Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Review - Indiana Jones: The Soundtrack Collection by John Williams

After a wait of nearly 20 years, a new Indiana Jones movie hit theaters this summer. And while fans of the film had to wait almost two decades for a new chapter in the story, film music fans had to wait nearly three for a comprehensive collection of the film's signature music.

Released last month, Indiana Jones: The Soundtracks Collection is a milestone set as it features the most complete recording of the music from Temple of Doom (one of the quirkiest and most successful of the scores) and newly remastered sound for all four scores. While not the amazing success of the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings collections, the set is certainly worth the $40 it currently lists for on You can read my complete review of the Indiana Jones set for more details.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart"

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1: 46-55 (NLT)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Return of Messiah

Last year, you may remember, I wrote of my fascination with the performance history of Handel's Messiah. I teach the work as the last piece in my undergraduate music history course, and so every year consider anew how this work captivates the Western world, has seeped into high and low culture in numerous and unexpected ways, and in some ways has become a parody of itself. No section of Messiah is more abused than the "Hallelujah Chorus," which appears in countless movies and commercials in settings from the slightly appropriate to the absurd. And so, in the spirit of Christmas, I offer to you this Christmas Eve my favorite abuse of that venerated musical work:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I Want For Christmas

Here it is, two days before Christmas and since your presents have not all arrived, I knew that many of you were wondering what you could possibly get me for Christmas. Wonder no longer. I'd take one of these:Seriously, NASA has decided to sell off its orbiters when the shuttle program ends in 2010. The price tag? A mere $42 million which is a bargain considering that it includes the $6 million cost of transport and detoxification of the shuttle. You can get Atlantis, Endeavor, or Discovery, but the word on the street is that the Air and Space Museum will be getting one, so only two are up for grabs.

Of course, if $42 million is out of your price range, I'd take one of the 10 decommissioned shuttle engines - they are only $400,000 to $800,000 each, plus shipping and handling.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Trick - Eating

It must be new trick week around here, because in addition to sitting up, Noah began eating last Friday. We gave him a spoon to play with as a distraction and starting spooning in the rice cereal.
He took it like a champ. It looks like he may follow his brother in eating; Sam's always eaten anything and everything (he's one of the few kids I know that goes out to eat and selects broccoli over french fries on ocassion). It could also be that Noah is just a laid back kind of guy and takes everything in stride:
Well, almost everything. He did let big globs of cereal fall out. But as of this morning, he's eating almost all of what we prepare and even asking for more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Trick - Sitting Up

Look at Noah's new trick - he's sitting up. He's been working on sitting unsupported for about a month now. In his baby papasan chair, he began doing crunches to be upright. Then we put in in the boppy for a bit of support, but he just wanted to fall over and gnaw the soft boppy cover for a while. So we finally discovered that putting a toy in front of him distracted him enough that he would sit for long periods of time without falling over.

Invariably, though, Sam comes running by, and Noah wants to follow him. Tump goes Noah, squeal goes Sam as he runs away, scream goes Noah as he's thwarted in playing with Sam. But with sitting up, crawling can't be too far away, and then watch out Sam, or more specifically, Sam's toys.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Tale of Neenga

We spent all day at church today because tomorrow night, our choir is presenting Bach's Christmas Oratorio with Joy singing the soprano solos and yours truly making his debut as a timpani player. Since Joy is singing some hard solos and duets, she's been practicing most evenings after supper before we put the boys to bed. Sam loves to hear Joy practice, loves to accompany her on the piano or his egg shakers or his (duck) whistle even more, and loves her warm-ups best of all, especially her vocalization on "neenga." While she practices, she often tells Sam the story that she is singing, which has been a wonderful way to introduce Sam to the Christmas story this year.

But the other day Joy decided she'd been practicing a bit too much. She came to that conclusion after hearing Sam come up to me in the kitchen and proudly proclaim that Mom was singing about God and Jesus and David and a little boy named Neenga.

Me? I think he got it about right.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Viral Orchestra

Perhaps you have heard of this:

That's right, google, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Tan Dun have teamed up to create a symphony orchestra through viral marketing. There are things I love and things that give me pause about this idea.

Things I love:
Most symphony orchestras are stuck in the 19th century. Occasionally they dip their toes in early 20th century music. Every great once and a while they plunge into 21st century music. But in both those cases, they tend to play the music that, though written in the past 100 years, sounds like it was written 200 years ago. For an organization traditionally mired in the past to embrace modern techniques is a marvelous step forward.

Engaging Tan Dun to write a piece was a masterstroke. Tan has credibility among classical musicians through his orchestral writing and the general public through his score for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. He is ideal to bring in a wide swath of musicians.

Michael Tilson Thomas is brilliant at bringing in young people and using technology to reach a wider audience. If anyone in the current classical music world can pull this stunt off, he can.

Things that give me pause:
I know that some viral marketing campaigns work, but for the most part viral videos and ideas spread without the obvious guiding hand of advertisers. Take a look at the requirements and look again at some of the people in the video. I'm not sure this will catch on with the population they hope to reach.

Many of the best players are technologically challenged. Trying to reach musicians through the internet is a bit daunting to me. also, they say they want to create a truly international symphony, but what is the reach of the internet and will musicians in nations outside the US, West Europe, and Japan have the capability to find out about this project and then record a video with good enough sound quality for the judges to accurate gauge their performance?

Still, even with that worrisome twitch behind my eye at the artificiality of the endeavor, it is exciting to see usually stale orchestral playing branch into new avenues. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Messiaen (oh, and Elliot Carter too)

If he were still alive, today would be Olivier Messiaen's 100th birthday. Presuming he makes it on more day, tomorrow will be Elliot Carter's 100th birthday. We musicologists love to celebrate birthdays and plan themed concerts around them, so you can imagine the concerts and parties planned for this weekend. I've always had a love affair with Messiaen's music simply because it is so alive with the love of sound. I've heard it described as sensuous and visceral, but the best description I've heard recently comes from Virgil Thomson by way of David McIntire:

"Nevertheless, the man is a great composer. One has only to hear his music beside that of any of the standard eclectic modernists to know that. Because his music really vibrates and theirs doesn't."

If you want to hear what we all mean, jump over to the audio guide for Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise, and be certain to listen to the selections from his monumental From the Canyons to the Stars. For my money, that work is one of the most powerful and transcendent he ever wrote. (Ross also has great footage up of Messiaen at the organ.)

We had our own Carter/Messiaen birthday celebration in early October around here, and I gave a short concert talk at the mini-festival's opening. In celebration of the dual birthdays, here's the text of my lecture:

This past week, my wife and I have slowly been working our way through HBO’s miniseries John Adams. It is a wonderfully acted portrait of a tumultuous time in American history, but in the most recent episode we watched, which covers Adam’s stint as Vice-President under Washington, I was struck by the close connection the United States and France have had since its inception. In the miniseries, we see how Adams goes to France to aid Benjamin Franklin in negotiating France’s entrance into the American Revolution. Then, once we were established as a nation, and France was having her revolution, France came to the US and asked for aid in the burgeoning war with Britain. The US claimed that their treaty had been with King Louis 16th and they therefore would be neutral. That’s right, although Jefferson wanted us to aid France the way France had aided us, we stayed out of it all.

This uneasy relationship with France, seen right at the beginning of the United States, resonated in me with our celebration of two composers tonight, one French and one American. This was because during the 20th century, the musical connection between the two nations could not have been stronger. During WWI, French composers flocked to the United States to find safe harbor and succor. In the 1920s, American composers beginning with Aaron Copland flocked to France to study under Nadia Boulanger. After WWII, the OMGUS (office military government, united states) established a new summer course in Darmstadt, Germany to try and rehabilitate German musicians by introducing them to French and American musical trends, ultimately helping shape the future direction of modern music, a future that was directly impacted by the two men we celebrate tonight.

In many ways, Olivier Messiaen is probably rolling in his grave and Elliot Carter is rolling in his bed with the knowledge that we put them on a program together in this way. It would be hard to find two men whose music, on the surface, is more different. But this flashpoint of modernism, the Darmstadt school as begun by French and American interests, will serve as a useful metaphor for ultimately understanding how and why we put these men together beyond the mere fact of their birth being one day apart (December 10 for Messiaen and Decemeber 11 for Carter) one hundred years ago.

Messiaen as Color

Color is the heart of Messiaen’s music. Messiaen said that the terms “tonal,” “modal” and “serial” (and other such terms) are misleading analytical conveniences, and that for him there were no modal, tonal or serial compositions, only music with color and music without color. For Messiaen, Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Chopin, Richard Wagner, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky all wrote strongly colored music. In addition, Messiaen experienced mild synaesthesia, manifested as some sort of experience of colors when he heard or imagined music (he said that he did not perceive the colours visually). He even went so far as to notate the colors in the music (in Couleurs de la Cité Céleste and Des canyons aux étoiles, for instance) to aid the conductor in interpretation rather than to specify which colors the listener should experience.

But this doesn’t mean that he colors according to traditional tonal models of major and minor. As you heard in the chords I played, he ascribed color to modes that he created. These are the famous “modes of limited transposition, Mode 1 = whole tone scale, Mode 2 = octatonic scale, Mode 3 = whole tone followed by two half tones best examples. The idea was to create scales that are symmetrical and cannot be transposed often. Gives him an amazing profusion of major and minor triads, but they cannot produce standard chordal progressions. Instead, you get harmony skidding from one chord to the next, creating, as he called it, “rainbows of chords.”

Messiaen also developed an intense interest in issues regarding rhythm. In general, Messiaen typically tried to write pieces without perceptible pulses or regular meters. Sometimes used rhythms borrowed from other sources (like Indian rhythms); rhythms built from a numeric series. Also created rhythms that were “non-retrogradable”; in essence, that were palindromes. These were the rhythmic equivalents to his “modes of limited transposition.”

George Benjamin, one of Messiaen’s pupils was asked what made Messiaen so influential and said, “I think the sheer—the word he loved—colour has been so influential. People, composers, have found that colour, rather than being a decorative element, could be a structural, a fundamental element. And not colour just in a surface way, not just in the way you orchestrate it—no—the fundamental material of the music itself.”

But beyond color, he also organized his music according to other means. He was a lifelong Catholic and religious impulses colored his music throughout. But even beyond his faith, there is one other aspect that pulls his music together. Remember the flashpoint I spoke of in Darmstadt? Messiaen was an early teacher there, pulling students who would define European composition for the next 50 years to him. But, the story goes, in 1953, he went off on an unexpected tangent. He brought in a book containing colorful illustrations of birds. “Birds are my first and greatest masters,” he declared, and then showed them all notebooks he had been filling with birdsongs he had transcribed. His students began to wonder what was up, if he was losing his mind by having birds on the mind. But he was in earnest – he had found a new source of musical inspiration; new sources on which to base his compositions, sources that he often said were nothing less than the earthly incarnations of angels.

Messiaen, color and birdsong, and you’ll hear plenty of examples over the next two nights. Elliot Carter was interested in something else.

Carter as Time

Where so much of what Messiaen was doing was new and little connected with the centuries of musical development, development that happened in his own backyard. Elliot Carter, on the other hand, looks at those centuries of development and always asks “What’s Next?” (even titles his only opera, written when he was only 90, “What Next?”)

He begins his life going to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger for three years. Carter’s compositions up through WWII were proof positive that he had studied with Nadia Boulanger. Neo-classical; sometimes almost Coplandesque in their sound [not a fair term, since this is not a copy of Copland, but contemporaneous with him].

Immediately after the war, though, Carter began to question his own style. Came to believe neo-classicism evaded vital areas of feeling/expression. Began talking about the “static repetitiveness” and “squared-off articulation” of neo-classicism and seek something other than the neo-classical “sound.” That sense of repetition he sees as something assaulting us at all times through our media and advertising and begins to push back against it. Starts writing music that had a more continuous, unbroken flow, a flow that developed through the course of gradual change or evolution. The key to this, he thought, was not to work out a new system of harmony, but to work out a new system of rhythm. Studies the rhythmic systems of India and the Middle East; the Balinese gamelans, and African music (in particular, that of the Watusi).

All of these sources ultimately led Carter to devise a new rhythmic technique now called “metrical modulation.” (Actually, it’s a misnomer, because it’s not the meter that changes, but the tempo.) Like harmonic modulation, metric modulation (or tempo modulation) shifts from one tempo to another through a notatable rhythmic ratio.

The musical world in which he presents this new formation of time (he is adamant that his music not match the clock because that isn’t how we experience time) is one that is modern – often harsh and dissonant. Sees modernism as a way to express the time in which he is living and isn’t willing to go backwards in time like Messiaen, who draws great inspiration from the Medieval traditions of the Catholic church.

Basically, Carter’s line of development from the 1940s to today is unusually direct and unbroken. One of the most stylistically consistent composers of the late 20th century. No great upheavals in philosophy or compositional technique. Seems more to have drawn from his previous accomplishments and with each new piece, developing his techniques to the next level.


Did you note all the connections between these two men? They study in Paris and are connected with modernism, Messiaen by teaching at Darmstadt and Carter by the tradition in which he writes. Both are interested in new ways to construct their music, whether by color or by time. Messiaen talks often of “ecstatic timelessness,” a sense that you don’t think of how time passes, which makes him sometimes write extremely slow changing music, and something that Carter has talked about in his music and shows up in his dislike of regular repetition.

But their approaches could not be more different. Messiaen deals with the sensuous in music, the color of it and how its sound penetrates you. Carter deals with the progress of music, where it is going next. As a result, this French and this American composer have been more respected in the opposite country – Messiaen was engaged to write a piece for the American bicentennial while Carter has been recognized in Europe and played there more than in America. But I think both might agree with this quote from Carter:

“Art music in America (or really art music in today’s society) has been like a plant, transplanted in a new place that provides a very different environment from the one in which it originally developed. In this new situation, hitherto unrealized qualities inherent in its nature begin to appear, and the special challenge of trying to live and develop under new circumstances may produce a considerable mutation. The plant is sturdy, the environment strange to it, the desire for adaptation great, and the process of adaptation filled with difficulties which at times seem insurmountable and threatening to the life of the plant, yet its wish to live and develop is very strong.”

The result has been a music of incredible richness and variety, as you’ll hear over the next two nights, a music that will engage you in new ways and hopefully enrich you as well.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Baroque Listening Journals Now Available

In case you aren't completely full up of reading because you are grading non-stop, I thought I would post my most recent round of listening journals from my undergraduate classes. I've found this semester's experiment in having them read each other's writings and respond to be a great success as it fostered connections both inside and outside the classroom. I'll try it again next semester and see if the same holds true across classes. For now, though, sit back and enjoy the blogs.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

2nd Sunday in Advent - Time for Dress-up

After last Sunday's post, you probably realized that each Sunday in Advent, I want to post a bit about what our family is doing to celebrate this season. Today, I give you adventures in dress-up.

Every year, our church helps sponsor families at the Bethel Neighborhood Center. We pick one Sunday in December, put a tree out front with ornaments listing needed items, and then everyone brings their gifts that Sunday wrapped in white as gifts to the families, but more importantly to and in honor of Christ.

To help us visualize why we are bringing these gifts, the two more recently-born babies in our congregation are invited to be the baby Jesus at the altar along with their parents as Mary and Joseph, one family in each service. Sam was born in October, so after being member of the church for all of three weeks and having no idea what this tradition was about, we found ourselves three years ago performing this ritual. This year, we thought Noah was too old, and when we discovered that he actually was the second youngest baby in our congregation, we tried to pass the buck to another family who hadn't played the holy family before.

No such luck:As you can see, Noah (along with his new, ever-present, tuft of sticking-out hair) was Jesus along with Joy as Mary. In a way, it was nice to have both boys participate in the service separated by their three years. But whereas last time Sam slept the entire time and we could contemplate what it meant for the young family that evening so long ago, this time we had chaos. Why? Because of our shepherd (or as our pastor called him, Jesus's big brother):

That's right, Sam participated, and one of the pastors decided to leave a microphone on the stage ready to pick up everything Sam said as he rocked the (thankfully) empty manger back and forth. A few choice gems:

"Let's go get some of that bread" (today was communion Sunday as well)

"That's where the baby Jesus sleeps" (pointing to the manger)

"Can we go down and get the presents now?" (as the white gifts accumulated before him)

Both boys were actually extremely well-behaved, and Noah smiled at everyone the entire time, making everyone who came down the aisle smile back at him.

The event helped me remember that one of the gifts of Christmas is the child. There is something about a baby that calms our minds and our hearts, makes us smile, and helps us loose our normal inhibitions. I would never make the faces or the sounds I make for Noah to anyone else, not even Sam now. I don't smile as readily at anyone as I do Noah. I might fly off the handle at Joy or Sam, but not Noah. Babies are a gift of peace and contentment, even in the midst of sleepless nights. And isn't peace something the world desperately needs now in all its various meanings? How fitting that the image of a child reminds us of the promise of peace every year during Advent.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Minimalism in Advertising, or the Little Style that Could

Unlike many fascinated by musical minimalism, I don't remember the first time I heard it. I don't have a story about how In C, Piano/Violin Phase, Einstein on the Beach, Music for Eighteen Musicians changed my musical outlook. I suppose my lack of epiphany comes from being adventurous as a teenager and having a piano instructor who encouraged my explorations. I do, however, remember the first time I saw Koyaanisqatsi. Before my senior year of high school, I attended Arkansas Governor's School, and once a week they had movie nights with campus-wide discussions following. Joy and I had just met, and I knew that we might be on to something with our relationship when she didn't back away, eyeing me warily as I talked non-stop about the movie and especially the music. I had never experienced anything like that movie, and it lodged Philip Glass's style (and minimalism in general by proxy) firmly at the top in my musical pantheon.

Fast forward to graduate school. As I began delving into contemporary music, I naturally turned some of my attention to minimalism. I was curious to see how it had evolved past the little bit I had studied as an undergraduate, and was astounded at what I began hearing. Sitting in my library cubicle, listening to recording after recording, I found numerous connections between the popular music I heard through high school and college, the minimalism of the early 1970s with which I had initially fallen in love, and the art music of the late 1990s and early 2000s. These styles were intertwined, feeding off each other, and I came to believe that minimalism was one of the most important and potent musical movements of the past 50 years.

Now come to the present. Teaching undergrad and grad students music since 1900, I naturally focus a large section of my courses on minimalism. I try to trace out its impact and demonstrate how it is one of the few musical styles to gain a foothold outside the academy and the traditional concert hall, how it is the one style from the past 40 years that popular musicians have embraced. I play recordings such as Reich Remixed where DJs take on Reich's standard early minimalist pieces. I show them movie clips with Philip Glass's scores to let them know they've been hearing this style longer than they though. And I play random selections from the radio, whatever happens to have most recently crossed my ears, to demonstrate how it has mutated in the popular medium.

The result of these pedagogical revelations? My students are largely nonplussed.

But I've recently found an amazing example of how the waves of minimalist style have completely taken over so much modern music. Consider this recent trailer for the movie Watchmen, due out in March:

The clip opens with a cue from Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, and when the glass (get it?) breaks, another cue from the same movie takes over after a breath of silence. That cue is spliced and manipulated over the course of half the trailer, but then a remarkable transformation occurs. Glass's music literally becomes Muse's song "Take a Bow." Can you pinpoint the moment the transformation happens? The connection is so close that on first hearing it is almost impossible to notice that the shift in music has occurred. Moving from a minimalist work from 1982 to a rock anthem from 2006 with almost no perceptible shift is remarkable, and is yet another example of the wide-spread influence minimalism has had in Western culture. Now if only the rest of the classical music world would notice its impact.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Bit About Virgil Thomson in Kansas City

One of the stranger roles I occasionally find myself in since beginning college teaching is that of the public intellectual. Every once and a while, someone from the newspaper, a local website, or even an area high school will call or e-mail me with a pressing question about music history (particularly American music history) or a request for an interview. I'm happy to help out and only request to see the final product because it is always entertaining to see how my words are used.

Another such opportunity presented itself right before Thanksgiving when a writer for The Pitch, Kansas City's Alternative Weekly Newspaper, decided to write an article celebrating Virgil Thomson's 112th birthday. His angle was that Kansas City largely ignores its own composers, particularly Thomson who was born and reared here. I've always loved Thomson's music, which I find even more American than Aaron Copland, so I was happy to spend 20 or so minutes discussing his place in American musical history. You can read the results for yourself.

Monday, December 1, 2008


We had a great Thanksgiving break, seeing family, eating lots of good food, trying to corral Sam and Noah on top of our niece and nephew Liza and Eli, and playing on the beach. That's right, we spent our Thanksgiving week in the sand and sun, and the weather was among the best we've ever had. It was in the upper 60s or lower 70s, the water was warm enough to swim for a good 20 minutes before retreating in for hot showers, and though it rained, it only did so at night. This is what we saw every day:
Then we flew home.

We knew Saturday morning that there was a bit of snow falling at home, but you can imagine our feeling after a week of shorts, jumping in the waves, and lounging in the sun to see this out our window this morning:
Talk about whiplash. Welcome back to reality, back to work.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Begins Again

Every year on this day the Christian Church begins its celebration of Advent. In our consumer culture it is a strange practice because we are to live in the darkness for the month until the light of Christmas, not celebrating through lights and tinsel until the big day. Impossible to do. But there are little ways of celebrating Advent and we've been experimenting with them for several years. So we put up this video today to share with you, but also to remind ourselves of some of the commitments we are making this Advent season, commitments to value people and time more than money and things. We'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Turkey Says Happy Thanksgiving

Remember Ricky? Well, Sam decided that Ricky needed a new friend, so Joy helped Sam create one and Mr. Turkey was born:And Mr. Turkey says "Happy Thanksgiving!" And "Think twice before eating my cousin. I'm watching you with my downturned eyes and surprisingly sharp array of feathers!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Current Lives of Students

A few months ago, I wrote about a professor over at Kansas State who is trying new ways of interacting with students both inside and outside of the classroom by using technology in interactive ways. I was impressed by his ideas and have been attempting to incorporate some of them in my own classroom with varying amounts of success. The reason why I'm trying so hard to stretch the internet to serve my classroom purposes is beautifully illustrated in a new video from the same professor that chronicles the lives and expectations of students coming into college today. This is not a top-down, what professors see, but instead the result of a google document he put together that his students edited in true Wiki style. The results, which resemble an old INXS video, are startling:

As always, I welcome reactions and thoughts of ways to harness all this new technology.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Listening for your Holiday

We're officially on Thanksgiving break now, as the Conservatory takes off the entire week for the holiday. Taking the full week is a good move as otherwise students either skip the last two days before break or their brains skip. Might as well give us all the time to catch up on sleep, grading, and projects.

As you're getting ready to travel for break, here is a bit of listening for you: David Borden's Double Portrait as performed by yours truly and Andy Lee last Saturday. There are a few bumps in the road, but the piece has a great deal of energy and was a great deal of fun to perform. And, as you are filling your iPod anyway, check out Andy's wonderful performances of William Duckworth's Time Curve Preludes. He performed them with sensitivity and panache, and I know you'll enjoy them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can Your Feet Do This?

In my music history classes, we have reached the end of the Baroque era and spent the first part of the week talking about the rise of the German style of composition through its organ music. The prototypical sound of the organ that is running through your head even now is that of late Baroque German music. It is the sound that has haunted many a silent scary movie, particularly the Phantom of the Opera pounding away in his subterranean cave.

Perhaps most unique to that style was the use of the feet. Organs had long featured pedals, but a virtuosic pedal technique really developed through Buxtehude, Pachelbel (yes, that Pachelbel), and ultimately J.S. Bach. My students generally have limited exposure to the organ before class, so they are always amazed by the pedal parts in some of the works we study and their mouths hang open that people can move their feet so quickly.

I found a new way to drive home the point or organ virtuosity this week through a performance by a young organist named Cameron Carpenter. Carpenter wants to change the way people view the organ through expanding the repertoire, expanding the organ's sound through digital organs, and expanding the audience by putting on an entertaining show (Liberace is obviously his hero as he dressing like the pianist, from the sequins down to his unfortunately named Maverick organ shoes that allow him to play intervals with his heels). My mouth fell open watching him play Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. I played the work for my sophomore recital and know how hard the left hand part is when you use the hands; Carpenter uses the feet:

This will certainly become a fixture in my lecture on the Baroque organ.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Moment Your Heart Stops

This hasn't been a good week around our house. My sister-in-law remarked this evening that she wanted to find the person trying to kill us off one-by-one, and I tend to agree with her. I want to find the person and make them stop before it is my, or especially Noah's turn.

It started with a phone call this morning. Joy was putting Noah down for his morning nap and had the door to his room closed. As usual, Sam was trying to get in to be a part/disrupt the proceedings, when suddenly he left the door. Joy then heard a crash, followed by silence. The silence didn't last long - it was quickly punctuated by Sam's wailing.

Joy knew what had happened before she reached the door. We have a very large, very old mirror that is attached to the wall outside Noah's room, but is so heavy we also have it sitting on a bench. Sam loves the mirror because it stretches down to his height, so he can make faces in it and run his cars along the bench so there are two cars instead of one. Evidently after seeing that Joy wouldn't come out when he knocked on the door, he shifted his attention to the mirror. And somehow, that mirror came down on top of him.

We still aren't sure how the mirror came down; all Sam will say is that he touched it. We are sure of the results; Sam standing in a field of broken wood and glass. The mirror fell on Sam and evidently broke over him like a wave, leaving him standing in the middle of it. There was blood everywhere, so Joy frantically scooped him up and called me to come home. I told her to get Sam in the shower to get the glass off and find out where the blood was coming from and that I would be home soon. When I did arrive home, this is what I found:Miraculously, Sam only had a small cut on his nose and a small gash on his forehead. By the time I was home, he was watching Thomas - clearly shaken up, but no worse for wear. Tonight at his bath, I cleaned out his wound again and put butterfly bandaids on it, and he was completely fascinated by the new bandages, and I could see him thinking how he might get more on his body. The only after effects I've seen was when Sam climbed in my truck tonight. He reached back and touched the back window and quietly claimed "This window won't fall on me; it's glued to the truck."

After Joy stopping my heart on Friday night and Sam stopping it this morning, I'm not sure what else I can take. I'm ordering a calm Thanksgiving week this year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Not to Prepare for a Recital

Have you ever had one of those dreams where, when you wake up, you cannot shake the feeling that your dream was real? It is as if your dream sneaked a tendril into waking life and is becoming manifest. That feeling overwhelmed me this weekend.

It began Friday night. Joy had been having abdominal pain for the past day and a half, and while Sam and I were eating supper, she was throwing up food that had been in her stomach for the past day. Never a good sign, that food's presence convinced us to send Joy first to urgent care and then on to the ER.

While Joy was off to the doctor, I got Sam in bed and Noah back asleep (after both broke down and attempted to outcry the other) and sat by the phone waiting. Joy called periodically to say that the doctor thought she might have some sort of blockage and had ordered X-rays; that the X-rays didn't show blockage, so he had ordered a CAT scan; that the CAT scan showed a ring around her small intestines that could be a host of things, including Chron's disease; that she was severely dehydrated and was being hooked up to an IV; and finally, at 3:00 in the morning, that she was being admitted.

I know that Joy must have been a little on edge through all this (but remained remarkably calm and upbeat on the phone with me), but I was a basket case. I had a friend on standby to come over and stay with the boys, was calling parents frequently with updates and ultimately asking Joy's mom to come and help out no matter what happened, was trying to get Noah to take formula for the first time in his life, and was trying to control the urge to drop everything and go to the hospital. Through it all I got about three hours of sleep, just what you need when you are playing a recital the next day at 5:00.

This was the first time we've encountered the problem of having young children and needing care for them while one parent goes to the hospital. Of course, if Joy had been suddenly scheduled for anything other than "sit in a room while various doctors throw various opinions at you" I would have been there in a heartbeat, but we both had a hard time figuring out the balance between staying home and normalizing our boy's lives and being there to support the other one. Why are these things in the parent manual?

Ultimately, I had a friend come over Saturday morning early so I could go to the hospital, Joy was released later that same morning, and we still have no firm answer on what was wrong with her. The entire weekend was a waking dream, and I'm still not sure what fears were real and which were symptoms of being up at 3:00, utterly helpless before a 5 month old and an agonizing decision between staying and going.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Bit More Musicology

After reading my post from yesterday, Joy reminded me of the biggest PR coup musicology has had in several years - Prince's song and album Musicology. That's right, the purple one himself promoted my little discipline with a song that people hailed as Prince getting back to the basics (looking into his own musical history as it were). I remember when Prince brought his tour to Champaign-Urbana several of us in the department wanted to go over just to get t-shirts. We were hoping they would have one of these two favorite lyrics on them:

"This is just another one of God's gifts - Musicology"


" Kick the old school joint 4 the true funk soldiers - Musicology"

Really, can you get any better than musicologist being called the "true funk soldiers?" So, in celebration this Friday, here's Prince's video:

Don't you love how even the iconography of the video plays with musical history?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jane Fonda's a Musicologist?

Musicology has always had a strange reputation in popular culture. Most people on first hearing the word think it is made up ("The study of music? Really?") and then take a few minutes processing what it is we do ("You talk and write about music? Isn't that like dancing about architecture?"). That doesn't mean musicologists have been absent from the pop culture scene - every so often on the listserv for the American Musicological Society there is a back and forth about musicologists in the movies and the discussion always comes down to Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screw-ball comedy What's Up Doc? That movie starred Ryan O'Neal as Dr. Howard Bannister, professor of musicology at the Ames Conservatory of Music in Ames, Iowa. Bannister go to San Fransisco with his fiancé to compete for a musicology research grant, when he runs into none other than Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell, a directionless but brilliant young woman who falls for Dr. Bannister. Hilarity ensues through a case of mistaken luggage, a jewel theft, and some government spies, with all ending well.

Add to that triumph of musicology PR Jane Fonda's triumphant return to Broadway after forty years as, yes, a musicologist. She's starring in 33 Variations, described in the press release as "the story of Beethoven's fascination with a trivial waltz, and the modern-day musicologist Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda) who sets out to discover the root of his obsession. As Beethoven's indisputable genius and delightful humanity come to life on the sheet music in front of her, Katherine not only reveals the true nature of his gift, but also comes to embrace the beauty and legacy of her own life." Ah, a musicologist finds herself in her fulfilling work.

Who knows whether or not the play will be any good, but this kind of publicity is miles better than the last time musicologists were in the news: when a musicologist went on the show Beauty and the Geek and you can guess what side of the equation she was on. My favorite quote about her participation came from the article which boldly stated, "Nicole is a musicologist from San Francisco, which probably tells you a lot about her — she doesn't wear makeup, has issues with personal space, and wears a shirt that says "I Love Nerds." That about sums us up.

Ready for your debut as a member of this crowd Ms. Fonda?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Prepared Piano Pictures

After yesterday's post, I thought you might be interested in some fabulous photos Misty took of my preparations (and I say that because the photos themselves are wonderful, not necessarily the subject). You get to see a bit of how I do it and can see the crowd that developed around the piano as I worked and talked and made (slightly) witty remarks. (Click on the picture for the entire set.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preparing for a Recital

Even though I usually only perform once a year at best, this fall has seen a large upswing in my performing schedule. It started when I began talking with George Keck about my coming down to Ouachita Baptist University, the ole alma mater, to perform Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. You may remember that I performed the work on a Musicircus in Kansas City a little over a year ago. I love the work and am always looking for opportunities to play it, so we scheduled the concert for the day before Halloween, and I began preparing (in all the senses needed for the work).

I decided to open up my preparation of the piano to any interested students; over twenty showed up. Misty and Stephen came for the performance and Misty took pictures while Stephen helped me prepare. The number of curious students should have made me realize that the concert was going to be a big event. I was expecting perhaps 50-100 people for a odd Cage recital. At least 250 showed up. The concert was great fun, and the audience members seemed to be entranced by the sounds floating out of the piano. Both before and after the concert the piano was mobbed by people wanting to look inside; I think the piano was a bigger celebrity than myself as performer.

After I had scheduled the Cage performance, a student with whom I'd worked on a project about postminimalist piano music asked me to play David Borden's Double Portrait with him. Long fascinated by this beautiful piece of music, how could I say no? So this Saturday, only two weeks after my Cage performance, I'm on stage again playing a piece that has challenged me in ways no traditional piece of music ever has. Perhaps after this weekend I can take a small break.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Today is Really About

This morning, Joy and I woke up about the same time before either one of us needed to be up, a feat that never happens. We had decided last night that we would walk up the street to vote this morning, but hadn't decided when.

"Do you want to throw on clothes and go vote?" Joy asked, "or go after breakfast and showers?"

"I don't know," I responded in my usual noncommittal way. "Let's ask Sam."

So we did. Sam wanted breakfast first, so we ate, then loaded Sam into his stroller and Noah into the sling, and then headed up the street. We asked Sam who he was going to vote for on the way. "Barack Obama" he shouted. When we got to the polling place I asked Sam again who he was going to vote for. "John McCain" came the reply. Want to find those 6% of undecided voters from yesterday? Sam's evidently one of them.

We were lucky at our polling place and there was no line. I took Sam with me and Joy took Noah when we voted. Sam was fascinated by the electronic voting machines we use and quietly whispered my choices on the "yes" or "no" answers so I didn't have a secret ballot. But I must admit that the geeky side of me (which is admittedly all sides) reveled in showing Sam the democratic process.

With our fresh "I voted stickers," Joy and I decided to take advantage of all the freebies in town by eating lunch at Chick-fil-a (free chicken sandwich with sticker!). We decided to meet up after my 10:00 practice session at the one halfway between the house and work.

I arrived first and the line coiled outside the door and down the sidewalk. I took my place in line behind a couple with their young son up on the Dad's shoulders. The boy wasn't much older than Sam and had evidently recently potty trained because his underwear and pants were hiked down lower than the proverbial plumber. That's right, his bottom was exposed right at my eye level. I sighed in relief when the boy finally wiggled his pants up and I heard the woman behind me mumble "I was praying that would happen."

She was an African-American grandmother of 14 wearing her Obama hat, shirt, and button. We began talking and through our conversation both before and after Joy joined us the import of the day fully hit me. She had woken up at 3:30 this morning, so excited to vote that she couldn't sleep. After lounging in bed until 4:30, she finally decided to head down to the polling place behind her house to be first in line when the polls opened at 6:00. She was second in line, but that didn't dim her enthusiasm at all. Talking with her I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by her generosity of spirit and her outlook on the day. She kept repeating like a refrain "Isn't this a beautiful day," and she wasn't only speaking of the gorgeous weather we've had the past few days. No, she was talking about her ability to vote for a man who looked like her, something she never thought would happen.

No matter who you voted for today, I think you have to agree that woman radiated the spirit I hoped Sam would pick up when we went to vote this morning. Here she was, a woman who had felt kept on the margins of our society as a child living long enough to see a world where her grandchildren, boys and girls Sam's age, would grow up knowing that anything they dream of is within their reach. She felt alive with the promise of this country, a promise I pray will continue to expand, that anyone and everyone can strive and dream and achieve. It is indeed a beautiful day.

Go Vote

You knew it had to come. Your public service announcement from sonicgranades. So here's your commercial reminding you through means both sarcastic and sentimental of your duty today.

So go brave the long lines and join in with all the new voters and make your voice heard.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Listening Journals from the Renaissance

As usually happens about once a month, my students in music history have finished and posted their listening journals. This round covers music from the Renaissance and, coincidentally, all responded to the same earlier post except for the author of that original post. So you get four chances to look at responses to one post, something that had never happened in these journals before. Go, read, enjoy, and perhaps find a new CD with which to fall in love.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Picture Only One Day Late

A week before Halloween, Joy and I packed Sam into the car and headed off to find a costume. We went to Old Navy, which last year had cute costumes for the toddler set, but found nothing of interest to Sam. Then we went to the Target next door. The costumes were a mess, obviously pawed over and in disarray. Sam was overwhelmed and didn't like any of the costumes. We didn't push anything on him and headed off to pick up some pictures we had waiting at JC Penneys.

But next to JC Penney's is another Target, so we decided to try one more time. In this Target, the costumes were all in a row, neatly arranged and hung, and Sam was much more interested in the process of finding a costume. Of course, the hunt was over when I found the Thomas costume. I pulled it off the hanger and Sam's face lit up as though he had just found the Holy Grail. We've since worn it three times, including last night, and his face never fails to look like this:Noah, on the other hand, couldn't care less if he were dressed up or not. I found a great shirt that declared "This is my costume!" and put it with a pumpkin hat that glowed in the dark. It became a litmus test for me because as we paraded him around at Kindermusik and then at various church festivals, the women always cooed "What a cute little pumpkin!" while the men always read the shirt and laughed. It truly was the best of both worlds - a costume suiting mom and dad.

Sam had a great time this Halloween because he finally discovered what the holiday is all about - CANDY! Last night after his bath, he waddled in to give Joy a hug and kiss before bath and croaked, "My throat is scratchy. I need a piece of candy." We'll see how long our huge bag lasts this week.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Inappropriate but Apropo

Yesterday we stopped to fill up our tank because gas had dropped below $2.00, and I can't pass up gas below $2.00 anymore. Anyway, at the next pump was an extremely large road service vehicle, the kind that has implements for all sorts of jobs on the road, from fixing potholes to helping stranded motorists.

Sam was entranced with the vehicle and while I was pumping gas, pumped Joy for its name. Joy didn't know (and I didn't, so any help here would be appreciated) so she asked Sam what he thought it did. He immediately latched on to the large hook on the back used for towing and pointing excitedly to it.

"It has a hook on the back!" he exclaimed. "It must be a hooker!"

We ignored the comment while dying with laughter on the inside (a useful trick when living with a 3-year-old boy), hoping that he would forget the term. No such luck. Later that afternoon Joy and Sam were drawing on his magnadoodle. Joy leaned over and asked Sam what he was drawing. He looked up with a big smile and said, "Mama, I drew a hooker!" He's latched onto the term, so if you see me beaten to a pulp by the side of the road some day soon, you'll know why.

And you'll know not to call a service truck for help.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meet Ricky

Last weekend, on a whim, Joy bought two pumpkins at the grocery store and brought them home. Her idea was that she and Sam would decorate the pumpkins for Halloween. Just one problem - the notion of Sam with a knife is terrifying.

Enter Goofy Pumpkin. All you have to do is pick out eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, print them out, cut them out, and then glue them to your pumpkin. This way of decorating a pumpkin is much more our 3-year-old's speed.

Sam picked out his facial features, and then Joy and Sam glued them to the pumpkin. When it was all done, Sam cocked his head, looked at his creation, and declared him "Ricky."
But Sam wasn't done with Ricky, not by a long shot. The next morning, he ran up to his room, returned with markers, and began to give Ricky hair:After all, who wants a bald pumpkin?

We've been having to tell stories about Ricky all week, and I'm just waiting until Friday when I can merge Ricky stories with that of the Great Pumpkin. My child will be warped forever.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Review - Rob Lane and Joseph Vitarelli's John Adams

You may have noticed that for the past month under our "currently watching" tab we've had the HBO miniseries John Adams listed. We haven't actually been watching it that long (it is only seven episodes), I've just forgotten to change it out for the past few weeks.

Turns out that it was serendipitous that I did not because my most recent score review was for the soundtrack release of music from that production.

Joy and I were both riveted by the miniseries - it is the kind of movie that you wish all Americans would see just to learn a bit of their history. The production design was at pains to capture the feel of Colonial America. The music? Not so much. It is fairly standard issue scoring, not too imaginative. You can read my specific critiques in the full review if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We're Dedicated to Him Now

Our church has a lovely tradition of dedicating new babies to God, dedicating new parents to the spiritual upbringing of their children, and dedicating the church to the education of its newest members. We dedicated Sam when he was all of two months old, and we had been in the church for all of two months as well. People barely knew us, but it was reassuring that as we were going through rough patches with Sam and his reflux that we had a church family at our backs.

The weekend of Sam's birthday we dedicated Noah. We figured that all the family was already around so they could participate without making a special trip. And as meaning as Sam's dedication was, Noah's held particular significance because we are fully ingrained in our church now. We know these people, we love these people, we are part of their lives and they of ours. That's why we cherish scenes like this one:
Our pastor is extolling the wonders of children and their place in the church while our music minister, with whom we've grown quite close, stands to the side ready to lead us and the congregation in the words of dedication. My favorite part? Our pastor takes each child dedicated and walks up and down the aisle with him, speaking directly to him about how unique and important he is to the life of our church. I call it the Lion King moment because she holds the child out for the church to see and to pray for, and invariably it feels as though the sun whips through the high windows and illuminates the moment.

So, I suppose we're now stuck with Noah. We've dedicated ourselves to rearing him in front of God. There's no backing out now, not that we ever would.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Palin Sings the Blues

Since most of my scholarly work is on Harry Partch, I've long been fascinated by the inherent rhythms in our speech and how those rhythms might be set to music. Partch searched among hoboes for the sound of America, noting down the rise and fall of hobo speech and transforming his notes into Barstow and U.S. Highball, two powerful works of Americana.

Decades later, Robert Ashley created modern operas out of the speech patterns of everyday Americans (most notably himself) that are thought-provoking and beautiful and hypnotic.

Steve Reich created his most powerful work, Different Trains, from recordings of train conductors and survivors of WWII concentration camps. He took their recorded voices, mimicked their inflections in a string quartet, and built an entire work off those motives.

This tradition continues:

I've always found politicians to have remarkable speech patterns that are almost musical in their affect, but matching the strange pauses and non sequiturs of both Katie Couric and Governor Palin was a marvelous move. Music and politics do not often mix, but when they do, it can be fascinating.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mouse Update

For those of you curious, the current count stands at four mice in the basement. We've now gone one full day without finding any mice, and our trash was picked up this morning, cleaning out the lovely smell we had gathering in the garage. Hopefully we're done for a while with mice in the basement. Now if I can only get the sink in our bathroom back together.

What? Haven't told you that story? We'll leave it for another day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading from Memory

Sam's been on a roll since turning three. First the three imaginary friends, and now today's accomplishment. I got to work early for a practice session for a concert on which I'm playing and had just sat down to the piano when my telephone rang. It was Joy.

"You'll never guess what Sam did just now," she exclaimed. "We were watching Thomas and answering questions in the quiz section when he pointed to the screen and said 'A is Thomas, B is Bertie, and C is James."

Joy was a bit shocked, so she went and grabbed a Thomas book, and he pointed to a few words and declared what they were. Unsure, she then took his magnadoodle and began writing words. Sam immediately recognized most of the names of the Thomas engines (no surprise there) along with words like "stop," "go," and "bus," among others. He's been pointing to words while reading and asking what they were for several weeks now, so it appears things are clicking together in his mind.

Now if only the potty training would fully click as well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Son the Overachiever

Sam's always had an active imagination, but this past week it has really taken off. Right after everyone left from the big birthday weekend, he began talking about Gus riding his plasma car with him. We wondered where Gus came from, but that was nothing compared with Sunday afternoon. Sam has a card game from Discovery Toys, and he was carefully putting cards in four piles and moving them around, while telling Gus, and Hannah, and Clayton when it was their turn to play and which pile was there.

Yes, you read that right - my son has three imaginary friends. Forget the BFF imaginary friend most children have, my son needs three to keep up with him. At least our three new household members aren't eating yet. Grocery bills are high enough as they are.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One Mouse, Two Mouse, Red Mouse, Dead Mouse

Last weekend, right after everyone left for the evening, Joy was doing a bit of laundry when she breathlessly came up the stairs proclaiming that she had seen a mouse. I dutifully went, looked, saw no mouse, but did see a half-eaten sweet potato. Like a good husband, I dedicated myself to getting it out of the basement.

The next night, I set our live trap with a bit of sweet potato, figuring the mouse already had a preference and knew where to find it. I was right. The next morning, the sweet potato was gone and the trap unsprung.

The next evening, I baited the trap with peanut butter on the trigger and sweet potato on the other side, figuring Mr. Mouse would need to climb over the trigger to get the potato and whamo, I'd have him.

The next morning, the potato was gone and the peanut butter undisturbed.

I figured I'd leave it set with the peanut butter one more evening and see if standing on the trigger to eat would catch our mouse.

It didn't. The next morning I found mouse droppings on the trigger, no peanut butter, and no mouse.

Figuring our Houdini rodent wasn't going to fall prey to live traps, I went and get a full-blown mouse trap and set it with peanut butter. That did the trick. Mr. Mouse was caught, our basement was safe, all was right with the world.

But just in case he had a partner, I set the trap again Friday night.

Saturday morning? Yep, another mouse. So, I once again set the trap yesterday afternoon, baited it with peanut butter, and put it down, thinking there was no way I'd find another mouse.

This morning? Yep, another mouse. Any guesses as to how long our basement can keep producing mice? If only it would produce golden eggs this regularly, we'd be sitting pretty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It was a Big Birthday Day

Sam's birthday was this past weekend, so we've been in intense celebration mode at our house (and intense detoxification afterwards). We started last Friday morning before any family arrived by taking Sam and Noah down to our local kid's science museum, Science City (see, we're not only about music around here - we also expose our children to the fun things science can do. Things powered by science are fun!). They have a dinosaur lab where you can watch technicians cleaning and assembling a dinosaur skeleton and then dig for your own dinosaur bones in the large sand pit. They have a mini-golf course where you play against the effects of gravity and other fun Newtonian laws. They have a playground where the equipment reacts in different ways to your different stimuli. And they have a model train. What could be better?

We played around for a while and bought as part of his present a membership so we can come back and take in the Railroad Experience which is part of the museum as well. The rest of the day was spent playing with Aunt Heather and Ana and then May and Pop when they arrived. But Saturday was the main event.

We got up early Saturday and took Sam out for breakfast with all the family to get chocolate chip pancakes. Then it was off to Sam's favorite park:
As he is now three, he immediately went for the jungle gym rated for ages 5 and older and went down the slide that is at least 12 feet in the air. The little kid's area where he's supposed to play? No interest at all. Following whatever the bigger kids do? That's the ticket. He rolled around in the sand, climbed in and out of everything possible, went high and fast on the swings, and spent every ounce of energy he gained from his chocolate chip pancakes.

After the park we had Kindermusik class, then we went to play with art at a Hallmark-sponsored kids art exploration, and then had lunch at the train restaurant. That's right, a train restaurant where your meal is delivered by a train that runs around the establishment's ceiling. Sam is in heaven at this place.

Presents came in the afternoon along with a very special visitor. Perhaps you can spot him on the table:
Yes, Thomas came to Sam's birthday party, and he's been telling anyone who will listen since that Thomas came to his party. What's better than a chocolate cake shaped like Thomas? Obviously nothing.

With Aunt Heather and Ana and May and Pop and Nana and Granddad here for the weekend, Sam never lacked for playmates. Each night he could barely go to sleep because he didn't want to miss out on any fun and he bartered for as much play time with grandparents as he could possibly get. We knew the birthday bash was a success when, on Monday morning when I woke him up to get ready for school, he croaked in his sleepy voice: "Is it still my birthday?" Fortunately it was as Nana had made cupcakes for him to take to school and his teachers had a balloon and birthday hat for him to wear.

He almost can't take off the hat even to today.

What was Noah's take on all the commotion?

See for yourself:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

If We Voted According to Musical Taste

There is one area of information about our presidential candidates that the media has not considered deeply enough - their musical tastes. You are thinking I'm approaching this topic because I spend my entire day submerged in music and its effects on culture, but stop and consider how we use music. Often we define ourselves according to music. Your friends generally have similar musical tastes to your own. You dress according to the culture into which you enter musically as well. If I throw out musical styles - country, hip-hop, classical, techno - your mind immediately conjures up the way people whose preferences lend towards those styles dress. I often joke to my class that Schoolhouse Rock got it wrong: we aren't what we eat, we're what we listen to.

With that in mind, I was pleased to see that Blender magazine compiled a list of the candidate's top ten songs:

Barack Obama’s top 10
The Fugees ‘Ready or Not’
Marvin Gaye ‘What's Going On’
Bruce Springsteen ‘I'm On Fire’
Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’
Nina Simone ‘Sinnerman’
Kanye West ‘Touch the Sky’
Frank Sinatra ‘You'd Be So Easy to Love’
Aretha Franklin ‘Think’
U2 ‘City of Blinding Lights’ ‘Yes We Can’

John McCain’s top 10
Abba ‘Dancing Queen’
Roy Orbison ‘Blue Bayou’
Abba ‘Take a Chance On Me’
Merle Haggard ‘If We Make It Through December’
Dooley Wilson ‘As Time Goes By’
The Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’
Louis Armstrong ‘What A Wonderful World’
Frank Sinatra ‘I've Got You Under My Skin’
Neil Diamond ‘Sweet Caroline’
The Platters ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’

The inclusion of R&B and classic rock on Obama's list, but a few things stood out to me about McCain's. First of all is the inclusion of not one, but two ABBA songs. Two! And the second is that those ABBA songs are the most recent on his playlist. For a man currently trying to appeal to young voters, this list is not good.

But then, Obama's list isn't that grand either. Sure he's got a few powerful tracks, but Nina Simone? Sure is younger than any song on McCain's list, but his music isn't that striking and his inclusion must be because Obama inspired the song. No props for including songs about you unless you also put Ludacris's "Politics: Obama Is Here."

That leaves us with the VP candidates to help us make up our mind, and since Sarah Palin is so new, this is all I can find that describes her musical choices, her talent portion from the Miss Alaska competition:

That's right, the only information I can find is that James Galway is her favorite artist.

Does this change your vote? Probably not, but I think it does give insight into the thoughts and mindsets of the candidates.

Monday, September 29, 2008

All the Right Moves

It really began last Wednesday night. Cold Stone Creamery was having a fundraiser and giving away free ice cream, so after supper we loaded up in the car and headed to our local store. We arrived during a lull, quickly grabbed our free ice cream cups, spoons, and napkins, and went to sit outside. Joy and I were talking and laughing at Noah who was flirting with everyone who walked by, so engrossed that we almost didn't notice the college-age student with the tight pants and low cut shirt walk by.

Sam, however, was a different story. He actually stopped licking his bowl and craned his neck to watch this young woman pass. Joy and I were a bit taken aback by this 13-year-old-boy behavior, but quickly forgot the incident until Saturday night.

Once a month, a large group of young families from my church gets together and has a potluck. The kids generally range in age from 3 months to 5 years and enjoy playing together. We've had a recent surge of babies in our congregation and many of those babies are just reaching one year old, which means they are mobile and like to play with the big kids. One little girl just had her first birthday last Thursday and was sitting happily in the living room floor when we were gathering up Sam and Noah, our leftover food, and all the paraphernalia that comes standard with modern babies. While we were giving our goodbyes, Sam drops down on all fours, crawls over to this little girl, takes her face in his hands, and plants a huge kiss right on her lips.

That's right, he's already putting the moves on younger and older women. We were so flabbergasted (and the company too polite for me to shout out "That's my boy!" as I was tempted) that we forgot the diaper bag in our rush to the door.

The next day, I received an e-mail from the girl's father jokingly asking what Sam's intentions were with his daughter. I calmly replied that I would offer Sam a position in my firm and an annual salary of 100 pounds to break off any relations with her. But if he's this bad at almost-3, think how he'll be at almost-13.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Parental Gross-Out Factor

As Sam has aged, and especially now as he's potty training, Joy and I have discovered that we have different levels of gross-out. When you are first married and talking about having children, you picture angelic, chubby babies resting contentedly in your arms. When you imagine them older, you picture snuggling down with them in bed, reading books together and telling stories as the fall sky dips toward sunset.

You don't picture dirty diapers that explode all over their backs and all over your front. You don't picture marathons of throwing up all over their beds and their bedroom floors and the hallway floor and the bathroom walls. You don't picture the strange ways they find to hurt themselves that involve blood and bile. You don't picture the continuous lines of drool or snot that fall from their faces and manage to make their way into your hair (which, granted, you don't realize until your spouse points it out or you find it the next morning as you shower.)

I've discovered that I have a pretty high gross-out factor as a parent. I don't mind cleaning up the vomit; as Sam has had accidents in his underwear I haven't been bothered by cleaning him or the underwear or even the floor up. For the most part, bodily fluids haven't gotten to me the way they sometimes have Joy. But this week, I've discovered exactly where the line sits in gross-out for me.

It sits on Sam's toe.

Two weeks ago, Sam dropped a can on his big toe. The nail turned black and blue and a few days later, the blister under the nail burst and his toenail started to fall off. He's been fascinated and likes to pull at it, especially when things like sand get under it. I've been repulsed by it, especially when he climbs into bed with me in the morning, burrows his feet under my legs for warmth, and I can feel the toenail bend back against my leg.

See why this completely weirds me out?

Fortunately Joy took matters into her own hands and clipped the nail this morning, ending my week of unending horror. Of course now, Sam has started picking at his other big toenail, trying to discover if it can come off as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Listening Journals

You may remember that last year I began teaching a writing intensive version of the standard undergraduate music history sequence. As part of that class, I had my students keep a blog where they posted their writings about recordings we were listening to that fell outside what we normally covered in class or amplified what we discussed in some way. I've continued that tradition this fall with the early music history section, only now I have my students reading each other's blogs and writing responses. I think it's turned out extremely interesting and thought you might enjoy reading what my students discovered about medieval music. You can find the main page here, as well as in the links at the side of the page.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

You Mean That's Sleeping through the Night?

Hi. Perhaps we haven't met. We have a three-month old, you see, and haven't been as regular on the blog as we'd like. Or really, as regular in our life as we'd like. We show up to places late, we look haggard when you see us, we keep forgetting things or mis-stating things, we just aren't ourselves these days.

But, like many of you with children, we kept hearing how everything changes at 3 months. "Just wait and see," the experts proclaim, "between three and four months most kids start sleeping through the night."

What the experts don't bother to tell you is that "sleeping through the night" really means a 5 hour stretch of sleep.

5 HOURS?!?!?

That means, after you put your baby down, get ready for bed yourself, read a bit to settle down, and finally drift off yourself, you're getting 4 1/2 hours at the most, usually more like 4 hours. Who calls four hours at a time "sleeping through the night?"

So experts, please call me when you revise your definition to one most people understand - 8 hours at a time would be nice. Sure it may not happen until he's at least 9 months old, but at least I have a realistic goal instead of feeling cursed that my baby isn't sleeping more at 3 months. So call me, but understand that I may not know what you're talking about when you do. I'm only sleeping through the night and still a little forgetful.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Awareness Test

I've got a writing deadline today, so I'm busy revising, revising, and revising a bit more. But I did want to give you all a little something for stopping by. So here's a video that intrigued me:

Thoughts after watching?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Minimalist Weekend and the world of Palestine

This past weekend, between Sam and Noah and concerts and parties, neither Joy nor I got much sleep. "Concerts and parties?" you are asking yourself, remembering that we have two small (and one of them very small) children, "what concerts and parties?" Kyle Gann, one of my favorite writers on American music, explains on his blog.

That's right, we had a dinner with Kyle, a concert Saturday evening, and multiple planning sessions for the Second International Conference on Music and Minimalism that we are hosting next year. Looking through the listing of people featured on next year's conference, I'm sure one name jumped out at you - Charlemagne Palestine. His was the one name that David McIntire sent me when KC was selected as the next host of the conference and the one name that subsequently had me jumping up and down in my office. Here's why:

Charlemagne is one of the most important and largely overlooked early minimalists in music. From 1962 to 1970 he was a carillonneur at St Thomas's Church, New York, a job that directly influenced his subsequent music as he became fascinated with the overtones produced by the giant bells. (He evidently still has a carillon set-up in his home). In the 1970s, he was legendary for evening-length piano works (almost always on a Bösendorfer grand for the extra notes) that featured sustained chords repeated rapidly using a technique he termed "strumming." The result, which is hard to hear on the video, was a build up of harmonics that resound throughout the hall. As you can imagine, his music is best heard/experienced live, but the opportunities to do so are few and far between. He's lived overseas for the past 30 years, and rarely performs in the US as he finds it hard to travel, especially with his family, the stuff animal menagerie with which he always travels and performs. I've been entranced with his music since my adviser introduced me to it during my master's, so the opportunity to hear him live is the icing on the cake for this conference.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stuff on my Son

I'm sure you've seen the websites such as Stuff on my Cat and Stuff on my Mutt, where pet owners find ordinary things and put them on their companions to humorous effect. I'm sure you've laughed at such antics and thought how sad it must be for those animals. I'm sure you never expected to see such shenanigans here.

Think again.

We used to leave various objects (toys, blankets, etc.) around Noah while he lounged in one place on his playmat. But now that he can roll and grasp, Noah keeps ending up with strange things on him. Joy took this trait to its logical extreme the other day when she made our son into a Koopa Troopa:
He and Sam had been playing with the huge package of Mini Bilibos that Joy had purchased for Kindermusik (and if you've never seen a kid play with a bilibo, you don't know what you're missing - they come up with the most creative stuff to do with these little plastic molds). Sam had declared that his was a turtle shell, and when it went on Noah, we had instant Koopa.

Who knows how far this will go, but I'm sure before long Noah will join Sam in the game of "what food can I put on my body and where can it go?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Campaign Goes Musical

It's turning into campaign week here with posts about running for office all over the place. But I'm not interested in the current non-debate about sexism (since both Obama and McCain used the line, neither times directing it at a person). Instead I'm interested in who is really going to change America. That's right, I'm talking:One of the blogs I read put together a collection of bumper stickers imaging slogans for various composers running for elected office. Babbitt and Wuorinen write music where, unlike in tonal music where one pitch is the primary one, all twelve chromatic pitches are used equally. I'm not so sure about Wuorinen as VP, but Babbitt is a 12-tone composer who manages to make serial music with a sense of humor. And anyone who can accomplish that task could probably get us out of our various messes with ease.