An Angell in the mind field

During some lazy afternoon reading-while-grilling, my mind connected a movie and a wind band piece:  Angels in the Outfield and Angels in the Architecture (Frank Ticheli).  Frankly (pun intended), that Ticheli piece doesn’t appear on my list of favorites of his.  Parts of it remind me of the older Vesuvius, but Angels uses a soprano voice along with the winds and percussion, and a soprano, in my book, is often a detriment.  Plus, I prefer many better baseball movies over “Angels in the Outfield.”

Nonetheless, there is that “angels” thing that connects the two with the noted baseball writer Roger Angell.  I just read an Angellic passage that I wanted to share.  Put this in the categories of random delights, skilled writing, and musicianship—actually being a musician, not just someone who plays “my music” through earbuds as she hibernates from humanity while walking around or hanging out with friends.  Of course, add the category of baseball.  Allow yourself to imagine, to get lost in the little thing called the baseball “box score.”

Angell in March 2015
Roger Angell, baseball essayist

A box score is more than a capsule archive.  It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports.  Every player in the game in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no bases gained without an instant responding judgment—ball or strike, hit or error, yay or nay—and an ensuing statistic.  This encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that prickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds and violins.

Just as one’s baseball imagination can be enlivened by reading a box score, particularly if one knows the players’ names, a similar “hallucinatory reality” permits the conductor to audiate as he studies (and conducts from) a music score.  Those notes are not just gobs of ink.  No, they mean something!  They stimulate the memory and imagination.  They can become uniquely enriching for the human soul.

→ For more on the many-faceted word “score,” try this.  It’s fun!

This week marks the last of my son’s fourth baseball season.  Three games this week!  He has in some ways had his best season ever, and his comprehension and love of the game have grown, but those stats could use some improvement.  (Good thing they don’t publish box scores for this league.)  He’s gotten to pitch a little, and he loves every practice and every game.  We’ll both miss the season when it’s over.

Baseball is a great game, and the relatively slow pace of the game is good for the soul—not lazy at all if you like strategy and imagination!  Thanks to Roger Angell for writing so marvelously about baseball.  Your work, as it deals with the most appealing kind of sports field there is, is also good for the field of the mind.

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Celebrities (and authors and Dad)

Celebrities attract the attention of many.  For my part, I don’t recall ever having watched a single episode of a series with the word “celebrity” in its title or its background concept.  (Not even “Shark Tank.”)  I do have to admit that I have a few celebrity autographs, including former major league baseball players Pete Rose and Jay Johnstone, and Colonel Harlan Sanders.  Yes, that Col. Sanders.  I wasn’t chicken to approach him and get his autograph in the airport.  He didn’t seem too fried from his bad flight, and I did respect the pecking order, and I didn’t run a-fowl of airport security.  No, meeting him wasn’t on my bucket (of chicken) list.  Now the jokes are done.  Like a good, rotisserie chicken.

Anyway.  It’s not as though I’m completely unaware of celebrity status.  I’ve been excited by the fame of some.  In music worlds in particular, I’ve had some pretty cool meet-ups.  Here are a few names (several of whose autographs I also have):

Musicians

  • Mason Jones (who was principal hornist for the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, compiler/editor of a stock-in-trade collection of horn solos … and who, I discovered, was the solo hornist for Disney’s Fantasia
  • Rebecca St. James (autographed a songbook at a Christian concert I attended with teenage friends)
  • Col. Arnald Gabriel (while a grad student, I shuttled him to and from his CO All-State Band rehearsals)
  • Col. John Bourgeois (I played under him in the HAWE in Hornell, NY)
  • Canadian Brass (autographs at a concert)
  • Bonnie Keen, Marty McCall of First Call (autographs at a concert)
  • Michael Card¹
  • Fernando Ortega²
  • Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, David Ragsdale, Billy Greer, Steve Walsh (the 2011 iteration of the rock band Kansas), and Kerry Livgren³

¹ If I had a Christian music idol, it would probably be Michael Card.  Prodigiously prolific for 40-or-so years, he is humble and free of hype and glitz.  One of his principal gifts is locating and distilling core scripture messages into wonderfully acoustic (read:  not over-electronicized) songs.  A group of us attended a Card concert once.  One friend teased me about being such a fan that she was worried I’d throw my underwear onto the stage.  Mine wasn’t that kind of fandom, but I did and do respect Card’s contributions wholeheartedly.  I have referred to him before on this blog, notably here.

² Fernando Ortega has been around in my life for almost as long.  In his inimitable way, he has compelled, driven, and drawn my heart so many times I’ve lost count.  Sometimes, to the point of tears.  I met him face to face once, and I introduced a church elder to his music.  He and his wife became Fernando’s acquaintances, traveling to him and getting pictures taken with him.  I’ll admit to a little jealousy here!

³ And if I had any rock music idol, it would be Kansas.  In my unstudied rock hierarchy, Kansas’ musical and lyrical content  are tops.  Their music consistently manifests qualities that draw me, energize me, and stimulate creativity.  I don’t have the autograph of their principal songwriter, Kerry Livgren, because he could no longer play with the band after a stroke.  Livgren is now a serious believer, and we recently met him at his church.  See here for an account of a special event with Kansas about eight years ago.

Dad and Christian speakers/authors

Today my dad would have been exactly 79½.  He was no celebrity himself, but he did garner some well-deserved awards; he was the first scholar-athlete at Harding College and was later Harding University’s School of Education’s Alumnus of the year.  As a congregational deacon and shepherd/elder, Dad modeled the way to regard those who enjoy celebrity and fame.  He simply treated them like other people.  (No need to stand in awe.)  On the other hand, he must have had an underlying drive to take advantage of the capabilities of some who had, by their virtues, become somewhat famous.  Dad was for years the force that brought well-traveled, well-reputed, “big name” speakers to us.  Our church was in the Mid-Atlantic region, a/k/a the “Northeast,” and we would otherwise have been largely ignored because we were neither huge nor in the Bible belt.  Primarily because of Dad, we had these guest speakers at our church:

  • Cliff Ganus, Jr.
  • Lynn Anderson
  • Jerry Jones
  • Jimmy Allen
  • Harold Hazelip
  • LaGard Smith
  • Rubel Shelly *
  • Jim Woodroof
  • Max Lucado

I might have autographs for a couple of the above (on the title page of a book), but the main thing was having heard them speak in person.  I also shook well-known author Max Lucado’s hand once, because he spoke at a men’s retreat at our beloved Camp Manatawny in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

∗ Shelly’s “shift” is noteworthy—from (1) prize of the far-right, defensive CofC adherents to (2) de facto mouthpiece of the genuinely nondenominational, thoughtfully progressive “wing.”  I heard him speak in a couple other settings, too, and one of his books (I Just Want To Be a Christian) had a deep impact on me.  See here for a touting of that book.

I also have autographs for these other Christian authors in one or more books:

Christian Authors

  • Leroy Garrett
  • Cecil Hook
  • Richard Hughes
  • Gary Collier

I myself invited the late Leroy Garrett to my Delaware church to speak on unity and the Restoration Movement—and to impersonate “Raccoon” John Smith in one of his iconic presentations.  Leroy stayed in my home, and visited in his.  I was in the late Cecil Hook’s home, as well.  Cecil was the less credentialed but also sharp-minded author of Free in Christ (also touted here) and other freedom-themed books, several of which I had the distinct honor of collaborating on.  I’ve eaten lunch with the insightful Richard and Jan Hughes, along with mutual friends the Crowes.  My association with Collier has lasted longer and run deeper than with the others.  I have spent meaningful time with him as friends, collaborated with him (including recently embarking on a significant project), and have been in his home.

On the one hand, celebrity status means little to me, because it so often has little to do with quality, lasting values, or eternity.  On the other hand, some have become celebrated for good reason, and I am glad that my life has involved crossing paths with such men as Anderson, Collier, Garrett, Hook, Hughes, Card, Ortega, and others who have meant much to me.

Rich Mullins’s swan-song album The Jesus Record includes “Man of No Reputation,” a song recorded on a cheap tape deck by Mullins and then later refined by his band.  This song takes a translation of a phrase in Philippians 2 and expands ironically on the awe-inspiring reputation of our Messiah-Servant, Christ Jesus.  Jesus’ lack of celebrity status, combined with His singular attention to His mission and role, impel us to honor Him.

CBDNA, part-sharing, and copyright

For one reason or another, I haven’t posted anything in a while.  It’s not that I don’t have blogs in progress; it’s that I haven’t felt like anything was quite finalized yet, and my energies are often taken with other priorities.  So, as I procrastinate with 2-3 posts for probably another week or more, I’ll offer this brief one with no ado or rumination.

CBDNA

The president of CBDNA (College Band Directors National Association) sent this missive dated 6/10/19:

Due to concerns with copyright liability CBDNA will no longer allow requests for scanned or copied parts through the CBDNA email listserve. We realize this is a change and inconvenience, however, it is important for everyone to be copyright compliant and to follow the laws and limitations of distributing copyrighted works.

Here is my (public) reply, not sent to him personally:
I feel this is a sad development.  Requesting and receiving a couple of parts when they are on order (or out of print) is like borrowing sugar from a neighbor.

 

I would challenge large-scale publishers to defend that they have factored into their pricing in a certain number of lost parts, i.e., that they expect subsequent income from selling replacement parts.  In other words, do they really price a set of music at $250 when it’s valued at $260 because they know they’ll eventually sell $10 worth of replacement parts?  I would further question whether self-published composers would want to bother with selling a replacement part for $2-$3 rather than benefiting from the word-of-mouth advertising received when someone needs a part to his or her piece that’s about to be performed.
Liability is what it is—i.e., not always related to facts, ethics, or right. vs. wrong—so I understand this decision in that it addresses the potential monetary losses of a large organization.  Still, I find the necessity of making such a decision to be a sad commentary on society’s litigiousness and perhaps the self-preserving bent of certain factions.

 

Chamber formations

Chamber music has for quite a while been a strong interest.  The first group I remember Image result for images chamber musicforming, or helping to form, was the Harding Brass Quintet.  One year, we had a euphonium instead of a trombone, and we enjoyed a few performances during a year or two of my later undergraduate years.  I remember playing the Ricercar del Primo Tuono and a Gabrieli sonata or canzona.  We did fairly well with the classic Sonate die Bankelsangerlieder, too.  The players were Glenn, Daphne, me, Ken, and Bob, and then Ken switched from euphonium to tuba, and we had Milton on trombone.  Good times.  I don’t recall significant chamber experiences before that time, so I suspect it was the HBQ (sponsored by the late, gracious Dr. G.E. Baggett) that started whetting my appetite for one-on-a-part playing.

As a master’s student at the University of Delaware, I formed a quintet that enjoyed, as I remember, only one gig—Easter Sunday at the church where the choral professor was also the music director.  This was a good group that included one nursing faculty member and four music students (Jon, Chris, me, Julius, and Al).  During roughly the same time, I was co-founder of Quintessence, a woodwind quintet.  I don’t remember performing at all with that group, but rehearsing was a pleasant experience.

Later moving to the Heartland, I did not form a group but played with a town-gown orchestra and auditioned for the Kansas City Wind Symphony.  Playing principal horn in the KCWS gave me inroads into both the quintet and large-ensemble iterations of the Kansas City Brass Project, and some great music was made.  Moving on to Colorado, in my second year as a doctoral student, I formed and conducted the Foundation Brass, a full-size brass ensemble of the most talented players in the entire School of Music.  I also co-founded the Grad Brass Quintet.

In New York, I was more creative with an ensemble name, founding the Alle-Catt Brass Quintet—students and faculty members from two colleges.  Respectively, we lived in Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties—thus the name.  We played all the good stuff, and some of my own arrangements and compositions, too.  I’ve kept in touch with a couple of those players but have lost touch with a couple others.

While I was Director of Instrumental Activities at Houghton College, student chamber ensembles were professionally highly significant, not to mention providing salve for the soul and a place to thrive and be encouraged.  Scheduling can be a problem in an academic setting, especially given the exceptionally time-intensive music major curriculum.  As reported in a faculty communiqué,

[I]nstrumental chamber music is being coached and rehearsed largely between 11:00 and 1:00 on Thursdays, during major ensemble time, during an isolated hour or two, e.g., Friday mornings, and as a matter of course in the studio enterprise.

I have frequently gone on record to sing the praises of chamber music in the collegiate setting.  Here are a few words from piece quoted above:

[S]tudents reap tremendous benefits through chamber endeavors of various shapes and sizes, [and] it is worth the effort in order to provide greater breadth of opportunity for musical maturing in terms of such aspects as stylistic matching, intonation awareness, and independence.

During that particular year, which to that point was the most active in terms of chamber music at that institution, I enumerated and provided some details on the following groups:
  • faculty-coached brass quintet
  • ad-hoc brass ensemble for one program
  • double wind quintet–movements from Mozart serenades
  • two woodwind quintets
  • string quartets
  • student-led vocal chamber group
  • flute choir
  • flute-oboe duo
  • double-reed trio
  • clarinet choir
  • saxophone quartet
  • horn quartet
  • percussion ensemble

Here is a sample program. from that very active year.

It has been said that a (high-functioning) string quartet is the most perfect example of positive, interactive human behavior.  I would expand that to all good chamber music-making.  For the last five years, I have not had the opportunity, drive, or resources to form or work with any small chamber ensembles.  I miss this kind of music-making terribly.

Image result for woodwind quintet

Coordination

Here are some comments on coordination in three areas:  conducting of ensembles, PowerPoint slides in worship assemblies, and intersections/stop signs.

Conducting/cueing 
Student conductors sometimes have difficulty coordinating the cueing of entrances.  Although precise, technical attention is sometimes required, fledgling conductors tend to over-technicalize cueing.

Breathing is an important component of the whole.  I have encouraged students who are working on cueing simply to think as a singer or wind instrumentalist¹—breathing as if s/he were singing or playing the same passage.  A student will often do better if s/he doesn’t overthink it, rather simply coordinating the gesture with a breath.  One ought simply to breathe and move naturally, within the learned musical “habitat.”  It seems to me that this more organic approach—mentally placing oneself in the position of the musician(s) being cued, and breathing as though one is making the sound on his/her instrument—helps immeasurably in the process of mastering and coordinating the gesture.

Changing PowerPoint slides
In church assemblies (commonly called “services”), coordination of slide changes with musical phrases is rarely executed well.  In one recent church visit, the slide-changing effort was better than most, yet it was clear that no one was coordinating slides with actual singing.  A later experience at a different church was more typical—with three or four egregious errors (not changing the slide at all until all the words on the next slide were nearly complete!), and a split-second to a full second late on many other slide changes.  The timing does make a difference.

Again, I have found from personal experience that the natural approach works:  the person who’s changing the slides should be actually singing or at least mouthing the words.  Otherwise, the slide change will typically be too late, causing the singer to miss the first word or two.  It can be difficult to sing without a feeling of mild gasping or hiccuping.

Driving/stop signsImage result for stop sign
Poor driver coordination at stop signs hinders the flow of traffic.  A driver who arrives first at a four-way stop-intersection might think he’s being nice by gesturing to another driver to go first.  However, a clog can be the result.  The second driver doesn’t see the gesture made by the first, so both of them end up waiting, and the hesitation takes everyone’s time.  The system works best when everyone coordinates by following the established protocol.²

[If you have 4 more minutes for an earlier, lengthier (more entertaining?) post on driver issues at stop signs, go here.  Or just thank me for not adding more anecdotes here, such as one about the driver just yesterday.  Ignore the fact that I was dutifully stopped at a stop sign; he had no stop sign at all; and I couldn’t have begun to see any gesture on his part because of sun glare and tinted windows, anyway.  Wait.  I just added an anecdote, didn’t I?]

~ ~ ~

In the Middle Ages, a musical composition technique came to be known as hoquet (later Anglicized as hocket), meaning “hiccup.”³  That hiccup effect—involving the stopping and starting of different voices—can be entertaining and musically interesting when conceived intentionally.  On the other hand, hiccuping at stop signs and during congregational worship music is unintentional, uncoordinated, and largely avoidable.

B. Casey, 1/28 – 4/17/19


¹ Since string players and percussionists technically don’t have to breathe in order to play, some of them will naturally have more difficulty with this skill. 

²  Where I live, the stop sign issue is complicated at certain poorly graded and/or un-repaired intersections.  My little sedan will bottom out unless I approach slowly, at an angle.  In one case, I have to veer far to the left, using the lane reserved for oncoming traffic, which of course complicates everything further.

³ In that time, metric/rhythmic notation was relatively new, having been apparently absent for a millennium.  The lack of focus on rhythm makes the Middle Ages the Dark Ages in my book!

Real, live musicians

A full-of-life conductor
In June of 2002, my soon-to-be-bride and I spent a few minutes talking with H. Robert “Bob” Reynolds and his wife Kristin Reynolds.  This conversation, at a casual, post-conducting-symposium soirée, was rich because of musical and relational connections.  It was clear to both of us that this special couple had something going for them.  Kristin, an accomplished oboist, had returned again to CU-Boulder as a volunteer, offering her artistic talents to play in a rehearsal ensemble for the benefit of conductor-students.

Bob was guest lecturer in an afternoon session, and he did something “off the beaten path” that contributed, materially and memorably, to my education.  He shared with us the Jessye Norman recording of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs; these recorded performances, Bob put forward, were an example to all music-makers.  This lesson provided a model for a group of conductors—who are, after all, music-makers who lead and inspire groups of other music-makers.

Last night (November 18), Reynolds led portions of a rehearsal of two Baylor University bands, and I was privileged to watch a video feed.  Bob’s masterful, mature leadership actually brought tears to my eyes.  I knew two of the works he was conducting fairly well, but he knows them intimately.  His conducting was, to say the least, inspiring.  Anyone may tune in tonight for the live performance; several works will be conducted by Bob Reynolds.  The URL for the performance is https://www.baylor.edu/music/index.php?id=935526.

A living composer
Sometime in the summer of 2009 or 2010, I contacted composer Carter Pann about his music.  I had heard the wind band transcription of his orchestral work Slalom and wanted to acquire the piece for use with my orchestra at the time.  Pann congenially sent me a burned CD with Slalom and three others, along with a handwritten note.

These kinds of interactions with living composers of art music can be energizing.  I wish our performance had done his great music justice.  It was a technically demanding piece than my ensemble should have attempted at the time, but we do have fond memories of it.

~ ~ ~

The general public tends to think that “classical” or cultivated, artful music (1) is only of interest to dull people and (2) was only written by dead composers.  Reynolds and Pann are two fine examples of vigorous, living musicians who give the world something of beauty and artistic merit.

On summer’s end

Summer is over.  Or is it?

This will be a meandering piece about summer, with connections to reading, baseball, the calendar, kids, and the rhythms of life.

Books and baseball
People still have summer reading lists, right?  Maybe not so much anymore.  I spied the quip below on a ne’er-do-well’s Facebook page recently, in the spot where one’s favorite book title is supposed to be:

who reads

I thought, Well, I’m guessing you don’t read much, because you didn’t capitalize that or put a question mark after the question.  (This same person had proudly posted a video of herself drunk while playing video games, so I guess I wasn’t all that surprised.)

My summer reading list, if it really existed at all, was phantom-like.  Recent book grabs include one that presents three views on God’s will and decision making, a Duck Dynasty biography (couldn’t stand much!), and a Stephen Colbert book (I wish he weren’t so caustically one-sided, because he’s genuinely funny).  On my active shelf are a book on the history of words in religion, a history of the Silk Road, and two volumes on the kingship of God.  This summer, I have read some poetry, a little on baseball, and a few pages each from Richard Hughes and Frederick Buechner, plus a few other things.  Oh, and I’ve spent some time reading and studying an ancient, mid-length letter from Paul, including reading two paragraphs in Greek.  Sounds like a lot of reading time, you say?  Nah.  I’m talking about a total of less than 10 hours there.  Pitiful, I know.  And the progress in writing my own next book has been precisely nil this summer.

Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, is legendary.  My dad’s copy of that one remains where he would have seen it, high on a shelf in his/Mom’s study.  On a lower bookshelf in our home sits Dad’s coffee-table-sized book that chronicles baseball’s summers of ’47-’57 in the lives of the three New York teams—the Dodgers, the Giants, and those dratted Yankees.  The Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast in 1957, rendering summer fun permanently shut down for many.

Our family enjoyed seeing the KC Royals with a friend in Kauffman Stadium last Saturday.  It was a sticky, muggy, summer night, but it was not overly hot, especially after the sun was hidden behind the stadium on the third-base side.  This summer is not a good one for the Royals, to say the least.  It was a great game, though:  the last-place Royals, the 2nd-worst team in baseball, beat the even worse Orioles in the 9th.

Usually two or three times a summer, when I was a boy, my dad and I would go to the Vet to see Phillies games.  There was one memorable, July 4th double header, at which a friend sat with Dad and me in the lowest seats, in straightaway center field, just above the outfield wall with the “408” painted on it in yellow.  I’m not sure I’m creating memories like that for our son, but he has been to three Royals games, a Pirates game with cousins, and a Reds game before he could remember.  He has also played baseball three summers in a row.  According to his 2018 baseball season, summer lasted only about 6 weeks (May-June).

For me, despite one serendipitous baseball game I saw on a nice Minnesota afternoon while traveling, this summer has been the worst on record.  It is not over yet?

Summer, school, and children
For children, summer is almost always something to which to look forward.  They often have summer camp experiences.  Manatawny, a Christian camp in Southeastern PA, was the thing that we kids looked forward to most.  My sisters’ kids all go to similar camps now, too, and they seem to feel the same heart-tugs, while experiencing similar growth of all kinds.  Then there is marching band camp, and several of my sisters’ kids are now doing that annually, too.  Summer is certainly not all bad for kids.

For many, summer is over in the middle of August when school starts way too early.  Two private colleges at which I’ve taught hold classes on Labor Day, having started a week or two previously.  School always started the day after Labor Day when I grew up.  According to just about every U.S. school calendar, summer is by now over for everyone.

Jedd has had some great times this summer (for example, a children’s play, baseball, some travel, a lake, cousins, and swimming).  Speaking of swimming … they drained the town pool weeks ago here, which seems pretty ridiculous since summer persists.  The heat and humidity (or just heat, or just humidity, but rarely any relief) have been oppressive and unrelenting for so long, it seems.  We had a cold winter with little snow for playing, an almost nonexistent spring, and then this beastly summer.  We’ve had, what, six or seven nice days since June?

Summer’s entertainment
Remember the TV show “In the Heat of the Night?”  I never watched it, but I think it was based somewhat on the premise that crime heats up when the weather does the same.  (When is it not hot in a Mississippi town?)  I also recall an episode of M*A*S*H in which everyone’s nerves were frayed because of heat.

Last Sunday night, in the summertime cool of a Lutheran church building, I heard the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, and their opening selection was a rare performance of a work by Arthur Honegger titled Pastoral d’Ete (Summer Pastorale).  This piece shimmered and sang, and it led me to think of other summer-oriented art music. . . .

  • I have a CD of summer wind quintet music that includes Barber’s Summer Music, Op. 31, a provocative piece written well for the medium.  I return to this disc often, including a couple times this summer.
  • Barber’s Knoxville:  Summer of 1915 is not a favorite of mine.  (Few and far between are the sopranos I would listen to on purpose.)  Berlioz’s Nuits d’Ete (Summer Nights) is more pleasing, but still, it’s a soprano.  So, no thanks.
  • As Summer Was Just Beginning, a simple, tuneful, elegiac tribute to the late James Dean, enjoyed at least a decade’s worth of appreciation in the wind band world, but the piece’s fame is now approaching its winter.
  • Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons is well-known, but “Summer,” the second in the set, strikes me as more interesting.  Actually, this Vivaldi string concerto hints more at fall for me, but maybe that’s because I like the still, sometimes melancholy beauty of fall.  Then there is the tempest of the presto 3rd movement.  (May there be no tempests in life this fall.)
  • Frank Bridge’s tone poem Summer is simply wonderful.  What glorious sounds!  If I could rig some great speakers in a park, and if I could order a 70-degree, mosquito-less, summer night, I would sit out under a tree and listen to it again.

I remember a few summer evenings on the grounds of the Mann Music Center, north of Philadelphia, hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra free or at greatly reduced cost, with good friends.  And all these thoughts of music evoke pleasant, breezy, relaxed feelings.  Was this what Jim Seals & Dash Crofts were singing about?  “Summer Breeze makes me feel fine….”?  My summer of ’18 has not been blessed by many of those feelings.

So goodbye, summer of ’18.  I’m done wid’ ya.  I wish I could be assured that I’ll forget you, but I won’t be surprised if you haunt me.  I wish I had seen and hiked in the Rockies this summer, but, failing that, come on, cooler weather and breezier, more chilled thoughts.  Come on, fall concerts and crisp mornings with coffee on the deck.  Maybe I’ll soon be able to walk 20 yards sans sweat or anxiety.  Come on, Major League Baseball’s “Fall Classic.”  Just come on, fall.

To be honest (it hasn’t happened recently)

I have taken this down from the wall in my home, at least for a while.  It feels misleading to display it now, since what it declares hasn’t happened recently.

Believe it or not, I have actually never noticed the roosters until now.  I know the colors within this frame, and certainly the text, but the roosters have been hidden from my consciousness.  They seem to cheapen the whole thing, but if you’re a bona fide naturalist or animal lover or you have chickens, maybe the rooster-notion touches something deeper within you.  Anyway, when I see the words “He put a new song in my mouth,” I actually don’t think about singing (or crowing) like normal people would.  First, at least, I think about composing.  Composing has been an important “voice” in my life, but I have only eked out a couple of marginal, original songs and relatively un-creative arrangements of others’ music in the last half-dozen years.  If I hadn’t spent as much energy on arrangements and refinements, perhaps I would have had more “margin” in my life for creative bursts.  But that has not been the case.

Aside:  it’s not my goal to live in the past, but I often play “Monday morning quarterback” with things, including events in my life, on this blog.  I’m better with hindsight than foresight, I guess.  Rather than lamenting the lack of as much music as I want in my life, I suppose I could frame it in terms of celebration of some of the music of my past.  (That’s not as easy as you might think.)

The frame above has hung in my home offices in four or five houses.  It is coming down for a while now . . . until He puts a new song in my mouth again.  My composing and singing voices both feel weak at this juncture.  If nothing else, I am trying to be honest.

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 (whether or not one uses a secondary dominant in m. 7). 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!

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.