Three readings (the most recent, already obsolete)

This morning before work time, I read three things (in this order):

1.  Part of the MatthewGospel’s text about Jesus in Gethsemane. (This particular reading would have been well chosen for many people today, but I claim no intentionality—only submissiveness.  As directed, I prayed, read the short text, and responded, as part of a biblical studies group.)

2.  Four pages of material on technologies and techniques to “navigate the digital rehearsal.”  This was written and shared about five weeks ago by a conducting professional I don’t know.

3.  Charles C. Helmer IV’s article that selected thoughts, principles, and words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian community, appropriating them to humanity’s current situation.  This article, titled “Bonhoeffer and COVID-19:  ‘Life Together’ in Isolation,” reminded me of Bonhoeffer’s significance in both Christian and 20th-century world history.

Two of the above readings struck me as relatively timeless.  One of them is already obsolete.¹  (Hint:  it’s the one about technology that’s obsolete.)

The ephemeral complexity of our technological landscape boggles the mind, baffles the massive mainstream, and bedraggles the masses.

Our world changes quickly in some of its aspects, but not in others.

– B. Casey, 4/21/20


¹ Today, I also read a few short, work-related documents.  Composed this week, some were either off-base or already obsolete.  I wrote one of the off-base ones myself!

Who or what leads?

Leadership is well considered in terms of concept over action or role, but let’s think about roles and activities first.  During most activities, someone is probably leading, one way or another.

In most traditional ballroom dancing, the man leads.  His female partner may be more assertive off the dance floor, but she does not lead there.

In team sports, there are leaders.  You got your quarterbacks, your point guards.  In baseball, a team captain may be a noteworthy leader, in addition to managers and coaches.  Major league baseball has sometimes enjoyed player-managers who both led the team from the bench and contributed actively on the field.  It can get more complicated, though, if we think of activities and not only identified roles.   ◊ ◊ ◊

When Jackie Robinson entered the majors, 73 years ago Wednesday, who was it who led the team?  General Manager Branch Rickey?  Interim manager Clyde Sukeforth?  Shortstop Pee Wee Reese?  Jackie himself?  Someone on the Boston Braves (the opposing team)?  Depending on the moment, it could have been any one of them.

Conductors are musical and artistic leaders, but, even in a conducted instrumental ensemble, it is often good practice for individual players or sections to take the lead from time to time.  Dr. Lauren Reynolds, now Director of Bands at one of my alma mater institutions, speaks to this aspect of leadership in ensembles within the first three minutes of this fine pedagogical video.

Leadership by players is even more necessary, if not more advantageous, when there is no conductor, e.g., with chamber groups such as brass quintets and string quartets.  It isn’t the same person who is the actual leader in every moment.  Just as in baseball, the nature of the music (or other practicalities such as a line of sight) might suggest who should lead at a given time.

Now to move toward the conceptual and invisible (as opposed to the more observable) actions of leadership.  When we ponder something, there are primary thoughts that take the lead.  Who or what leads us in ways of faith?  Who or what takes the reins as we think about God—and how to live in Him and for Him?  When we think about something, there are primary thoughts that take the lead.  Hear N.T. Wright as he differentiates between theology and text:

I have long had the sense that theology, especially philosophical theology, and perhaps even analytic theology, has tended to start with its own abstract concepts and, in expounding and adjusting them, has drawn in bits and pieces of Scripture on the way.  That is to say, it’s often system first, scripture second.

That, I suppose, is better than nothing, but it can provide the illusion of engagement with the text rather than allowing the text to lead the way.   – N.T. Wright Online  (emphases mine  -bc)

We ought to be alarmed by the common “illusion” that Wright spotlights above.  Personally, far more often than weekly, I see the effects of a theological-system-driven Christianity.  It has far more dangerous ramifications than a baseball team driven by the team owner’s greed, or a band led by an errant bassoonist.  It is our scripture texts that ought to steer our ships.  The effects of the illusion of scripture’s primacy run deep.  They are difficult to discern, and even more difficult to admit.  People will speak of theology and text as though they are part of the same ball o’ wax, and they are, in a sense.  Still, it is someone uncommon for a person to realize that theology is driving things for him; it is rarer still for someone to allow the scripture text to lead.  Conductors these days¹ will typically allow the musical text to steer, over and above their personal philosophies or other factors such as the perceived needs of the moment.  Such conductors are admirable . . . and Christians ought to let their texts guide, too!

A recent study opportunity from Coffee With Paul did allow the biblical text to set the agenda.  In the process of examining and applying the John 2 text about the upsetting of the traders in the temple courts, one of our study partners in that group commented, “The thought of ‘God is constantly at work turning over evil in the world’ is comforting and reassuring!”  And in saying that, she was leading, in a most welcome and conceptual sense.  Her thought was primarily philosophical, but she had been guided first by a focus on the text.

What or who should lead in churches, practically speaking?  That’s a different topic, and one I’ll reserve for a different day (or maybe never again!).  But I’ll say this:  it is a philosophical theology, not a text, that assumes that the leader in a church should be “the pastor.”


¹ In a bygone era, conductor Eugene Ormandy once said, quite disrespectfully of the composer or his musical text, “That’s the way Stravinsky was—bup, bup, bup—The poor guy’s dead now.  Play it legato.”

Creating, dreaming, and envisioning

As the scientific/medical and government worlds churn to maintain healthy populations in the face of a frightening, devastating virus, many are left floundering.

Families are self-isolating or submitting to lockdowns and quarantine orders.

Churches are envisioning how to “do church” without public, in-person gatherings.  (Perhaps many will now be forced to re-envision what it means to be church, quite apart from the man-made creation of the religious “service.”  Please see here for more on the label “worship service.”) ¹

Businesses are temporarily closing, and paychecks are in jeopardy . . . and some now have time and space to dream of newness.

Like most people, I have no medical qualifications and only a modicum of medical insight.  These days, I take typical precautions, and I encounter now-oddly-normal stresses . . . and I also seem to have greater-than-normal time to envision and dream about other things.

For years I have known something about myself, and it’s not necessarily a good thing, although it can be satisfying to an introvert:  I often feel more energized in envisioning, dreaming, planning, and working out plans than I do from seeing the fruition in groups.  That is commentary on several aspects:  on my inner energy and imagination, yes, but also on my lack of ability to plan effectively; on other people’s shortcomings, and on my inability to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

The best devotional times, the best worship gatherings, the best Camp Manatawny hymn sings, and the best Lights (Christian a cappella octet) programs were better in my head than in the execution.  Even the highest-quality musical performances I’ve been privileged to lead—with the University of Northern Colorado, Houghton College, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Kansas City Wind Symphony ensembles—probably didn’t give me as much inward energy and encouragement as the silent, planning/dreaming phases that had preceded the performances.

Easter is coming.  I’m not one to get into the “Lenten Season” or to place too much emphasis on one Sunday over another, but Easter can certainly be observed with pleasure and joy.  A friend invited me to perform, and I asked if there could be a place for a special arrangement.  He replied, “Of course!”  “Okay!” said I . . . and off I went to dream and envision.  I had begun that arrangement around the time the effects of the virus pandemic began to be felt in the U.S.

And now what?

What’s going to happen with the arrangement now?  It’s almost finished.  And I’d give it about a  40% chance of being performed at all, and less chance than that of blessing people who choose to be, or are allowed by the government to be, in the same room.  And that’s discouraging, because public performance is one important goal of music.  But was the effort a waste?  No, hardly.  The creative process is a goal in itself.

I’ve envisioned.  I’ve heard it in my head.  I’ve been conscious of the emotions, the intentions.  I’ve audiated.²  I’ve hoped.  I’ve dreamed.  I’ve audiated some more, and I’ve refined the music based on what I see and hear.  And in the process, I’ve worshipped a little.

What are you doing now that you might not have found the time or reason to do a couple weeks ago?  How is this time going for you?  Gotta get back to my arrangement now.  I just had another idea to make it better.


¹ I take this phenomenon as primarily the result of human ingenuity.  It has, just like other human creations, some good elements and intentions.  It has also, like other human creations, gone awry, in my estimation.  I added this footnote after reading Bill’s comment.

² This page gives a nicely succinct definition of audiation:  the comprehension and internal realization of music by an individual in the absence of any physical sound.

“Classical Music” Lovers?

I wouldn’t actually use the phrase “classical music lover” to describe myself.  That terminology is almost as non-descriptive and impotent as “alternative” or “pop.”  The term “cultivated,” on the other hand, strikes me as a more apt, helpful term to describe some music.

In one analysis, music may be aptly, broadly classified as either cultivated or commercial . . . but there is a lot of grey area, and bleed-over.  Those of us musicians who live most often in the world of cultivated music traditions are not typically “music snobs.”  We simply have learned, studied, and/or appreciate musics that aren’t commercialized¹ as much.  And there’s a lot more music out there to listen to.

I’d say I have fairly broad taste, although it doesn’t extend in every direction.  My taste excludes, for instance, most of what is called “pop” or “rap.”  The thing is, most people who call themselves music lovers have little idea of how much music there is that doesn’t get played on the radio.  In one civic music trivia contest, there were about three music categories, consisting in country, country pop, and crooned or countrified Christmas pop.  Now, I don’t suggest that everyone should gravitate to Dvorak or Debussy, but there’s no need for someone to think of me as a snob because I like something she’s never heard or might not like.  Does she know John Mackey or John Corigliano or courtly instrumental music of the Renaissance?  What about Carter Pann or Pandiatonicism?  Chant is not standard fare for me, but this music of the Dark Ages monks can be purifying.  Speaking of monks, have you heard the jazz piano stylings of Theolonious Monk?  An area of great familiarity for me is the literature of the wind band.  I don’t ask people to drop the word “band” in deference to my education and experience, but do they know that “band” has referents other than rock and pop backup groups?

No, I’m not a snob.  I appreciate songwriters such as James Taylor and Billy Joel, and I like 80s pop-fusion-jazz-rock (how’s that for a label?) like Maynard Ferguson.  I also like some classic and classic/prog rock and listen to it fairly often.  One of my gravitations in the last couple of years has been toward what I might call acoustic heart-folk.  Stuff with some emotion, in which it’s possible to hear pure vocals and the instrumental sounds of the mandolin, acoustic guitar, and fiddle.

I guess you could call me a music evaluator.  I do evaluate and assess, and I think some music is more worthwhile than others . . . and I further think a whole lot of music is pretty worthless.  OK, call me a snob.  But in doing so, you might be less tolerant than those music snobs you create, as straw-men, in your mind!

Now if you want some discriminating and somewhat explanatory material, try this post:  https://www.lifehack.org/594299/this-is-why-classical-music-lovers-are-smarter.  I don’t care for the generalizing conclusion, and there are some pitfalls along the way, but it makes for decent reading.

And particularly the cultivated musicians here might be interested in this analysis:  https://www.sfcv.org/article/are-musicians-better-than-they-were-30-years-ago


¹ It might interest some to notice that opera, which is not by any means a favorite genre for me, was “popular,” somewhat commercial music in earlier times.

Reveling in (and ranting a little about) music

These recent musical experiences (all but one of them!) have been excellent.

Harriman-Jewell:  Randall Goosby
The Harriman-Jewell Series, now in its 55th season and founded by William Jewell College, is a treasure of the Kansas City Arts scene.  Each year brings various solo artists (and I do mean artists, not just any performers) and ensembles to two venues in the KC area.  Typically included are multiple “Discovery Concerts,” which are sponsored and free to attend.

In one of those, three of us heard a fine young violinist, Randall Goosby, in recital with pianist Jun Cho.  Goosby was not only an accomplished performing artist but also was well-spoken.  He knew what to say, and how much to say, to the audience in order to enhance the experience.  I was introduced to the Debussy Sonata in G Minor—an effervescent, many-colored piece that I will aim to listen to again soon.  William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano was a delight, too.

KC Symphony Chamber:  Holocaust string music
4 musicians performing in a quartet on stage in Helzberg HallThe KC Symphony provides a limited number of free performances each season.  The ones I’ve attended have been sponsored by Lead Bank and have all involved select performers in chamber music (small groups of orchestra members, one on a part; not the entire orchestra).

This program, understated but well-conceived as a tribute to Jewish Holocaust victims, utilized an unaccompanied clarinet in one selection and strings in three others.  The performance, complete in about an hour, featured works by relatively unknown composers Schulhoff, Krása and Haas, plus the often-heard Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Old Vinyl:  Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano
If I told you I’d rather listen to hip-hop than be subjected to this one more time, would you believe me?  I’d grabbed this record from a freebie pile a few months ago, thinking it would be a nice novelty.  Not so.  I mean, I suppose it’s novel, but it’s certainly not nice.  It’s hard to imagine the intent behind creating this music.  Was it a psychotic or demented mind?  Was it a composer desperate for a place in the world, looking for something that no one else would do (or want to hear)?

I was surprised to find that it was actually a player piano used in the recording, and that the composer had a piano-roll-punching machine specially built for his endeavors.  In listening to this  “music,” one feels as if he is being pecked or poked to death by a non-rhythmic demon.  A description of one of the studies is illustrative:  ” . . . one tempo being related to another by the proportion of two to the square root of two.  Two separate voices moving at this proportion approach coincidence but never exactly meet.”  One succinct definition of “music” is “organized sound”; if one reads the description on the back of the album, this material fits that bill, but it would seem to require a savant mind to perceive much organization in most of it.

Not all music elevates the soul or inspires or “gets you going,”; I do believe there is a place for the avant-garde.  I’m all for variety, generally speaking, but this is horrible music, with so few redeeming qualities that I thought I would smash the vinyl with some satisfaction.  Rather, I’ll probably keep it as a demonstration of what music should not be.

KC Youth Symphony/side-by-side with KC Symphony:  Beethoven 7
Music Director Michael Stern wearing a tweed sport coat and bow tie smiles for his portrait.Conductor Michael Stern led this wonderful evening of musical demonstration, which I attended with my son.  Members of the Youth Symphony were on stage with a large number of KC Symphony professionals, and we heard the first two movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  The evening was marked by exhilarating music, expressive conducting, and enjoyable communication between Stern, the musicians, and the audience.

My CD Changer
In my player at this moment are five CDs, as usual.  One is my son’s school group repertoire, for his practice.  These songs struck me, on first hearing, as a better collection than last year’s.  He is very attached to their version of the Irish Blessing, which has become the theme song.

The other discs:

  • College friend David Slater’s As Time Goes By
  • The University of Houston Wind Ensemble’s Vittorio Giannini collection (Symphony No. 3 is a marvelous work)
  • Spyro Gyra (jazz/pop fusion) Got the Magic
  • Delirious’sDeeper

In the hopper or recently heard are Swendsen’s symphonies, works by Milhaud, and Adventures in a Perambulator by John Alden Carpenter.  Two days ago, I also gave a listen to some of Hall & Oates’s “oldies.”  A couple of those songs were fun, but it’ll probably be a couple years before I pull that one out again.  As I put near-final touches on this post, I’m listening to Mahler’s Adagietto again, because I was pretty sleepy when I heard it a couple weeks ago with a friend (see item 2 above).  It’s glorious.

Wind Band Concerts

Via live video stream, I recently audited portions of the concerts by the Frost School, University of Miami (Rob Carnochan, Conducting) and the Butler School, University of Texas at Austin (Jerry Junkin, Conducting)  These wind bands always offer patently excellent performances of high-quality literature.  The literature does not always run to my taste, but a little stretching here and there is good for me, and I usually wish I could be there live.

University of Nebraska Wind, Carolyn Barber, Facilitating and Conducting
Speaking of being there live:  five hours of driving earlier this month to UNL was worth the effort for this unique experience.  I felt musically and intellectually stimulated.  You can find Carolyn’s articulate notes here.  Her researched thought in the area of flocking behavior as it connects with ensemble ethos is compelling, although I will have to live with it a good deal more before it fully resonates.

Ball State University, Tom Caneva, Conducting
Good video/audio streaming made this livestream concert a particular pleasure.  I heard the late composer Michael Colgrass’s voice introducing his iconic work Winds of Nagual, and the quality was so good that it was hard to believe it wasn’t a live voice on a mic in the audio booth.  The subject matter of that work is more than a trifle unsettling, but the music is evocative and imaginative.

Heeding and protecting

My syllabus for the orchestra this semester includes the verbiage below. I thought it would be appropriate to share this here—not only for the musicians who read this blog, but perhaps even more for the non-musicians who don’t think as often, or as thoroughly, about hearing health in particular.

Thanks first off to John, my department chair who urged his faculty to consider adding such material to our syllabi.  Thanks also to faculty colleagues Ted and Lara, whose wordings I also adapted for my purposes.

Health Recommendations (Hearing and Musculoskeletal)

Hearing health is essential to your ability to enjoy and perform music.  Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music.  The danger from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is constant, but the good news is that NIHL is generally preventable.  Avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time (e.g., limit daily exposure times to sounds through ear-buds at half-volume [94 db] to an hour; 15 minutes at full volume [100 db].  Complementary foam ear plugs for hearing protection in any practice, rehearsal, or performance situation are available from the Orchestra/Band Room.  If you monitor the volume of music, limit the time you listen, and take breaks and other precautions, you should be able to protect your hearing for a lifetime of enjoyment.

Playing instruments can also cause or aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome or other muscular/skeletal issues.  Take regular breaks, maintain healthy posture, vary the type and intensity of practice, and inform a professional of any problems.  For further information on musicians’ health, you are encouraged to read the advisories posted at https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/4a_NASM_PAMA-Student_Guide-Standard.pdf.

Speaking personally, I have used high-end, noise-canceling earplugs while performing on horn in a large ensemble.  Sometimes, one earplug will do; sometimes, two are needed.  I don’t like to have to use them, because it limits my ambient perception, but I’m intent on protecting my hearing.  In my experience, the relative need for protection can depend somewhat on front-to-back row spacing, e.g., how far behind me are the trumpets or timpani?  Glockenspiel/bells can be damaging, too.  It’s not out of place to ask the stage manager or conductor for a chair-position adjustment if the back of your neck is touching the timpanist’s music stand.

Now for the sake of my snippet-snarfing readers who just want the bullet points and don’t have the time to consider even the brief, foregoing paragraphs, here’s the take-away:

  1. Generally speaking, take breaks (for your muscles and your ears).
  2. Seriously limit the use of earbuds while listening to any kind of music).
  3. Use noise-canceling ear protection in extremely loud environments (e.g., in airplanes, during lawn mowing or snow blowing, at rock concerts).
  4. Turn down the volume when the db level is too high.  Common sense is good here, but I’d suggest 90db as a threshold.  Although orchestral and wind band music can have peaks at high db levels, the more likely listening damage will come from sustained exposure to popular genres (e.g., country, pop, and rock) that tend to hover at one dynamic level.  It’s uncool to like your music¹ so loud that it produces physical pain in someone else when you inflict it on him/her.

¹  I’ll throw this in for free!  Stop sharing “your music” with everyone on the streets through open windows or with the top down in your convertible.  It’s rude.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s rock, country, Christian, classical, or rap.  This also relates to physical pain.  My upper ribs have rattled, and my ears have been overwhelmed by music from other people’s car speakers.

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.

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.