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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Romance and Tarantella

Once again, I am endebted to Christopher Marks for championing my music.

Here is a lovely recital he did recently on a pretty terrible instrument. Chris really made the Reuter POFS 1000 sound better than I've ever heard.

I also love how he plays my piece. It's very different from the way I play it.

The whole recital is worth your attention. My piece starts around 38:50.

The first movement is sort of an homage to Gerard Finzi. The second movement uses the accompaniment figure from the first movement to serve as the basis for a rhythmic dance which ends in a little Conlan Nancarrow flourish.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Teaching music composition through existential challenge

I have a friend who is generally a genius. His name is Anthony Hawley. Originally I knew him as a poet who had published a stack of chap books that I could call when I needed help translating Italian. Now he works in the art department. What interests me about what Anthony as an educator is the way that he comes up with assignments. Anthony's projects always seem to be asking the students for more than just making a work. He asks them to become artists.

Consider the following post from his FB page the other day:

"We had a pretty invigorating night last night in Senior Capstone for Art Majors. Students were faced with two big challenges: first, they had to bring to class a work of theirs they wanted to destroy (that in and of itself caused a fair amount of anxiety and raised a lot of questions about preciousness). Then, they were asked to take that work and sell it to a complete stranger on the street in an hour and 15 mins. How they did that was up to them. There were a few cop-outs, a couple primadonnas, some who managed to do it in the quickest least painful way possible, and some extraordinary people went out on a limb and took a real risk and came back with amazing stories and encounters. They had to document the exchange in some way. There are some marvelous videos and photos I'll post in a bit. Those who did take a real risk to make something happen came back electrified and beaming with excitement and a tad bit of fear. This is what it's all about folks."

There are so many things that I like about this. There are so many things it asks of students. I'm wondering how we could apply this to composers. It seems that we are always so busy teaching the craft — at least I am because I find basic skills to be so deficient — that I don't have time to talk about how to be an artist. I suppose I just hope they will look at how I'm doing stuff and absorb it by osmosis. I think, though, that I want to spend some time considering how to bring some sort of existential challenge to the table.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have on how we might do this as composition teachers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The funniest "la contenance angloise" jokes ever

If you like Medieval music theory (and who doesn't?), there isn't much that's funnier than this. It is one of my favorites, and it was pulled down for awhile. I was so glad to rediscover it.

This is pretty much how I had always imagined the influence of Dunstaple on the Burgundian School. It is just so perfectly done, I can't stand it.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Chopin's DaVinci Code or The Secret of Phi

It appears that my mentor, Terry Mohn, has finally come up with some applications of the Golden Ratio that I think we can all support. The theory's application to the arts is something that has been discussed since the Renaissance.

It seems like there is something going on with it, and then Mario Livio writes a book that makes us all think it was just a Tootsie Roll commercial. "Whatever it is I think I see becomes a Golden Ratio to me."

Terry has finally put the controversy to rest by proving the Golden Ratio really is in everything. Here is his original chart from the Chopin Prelude op. 28 no. 1.

That's pretty precise to be a coincidence! Of course if the pianist takes a retard in the 4th bar, it's going to throw our whole theory off. So, you might not think it's real. Terry managed to apply the theory to everything though, and so you can rest at ease that the controversy is over. It's in seashells, rosebushes, and also the very fabric of your life.  Consider the same chart applied to your life.

The Chopin Op. 28 No. 1 Prelude is clearly a secret code describing Terry's life. We will all keep him in mind as he faces some upcoming dips. Again, if it just happened one time, you might think it was a coincidence, but Terry has shown the pattern yet again in the following graph.

When the exact same graph can be used to clearly explain such disparate things, and Ockhams razor, etc., I can only come to one conclusion. Chopin's first prelude is the key to explaining the universe. 

It's a good thing I got this in time. The next time my wife asks me if I've washed the dishes yet, I'm simply going to point to the chart and say, I'm only on measure 5 of the dishwashing. You can expect a dip in my productivity and then a gradual increase in cleaning followed by a tapering off.

That will be cool because I'll be able to make a very similar chart that will describe the course of her anger at my response over time. Of course, the graph for the dish washing will be on a much larger time scale than the anger graph.

Friday, February 06, 2015

My funky, latin jazz cello sonata

I received a commission from the National Music Teachers Association and Nebraska Music Teachers Association to write a new piece for their state convention last year.

I wrote a cello "sonata" with the idea that I would try to write something fun and not quite so brooding and serious. I wanted to sort of write the kind of music Milhaud might write if he were still around. Growing up in Tampa exposed me to plenty of Cuban rhythms, and I brought them to this quirky little set of pieces.

I titled them after colors in Spanish and called the entire work "The iridescent café". There was only one cellist that I wanted for the premiere. I had worked with the young cellist Justin Lepard before, and was amazed to find out that he could play jazz.

We premiered the work in the Fall, but had a chance to perform it again last week. Here are the videos from the concert.

El Café Iridiscente

1. rojo

2. azul

3. perla

4. morado


Brubeck-ish, swinging, Charlie Parker licks containing, jazz waltz cello music

Here is the second movement of my cello sonata "El Café Iridiscente" which is entitled "azul". This piece was co-commissioned by the National Music Teachers Association and the Nebraska Music Teachers Association.

This movement has a sort of Brubeck-y feel without being in an odd meter. There are some of what Justin calls "Charlie Parker licks" toward the end. It's just gentle fun music.

Justin Lepard is playing with me in this video at our Feb. 3 concert at St. Mark's on the Campus. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Jaunty, jagged, energetic, percussive, quirky cello music

Here is the first movement of my cello sonata "El Café Iridiscente" which is entitled "rojo". This piece was co-commissioned by the National Music Teachers Association and the Nebraska Music Teachers Association.

I was taking some of the Latin rhythms that I heard growing up in Tampa and filtering them through some 20th century harmony. I think I was trying to write the kind of music Milhaud might write if he were still around. It's the sort of music I imagine in a 21st century café.

Justin Lepard is playing with me in this video at our Feb. 3 concert at St. Mark's on the Campus.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Jazz Cello: All the things you are

Here is a sample of Justin Lepard and I playing together. This was from our Feb. 3 concert. After we finished a concert of modern cello music, we decided to play some standards for everyone. I think this is super fun, and I love playing with Justin.