Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Paulo Coelho and Tim Fain, using the 21st century's resources

Two of the articles that we discussed today: http://bit.ly/nMKNJE.

Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

Owen Palett is a young adult violinist building his career as songwriter, performer and recording artist. Armed with a violin and a looping pedal, he is able to accompany himself in solo performances. The link forwards to a recording of a concert of his during the 2009 Hillside Festival in Guelph, ON, Canada.


The evening was plagued by rain; the stage crew can be seen approaching Palett mid-song, telling him that he must stop playing to protect the expensive sound equipment. Disregarding their request and the safety of his own violin, he continues the song to its completion in an emotional performance. The crowd can be heard cheering him on as the rain increases in intensity.

What can we learn from this?

Palett takes the violin out of the concert hall into the stadium, giving it a new context with modern approaches to compositional technique. Minimalist in nature, the song relies of looping pedals to provide the background pulse. In combining percussive synthesizer, acoustic violin and voice, he pays homage to his experiences with video games (his award winning album is recorded under the artist name Final Fantasy) in an innovative, exciting way. The end result is an intriguing new sound for concert-goers, combining old-school conservatory training with modern technology and contemporary song writing.

Grouped under "Indie-Pop", the genre does not do his music justice; his songs are thoughtfully composed, with careful attention paid to basic elements such as harmony, counterpoint and texture. Established among the new-wave rockers of our generation, he holds an interesting niche in the context of the future of classical music.

Bordering the gap between classical and contemporary music, Owen Palett has the freedom to tap into either genre for inspiration. While not accessible and marketable to the general populous, he continues to draw a loyal and passionate following. He is able to move his audiences to cheer and jump with joy--performing in a rock venue gives his audiences the freedom to move, talk and more as they listen to the music.

Modern classical music composers and performers have much to learn from Owen Palett. Still young, he has his career ahead of him and the drive to make great waves. Already critically acclaimed, he continues to write and perform to this day. He has taken that great leap from the concert hall to the rock venue with finesse and has set the bar very high for others to follow. We find ourselves at the next step in the evolution of classical music as we know it. In the meantime, we get to watch a boy, a violin and a looping pedal make beautiful music.


“I am overrated” said the sculptor to the sea.
“I’ve been praised for all the ways the marble leaves the man and I was wrong to try and free him.”
And as for me I am a vector I am muscle I am bone.
The sun upon my shoulders and the horse between my legs
This is all I know.

My senses are bedazzled by the parallax of the road.
I concentrate to keep contained the overflow.
My knuckles grip so tightly my fingers start to bleed.
What I have is what you need
And I’m never gonna give it to you.
--- Owen Pallet, Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

The Early Music Scene

While looking through my Early Music America magazine at Peet's Coffee and Tea in Lexington, I realized I was listening to Classical music through the overhead speakers. I did not recognize the composer, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear something other than the “usual” coffee shop music. (On a similar note, Russo's Market in Watertown plays Classical music in their store and is partial to string quartets. I must say, it does make shopping for produce and cheese more enjoyable.)

Halfway through the magazine, I stumbled upon an article on the recent success of the early music scene in New York City. It has really taken off in the past few years and for the most part, performers do not outnumber the audience anymore! According to the article, early music began to gain popularity with the founding of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua in 1952. Its fan bases grew quickly in many large cities throughout the United States, but the growth was slow in New York until a few years ago. As of today, there are over 130 early music ensembles in New York City alone.

Numerous welcoming venues have sprung up, giving early music ensembles the opportunity to play to a new audience. Le Poisson Rouge, a popular club in Greenwich Village, really brings back the original Baroque scene by “serving art and alcohol.” Bargemusic, another popular concert venue and provider of the musical arts to the community, has also added a “There and Then” series that focuses on early music. Furthermore, exposure to early music has been aided by new organizations such as the Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS) which is a non-profit working to promote early music and its culture. They work with institutions and artists to put together concerts, events, and educational programs as well as providing marketing services to the early music community. They even have a booking agency they run through their website: http://www.gemsny.org.

They also have a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/gothamearlymusicscene

As I read the article and sipped my coffee, I reflected on my most recent early music experience. I sang with the ensemble Jouyssance in West Los Angeles for the last two years I was in California. We performed works written before 1600, often a cappella, though we incorporated drums, recorders, and harpsichords when we could get our hands on them. At the majority of our concerts, the audience was maybe twice the size of us and we usually numbered around fourteen performers. Most of the audience members were regulars who had attended concerts for years. It was often difficult to build the audience, but it began to grow, albeit slowly, in the past year or so. Perhaps in the next few years or so, Los Angeles will see similar success with their early music scene.

Murrow, Gene. “Early Music in the city that never sleeps.” Early Music America 17, No. 3 (Fall 2011): 32-37.

No Worries

I attended a concert last week, and to protect the innocent, I will not say which one.

It was long and boring. The program was exciting – the concert was depressing, and the performances were subpar. I have managed to sit through the entire concert . What does this mean or say about me? Please allow me to be frank about these statements and protest that this is not a concern, as this is merely an observation.

Someone asked me what my concern may be pertaining to the future of classical music.

I replied. But, what I did was try to over analyze the question – and as broad as it may be, I could have replied with a simple and honest answer.

My uncle says that he can not listen to classical music because he can't get into it.

He was referring to the lack of drum beats and rhythmic umpf that he associates with this genre. Surely I could have responded, argued and defended my thoughts on this particular subject – I did not.

What is this?

Is it tolerance, intelligence, or judgement? This raises no concern for me, but I do observe and reflect upon the decisions that I or others have made. It is apparent that we often become enveloped by our character; the one who studies for hours; the one who judges silently; who comprises an ilk of confidence and trash those that are unbefitting. What is embedded in all of this Is uncertainty, survival, denial, apprehension, isolation, and hierarchy. We break down, transform and realize our true disposition. We become humiliated and, for once, submit to our society and find that priorities were amiss. What becomes of this?

...our character. Who are we to judge, and dismiss? We rely on our community, culture, colleague, family, and friends to support our ideas – to talk to us; agree to disagree; improve; move forward; and survive. People forget who they are, where they come from and why they practice 8 hours a day.

Now, please allow me to be frank about these statements and protest that this is not a concern, as this is merely an observation.

Thank You for reading,

Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Future of the Trombone… and modern music

Last night I attended my friend’s recital in Pickman Hall at the Longy School of Music. A few months ago I was fortunate enough to play a show with a fantastic Chinese Guzheng soloist who plays traditional Chinese music as well as contemporary world and American music. The concert contained beautiful melodies and harmonies from the distant lands in the far east as well as a few pieces that resembled harmonies and melodies reminiscent of Appalachia. She adapted traditions from a culture predating the United States of America by thousands of years in a way that fuses the music of Eastern and Western cultures to create something innovative and unique.
Innovation and music are words that consume my thoughts as of late. A few years ago I thought the obvious path for the trombonist was to move into rock music. I played many shows with a few Ska bands as attempted to define my place in the musical community. I often joke about the time my colleague and I played a show at the Palladium because for it was the one and only time the ladies in near the stage were cheering on the trombone players. Unfortunately, I discovered that a widespread interest in Ska music did not exist and the band  broke up shortly after our arrival at the Palladium. Clearly Ska isn’t sufficiently innovative to revive interest in the trombone.
An idea came to me over the summer involving extended techniques and electronic effects. I was at my friend Erik’s audition for a local Metal band when the idea occurred to me. Heavy Metal speaks to me so why shouldn’t I be able to play it on my Trombone. I am currently formulating ways to apply heavy metal band timbres using the trombone in conjunction with electronic effects and extended techniques. The challenge I will face with this development is achieving untapped versatility while not diminishing the relevance of the trombone. The project could lead to a whole area of musical possibilities and innovations in performance practice. While it may not make the trombone the next electric guitar, it has potential to breath new life into the curiosity of a younger generation of musicians and listeners.

From the Front: A Far Cry

This weekend, I attended a concert by A Far Cry, a self-conducted string orchestra founded 2007 in Boston by a group of New England Conservatory graduate students who refer to themselves as "criers." The concert was entitled "Divisions," as it entailed various reorganizations of the orchestra into smaller ensembles within the whole of the orchestra. Another changing factor in A Far Cry's performance was the position of concertmaster, which was filled by a different member of the orchestra for each work on the program. Guest artists (called "Guest Criers" in the program) appeared in several works where additional instruments where needed. The program represented a broad range of styles and time periods, ranging from Fratres by Arvo Pärt and Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Thallis to a selection from Bach's The Art of Fugue.

A Far Cry's performance dynamic strongly resembles that of chamber music, although they perform orchestral repertoire with a group of 18 or more players. The communication and sense of cohesiveness in their playing were truly extraordinary, and more like what one would expect of a small chamber ensemble, which is perhaps why I was struck with the personal element of the performance. The "criers" seemed to be simultaneously individuals and a single unit.

A Far Cry is unique primarily because of their rotating system of leadership in the ensemble, giving it a sense of communal contribution and variety not found in a typical orchestra. Perhaps this, along with their programming and energetic performances, has caused them to be successful in a time when many orchestras are struggling. Granted, they do receive a significant amount of support from donors, which they dedicate much of to outreach in the Jamaica Plain community where they are based. In terms of attendance, I would say they are doing quite well, judging from the crowd at their Saturday night concert in Jordan Hall.

For additional information about their performance, see this Boston Globe review.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Related Reading and Viewing of Interest

I was very glad to see that Nicholas Cook’s Music: A Very Short Introduction begins Chapter 1 with a discussion of music and visual culture (“A Television Commercial” is the section heading). As Wayman Chin pointed out in class last week, too often we think of appreciating music as a purely auditory experience, and write out the great influence of the visual. Investigating how we think about music visually can often illuminate the cultural work that music is doing at the moment, and the wide variety of contradictory messages that can be sent simultaneously (Cook points out in the Prudential commercial how, while you see representations of rock music, you hear classical music, reinforcing the advertisement’s claim that one can be young and hedonistic while still making sound long-term investments).

A more recent article by Cook (“Representing Beethoven: Romance and Sonata Form in Simon Cellan Jones’s Eroica) provides a nice complement to Chapter 1 and 2, tackling both visual culture and the influence of the cult of Beethoven. Here is a link to the article on Google Books, appearing in the collection Beyond the Soundtrack (http://bit.ly/n5Tbsl ).

The Eroica that the title refers to is a BBC television movie representing the first rehearsal of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. It is a subject particularly ripe for investigation, because, as Cook points out, it is so different from other composer-biography dramas such as Amadeus. The majority of the film (which is set entirely in one day) consists of a full performance of the Symphony by John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Like a music video, the musicians on screen are miming in sync with their own recording.

While the musicians play, a large part of the film is dedicated to representing how aristocrats of the time (and their servants) listened to Beethoven. The result is somewhat similar to the drawing on page 21 of Very Short Introduction. Ultimately, the overall shape of the film uses the dedication of the symphony to Napoleon to comment on the impending fall of the aristocracy in Europe – Prince Lobkovitz is physically and economically in decline, even as he continues to hire Beethoven for more engagements. Many discussions of the merits or evils of Bonaparte ensue, and the film ends with Beethoven’s disillusionment when learning that Napoleon has crowned himself emperor. Cook does a fine job in his article of showing how the film tweaks the historical materials on which it is based to create the drama surrounding Napoleon’s coronation, and to craft a tone that equates the concepts“Beethoven” with “revolution”. The conservative aristocracy, in this film, is on the wrong side of history, both musically and politically. While some conversations are based on Beethoven’s own writing and letters, some of the listener’s comments reflect much later 19th century ideas of Beethoven’s writing, especially the notion that he has written himself into his own work (that he might be the titular hero). These ideas about authenticity and authorship of course come up again in Chapter 2 of A Very Short Introduction.

Overall, the article is great, and the film is a great pleasure to watch, so I'd recommend taking a look, no matter how quick. Of course, the central historical problem is that while Gardiner’s musicians play beautifully, the actual rehearsal was a disaster, but that would not be nearly so entertaining to watch. The DVD is not very available in US libraries; you can of course buy it, but if you just want to see it for academic purposes only, the entire film has been posted to Youtube (part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J71gAMPz3_4 )

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My webpage

In response to our discussion about webpages, here is my page.

Technical stuff for anyone who is thinking of making a website: Bandcamp is a great site for hosting your audio files. However, I have been feeling more limited by trying to make an entire site based out of their format, so I have been slowly working on building a different site through Wordpress that just uses Bandcamp for the audio. Ultimately I plan on having the new site promote wedding & event services more.

Sometimes we get excited about new technology, websites, or social networks and think they will totally change the musical world. To some extent, they do. But I've found that having a website doesn't make you nearly as visible on the web as we'd like to think. We still have to draw people to the website, which, more often than not, happens with people you meet in person, are referred to by others, in other words, old-school communication skills. In effect, I've found that my website functions mainly as an extension of my business card or my résumé: "for more information, see my website!" There are a few people from far-flung places who have visited my site after googling "Beethoven Sonata Op. 102 No. 1", but these are not particularly lasting relationships. In some ways this is an obvious point that's been made frequently, but it hits home a bit more when you see the effects in person, on your own site.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Study Questions for Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction


In what regard does music function as an agent of meaning?

Chapter 1
  1. What are some defining characteristics of musical authenticity in rock? In its construct, who is privileged and who is disparaged? What cultural work do such distinctions do?
  2. What are our some of our transparent assumptions about music?
  3. How do they reflect the structure of a classic industrial economy? 
Chapter 2
  1. What role does music play in the early nineteenth century’s construction of bourgeois subjectivity?
  2. How does Beethoven differ from his predecessors?
  3. What is the Beethoven cult?
  4. Which two aspects of the Beethoven cult does Cook discuss? What is their significance beyond Beethoven?
  5. What components of music’s mystical qualities does the Beethoven cult celebrate?  How?
  6. How does such spiritualization affect the historic relationship between words and music?
  7. What irony ensued? 
Chapter 3
1.      How have 21st-century realities inverted the basic assumptions of 19th-century musical culture?
2.     By what process did modern music become “modern music”?
3.     In Cook’s view, what are some signs of vitality in classical music? Which aspects are “beyond resuscitation”?

Chapter 4
  1. What is the abiding paradox of musical notation?
  2. Discuss the following statement:  “[N]otations…transmit a whole way of thinking about music.”
  3. Why were 19th-century writers inclined to believe specious incidents attributed to Mozart and Beethoven?
  4. What is the underlying root metaphor of Western musical culture?
  5. What does Cook see as the “basic paradox” of music?
  6. How does Cook apply Dawkins’s “river of genes” image to music? 
Chapter 5
  1. How do our perceptions of “Nikosi Sikelel iAfrica” differ from our perceptions of the “Hammerklavier”?
  2. What hierarchy ensues from the traditional understanding of classical music?
  3. How does a reception-based approach alter our perception of music? 
Chapter 6
  1. Why is the concept of a definitive edition problematic?
  2. Why can there be no certifiably “authentic” performance?
  3. Conversely, how do “authentic” performances mirror our own time?
  4. How did musicologists and theorists come to realize the necessity for engagement that had previously been the exclusive province of ethnomusicologists? 
Chapter 7
  1. What is a transparent system of beliefs? Examples?
  2. What applications does critical theory find in music?
  3. What is Cook’s antidote to Tomlinson’s extreme pessimism? 
  1. Comment on the following quote from Philip Brett: “[Music is] an enclave in our society—a sisterhood or brotherhood of lovers, music lovers, united by an unmediated form of communication that is only by imperfect analogy called a language, ‘the’ language of feeling.”
  2. In what regards does music have “unique powers as an agent of ideology”?