To edit and harmonize (opportunity for musicians)

If the publishers had only asked, I would have edited and re-harmonized this song for them in the children’s theater script!  First off, I would have researched whether the “Mexican polka” idiom is real.  Perhaps there is a better description.  Next, I would like to have known about the Spanish grammar in measures 1-2.  In context, it means “very clever/cunning, very devilish,” but, Spanish-speaking friends, isn’t “diablo” a noun, not an adjective?  Maybe this would be an idiomatic or slang expression?   Now to the stuff I know more about:

  • In the last line, “yip” is probably better as a staccato eighth than as a dotted quarter.  It’s impossible to sustain the “p” consonant, and a sustained vowel (“yiiiiiiip”) sounds dumb.  Practically speaking, a shorter notation would make the interpretation of those notes unmistakably clear to a less-than-confident, neophyte director.
  • I think I would have started it with a D (IV) chord through the whole first measure.  If so, maybe an Amaj7 in measure 2?  Better yet, how about this for the first 4 measures:

|  D ///  |  C#min ///  |   Bmin7 / E9 /  |  A /// |

  • Anyone for an F# minor (vi) chord in m. 6?  That would have helped to make it more of a real progression in measures 5 through 8. One has to try things sometimes, and it looks like this tune benefited from precisely zero read-throughs before it was published.
  • Now, can you spot two outright errors (melody/harmony mismatches) in the last half of the song?

In the play, the college-student helper who played guitar did a great job, adjusting her rhythm to match the kids on stage, and her guitar stylings sounded pretty authentic to me.  Our son Jedd also did well as Puerco the porcupine.  He had quite a few lines at the beginning and the end, serving as the Master of Ceremonies at an animals’ fiesta.  And my TAMUK friends will be happy to know he pronounced “Armadillo” authentically!

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To lead and serve (Houghton Philharmonia “officers”)

In thinking about some students of a decade ago, I came across a document that evidenced one of my somewhat creative approaches.  The orchestra at Houghton College was the “Philharmonia”—a bit of an aged designation, I thought, but it was what it was.  The two other “major ensembles” on campus were the Symphonic Winds and the College Choir,¹ and each of those had a slate of student officers, but the Philharmonia didn’t.  So I thought, I’ll get some student leadership going, but it needs to be special.  Not run-of-the-mill.  A new approach that melds the college’s Christian philosophies, my own scripture-moored take, and my penchant for heading off the beaten paths and ruts, making sure what was did was meaningful.

We would not have a president per se.  Nor would we call someone a VP.  A secretary of sorts was possibly indicated, but there was no need for a treasurer.  The very word “chaplain,” in use with the other groups, brought to mind the military, law enforcement organizations, and hospitals, and I wanted no association with those.  Further, and on the positive side, I did want to capitalize on connections to scripture and my own philosophy of leadership in groups (including church congregations), so I added the following as a footnote on the poster I prepared:

It is interesting to note that the single Koiné Greek (the New Testament language) word diakonos is alternately translated deacon, minister, and servant in our English versions of the New Testament scriptures.  Biblically, there is no conceptual distinction between deacons, ministers, and servants.  In all these word-concepts, service to the group is implied.  The British government terminology (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Housing, etc.) might originally have had this fact in view, and we are following this nomenclature with the Philharmonia officer/servant roles.  You may also note the non-hierarchical order in which the offices are listed.  Ministry is service, and our officers will serve.

Below is a list of the roles I presented for student elections.  Each one was tied to another in partnership in at least one way.  These were not to be “offices” as such (note that they are not listed hierarchically) but would be roles for service:

Coordinator of Devotional Activities (replacing “chaplain”)

Ministers of Hospitality (plural, primarily to coordinate post-concert receptions and friendly interaction when prospective students visited)

Lead Organizational Minister (communication among orchestra members, problem solving with director, etc.)

Minister of Organizational Promotion (working closely with the LOM and giving special attention to development and growth)

Advisory Ministers (appointed, not elected, at the discretion of the Director)²

I note now that the only overtly “spiritual” role is the only one that didn’t have the word “minister” in it.  That was probably subconscious on my part, but perhaps not.  I might have intentionally avoided the perception that a devotional coordinator was an institutional staff minister-in-training.

As a student ensemble and college entity, the Philharmonia was hurting because of events that occurred during the prior two years.  It was depressed when I arrived; it had bought into a kind of step-child syndrome, playing third fiddle (to mix metaphors) to the Sym Winds and College Choir.  Those ensembles had little to no trouble gaining members and feeling good about their rehearsals and performances, but that was not the case in Philharmonia.  The ensemble needed promotion, energy, and a better self-image.  The group stayed depressed for a year and a half or so, but it began to experience growth in terms of musical achievement and esprit de corps after that.  I would not say that this particular approach to “officers” or student leadership had too much to do with the growth, but it might have contributed a little.  It did provide opportunities for students to lead and to serve—even as it showed my commitment to meaningful organizational roles and an egalitarian philosophy.


¹ Each of those appellations seemed somewhat uncommon, as well.  At Houghton, they did not seem old or “out of touch.”

² I tend to use the designation “Conductor” as opposed to “Director.”  The former goes to musical leadership.  “Director,” by contrast, while it can be used to refer to musical direction, tends to refer more often to organizational leadership.

Memories, poetry, and music

Last fall, the Benedictine College bands presented a program of instrumental music with a Veterans Day theme.

As it happened, the concert occurred shortly after the death of Karen Soyland, the wife of another member of the Brass Band, which is the ensemble in which I perform.  The memorial focus of the concert was therefore expanded to include not only deceased soldiers, but also, one known more personally.  I became inspired, and I offered, and the conductor of the ensemble (Director of Instrumental Studies Ted Hanman) graciously interjected my trio arrangement within the published brass arrangement—complete with the suggested oral reading of Tennyson’s poem, which may be seen here.

The Parry tune was new to me, and I find it a better marriage of music and words than the male quartet music I had learned as a youth.  There is a plethora of tunes and arrangements available, and apparently no one knows or sings the quartet arrangement I’ve known for decades, because it’s available nowhere on YouTube.  At any rate, regardless of the music, my favorite line in the poem—both the culmination and the closing—is this:  “I hope to see my Pilot face to face when I have crossed the bar.”  The imagery, which I don’t claim to comprehend fully, is nonetheless rich, and the members of the Brass Band knew personally this one who had “crossed the bar” very recently.

Below is my arrangement.  (I started to retake the photo when I saw the light streams, but they struck me as a potentially inspirational symbol, so I left them in.)  I chose three instruments/players that could carry this off in little rehearsal time.  Each instrument has at least a few measures with the melody, and the counterpoint and harmony are somewhat more complex than in the full-band arrangement.  All the instruments in my arrangement are Bb instruments, meaning the written pitches you see below actually sound a whole step lower.  Note that the euphonium part is written in treble clef, as per convention in British brass band music.  The euphonium part sounds a major 9th lower than it appears here.

You may access the live performance sound file here.  The above “trio” portion, with oral reading, begins at 1:16.  The reader did not rehearse with us and did not read especially effectively, but the balance at least makes both elements audible.

 

It was my hope that this musical tribute to the dear, believing spouse of a believing friend would be meaningful and eventually be a good memory for him, for the deceased’s family, and also for others.


Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here, a tribute to caregivers here, and a mention of the exceptionally poignant funeral for Karen Soyland here.

Kansas in New York

Once upon a storm, Kansas blew into Western New York,¹ and it created some “Dust in the Wind.”  The event was part of the Kansas (rock band) Collegiate Symphony Tour, and it was huge fun.  Below is the program cover, in which Kansas fans will recognize the icon from the Leftoverture album cover.

Now that I think about it, the cover there was a brilliant stroke:  it used imagery from the album that had catapulted the heartland band into fame; Leftoverture, true to its classically influenced name, had used more orchestral instruments than before.  Still, Mr. Composer there on the cover looks baffled, and it’s no wonder.  An aging rock band with college orchestras on stages across the country?

Because of some issues Kansas and I worked through together, this particular concert event was problematic for them, but it certainly was a win for my college orchestra.  At one point during the planning conversations, mostly with Chad and then with Phil, I summoned my courage, drew on the relationship we had begun to establish, and asked really nicely . . . and eventually, Kansas let me conduct “Dust in the Wind” in the concert.  Using the collegiate conductor in performance was unprecedented, so I initially did not feel I should share the pic below, but now that the Collegiate Symphony Tour has been history for a few years, here it is.

That’s me between the keyboards and the plexiglass shield.  Most of the orchestra is hidden in this shot, but it was about 45 strong.  Also visible, from left, are Steve Walsh, lead vocalist and here, on keyboard; David Ragsdale, violin, guitars, vocals; and Phil Ehart’s massive drum set.  (There are no drums in “Dust in the Wind.”)

Below is the post-show pic with some undergrad and grad students, some of which have remained friends.

Kansas personnel at the autograph table (L to R): Phil Ehart, the cleanest-cut rock drummer you’ll ever meet; Larry Baird, conductor; David Ragsdale, violin and front man; Steve Walsh, vocals; Rich Williams, who with Ehart is one of the founding members of the band; and Billy Greer, bass.   2nd row college personnel:  J. Helsel-Raymond, H. Yanega, S. Stabley, K. Casey, B. Casey, D. Woodard, and E. Hall.

About the experience
I get annoyed when every routine business matter is labeled an “experience.”  I suppose one wants something of an experience in a pricey restaurant, but don’t ask me about my “experience” in Burger King or after a phone call or a web transaction.  On the contrary, let me tell you, this Kansas Symphony Tour thing was an experience.  There were a couple of relatively minor downsides, such as hoops we had to jump through, and the clueless, irresponsible promotional agency out of Buffalo.²  I never sensed anything but a commitment from the band, though:  the communications with Phil Ehart and his front engineer/manager Chad Singer were entirely pleasant and agreeable; the rehearsing, musically rewarding; and the concert, just what it was cracked up to be—an exciting, fun experience.

Here is a “behind-the-scenes” video look at another one of these Collegiate Symphony Tour concerts.

For any Kansas “Wheatheads” who might click in here but not be familiar with the Collegiate Symphony Tour repertoire, it involved orchestral arrangements of these:

  1. Magnum Opus (instrumental)
  2. Musicatto
  3. Point of Know Return
  4. The Wall
  5. On the Other Side
  6. Hold On
  7. Dust in the Wind
  8. Song for America
  9. Cheyenne Anthem
  10. Icarus
  11. Miracles out of Nowhere
  12. Fight Fire with Fire
  13. Carry On Wayward Son

#s 1, 4, 9, 11, and 13 were from the aforementioned album Leftoverture; the other songs, from albums that followed in the late 70s and 80s.

Monetarily, this project was terrific for the college orchestras.  All the college/university provided was the performance space, with air conditioning/heating and building staff.  On the other side of the equation, the college was given 100 free tickets to sell or give away at its discretion.  A $2000 scholarship was awarded to a string student, and about $1,000 of free products, to the college—all compliments of the D’Addario company.

Musically:  A student player was given the opportunity to improvise opposite David Ragsdale on stage, and the orchestra gained the experience of playing inventive, rhythmically challenging, classic/progressive rock music that most orchestras never touch.  I had falsely assumed that the orchestral parts would consist of lots of whole notes—you know, easy stuff, just to add texture and give the college players something to do.  Boy, was I wrong!  It was challenging music.  For rehearsal, I assigned a few pieces to each graduate conductor to prepare, taking the others myself (“divide and conquer”).  Tooting my own horn—which I took the opportunity to play in the orchestra, too (who could resist?)—I’ll say here that I was complimented for the preparation of my orchestra.  I don’t remember the exact words, but it was clear to me that Larry Baird (performance conductor) and members of the band were pleased by the fact that this little college in the middle of nowhere had taken the music seriously and was better prepared than some orchestras from major universities.

Spiritually:  There were some new connections, such as a sense of mission communicated by Kevin, then the college’s eminently knowledgeable, experienced recording engineer.  I had hoped to engage founding member Kerry Livgren in a pre-concert Skype dialogue, even though he was not part of this project, having had a stroke.  (Things became busy, and I didn’t follow through on that plan.)  I had read Kerry’s autobiography Seeds of Change, in which he describes philosophical and spiritual searching that came to rest with Christian belief.  He is now a committed Christian believer, teaches a Bible class in his church, and publishes through his own label Kergyma Records—a reference to the word used in the Greek NT for the proclaimed message.

In addition, former bass player Dave Hope was an Anglican priest and now works with that denomination in another capacity.  Phil Ehart mentioned church attendance and assured me that even the roadies of the band wouldn’t cuss backstage on our Christian campus.  That was nice.  Beyond that baseline, I did feel the ethical commitment and entirely above-board dealings throughout the project—which in turn fed my spirit through an uphill battle at points.

Finally:  Only a few students knew much about Kansas’ music, but some of their parents did—and traveled to hear the concert.  Some of us will never forget the experience of being on the stage of Wesley Chapel at Houghton College in New York—with Kansas.


¹ I refer not to the “Upper West Side” (which is probably six hours away) or to “Upstate” per se.  This is not the Finger Lakes area, either.  This part of western New York is between the Buffalo-Rochester industrial-technological corridor and the “Southern Tier” which runs roughly (I-86 ran very roughly in spots, until about 2013!) from Jamestown to Binghamton.  Western New York is beautiful in the fall, wet and gray much of the year, and often snowy between November and March.  Some counties in this region are home to many who live below the poverty line.

² Although this particular concert was in an isolated area, and although it was not well supported by the college faculty and students, I blame the agency for most of the monetary loss Kansas doubtless incurred.

 

Funeral music research

My broadest, deepest graduate research dealt with funeral music.  (I always feel funny when mentioning that, figuring I need to apologize for it, but perhaps not.)  Funeral music can be very rewarding, actually, and I periodically come across funeral or lament music I wish I had known in 2005-07.  One soul actually wrote to me in the context of her own research, purchasing a complete e-copy of mine.  Previously, a student asked to read (and actually read!) the entire thing, but these levels of interest are rare.

Despite the tendency to avoid talking about death, it has obviously been part of the cycle of things, ever since the first humans.  My personal cycle of life has involved a return to a town where I knew people in the past.  Two of those folks have recently lost relatives, and I attended the memorial events.  Last month, the family of another spiritually minded friend marked the anniversary of the death of their son/brother, and I was again reminded of the protracted nature of life-and-death memories.

Here is a passage from the introduction to my dissertation:

Although funerals and related ceremonies take different forms—depending on ethnicity, affiliation, preference, and other factors—death is universally experienced.  We most often perceive death as a time for reflection, for reverence, and for sobriety, if not gloom.  Yet death events are more emotionally varied than is frequently presumed by a casual observer. ¹

When someone dies, it is often possible to learn something valuable and/or inspirational, and the personal growth may come in different shapes and hues.  I first became interested in funeral music after having been introduced to a remarkable musical work written after the death of a friend of 19C Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.  Perceiving the genuine pathos and artful composition of that funeral march led me to investigate other works, in pursuit of a thesis (that I ended up essentially disproving).

An abstract is generally a crystallized summary of a research article or paper and can aid a reader in grasping the paper’s purpose.  Below is the abstract from my dissertation.  Please ponder with me the implications, both human and musical.

The universal experience of death has for millennia been associated with music.  Wind instruments, in particular, have been the media of choice for many funeral music genres.

A proper historical outlook on funeral music begins prior to biblical history and continues through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque, stylistically culminating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The Classical-to-Romantic transition years ultimately became a defining period for the Funeral March genre as the musical language was crystallized.

Funeral music types include both processional music and graveside subtypes—functional categories that intersect with two super-genres, the Funeral March and the Lament.  The Funeral March class includes the Dead March, the Pompe Funèbre, and the Equale; the Lament includes a broader range of genres such as the Planctus, the Déploration, the Dump, the Elegy, the Tombeau, the Threnody, and the Nanie.

The slate of musical topoi (topics) common in the Classical period includes the Funeral March, which in its purest form may be clearly defined in terms of rhythmic, melodic, and other musical characteristics.  Although the Funeral March is readily described and delineated, such music was not confined to functional, independent works; it was also found re-appropriated in many other genres—including opera, keyboard sonatas, and symphonies—that were intended primarily for the concert hall.

It is because the funeral musical codes were distilled into a style—and ultimately became a set of funeral genres—that most listeners can recognize funeral music, apprehending the Funeral March genre, in particular, without uncertainty.  Many funeral pieces are emotionally evocative and worthwhile, deserving of study and performance.

A decade after the original dissertation, I self-published the lion’s share of the prose, minus the actual musical transcriptions and minus the paper-waste required by graduate publishing conventions.  The paperback book is now available here

In reconsidering utilizing the material above, I am reminded anew of the historical association of funerals and mourning with wind instruments, and of the developmental connection between style and genre.  Musical coding—with such components as triplet rhythms, the sospiri (essentially a melodic sigh), and the subconscious or intentional utilization of keys such as D minor and C minor—continue to interest me.  Still, it is the authenticity aspect that draws me most:  when funeral or lament music draws from genuine human emotion in the face of death, the result can be evocative and compelling.


¹ Brian Casey, Funeral Music:  Historical Perspective, Genres and Styles, Semiotics and Musical Lexicography, and Exposition of Transcriptions (2nd ed., © 2015), 1.

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

May is vinyl month (2)

May is “vinyl month” in my house.  That means discovering, or re-discovering, some old “LP” records.  Listening is not necessarily all “serious music” but can be serious business for me:  I care about what I listen to, and I make conscious choices with a good deal of variety.  Here, I feature most of the records I’ve chosen during the last week or so.

  1. Dvorak:  Symphony No. 7   In my view, neither Dvorak nor Mendelssohn receives due attention as the effervescent, quintessential 19th-century composers they were.  Dvorak’s #7 and #8 deserve every bit as much play as the more famous #9, “From the New World.”  This composer’s Serenade for Winds is a piece that has been in my top 10 for quite a while, and his tone poems and piano works are wonderful, too.
  2. Kerry Livgren:  Seeds of Change   This is also the title of the songwriter’s autobiography.  For this post-Kansas album, Livgren utilized Kansas principals on some songs.
  3. Kansas:  Monolith   Yes, more Kansas!  This album came after the biggest hits and includes the interesting songs “People of the South Wind,” “On the Other Side,” and the tender, probing “Reason To Be.”
  4. Seals & Crofts:  Greatest Hits  Surely only the most hardened criminals rap fans wouldn’t like the fun, ever-so-pleasant, mid-seventies songs “I’ll Play for You” and “Summer Breeze.”
  5. Stravinsky:  Threni   The Latin vocals and quasi-serial composition technique make this absolutely horrific listening for me.  I’m sorry I had to pick this record out of my stacks in order to recall it.  (It is for good reason that I’d only listened to it once before.)  I only have this album because it potentially intersected with funeral music, which was the topic of my dissertation.  This “threni,” a shortened plural form of “threnody,” refers to the Latin title of the Old Testament book “Lamentations”—which is filled with Jeremiah’s lamentations of a different sort.  In any event, I recommend this music to precisely no one.  Much more interesting and provocative, although also generally unpleasant, would be Penderecki’s famed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
  6. Canadian Brass:  A Touch of Brass   This has been a go-to quintet album of mine for quite a while.  It includes an arrangement of Bach’s Contrapunctus No. 9 and the ever-brilliant Malcolm Arnold quintet, a tour de force that requires technique, musicianship, and inner rhythm the likes of which most musicians can only hope to approach but rarely to achieve.  I saw these guys live when I was a teenager and still have the t-shirt and an autographed program!
  7. Jackson Browne:  Lives in the Balance   I’m still getting acquainted with this 1986 album.  Musically, I’d say it consists of appealing pop-rock.  Apparently the album is a favorite of Browne’s but was not received well critically or even popularly—because of its political commentary nature.
  8. Harding A Cappella Chorus:  Tour ’69   I don’t care for much choral music these days, but I particularly love former professor Bill Holloway’s works “Peace I Leave with You” and “Hosanna in the Highest.”  He would have been a young professor in his late 20s or early 30s when he wrote these pieces.  This is vinyl month, so I’ll stick with the above for now, but I just pulled out the CD of his choral works that Holloway place in my hands only about five years ago.  I’ll listen to that in a couple of weeks.
  9. Maynard Ferguson:  Carnival  This is pop jazz from around 1980—fun stuff, including the title track, Gerry Rafferty’s hit “Baker Street,” a beautiful arrangement of “Over the Rainbow,” and an iconic, funk-bass version of the jazz classic “Birdland.”  I prefer the earlier Maynard albums, possibly for sentimental reasons, but some of the material here is really listenable.

I’ll probably write only one more “Vinyl Month” post, so I had better choose well.  I’m thinking Chicago, a couple of piano albums (Horowitz playing Beethoven?), John Denver or the Doobies, string quartets of Schubert, music for hunting horns or baroque trumpets or classical guitar . . . and, oh yeah, maybe a marching band demo album or some other novelty. . . .

 

May is vinyl month (1)

Last month, I acquired a few more used records, so I decided that May would be “vinyl month” in my house.  Listening can be a serious business for me.  That doesn’t mean it’s all “serious music,” but it does mean that I care about what I listen to, and I make conscious choices with a good deal of variety.  Since my CD collection customarily gets considerable attention, besting the records and far surpassing the cassettes, this “vinyl month” is actually a “thing” for me.  Only two of these particular records are new, but I’ve listened to one or both sides of all seven within the last week:

  1. Philip Jones Brass Ensemble:  lighter works for 10-12 brass instruments, and always a pleasant listen
  2. Claude Debussy:  serious “impressionist” piano music, enough to take my attention
  3. Doobie Brothers:  fun, although many tunes seem dated
  4. Art Garfunkel solo:  a couple of these songs struck me as duds … I really enjoy the type of music made famous with Simon & Garfunkel duo, but I think Paul Simon is the stronger songwriter
  5. Elizabethan and Jacobean Lute Music:  just what it sounds like, and it makes for great evening listening
  6. La Malmaison:  tenor and harp or piano . . . not my favorite record by any stretch, so it may be another 15 years before I pull it out again
  7. Kansas I (self-titled):  I think this was my 4th Kansas record (after Leftoverture, Point of Know Return, and Masque).  I still love their “prog rock” creativity.  I could name almost every tune on this album as a “favorite,” but I particularly love “Aperçu,” “Journey from Mariabronn,” and the sweet “Lonely Wind.”  “The Pilgrimage” is captivating in terms of its fade-up intro, its vocals, and its instrumentals throughout.

What comes next?  Seems I might head for some deep orchestral music, some Andres Segovia classical guitar, some Chicago, or maybe some Kenny Rogers.  One of the other new acquisitions was a Jackson Browne LP; I’ve listened to that already and probably will again soon.  I often need some brass, too, so I’ll surely add some horn or trumpet solos or a brass ensemble of some kind.  The next “Vinyl Month” post, in a week or two, will tell. . . .

Parts and passages

Parts & passages are two exciting factors in my life.

There are few things that energize me like working with musical parts for ensemble music-making and scripture passages for Christian study.  One could easily extend the word “passage” to the musical.  One could just as easily also discuss “parts” of verbs and paragraphs and documents that occur within scripture passages, but for ease, I’ll confine myself to musical parts and scriptural passages since those two have once again surfaced as things that keep me going.  (Phew.)

Parts
Within the last couple of weeks, I did a little re-arranging of two parts for a brass band, with the permission of the conductor.  The aim was to help the balance of the group—and, by extension, the tuning and tone quality, too.  I found myself energized by examining the scores for settings of She Moved Through the Fair and The Lost Chord, thinking about octaves, players, and instruments . . . and how it would sound for two players to play a section instead of three, or perhaps to drop out the tenor horns on a few notes since the range was more extreme than for the flügelhorn.  I settled on a few changes and wrote in the changes.  The biggest change was inserting a tacet for my own flügel part some of the time during the softer sections.  We barely had the opportunity to rehearse the re-arranged parts, but they came out a little better than they would have otherwise.  Considering and working through those things animated me.  I was also glad to have a flügelhorn part I could practice and improve on:  an arrangement of Shepherd’s Hey. 

Passages
Roughly during the same time period, while other things have seemed lackluster or simply haven’t gotten done, some New Testament passages have intrigued me, leading to other activity of the brain, the computer, and the soul.  I’ve reworked a translation of Philemon, focusing now on verses 6-10, and I plan to share the whole again in the future.

A Bible class last Sunday got me to ruminating on Paul’s use of a certain Greek word that appears in Colossians 2:8 (“elemental spirits”).  That same word appears twice in Galatians, and cognates also appear in four other places in the same letter.  If I ever get around to it, I’ll speculate publicly about this word and its possible structural significance within Paul’s discourse for the Galatians.

See here for a previous post on isolated verses and other short texts and whether they “stand alone” or should be considered in context.  (Spoiler alert:  they should never be assumed to stand alone!)

Because of other things tugging at me, I haven’t spent as much time with a Matthew study program as I would like.  Certain passages in Matthew 10, 13, 24, and 28 have piqued my interest in terms of

  • “the end of the age”—a phrase unique to Matthew, occurring in two of the five “teaching blocks,” including Matthew 24, and also appearing at the end in 28:20
  • God’s presence (another possible translation of “parousia”) and the Jewish temple
  • the “kingdom” theme as traced throughout Matthew

Parts and passages.  There are worse things to be intrigued and energized by!

 

Community music ensembles

I would define “community music ensemble” generally as a group that combines willing volunteer musicians of various ability levels for the sake of free or low-cost community performances.  These groups typically rehearse in the evenings, in school or church facilities, approximately weekly.  On occasion there may be explicitly charitable purposes; more often, the goal is simply to contribute to community life.  Community music ensembles will periodically ask members to help advertise or raise funds; dues-paying and/or charitable grants might also be a part of the support scheme.  Rarely, CMEs involve small stipends for some or all performers.

Like some of my readers, I have through the years given countless hours to community music ensembles (hereafter CMEs).  My CME involvement started when I was a high school junior looking for additional experience before majoring in music in college.  I had a spot in the First State Symphonic Band in Delaware then, and after returning from college and a sojourn in the South, it was almost a given that I would re-involve myself:  I rejoined the horn section and also served as assistant conductor.  I can count very few years of my life¹ that I haven’t had weekly rehearsals with at least one CME, and the schedules can be problematic.  Lately it has been very difficult to find three or four days in a row to be gone, because I feel committed to the ensembles.  The bumper sticker that resignedly yet proudly proclaims “I Can’t.  I Have Rehearsal” rings true for me!

Primary CMEs
I’ll have a go at listing the ensembles I have served in one or more of these capacities:

brass instrumentalist  (ß)

conductor or assistant/associate conductor (*)

First State Symphonic Band ß Newark Community Band ß Cecil County Choral Society *
First State Symphonic Band ß * (2nd x) Newark Symphony Orchestra ß Kansas City Brass Project ß *
Benedictine College/Atchison Community Orchestra ß * Sedalia Symphony Orchestra  ß Southern Tier Symphony ß *
Kansas City Wind Symphony ß * Northern Colorado Concert Band * Hornell Area Wind Ensemble ß
Rushford Town Band * Little Rock Wind Symphony ß Benedictine College Brass Band ß *
Powder River Symphony  ß Kansas City Wind Symphony (2nd x)  ß Atchison Jazz Express ß

The line between CME and college ensemble can sometimes be hazy, and the above list does not include the mixed collegiate-community (a/k/a “town-gown”) ensembles I’ve conducted as part of a full-time faculty role.  In only three cases above were musicians other than the conductor paid, and I think all would agree that in no case did the remuneration make anyone rich.  I consider the bolded ensembles as holding to higher performances standards than the others.

Other CMEs
I could also add CMEs in which I’ve subbed, accompanied, or performed by invitation in one or more sets of rehearsals and performances:

  • Liberty Symphony (horn)
  • Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City (horn)
  • Kansas City Civic Orchestra (horn)
  • Heart of America Wind Symphony (horn)
  • Kream of the Krop (piano in jazz big band)
  • Greeley Children’s Chorale (accompanist)
  • Alfred University Orchestra (horn)
  • Alfred University Symphonic Band (horn)
  • Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band (alto horn)
  • Medical Arts Symphony (trumpet)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I’ve had broad, extended experience with these organizations.  I’ve been on the board of two or three CMEs, and I could easily add to the above another dozen or more short-term/ad hoc gigs in Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, and Missouri.  That supplementary list would include special church programs, musical theater spots, and “summer bands” that involved only a couple rehearsals and one concert per season.²

The categories start to overlap, and one group might lead to another, such as when my work with the KCWS and BC/ACO led to the formation of a woodwind quintet.  Below are the non-curricular quintets and ensembles I directed or co-founded as a player.  I would say that fully half of these were capable of performing artistically.  They were formed to satisfy playing appetites and artistic goals more than to serve community needs, but they might still be classed as small CMEs:

a Harding University brass quintet a University of Delaware brass quintet North Winds quintet in Delaware
River Winds quintet in KS/MO Foundation Brass at the University of Northern Colorado Grad Brass Quintet at the University of Northern Colorado
Alle-Catt Brass Quintet in New York’s Southern Tier

I have dreams of a starting a high-level chamber wind ensemble (using a dectet as a foundation, supplementing with another handful of wind and percussion players when necessary), but the requisite complement of capable musicians isn’t available in my area.  Unfortunately, while performance venues might be available, audiences would be scant to nonexistent unless we could piggyback on an existing orchestra or wind band.  Late last week, I was asked about possibly performing in a community musical theater pit orchestra, and that is usually fun if the rehearsal schedule is reasonable and geared toward people who can read music and adapt quickly.

Vocal/choral
The chamber choral group I presently serve as a tenor (not listed above) is really the first choral community ensemble to which I’ve ever belonged as a regular.  An interesting group in which I was deeply entrenched for almost a decade is LIGHTS.  I would not class LIGHTS as a CME, but I gave that Christian vocal (not really choral) ensemble some very good years, investing a lot of time with arranging, programming, co-administering, singing, and leading rehearsals—not always very well.³

Probings  Perceived issues with community groups have never been so noticeable as in the last 3 years.  I suppose there have been many evenings through the years that I didn’t feel like going to rehearsals, but the concentration of those evenings has been greater recently.  Note that I said “perceived” issues above; I think a good deal of this has to do with my state of mind and situation, but there are some objectively ascertained reasons, as well:

  • administrative and musical leadership issues 4
    • lack of rehearsal productivity
    • concerns with literature choice and programming
    • snafus with instrumentation, personnel and scheduling
  • interpersonal concerns (involving precisely two ensembles and three people, for the first time in my life)
  • my own attendance—for reasons beyond my control, I have missed two CME performances and several rehearsals . . . and not being at rehearsal every time is just plain weird for me, perhaps contributing to a sense of distance

Other details would probably be unhelpful, but suffice it to say that my introspective, discouraged musing about CME involvement seems unusual—even aberrant, given my longtime history with these groups—and it gives me pause.  There is a sense in which any reasonable person will want to serve and give, and I do continue to believe that CMEs play an important role in community service.  Still, in my present state of mind (not as healthy as I’d like), and at my present age (not as young as I’d like, yet not as old as I feel), I have begun to probe my involvement and contributions to CMEs.  One particularly hospitable director has provided some nice opportunities, but I find myself feeling generally wistful about CMEs.  I have to ask myself whether I’m being used well enough to warrant the energy expended and the frustrations felt.  Dropping down to one or two groups instead of three would make some sense, but each group offers its bright spots, and I would probably end up dropping the best one, due to lack of insight or foresight on my part, and I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities.

Can I continue to contribute positively to these ensembles, without taking away too much from my family?  Should winter ever end, outdoor gigs might serve to sunny-up the mood and enhance my outlook.  Time will tell.


¹ I don’t recall having or making the time for professional ensembles or CMEs in Chattanooga, TN or in Kingsville, TX.  In Beaumont, TX, it was only a summer community band one year.  I probably should have joined the barbershop chorus there, too, at the invitation of an older friend, but I didn’t.  I did direct a congregational special choir for a short time, but that wasn’t a CME as I’ve defined it.

² This “summer band” format with only one performance has been disappointing to me, but I know it serves a purpose in some communities.

³ For a couple of posts about this group, see here and here.  Some arrangements I made for LIGHTS are captioned on this page, and some originals sung by LIGHTS, such as “You Who Seek God,” “Come To Me,” “In the Heavenlies,” and “You Are Inescapable” and are offered here.  While LIGHTS involved my longest “tenure” with a single group of volunteer musicians, its nature and mission seem to place it in a separate category.

I admit that these are probably no more regular or serious than in my more distant past, but they affect me differently these days.

 

Programming for ensembles (and Easter?)

Concert programming for large ensembles can be a function of diverse considerations, such as

  • the calendar
  • the budget
  • the ensemble’s capabilities
  • recent performance history
  • pedagogical or developmental needs (particularly in an academic setting)
  • rehearsal schedule limitations and learning/assimilation capacity of the ensemble (only one rehearsal per week?  or three or more short ones?  usually better to have two or three rehearsals, at least one hour each, per week)
  • the ensemble members’ preferences and musical interests
  • the conductor’s values
  • variety in terms of compositional form, structure, and proportions (e.g., single movement, suite, symphony, variations, song)
  • specific concert requirements (e.g., holiday seasons)

Interested readers may find my succinct but relatively thorough three-page essay “On Repertoire and Programming” here.

In the collegiate ensemble music setting, it is important to have regular performance goals at reasonable intervals.  Many colleges and universities tend to fall into similar patterns in concert scheduling, yet variants may be found.  At the University of Northern Colorado, the Director of Bands was in the habit of scheduling the top ensemble for brief concerts (featuring marches and novelty pieces) about two or three weeks into the semester.  This practice seemed to work well, kick-starting the semester.  At some colleges, regular opportunities for short performances of one or two pieces (at a ceremony, in “chapel,” etc.) may provide appropriate performance goals.

For large instrumental ensembles at institutions on a “quarter system,” one performance in each of the three quarters could be a reasonable plan, whereas in the more common semester system it is generally optimal to have two or more concerts per semester.  Having only one concert in a semester would either mean having thirteen or fourteen weeks to prepare (creating a mismatch with the corporate energy peaks and valleys) or having a few blank weeks at the end of a semester without a performance goal.  Single-concert programs can end up confined to light holiday fare in December and “pops” in May.  Those types of concerts, which may be nice for public relations in a non-musician administrator’s eye, are not enough, pedagogically speaking.

Following the formation of an ensemble early in a semester, here is a typical schedule I believe is generally good:

  • 12-18 rehearsals (six weeks)
  • 2nd week of October:  concert with ~60 min. of music
  • 12-18 rehearsals (six weeks)
  • 1st or 2nd week of December:  major concert with ~60 min. of music
  • 1 week of reading, student conducting finals, or other

In the fall of 2011, two special, early-fall events virtually dictated the concert schedule for my ensembles that semester.  It went something like this:

  • 3-4 weeks of rehearsal
  • Special event with 45 min. of music
  • 7 weeks of rehearsal
  • Early November: major concert with 60-70 min. of music
  • 3 weeks of rehearsal
  • Concert with 45 min. of (generally easier) Christmas music OR joint program with ~20 minutes of music per ensemble

That schedule worked out fine on a one-time basis, although the three- or four-week preparation period for major concert events was a bit intense.

The perceived trajectory of the semester ultimately tends to have a “shape” in the sensitive program director’s mind, based on rising and falling musical intensity and difficulty levels—and, realistically speaking, also on student musician dedication levels.  Even the most mature, devoted student musicians will naturally have periods in which they are less available and energetic, due to requirements in other classes, Thanksgiving break time, and so forth.

At an avowed Christian college, I considered a spring-semester (“spring”? nevermind that winter could extend through nearly two-thirds of the semester!) plan that had a single, major concert about two-thirds through the semester, just before Easter.  That program would have featured music amenable to Easter-minded individuals.  The concert might have been titled “Rising” or “Above” or even “Resurrection.”  Here are some of the pieces I’d considered programming, in no particular order:

[An arrangement of Mahler’s “resurrection theme” from Symphony No. 2 or other “spirits soaring” piece]
[Air Force flight piece]
As Summer Was Just Beginning (Daehn)
Ascension (Mobberley)
Ascent (Gorb)
Fiddler on the Roof medley (including an excerpt with the song “To Life”)
Firefly (Ryan George)
Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak (Grieg/Fennell)
Funeral Music for Queen Mary (After Purcell) (Stucky)
High Flight (Turrin)
Music for Prague (Husa)
My Faith Looks Up To Thee (Rhea)
One Life Beautiful (Giroux)
Red Balloon, The (McGinty)
Rising (a new fanfare I once planned to write myself) (Casey)
Salvation Is Created (Tschesnokoff)
Via Crucis (Ellerby)

The thematic connection with some of those works will be obvious.  Any single concert would have included only a handful of them.  The “Above” or “Rising” idea might have featured

  • a work connected to human flight;
  • the technically difficult Firefly
  • Ascent
  • a funereal piece, and/or
  • extended, lyrical, moving music such as Mahler’s “Resurrection” theme.

If the programming went in the overtly Christian direction, perhaps I would have included the perennial favorite Salvation is Created, which is musically rich and intense.  It requires focus but is not technically difficult, so it might balance any quicker, more technically challenging pieces.

In thinking of funereal pieces, the tie with the Jesus’ body in the grave is obvious.  Would it be appropriate in a Christian campus setting to include one of the many beautiful works written to pay tribute to others?  I think of Giroux’s One Life Beautiful, written as a commissioned as a memorial for the daughter of a well-reputed college wind band conductor.  The most mature, artistically capable ensembles might perform the late Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968, a provocative, poignant tribute to the people of his beloved Czechoslovkia after a siege.

On Friday, I was reminded of my late father’s love of a particular song that acknowledges death.  This song is tenderly sung by a “barbershop” quartet.  Even the thought of this song causes emotion to rise within.  Seeking such inspiration and even consolation in music can be rewarding.  Such is not the only pathway to concert programming, of course, but at Easter, thinking along these lines can speak to the soul.

David Zinman, pasta, and player positions

On Saturday, February 24, my wife and I heard the KC Symphony in performances of a Bernstein suite, a Prokofiev violin concerto, and a Schumann symphony.  A Kauffman Center/Helzberg Hall concert is always a treat. 

Image result for helzberg hall

This concert was guest-conducted by David Zinman, whose name I knew from his long tenure with the Baltimore Symphony.  Not that I had seen him conduct before, but the Baltimore Symphony was 65 miles to my southwest when I was in nearby Delaware.  It was a 2nd-tier ensemble, always in the shadow of the Philadelphia Orchestra, 45 miles to my northeast.  Yet the former was an ensemble on the rise, whereas the Philly O has been seen as rather static and staid.Image result for david zinman

Now that I’ve seen Zinman conduct for the first time, I have given him a nickname:  Papa Pasta.  He is aging and a little tottery at 81, needing a stool on the podium and some support on the way out to it.  He’s respectable and old.  Thus “Papa.”  Whence the “pasta” part?  His arms sometimes looked like spaghetti in a centrifuge, especially in faster tempos.  Such visual “noise” is a no-no for a conductor; it might feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t help the ensemble.  Rather than getting caught up in good music and flailing about wildly and passionately, one will usually do better with clear gestures that are in the music, as opposed to gestures that ride along euphorically above or outside the music.  I’ve had many a time of euphoria and over-the-top gesture, so I know what it feels like to watch a video of myself and be embarrassed at being out of control.  Zinman’s arms were not very bad at all in the grand scheme, but his elbows were a bit loose at times.  Overall, he cued with grace and led the music well.

If I’d seen him from the ensemble’s perspective, I imagine I would have seen tremendous facial expression, because his interpretive gifts were apparent.  I particularly liked the 3rd and 4th movements of his Schumann Symphony No. 2 in C.  He seemed to know that music intimately and also seemed to enjoy what he was doing.  I long for higher-level music experiences, and I envied Zinman.  He must’ve had so many wonderful opportunities in music . . . .  Our son is now in a somewhat select school music group and had taken off with his recorder playing recently.  I don’t want to be one of those live-vicariously-through-your offspring kinds of parents as I guideImage result for david zinman or advise Jedd here & there, but I’m happy for him.  I do know, both first-hand and long-term, that music can be a sustained, positive force in a life.  Clearly it has been so for Zinman, and it had also been so for me.  Thinking back to the last post, “I can do that,” I’d like to say that, yes, I can conduct like that (a trifle better in some respects, and not as well in others), but I have no delusions that I could ever be in a position like Zinman’s as a sought-after guest conductor, a once-conductor-laureate, and a resident conductor for European orchestras.  I have neither his experience nor what I sense is a rare charisma.  I also suspect he has a gift for innovation and institution-building.  His stature as a leader far surpasses my own, even in my dreams.  Zinman is in a different league.

KC Symphony 4

Maestro Zinman is not pictured on the podium above, but the KC orchestra is.  This ensemble (I assume always, and not just for specific pieces or conductors) sits in a somewhat Image result for violin f holeuncommon arrangement—”switching” the 2nd violins and the cellos.  This places the 2nd violins at the conductor’s right arm, across from the 1st violins, allowing for good “mirror image” visuals.  The arrangement has the potential to mask the sound of the 2nd part in the audience, since the “f” holes of those instruments are facing back in toward the orchestra just a tad.  This is not a problem for a professional-level 2nd violin section, but rarely can this be a good thing for balance in a high school or small college orchestra.  The primary benefit of this seating arrangement is more cello projection.  In this instance (not always), the double basses are directly behind the cellos, which creates an even stronger low string sound. From the conductor’s position—which is not always optimal for picking up ensemble balance—this positioning would result in a left-heavy string sound.  In other words, the frequently prominent first violins plus all the force of the low instruments on the left would dwarf the 2nd violins and violas on the right, but I suppose I’d get used to it . . . or I’d put the violas next to the first violins and have the basses and cellos shift to the right side of middle.

Thinking of bass sound brings to mind the apt words of an otherwise predictable preacher:  “Everyone loves the bass player.”  There was nothing particularly profound or exemplary about that preacher, so he doesn’t get a nickname.  Nor does this rather meandering blogpost get a real ending.