate and subtle (Brahms, Carter). In other instances, the style remains relatively constant, but the vocabulary becomes more challenging (Ravel, Copland). Sometimes the musical ideas are concentrated into utterances of great brevity and density (Webern, Stravinsky). And sometimes everything just gets really complicated (Beethoven).

    This is such a common career arc for composers that I think it's affected the way we look at the entire history of music. I'm talking about the idea of historical progress, the notion that an historical style of music supersedes another by virtue of its later chronology. There's been no shortage of conscious debunking of this notion (Kyle Gann summed it up nicely a couple months back), but it still hangs around the subconscious, influencing musical value judgments all the time.

    There's an old trope (it made some guest appearances in a lot of the articles surrounding the recent Steve Reich birthday celebrations) that atonality was a "wrong turn" in the history of music and that, say, Reich et al. had returned music to its proper path. (Here's a few examples.) What this implies is that there was a "right turn" that somehow everybody missed. That's nonsense. In the first place, we only have one datum point for the evolution of Western music—for all we know, it happens this way, in this order, every time. (Compare a creationist's anti-evolution argument based on the "improbability" of human existence.) But more importantly, the history we do have bears a lot more resemblance to a random walk than an goal-oriented path. Baroque to Classical, Romanticism to Impressionism, Serialism to Minimalism, music history is filled with sharp tacks and weird digressions. If there's an ultimate goal to all this, we've certainly taken the roundabout way there.

    Why is the chimera of musical progress so hard to let go of? I know why someone like Schoenberg would espouse it—the Fichte-Hegel idea of the Mind-as-Being inevitably progressing towards the Absolute must have been hard to escape in 19th-century Germany. But I also think it has to do with the similar artistic evolution of individual composers. We subconsciously assume that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: the development of the individual somehow mirrors the development of the entire species. If a particular composer's music gradually becomes more advanced (and you can even see this happening today among the old-school minimalists) then, somehow, it must imply that music as a whole must somehow advance and progress. Haeckel's recapitulation theory is largely discredited in biology, but its elegance and simplicity have made it a hard intellectual habit to break. Especially in this goal-oriented society: we can't just be driving around aimlessly; we must be headed somewhere. At least as far as music is concerned, though, it's better to sit back and enjoy the ride.

    November 10, 2006

    "When I tell him I think he's the end, he giggles a lot with his friend"

    Not so tall, not so tan, but still lovely—it's "The Girl From Ipanema," as processed through a simulated neural map and projected onto an unfolded torus representing the gamut of Western tonal centers. I think. You should proabably ask Petr Janata, whose lab did this research. (Here's a partial explanation.) I know it has to do with trying to localize the sensation of tonal harmony in the prefrontal cortex, but Science will only let me look at the abstract without paying. Nevertheless, Dr. Janata has posted a movie (very big file, but worth it) of the whole song that, well, moves so cool and sways so gently. Perfect for a Friday.

    And now that the song is stuck in your head, here's 54 covers of it to tide you over.

    The title comes from Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim's lethal parody "The Boy From..." (which has been hilariously translated into American Sign Language—fingerspelling the name of the town every time must bring down the house).

    November 09, 2006

    One-hit wonder

    I returned home from my usual Thursday hike in the woods with critic-at-large Moe (who has new reviews coming, he swears) to find it's now more-or-less official that the Democrats have retaken both houses of Congress, which, in historical terms, is a fairly significant pasting. Tough luck, Republicans! But, like the song says, it's all in the game.

    Jo Davidson bust of Charles DawesYou don't know that song? You should—it's composition is but one unlikely highlight of one of the more spectacularly adventurous résumés to ever come out of the Republican party. I refer to the career of Vice-President, bureaucrat, banker, Nobel laureate, and, yes, unexpected hitmaker Charles Gates "Hell and Maria" Dawes. (His vice-presidential bust, by sculptor Jo Davidson, is at right.)

    Born in Ohio into an illustrious family (look up "William Dawes" in a history of the Revolutionary War sometime), Dawes picked up a law degree before being sent to Nebraska to watch over the real estate holdings of Ohio's ex-governor. There, he became friends with his political opposite, William Jennings Bryan; Dawes wrote his first book to argue against Bryan's free-silver monetary policies. (Bryan wanted to move off the gold standard to boost prices for farmers; Dawes, as we'll see, tried to do right by farmers in his own way later on.) Dawes had the misfortune to invest in a local bank just before the Panic of 1893, but had enough money to land on his feet, buying some utility companies and moving to Illinois.

    In Chicago, Dawes caught the political bug, becoming an influential behind-the-scenes man in Mark Hanna's political machine, which would soon elect William McKinley president. His patronage reward was an appointment as Comptroller of the Currency, in charge of regulating national banks. In Washington, Dawes was a favorite guest of the President; a self-taught pianist, he often entertained McKinley and his wife at the White House. Dawes ran for the Senate, having been promised a McKinley endorsement, but after McKinley's assassination, new president Theodore Roosevelt threw his support behind his friend Albert Hopkins, and Dawes was defeated.

    Dawes returned home and founded the Central Trust Company of Illinois. He retired from public service and concentrated on his family and the banking business. His son Rufus accidentally drowned in 1912; in his memory, Dawes founded the Rufus Dawes Hotel for Destitute Men in Chicago and Boston (the Boston branch still exists as the Pine Street Inn). He also worked at his music: a "Melodie in A" written in 1911 so impressed a violinist friend that he secretly had the piece published. Dawes was soon surprised to see his photo peering out from the window of a Chicago music store. "I know that I will be the target of my punster friends," Dawes quipped. "They will say that if all the notes in my bank are as bad as my musical ones, they are not worth the paper they were written on." The "Melodie" became a favorite of violinist Fritz Kreisler.

    World War I made Dawes a national figure. At 52, he was seemingly too old to serve in uniform, but he had an old Nebraska acquaintance in the army: "Black Jack" Pershing, soon to be commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Dawes became the chief of supply procurement for the Americans, and later, the American representative on the Military Board of Allied Supply. Such was the origin of his nickname: after the war, a Republican House committee called Dawes to testify in an investigation into war spending, attempting to tarnish the policies of former Democratic president Woodrow Wilson. Asked how much he paid for French horses, Dawes, as was his habit, snapped. "Hell'n Maria!" he said. "I will tell you this, that we would have paid horse prices for sheep, if they could have hauled artillery!" "Hell and Maria" Dawes became a celebrity. (Dawes would insist that the expression was actually "Helen Maria," but nobody really believed him.)

    In 1921, Dawes became the first head of what is now the Office of Management and Budget, and when Germany defaulted on payment of war reparations in 1923, Dawes was called in as the head of a committee to try and fix the mess. The Dawes Plan got Allied troops out of the coal-rich Ruhr valley, adjusted Germany's payment schedule, and financed it with an arrangement of foreign loans and various taxes. For his efforts, Dawes was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. While the plan temporarily curbed German hyperinflation, its reliance on foreign money proved excessive as the bloom wore off the economy of the 1920's, and it was superseded by the Young Plan in the 1930's. Given the eventual disintegration of German society and the rise of the National Socialists, Dawes' Nobel seems, in retrospect, more an expression of hope in the effort than success in the implementation (though, as Peace prizes go, it's nowhere near as absurd as Henry Kissinger's).

    Drafted (as a third choice) as Calvin Coolidge's running mate, Dawes was vice-presidential trouble from the get-go. Addressing the Senate at his inaugural, Dawes blasted the senators for their secrecy and over-reliance on filibustering. The surprisingly harsh speech overshadowed Coolidge's own inaugural address later the same day. The relationship had already been strained when Dawes informed Coolidge that he didn't think his vice-presidential duties included cabinet meetings; it further deteriorated when an ill-timed Dawes nap resulted in the Senate voting not to confirm Coolidge's nominee for Attorney General. Dawes didn't back off, continuing to press his case against the filibuster and working behind the scenes to advance his own agenda. He employed considerable diplomacy to get a major farm relief bill through the Senate; Coolidge vetoed it twice. (Dawes had some history of mildly bucking his own party—he supported the League of Nations, and had convinced McKinley to keep Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate when the rest of the Republican machinery was against him.)

    Dawes was unceremoniously dropped from the ticket when Coolidge opted not to seek re-election; a short and unsatisfactory stint as Ambassador to Great Britain ended when President Hoover convinced Dawes to run the newly-formed Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a bank bailout program. Dawes soon had to resign the position, when his own bank, now the Central Republic Bank & Trust, itself needed a loan from the RFC. The Central Republic Bank was soon liquidated; Dawes reorganized under another name and paid back the loan. (The bank was eventually bought by the Chicago giant Continental.)

    Dawes died in 1951. That year, lyricist Carl Sigman, previously responsible for "Arrivederci Roma" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000," wrote words to Dawes' old "Melodie in A."

    Many a tear has to fall
    But it's all in the game
    All in the wonderful game
    That we know as love

    The song became a #1 hit for Tommy Edwards, and has subsequently been covered by the Four Tops, Van Morrison, Barry Manilow, Elton John, and others. Ironically, Dawes himself had grown to loathe the tune—as vice-president, brass bands and restaurant violinists had serenaded him with it everywhere he went. As he put it, "General Sherman, with justifiable profanity once expressed his detestation of the tune ‘Marching Through Georgia,’ to which he was compelled to listen whenever he appeared anywhere. I sympathize with his feeling when I listen to this piece of mine over and over."

    Acknowledgments to Senate historian Mark Hatfield's biography of Dawes, and Bill Kauffman's article "The Melodious Veep," which provided much of this information.

    November 08, 2006

    Le travail du peintre

    A few weeks ago, I mentioned a bunch of Klimt paintings that had been looted by the Nazis during World War II and then, recently, had been returned to the descendants of their original owners. This week, some of those Klimts are being auctioned off. Which ended up being the second biggest art story of the week, after another painting came under similar suspicion.

    Picasso Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto
    You’re looking at Picasso’s “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto,” a masterpiece from the artist’s Blue Period. A federal judge temporarily blocked (and then allowed) the painting’s sale this week, responding to a lawsuit by Julius Schoeps, who claimed that the Nazis had improperly pressured his great-uncle to sell the work below market value back in the 1930’s. That is, his great-uncle Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, as in Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (Paul was his nephew). In addition to heading the Moses Mendelssohn Center at the University of Potsdam, Schoeps has been pursuing the divested remnants of the Mendelssohn family’s rather impressive art collection; he similarly challenged the 2004 sale of Picasso’s “Boy With a Pipe."

    Oh, and the current owner of the Fernandez de Soto portrait? That would be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s charitable foundation. Mendelssohn suing Andrew Lloyd Webber! Schoeps' attorneys say they will refile their suit in state court. Can we somehow get Randol Schoenberg involved with this? Because that would be awesome.

    Update: the catalog for the auction is online. (There's a couple of Mondrians. I'm a big fan. Christmas is coming up....)

    Update, the sequel: Christie's and Lloyd Webber pulled the painting off the block themselves, citing the pending state suit. Christie's president Marc Porter warns: "We reserve the right to seek damages." Imagine a British accent for the proper menace.

    November 06, 2006

    Posterity is just around the corner

    I do my best not to talk politics here. I'm fascinated by political history, and no doubt anyone who reads this stuff on a regular basis can probably figure out which way I vote. But in this forum, it usually only comes up if a) it's something music-related, and b) I can get an easy laugh out of it. Political discourse on the Web tends to devolve into ad hoc nastiness way too quickly for my taste, and besides, I've always thought that, as important as it is, politics is a lousy way to pick your friends.

    Now, unless sometime in the past month your piano teacher told you to go practice Vexations thirty times in a row, you're probably aware that tomorrow is Election Day here in the US. I was going to do an election-related post on how economic issues affect the arts (executive summary: direct governmental arts funding is a political red herring; income inequality/middle-class wage stagnation and loose enforcement of anti-trust laws are bad for classical music in ways you probably hadn't considered), but I haven't had a whole lot of time for research lately, and while I never hesitate to write about music off the top of my head, I'd rather not delve into economics with half-baked data. And besides, like I said before, I do my best not to talk politics here.

    So instead, here's a little coincidence. I tend to leave my music listening choices to chance: either I stumble upon something and then I'm obsessed with it for a time, or I suddenly remember a bit of music from somewhere, and I go home, dig it out of my pile of records, and give it a spin. Anyway, over the weekend, I took stock of what I've been listening to a lot lately:

  • The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield, especially tracks from Curtis, Roots, and the Superfly soundtrack (this has been on permanent rotation in the car for a couple of weeks now)
  • James Brown, Soul on Top (discovered via Soul Sides)
  • Lukas Foss, "Phorion" (later incorporated into the Baroque Variations)
  • John Williams, Flute Concerto
  • Rosemary Brown, A Musical Séance (revisited for a projected Hallowe'en post that never came to fruition)
  • Van Dyke Parks, Song Cycle

  • The weird thing: here's the release/composition dates for all of the above: 1970-72 (Mayfield), 1970 (Godfather Brown), 1967 (Foss), 1969 (Williams), 1969 (spirit medium Brown), 1968 (Parks). So for whatever reason, and by a number of circuitous paths, I've gravitated towards a bunch of otherwise unrelated music dating from a particularly tumultuous five years of American history.

    Last week, Jerry over at Sequenza21 called this election the most important in the last 250 years. He may have been exaggerating for comic effect. If he was serious, who knows? Maybe he's right. The last few election cycles have seen both sides ratchet up the pressure so high that it's kind of hard to tell anymore. And it's probably just a random fold of my own history that's brought all this music to the surface now. Still, regardless of your political persuasion, it's been hard to escape that Yeatsian "things falling apart" feeling over the last couple of years, hasn't it? Maybe it's not a coincidence.

    P.S. Am I the only one who finds it Dada-funny that Election Day is always right around Guy Fawkes Night? No wonder the British think we're loopy.

    November 03, 2006

    Rocket 88

    It's Friday! Stop working and watch TV!

    And of course, there'll be sport: Blair McMillen plays Annie Gosfield's "Brooklyn, October 5, 1941" for baseballs, mitt and piano.

    (I'm pretty sure this was on NewMusicBox a while back, but hey, it's a cool piece: listen to it again. And then, as long as you're thinking of it, you can listen to Nicholas Slonimsky's legendary "Black-Key Etude á l'Orange."

    And for those of you who prefer drama—there's sport. You knew Scarlatti was ahead of his time—Donal Fox shows just how much more ahead of his time he was than you realized.

    For those of you who don't like variety, there's variety. Amos Milburn sings and plays "Bad, Bad Whiskey." Really, you ought to have hit "play" by the time I got through "Amos Milburn."

    And now for something completely different: the brilliant Tom Waits visits the brilliant "Fernwood Tonight" to sing the brilliant song "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and the results are predictably brilliant.

    November 02, 2006

    If you change your mind, I'm the first in line

    My keyboard harmony students have reached the score-reading section of their assignment packet. It starts off with an exercise in reading alto clef: Beethoven’s duet “with two eyeglasses obbligato,” for viola and cello, WoO 32. Which means I’ve spent the week listening to WoO 32 being played very slowly. It’s fun, actually: substituting molto largo for allegro turns the piece into a nice little bit of post-serial conceptual sound art. That is, until measure 9, when it turns into an Abba song.

    The downward sequence, the downbeat suspensions, the passage through the relative minor on the way to the subdominant—it’s straight out of Benny and Bjorn’s toolbox. Great minds think alike! I’m not claiming they consciously lifted from Beethoven; in fact, this little progression was probably already something of a cliché when Ludwig used it. The point is, for Beethoven, it’s just a starting point. He goes on to juxtapose it with other themes, and then develop it, and vary it, and transpose it, etc., etc. Whereas, for Abba, such a progression would be the entire song.

    That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not much of one. When I think of the differences between pop and classical, the main one for me is that the actual music of pop music is non-developing. Once you’re presented with the main material of the song, not much happens to it: maybe a modulation, maybe some vocal embellishment, probably a gradual building-up of the orchestration. But try and think of a pop song that does something as simple as reharmonizing the melody, for example. Or a pop song with a bridge that’s a conscious manipulation of the melody of the chorus. It doesn’t happen very often; and, more importantly, it’s not expected to happen.

    Not all classical music is developing—there’s plenty of pop-like examples in pre-Romantic song and opera repertoire, for example. But I think it’s significant that the bulk of the “canonic” repertoire at least nods in a developing direction. Most Schumann songs are ABA (or even AA) form, but the second A section almost always has a significant (if small) variation of phrase structure or melody or harmony. Brahms opted for exact recapitulations in a lot of his shorter piano works, but you can skim through the songs for a master class in all the ways to backload harmonic surprises. Even Ravel’s “Bolero,” the epitome of monomania, has that kick-ass modulation and coda.

    Do I wish pop music were more like classical music in this regard? Absolutely not—I think it’s one of the main sources of pop’s appeal. A great pop song starts with a terrific melodic hook, or a great harmonic change, and then just fills your ear with it. It takes a catchy cliché, like the Beethoven example, and lets you wallow in it for a minute or three. Wallow in a good way, it should be noted; it’s like calorie-free candy. It’s not much of a journey—it’s more like a little objet d’art: you experience it all at once, and it’s pretty much the same at the beginning and the end. There it is, it’s lovely, and then it’s over.

    This isn’t a criticism—it’s actually the way I like pop music to be: a perfectly crafted crystallization of a single emotion or idea. And yes, again, it is something of an overgeneralization. I mean, there is pop-esque music out there that does try to take you from point A to point B. Teenage memories of Pink Floyd spring to mind; I suppose some of the Beatles’ more experimental efforts might fit this mold. But even a lot of that only tricks out pop-song structure to give the illusion of development. Take one of the all-time great songs, “Good Vibrations,” by the Beach Boys. It has to be one of the least well-behaved pop songs ever. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus—and then there’s this wild contrapuntal bridge that leads to a completely new mini-refrain that finishes up on a totally open-ended chord, and then you’re back into the refrain, only it’s not, it’s another transition into an instrumental refrain that repeats and fades. I think “Good Vibrations” is a masterpiece of 20th-century music, but for all its variety, it’s not really developing the material so much as looking at it from all sides. If there’s demonic or sardonic or somber implications in any of those melodies, they remain untapped.

    That’s why I always keep turning to non-pop, old and new. For all the joy of pop, a lot of the time, it doesn’t feel like life feels: constantly changing, sometimes uncertain, frequently frustrating, but always driven by the quieter but equally vital excitement of discovery. Sometimes your experience of the world coalesces into a single beautiful moment—that’s pop music. Those moments are rare; it’s why we go back to our favorite pop songs over and over, a little reminder of what those moments are like. Most of the time, though, there’s just a glimmer of something, something that may seem commonplace, but might just might end up somewhere wonderful, and you follow that thread with equal parts apprehension and hope. And for whatever reason—temperamental, psychological, aesthetic—that’s the music I keep trying to write.

    November 01, 2006

    Get me rewrite!

    Or: adapt, improvise, overcome.

    It seems the great-nephew of John Hughes, the composer of the great Welsh hymn "Cwm Rhondda," isn't a fan of a new recording of the tune in the style of the band Queen. Apparently, he doesn't feel the revision rocks hard enough:
    "John Hughes' square-cut, driving harmonies are replaced with slushy Victorian chords and sloppy rhythms—the very things he was trying to avoid."
    Damn straight—what passes for rock and roll today is lame, lame, lame. Back before the Great War, they knew how to thrash.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the Clawdd Offa, Carnival Messiah is returning to England. In the words of its creator, “It is like a multicultural presentation that takes George Fredrick Handel’s oratorio from the concert hall and places it in the middle of a Caribbean street parade.” Hilarious consequences ensue! No, actually, the piece is a "true embodiment of the West Indian culture and Carnival, as it relates to the slave trade and colonialism." (In other words, don't you dare stand during the "Hallelujah" chorus.)

    I feel pretty sedated: sometime Ramones drummer Richie Ramone is coming to a pops concert near you, pounding his way through a drum-solo version of West Side Story by arranger Ron Abel. Don't remember Richie? A commenter on the above article sums it up: "He was in the band for a short amount of time, played all of the songs about three times faster than they were supposed to be played." Keep coolly cool, boy.

    Not to be outdone by Trevor Nunn, Berkeley-area composer and performer Aaron Blumenfeld has written a sequel to Porgy and Bess. Well, kind of. It's actually called Paigel and Bathsheva, and it takes place in... oh, let's just let him explain.
    Says the Richmond composer, “I thought it would be great to write a sequel showing how [Porgy] goes up north, and on the way he runs into jazz, rag, barrelhouse, jug band, gospel, all the early black folk music styles. Then I realized I’m not black.”

    Blumenfeld, an observant Jew and the son of a rabbi, pondered changing his main character to a Jew starting out in Europe then shifting the scene to America.

    There are parallels with the Heywood/Gershwin classic: Bathsheva, a rabbi’s daughter, is Blumenfeld’s Bess, courted by Pagiel, a young Jewish mystic. The original villain, Sportin’ Life, has a counterpart in Zishe, a rival suitor for Bathsheva’s hand. Zishe kidnaps Bathsheva and steals her off to America, with Pagiel hot on their trail.

    Once Pagiel arrives, he is rescued from anti-Semitic thugs by a friendly black musician, who introduces the immigrant to a strange new kind of music: the blues.
    OK, OK, it's pretty goofy. But doesn't this sound like fun the more you think about it? And what wouldn't you give to have this sentence in your bio?
    His publications include a 101-song collection of Chassidic melodies and “How to Play Blues and Boogie Piano Styles.”
    One last revision: the Bank of England is giving Edward Elgar the hook, replacing his portrait on the 20-pound note with that of the Scottish economist Adam Smith.

    Elgar and Smith 20-pound notes
    I've been telling you for years that the free market doesn't value classical music! Now do you believe me?