May is vinyl month (3-final)

A year ago, I offered the last (so far) in a Monday (Worship) Music series of 96 posts.  For a time, I was writing regularly on church music and related matters, e.g., individual songs and hymns, music notation technology, and song leading.  The last post was MM: An inviting invitation (musical settings of Matt 11:28-30), a sort of travelogue through three musical renderings of this Matthew text, including a composition of my own.  Many of the posts in the series focused attention specifically on worship music—i.e. music with lyrics addressed worshipfully to God, regardless of the style or genre, and regardless of its use or non-use “in church.”  I haven’t titled today’s post “Monday Music: ____,” but it did strike me that it was a Monday, and I’ve written about music.

During May I listened only to vinyl records at home.  If memory serves, I started “Vinyl Month” a couple days late, so I ended it a couple days late, too, extending through yesterday.  Below I’ve shared the album covers of the final group of records I sampled, including piano concertos, Maynard Ferguson, Chicago, horn & trumpet solos, musical theater, and crazy Charles Ives.

First off, the piano.  I could have gone to my easy-listening jazz recording of Henry Mancini and Doc Severinsen, or to a record of three well-known Beethoven sonatas, or Bach’s Goldberg Variations on harpsichord, or Ferrante & Teicher’s entertaining duo music.  I went rather to celebrated concertos, thinking that there are probably no more famous piano concertos than Rachmaninoff’s, Grieg’s, and Tchaikovky’s.  Beethoven wrote five, I think, and a couple of those are often performed; Mozart’s and Schumann’s are not too shabby, and I had once conducted a Schumann movement with this young artist at the piano, but the three I mentioned first will probably draw the audiences these days more than most others.

  • When Jedd heard Rachmaninoff from the other room, unprovoked, he said, “This is cool music.”  The third movement includes the melody that inspired the words “Full Moon and Empty Arms.”  Grieg is actually more a favorite of mine, but I didn’t listen to that this time.
  • Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the piano; his preludes and nocturnes and waltzes are still go-to pieces for a plethora of pianists.  The preludes are ordered with a major key followed by its relative minor.  Pop singer-pianist Barry Manilow used No. 20 in C Minor in his love song “Could It Be Magic?”  “Musicologist Henry Finck said that ‘if all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin’s Preludes.'”  (Wikipedia)  I later learned that a contemporary performing artist, a former colleague, viewed Martha Argerich as exemplary, whereas he had little appreciation for the glitzy interpretations of Lang Lang.

And then there was “pop,” which for me is a larger umbrella term than it is for most of the world these days.

  • Like operas in the 18C and 19C, musical theater material is largely pop-influenced.  I am not really an enthusiast but have been involved in probably 20 shows as music director or pit orchestra player.  Fiddler on the Roof is among my top three musicals, is relatively artistic and deep, and still manages to be entertaining.  I caught myself singing “If I Were a Rich Man” the other day and put this on.  This recording happens to have used renowned classical violinist Isaac Stern as the “Fiddler.”
  • A marching band demo record supplied by a publisher had some mildly interesting tunes.  My, has marching band changed in three decades.  If nothing else, this stuff is amusing and requires no brain whatsoever.
  • Chicago is always a good listen.  Gotta love trombone with the mild rock.  I never cared much for “Color My World,” but I like “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”  I like my Chicago CD‘s later hits even better, but that’s for another month.

For the more serious, cultivated music of the last couple weeks, I chose horn, trumpet, and Ives.  Or, if you like the alphabetical:  André, Brain, and Crazy Charles.

  • A rare recording of the British horn genius Dennis Brain, who died young in an auto accident, this one includes interviews and Dennis’s favorite encore.  I have three other Brain records, as well.
  • The trumpet concerto record is one I’ve owned most of my serious-listening life.  Maurice André was a renowned master who taught many, including Guy Touvron who would later found a recorded brass quintet.  André  also “inspired many innovations on his instrument and he contributed to the popularization of the trumpet.”  (Wikipedia)
  • Charles Ives was the pet project of my doctoral professor and his colleague Jim Sinclair, both of whom studied at Yale, in Ives’s haunts.  Ives was a different sort of musical master, never making his money with music, succeeding rather in the insurance business.  This recording features a piece I’d never heard of before, so I listened to it first:  Robert Browning Overture.  I found more of a savant’s lunacy than a poet’s soul in this music.  Also included is the more famous Three Places in New England, about which Wikipedia reports, “Each is intended to make the listener experience the unique atmosphere of the place, as though they (sic) are there. . . .  Ives’s “paraphrasing of American folk tunes is a particularly important device. . . .  The intention was to make the music accessible despite its avant-garde chromaticism.”  (Wikipedia)  A large part of middle movement of Three Places is better known to many as the wonderfully quirky, quodlibet-ish “Country Band” March for wind band.

I couldn’t resist a little “high Baroque” with Händel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Händel is no hero of mine; I don’t care for the oratorio and opera genres in which he gained much fame.  This brass-heavy, pompous music is nice, though, and almost as pleasurable as the Water Music suite (which I only have on CD).

Finally, the jazz I chose for the last couple of weeks included some personal favorites.

  • Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, is a jazz legend and also a tragic figure who experienced depression and addiction to heroin, dying at age 34.  (Schubert, Mozart, Purcell, and Gershwin also died in their 30s.)  Parker’s improvisation is pure genius, and he is known as a paragon of bop and an intellectually gifted architect of jazz.
  • Maynard Ferguson produced three “M.F. Horn” recordings, and I like them all very much.  I think I acquired #2 first (just after “Gospel John”), and it is probably my favorite, including “covers” of James Taylor’s “Country Road,” arrangements of movie themes, “Spinning Wheel,” and “Hey Jude.”
  • Stan Kenton’s jazz orchestra has always attracted me, largely because he’s a piano player and also because he sometimes used orchestral brass (horn, tuba).  My Kenton knowledge is shallow.  This is one of four recordings I have, but I haven’t played Side Two in years, so I did in May.
  • A serious jazz musician today would probably not want to think of Herb Alpert’s music as jazz, and I suppose it’s more like pop-lite Latino novelty stuff.  It’s great fun, though!

I take the glories and varieties of music to be one of many evidences of the existence of God.  I liked forcing myself to get back into musical variety on my records for a while.  Compared with cassettes, vinyl records had the advantage of random accessibility of different “tracks,” so I sometimes took advantage of that.  I haven’t purchased any newly produced records yet, but I hear they can be amazing.  For now, it’s back to my ten-times larger CD collection.  But now that I’ve dug into the records with more purpose, I might also be prompted to find treasures in this collection more often.

– B. Casey, 6/3/18

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