Monday, October 31, 2011

From the Front: Digital Album Releases by Naxos

In the Los Angeles Times, Marcia Adair wrote an article entitled "Naxos goes bold with digital-only classical music titles," which features two distinctive recent releases by Naxos: "Bleeding Chunks of Wagner" and "Music for the Zombie Apocalypse." The first of the two attention-grabbing titles refers to the removing of a musical excerpt from its context, the veritable definition of a compilation album. The term originates from a frequently quoted passage from Essays in Musical Analysis by classical music critic Donald Tovey, who spoke specifically of excerpts of Wagner's operas being "bleeding chunks of butcher's meat" that had been "chopped" from their original context (72; vol. II). But perhaps the most striking aspect of the "Bleeding Chunks of Wagner," which is really nothing more than a "best-hits" type of compilation, is its album cover. The piece of steak against a background of chartreuse carpet is kitschy and quite a contrast to the usual aesthetic of a Naxos album cover, which is normally recognizable by its "white background and blocky typeface and small, out-of-copyright images" (Adair).

The second album, "Music for the Zombie Apocalypse," also shares the shock factor of the first in its album cover, designed by a young artist named Devon Gilbert. The album is more creative in its content, consisting of a compilation of various choral selections, ranging from works of Fauré to Thomas Tallis. The theme of the compilation seems to be "chosen to make the last moments before zombies relieve you of your brains as haunting and ethereal as possible," as Adair humorously states.

What is the purpose of the shocking, kitschy titles and cover art of these two albums?
The downloads are more than a publicity stunt, said Naxos' gleefully contrarian Chief Operating Officer Andrew Doe.

"I could come out with something pretentious about using this to bring classical music to more people, but that's not really the goal here," he said. "[We're making] products that are fun and that people are interested in. Most people like classical music to some degree. The struggle is often finding an entry point, a product that will give people something they can relate to."
With a zombie-themed album, Naxos is potentially appealing to followers of zombie fan blogs and fans of Devon Gilbert's art. In other words, Naxos isn't trying to make classical music more accessible merely through marketing genre-crossing artists to make classical music more appealing, but through "aiming to meet people where they are, on their own terms instead of expecting listeners to come to them" (Adair).

The two albums fared well in the classical music charts: "Music for the Zombie Apocalypse" rose to No. 15 on the iTunes classical music chart, and "Bleeding Chunks of Wagner" reached No. 14. The success has led Naxos to consider releasing a physical disc of "Music for the Zombie Apocalypse" next year.

Part of the reason why Naxos was able to take such an unusual thematic and aesthetic risk with these two albums is that they are digital-only releases, which cost little to a record company which already owns the selections found on the albums. Also, the warehouse and distribution costs associated with physical disks are not an issue. With such low risks, the possibilities for future albums with such themes are endless.

What concepts are ahead for Naxos? A"'dark' Christmas album and another devoted to music that inspired violence at its premiere," according to senior digital marketing manager Collin J. Rae (Adair).

Tovey, Donald. Essays in Musical Analysis. London: Oxford University Press, 1946.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Well, rules are meant to be broken... or... stabbed with spikey shoes. "

During a composition seminar on friday, the composer Davide Ianni presented his philosophy about music. He spoke eloquently – defending his opinions so well that he kept forgetting to keep his slide show in sync with his topics. As the class began to show enthusiasm for his working methods, he stopped on a slide that inspired todays blog.

The slide was an old picture with handwritten drawings of lines, blocks and written text. This was, on a micro level, the basis for his computer generated score. What I immediately thought, and whispered to my colleague was “'s amazing that there isn't a single note written down... and to think that we've come from fully notated pieces – yet this is the score!”.

It sparked an idea or realization that for years, musicians have been advised to study conventions. The conventions could have either been textbook material, harmony, counterpoint, performance practice and etc. But as years progressed, the modifications associated with this Art has become more apparent: Dufay's Nuper Rosarum Flores; Monteverdi's Ofeo; Stravinsky's Rte of Spring; Ligeti's Atmospheres; Terry Riley's In C; John Cage's 4' 33'' and Phillip Glasses Einstein on the Beach, respectively.

Each piece broke new grounds, either utilizing conventions or completely disregarding them. Each piece was also written in a society that established fundamental values. People were surprised to witness the ambitious rise of the musicians/composers that dared to defy the status quo.

But now, after centuries of “modification”, experimentation and social significance – what is next? More specifically, in the United States of America, art seems be as free as it can be. In this “world” where art seems to be more pleasurable rather than radical, dangerous, or significant. What is the next step for artist?

Thank You for reading,

Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

Monday, October 24, 2011

“New Music Week”

This week has turned out to be “New Music Week” for me as a performer, as I will be playing three radically different works that have been composed in the past year. Perhaps some insight on the future of classical music can be gained by looking at these three compositions together.

This Sunday, I performed in a concert featuring two new chamber music pieces by John Weinland. Weinland studied composition and organ at Yale, but ended up pursuing a career in the petroleum industry while composing on the side. Now in retirement, he has focused more fully on his music and arranged for this premiere of two pieces. Short Concert, for string quintet, and Continuous Music for string trio are both made up entirely of glissandi. “Continuous Music” is intended to reflect Weinland’s interest in John Cage, by featuring extended rests as part of the musical texture. Short Concert, which I performed in, is more contrapuntal in nature, as thematic sets of glissandi are played in inversion, rhythmic augmentation, and retrograde. Interestingly, none of the other performers in the group, established professionals from Boston’s North Shore, had any experience playing “modernist” music.

Toward the middle of this week, I will begin rehearsing Highway 12, a string quartet by current Longy student Kaley Eaton. As the title might suggest, Highway 12 reflects Eaton’s background in blues guitar. The violinist is instructed to play “as an old-time fiddler,” while much of the cello part consists of strummed pizzicato “as a guitar.” Though of course I have not yet heard the piece, from the score it looks like it is not strictly a tonal work, but that it includes references to triadic harmony.

Friday, as I am sure others from our class are aware, is the Longy Conservatory Orchestra’s October concert, which will include the second performance of John Williams’s Concerto for Oboe. A side note about this title: this is the only piece I have mentioned so far that uses a traditional genre-defining title. There is something about using the word “concerto” that suggests that this is not merely a piece of music, but an oeuvre. This is not to say, that the other pieces are less intellectual, but just that they are less self-consciously tied to older genres and the sense of the masterwork. Regardless of the title, then, how does Williams’s piece sound? As seems to be typical of Williams’ concert works, the music is much harder to pin down tonally than his film scores. In the outer two movements, triads are omnipresent, but are constantly undoing themselves functionally as they leap from one key center to another. The second movement is tinged with both medieval and classical Chinese sounds, featuring slow-moving open fifth sonorities, as well as a cello solo that sounds like it could have easily been performed on the erhu.

For the most part, I have focused on the stylistic differences of these pieces. However, they are bound together by at least two important principles. The first and most straightforward similarity is that they all stay well within a tradition that values the authority of the compositional text. Hewitt discusses the problems with this tradition, as well as with the attempts to counter it through improvisation, in Chapter 5, “Text, Bodies, Machines.” Eaton’s work is particularly interesting in this respect. Like Berio, Eaton “invokes those old collective idioms that once made us move to music,” that is, using folk and popular idioms (Hewitt 2003: 143) (Of course, Eaton’s blues references are not really so old. For that matter, neither are Berio’s references: ethnomusicologists would remind Hewitt that folk performances are still modern and not trapped in some traditional past. We did not “once move to music.” We still do move). The problem is that the improvisatory freedom of this music is really an illusion, carefully written into the music by the composer (Hewitt 2003: 143).

The other similarity is that all three pieces seem to be distinctively (even consciously) “American” in their style. This is, of course, much more subjective, and usually such nationalistic thoughts about music would make me cringe. However, each piece seems to conjure up images of different parts of American culture. Eaton’s piece naturally projects an “American” vision, because it draws on American blues and folk idioms (just as Dvorak did with both Czech and American music, for example). Williams tends to conjure up images of “America” simply because of his own notoriety as a film composer. Since Williams’s compositional style is so familiar as an evocation of Hollywood, it seems to seep through even in his concert pieces, whether he intends it or not. Even the erhu-like solo in the Concerto for Oboe does not evoke Chinese classical music so much as Yo-Yo Ma’s performance on the soundtrack for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which is, after all, an American take on Hong Kong action movies). Even Weinland’s work is American in his interest in John Cage, who epitomized American individualism in composition while Weinland was completing his studies. In a more trivial way, Weinland’s biography is reminiscent of Charles Ives, usually recognized as the first American modernist.

From the Front: One Writer's Views on "Classical" Labeling

The article "Just Don't Call it Classical" by Micahel Zwiebach appeared on ArtsJournal's recently featured music articles. In the article, Zwiebach focuses on the phenomenon of classically trained musicians who avoid the "classical" label, instead focusing on experimenting with genres and styles. Though performing or composing works that push genre boundaries and take influence from non-classical sources, these musicians are still inevitably informed by their classical training. An example of a venue for such non-classically-labeled music is the SONiC Festival we discussed last week. Most of the composers and performers featured were classically trained, but the festival's music was not marketed as new "classical" music. Instead, the festival's musical offerings were frequently of the genre-crossing kind.

Zwiebach asks two questions about the trend:

So, what comes out of this attempt to relabel or retire the word classical from the music made by classically trained and influenced contemporary musicians? Is it merely an attempt to avoid association with a term that seems to turn off large segments of potential audience?
Zwiebach does not believe the answer to the latter questions is a "yes." In fact, he thinks the avoidance of classical labeling may be a good thing for contemporary classical music.

Zwiebach attempts to define what makes music "classical" by pointing out a unifying compositional thread found throughout the classical music canon. In Zwiebach's view, the primary factor that determined the classical canon was the study of counterpoint on the part of classical composers. Those that were most adept at utilizing their counterpoint training were able to create numerous works in short periods of time with beautiful, well-structured melodies and voice leading. Those composers are the ones considered masters in the classical canon. In Zwiebach's view, their rigorous training in counterpoint united them all into one tradition. "Another result of that training," according to Zwiebach, "was an identifiable European tradition, which has certain continuities through the changes of style. Despite the differences, Bach’s keyboard concertos and Schumann’s Piano Concerto are recognizably from the same tradition. Edgard Varese’s Ameriques, not so much." Therefore, even contemporary composers of what is unarguably "art music" may not entirely fit the classical label.

Today, classically-trained composers are not presented with counterpoint studies as the primary compositional training tool. Instead, they are presented with various contemporary styles in addition to traditional counterpoint. Also, their music will most likely be influenced by the West's greater awareness of non-Western musical traditions, as well as the influence of popular music (Zwiebach mentions Louis Armstrong and The Beatles).

In conclusion, Zwiebach's view is that contemporary musicians and composers who are experimenting with crossing genre boundaries are not doing a disservice to the classical tradition, but are instead displaying their respect for it. Through combining styles and avoiding the classical label, Zwiebach claims that "they are naturally exploring the ways in which [classical] music has meaning to contemporary society and to what they do. In the process, as artists always do, they are leading us to a better understanding of what classical music meant in history and why it is still valuable."

Zwiebach's perspective on the current classical music landscape is perhaps somewhat simplified, but valuable to consider. With the multiplicity of styles available to up-and-coming classically trained composers and performers today, is the avoidance of a strictly "classical" label merely a concession to the way things are, an actual benefit to the promotion of the classical tradition and new music, or a combination of both? Zwiebach seems to think the answer may be "both." In his words, today's musicians "obviously want an open-ended term that will allow for the limitless combinations and collaborations that are now the norm."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Ripping up Concertos at the Harvard T stop"

Music was integrated into the church, moved into the concert halls, opera houses, private rooms, and eventually onto a digital device. What has managed to stay prevalent throughout history is the art of street performance – an art form that has grown to become a meaningful and powerful form of expression.

While many musical experiences been modified, street performance has maintained its methodology (the musician finds a pitch, and sets aside an object for gratuities). The context is also unique compared to other performance practices. The musician often performs in public, usually providing a welcoming atmosphere for pedestrians and/or tourist – these are general observations.

In a stunt organized by The Washington Post, the classical violinist Joshua Bell played as an incognito street busker at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington D.C. on 12 January 2007. Of the 1,097 people who passed by, only one recognized him and only a couple more were drawn to his music. For his nearly 45 minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 (not counting $20 from the passerby who recognized him). He did this using a Stradivarius violin valued at around $2,000,000.” (Wikipedia, Street Performance)

It is an interesting state of affairs for street musicians. Not only do they exercise musicianship, but within their context, the embedded passion, authenticity, and humility are some of the underlying principles that provide the foundations of a street musician; a unique performance. The Joshua Bell experiment proved that you can be regarded as one of the greatest musicians in the world, but when placed back into a society where everyone is a critic; degradation ensues.

The fourth wall of the concert hall does not exist, which enables a more intimate performance within its social context. A personal contribution is also made as money is given directly to the performer and not to a box office.

To stumble upon a street performance is to experience something unique (i.e. an instrument or type of music you never heard before). The composer, Lisa Bielawa, utilizes this concept in her piece "Chance Encounter".

"A single musician sits down and begins to play the opening... Several minutes later, another musician shows up at the site... pulls up in a taxi or comes out of the subway or bus, comes out of a nearby deli or store. This person begins playing, across the street or plaza from the cellist. Some people on the street can only hear one player. Walk across the site, or across the street – the piece changes." (Bielawa, Lisa)

The street musician is easy to define as, simply, a street musician. What is often overlooked is the audacity, desperation, passion and human quality that we absorb passively as we walk by the man playing the Stradervari.

Talk of the Nation: NPR:

Wall Street Journal (Ten rules for Street Musicians):

The Washington Post (Joshua Bell):

Chance Encounter (excerpt) by Lisa Bielawa:

Play For Change website:

Wikipedia (Street Performer):

Thank You for reading,
Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

Love and music

While perusing yesterday, I came across a proposal video. Yes, they are everywhere, but I still watch them because they make me happy. When my husband proposed to me, it involved an intricate collaboration of a total of 13 people! The proposer is Josh. His soon to be fiancee is Katrina. Josh had decided to propose by singing a song he wrote for Katrina. The place: the middle of a karaoke contest at the L.A. County Fair. After slinking off with a "I have to use the bathroom" excuse, Josh appeared on the stage, taking Katrina completely by surprise, and sang his proposal to her. Their family and friends appeared on the stage about half-way through the song with "Say Yes" T-shirts on. Audience members soon started holding up "Josh and Katrina" signs as Katrina cried in disbelief.

Now Josh may not be the most talented musician, but he put himself out there in order to give the woman of his dreams the "ultimate proposal." Right after my husband proposed, we climbed a hill and discovered a choir of our friends who proceeded to sing an arrangement of Ben Fold's "The Luckiest" as well as a setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet (an exerpt from his letter to Ophelia) that my husband had written specifically for the occasion. Having a piece of music written specifically for you, especially if it is by someone who loves you. I stared in disbelief that he would spend so much time and energy to create that special piece for me.
One of the reasons I love music is its ability to help us express our emotions with or without text. When I am singing, I can communicate in ways that I am unable to with words alone. These proposals had an extra "umph" because of the music incorporated into them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Report from the Front: 21st Century Composition

This week, I read an article in The New York Times titled “The Century’s Sounds, So Far,” Anthony Tommasini’s review of the opening of the festival “SONiC: Sounds of a New Century.” As the title suggests, it is a festival entirely made up of 21st century music. In addition, all 100 featured composers are under 40 years old.

Here is the link:

Near the beginning of the article, Tommasini confirms what we have often put forward in class: the future of classical music appears to include a wider set of musical references and styles that disregard “high” and “low” classifications.

From just the opening concert I am not ready to venture an overall impression about the state of music in the 21st century. Still, one theme did emerge. Young composers today, born after the stylistic battles that stultified creativity during the 1960s and 1970s, exude independence and feel entitled to draw from, borrow, use (or abuse) any style of contemporary music that interests them.

I commented two weeks ago on how this celebration of fusion is not bad in itself, but may willfully ignore classical music that does not choose to integrate other genres. Tommasini likewise appears to reserve judgment on the trend he notices: contemporary styles may be “used” just as easily as they are “abused.” We can also find these concerns in Nicholas Cook’s conclusion, not with regard to composition, but to musical culture in general. “If we find the music of other times and places too easy to hear, too well adapted to our own modes of understanding and pleasure, then we are all too likely to assimilate it to our own values… [Music] cannot abolish cultural difference at a stroke.” (1998: 127) As fusion is more and more embraced as a practice, we see more critics cautioning against abuse of these techniques. However, these are points I have already touched on to some extent.

What I thought was particularly interesting in Tommasini’s article was his suggestion that these new works definitively mark the end of the “stylistic battles” between composers. We have not only achieved a pluralism of styles within the works themselves (where twelve-tone rows can exist alongside tonal chords and driving rhythm, as in Christopher Stark’s work), but also a pluralism of styles between works (where two different styles of classical composition are considered equally good).

Tommasini clearly thinks it is good that the composer battles have been left to the past. This seems to be a reasonable claim. However, looking ahead in the reading, it appears that Ivan Hewett would not agree. He claims that some pieces, such as John Cage’s Variations III, have such a strong compositional worldview that they obliterate any other piece on the program (2003: 137). He suggests that pluralism may be a bit precious and polite; angry gangs of composers make for more interesting musical debates (2003: 118). Art and democracy are both born from heated debate. This has some truth, but I can’t help feeling, like Tommasini, that the bitter rivalries of 20th century composition limited art more than it expanded musical possibilities.

Film Scoring, another outlet for “classical” Music

I checked my Twitter as I rode into Boston today. There was an ad linked from Craig’s List asking for a film composer for a low budget horror film.

I heard in my head the sound of a horror movie with its dissonant string glissandi and stop-muted horn hits. The suspense created by the dark colors and sharp contrasts in dynamics are characteristics that make horror movies my favorite.

In 2008, I attended a film scoring master class near Smith College in North Hampton,MA. The clinician was Alexandar Janko, a local composer from Vermont who composed the score to the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I was new to the concept of composing for film and was fascinated by the different roles composers assign to their scores in film.

The concept of underscoring a scene and the various nuances that help evoke specific emotions was thought provoking. It made me wonder about my experiences watching movies. Just try listening to your favorite movie again with the sound turned off.

Music has a powerful place in the cinema experience. Movies insure the existence of the orchestra well into the 21st century and beyond.

SONiC Festival

The SONiC Festival is a new music festival currently happening in New York City. It began on October 14 and its last performance will be on October 22. Two reviews in The New York Times of concert from the Sonic Festival directed me to research the festival itself. The Sonic Festival's distinguishing factor is that all of the music performed is written by composers who are now 40 years old or younger. The festival's co-curators, composer Derek Bermel and pianist Stephen Gosling, claim that their intention is to increase awareness of new music, especially that written in the 21st century. Bermel remarks that the festival is designed "to present a snapshot of the younger generation of music-makers, to showcase the richness, vitality, and diversity of the music being created right now – under our very noses here in New York and throughout the world" and also "to show everyone that ‘the composer’ is alive and thriving" (

For the most part, the composers and performers in the festival are classically-trained. Some of the works involve genre-crossing elements, electronic effects, or inclusions of non-musical material (such as Mayke Nas's "DiGit #2" which includes choreography for the performers, described in this article), but all are written and performed from a classical orientation. Many of the chamber ensembles performing in the festival formed as students at leading conservatories. Interestingly, one of the performers is the MacArthur Fellow Francisco Núñez's Young People's Chorus of New York City. The SONiC Festival's website contains detailed information on all the featured artists and composers, as well as some audio clips from performances.

Links to the two New York Times SONiC Festival concert reviews:
"A Chemistry of Fresh Enthusiasms" by Steve Smith, October 17 2011

"This Century's Sounds, So Far" by Anthony Tommasini, October 16 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Not?

I admire musicians, especially fearless musicians: those who play with passion; are not afraid to play contemporary music; make mistakes; and those who are willing to provide a free musical experience in the streets of Brooklyn. This is what Alan Pierson has done with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

I'm not from New York, and have never been to Brooklyn. But, from Zacherys review, I was able to detect the importance of this situation. The area in which this concert was held was obviously an urban neighborhood, where the culture is well diverse and the thunderous sounds of the T is a constant reminder that life is about moving from one destination to the next.

Playing there was a fine step. It has also been apparent that classical music has been hard to bring into some peoples lives -- and on Saturday, this orchestra decided to take the initiative and bring the music to those who are rarely exposed to a live orchestra performance. It gave those an opportunity to stop moving, listen, think, and experience something, ironically, new.

It's a step in the right direction – following ensembles like the Discovery Ensemble who champion performance in urban communities and educating children about the importance of contemporary music, performance, instrumental practice and music in general.

"...classical music is not for the elites." Antonio Berdugo (M.M. '12)

I presented this story to my friend, and that quote above was his response. He showed great enthusiasm because he was aware of the orchestras significant achievement. There is no doubt that many orchestras have been leaving the concert halls (i.e. boston pops playing at the Esplanade). Either playing in colleges, suburban neighborhoods, or a park – It has become living proof that the traditional way of listening to classical music has broken down throughout the years, especially with the advancement of technology, which is a completely different topic.

New Yorks Times Article:

Discovery Ensemble Website:

Thank You for reading,

Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

Primary Sourcing

Nicholas Cook writes about the "Beethovenian model of the authoritative edition" (Cook p.89) as it developed as an ideal for score-writers and performers alike. Composers began finding their pieces more complicated than the score would allow and took it upon themselves to elaborate on the engraving conventions at the time. Musicians, likewise were met with rising standards in maintaining the integrity of the score and conveying the specifics of the music to the audience.

It is an unfortunate reality that our records of music aren't always perfect; multiple editions of pieces are actually quite common and are generally well received, especially in the notorious cases of Stravinsky and Liszt. The transcendental romantic ideal prompted the desire for the 'best' transcription, one they would feel comfortable leaving in the hands of history. Little did they realize the many versions of their pieces would actually end up preserved, and in some cases performed as pieces in their own right.

This practice of publishing revised editions comes as a response to a once-basic truth: notation is the only way to preserve and communicate music. Living in the age of recording technology, this is no longer the case. Notation software, forums and blogs, youtube and other social media websites are changing the way humans pass on their music. It is now very easy and affordable to arrange music and distribute sheet music, necessary for live performance.

It is interesting to listen to recordings of composers playing their own pieces. Hear Rachmaninoff playing: Rachmaninoff piano concerto no. 2.

While the recording quality is not pristine, you can still hear details in the piano playing. While enjoyable to listen to, I would not go so far as to suggest it is the definitive recording of the piece. Rather, it is one of many versions which come from informed study in the classical tradition of interpreting works. Likewise, it calls attention to the context in which a piece is composed--be it by the composer for their own performance, like Liszt or Bach, or for other people (Tchaikovsky's piano concerto for someone else, as he could not play the piano virtuosically). As Rachmaninoff plays expressively, we are allowed a glimpse into his compositional process as he phrases the melodies just as he intended (ignoring the massive amount of sound data lost in early recording).

Indeed, the high quality recording technology of today allows us to generate accurate representations and reproductions of musical ideas. Tools like the internet and social media allow communication of these ideas on a grand scale reliably and affordably. This phenomena will alter the development of all types of music and how it is received by audiences.

In closing, consider modern composers such as Nico Muhly. While composing for and participating in live music productions, he publishes scores for performable works. On the other hand, he is also credited as a recording artist and for creating hard copies of his conceptions. Right away, we are given the "authoritative edition" musicologists have been searching for. This primary sourcing will serve to help future generations study the music being composed today.

Music from the Front: Inspiration

This past week has been a hard one for me. I had several assignments to complete, school performances to prepare for, and family drama to top it off. While in the process of working on an assignment, I opened Firefox and stumbled upon an article entitled: Man Plays Guitar with Feet. Needless to say, I was quite intrigued, so I clicked the link. The man is Tony Melendez of Branson, Missouri. Born in Nicaragua without arms and with a club foot, Melendez came to the US at a young age to be fitted for prosthetic limbs. But instead of helping him, he felt the prosthetic arms got in his way and that he was better off using his feet. Music was a favorite past time of his. He became proficient in playing guitar and writing his own songs.

The video linked to the article, from the Huffington Post, showed Melendez and his band, The Toe Jam Band, performing for a high school in Florida. Though this specific video did not actually play their music, it caught my attention and I looked Melendez and the Toe Jam Band up online. This is the first video I came across:

Melendez performed for Pope John Paul II, and considers the performance his most memorable. I was touched by Melendez's happy spirit and determination. Though he was born with what many would consider a disability, he has not let it get in his way, instead choosing to challenge it, using it to his advantage.

Tony Melendez got me thinking about what music is, what it does, and how it defines us. For Melendez, music is a passion that kept him going. Though I do not face the same physical obstacles that he does, music has been my escape, a way to communicate when I don't know what to say. My connection to God and people. Truly inspired and fired up, I urge all musicians to return to why they love music and what it means to them. Everyone has down days, but it is what we choose to do with those days that defines who we truly are.

Link to the original Huffington Post Article:

And to Tony Melendez's website:

I strongly recommend you check out Melendez and his band, particularly if you need inspiration.

In The Cat Ranch...

If you are familiar with Marc Maron, then you are perhaps aware of his struggles as a comic, jew, romantic, and socializer. He is a comedian (a comics comic). His comedy is raw, personal and edgy, which led him to become a leading figure in the alternative scene in New York during the 90's. 15 years ago, you would not have known who Marc was – but now, he has successfully established a personality in the digital world from his Podcast “WTF with Marc Maron”.

Marc spent most of his life trying to find his “clown” – a catch phrase, look, persona – a sellable product. While unable to reach company standards and “make it” in the“industry”, he watched his friends become successful and fill rooms across the country and abroad. After jumping from job to job/show to show, he finally turned to Air America Media where he became the co-host of the radio shows Morning Sedition and Breakroom Live, which led to his inevitable breaking point once the shows were cancelled.

Thus, the creation of “WTF”

Having worked at the now bankrupt network; he still – somehow – had access to the company's recording studio and, weekly, snuck into the building to record his show and interview comedians with an agenda to address the philosophical question of the day [What the F^(#...?].

Knowing that he couldn't risk getting caught, and for the building would eventually close permanently – Marc moved back to his home in California: bought mics; a computer; adopted a few stray cats, and built a“studio” in his Garage. It, till this very day, is known as the cat ranch – the place where comics, actors, authors, and stars chat with Marc, setting aside the glamor of stardom and getting to the core of human relationships, drug addictions, parent problems, and becoming an adult.

Marc has successfully found an outlet in which he his not censored. Podcasting is a medium that allows you to start from scratch: create your own title; theme song; format/structure and more. He has found success that isn't lavish, a product of men in suits, or mainstream. And, with it's cult following, Marc has maintained integrity and proven that the thin line between success and happiness, in fact, do exist. While some mainstream provoke false expectations for children, teens, minorities and so forth; Marc has proven that there is humility to be sought after, and that finding your “clown” is secondary to what can truly be honest, righteous and raw... you.

“When you actually meet the devil and he offers you a deal most artist eventually negotiate.” - Marc Maron

Entertainment Weekly:

New York Times Article:

Marc Marons Website:

Theme For WTF:

Thank You for reading,

Kwaumane Brown

Longy School of Music
UD in Composition ('12)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Technology and Performance: The New Trend?

This Washington Post article by Anne Midgette is about music museums, but not necessarily in the sense of museums merely of music history or instrument collections. Instead, the article focuses on cutting-edge, innovative museum exhibits that present an interactive experience of music in more abstract terms. Exhibits combining sight and sound allow museum visitors to attain a new perspective about music and participation with music, and have appeared in such places as Vienna's Haus der Musik, and Seattle's Experience Music Project. Tod Machover, a composer and software creator at MIT, has helped designed many such exhibits around the world, and thinks that orchestras may be the next museums of music because most of them already have a permanent space that could be modified to create similar interactive experiences.

Machover's prediction is already partially coming true. Like technologically-innovative music museum exhibits, newly-built concert halls are beginning to feature multimedia capabilities. A prime example mentioned in the article is the New World Symphony's concert hall, which was designed with multiple screens for the simultaneous presentation of the symphony's performance and accompanying video. Performers are also becoming involved with the concept of a multimedia performance. Several examples of performers who incorporate a multimedia experience into their concerts are mentioned in the article about violinist Tim Fain's new project which we discussed in class a few weeks ago (read that particular article here). It seems that a multimedia presentation of classical music is an emerging trend, perhaps with a goal similar to that which Tod Machover has for his museum exhibits: "to [help people] think about music in different ways."

Anne Midgette, "Music museums of the 21st century: High-tech, cutting edge, interactive," The Washington Post, October 2, 2011, accessed October 10, 2011,

The How-To Special Effects for Brass Instruments

While cleaning today I found my silent brass pick up mute. Usually the silent brass series of mutes are utilized as practice tools so one can practice almost anywhere at almost anytime of day and not disturb those in the next room.
There is another use for the silent brass. The pick up mute can capture the sound from the bell and convert it into electrical signal. That signal can be tweaked, modified, and reproduced through an amplifier. Earlier on this blog I referred to an experiment I was going to conduct using special effects, extended techniques, and the trombone. This tool is the missing link between the acoustic trombone and the electric trombone.
Now that I finally have access to my pick-up mute, I can test out various sound wave modulators to achieve my goal of expanding on the trombone’s modern repertoire.
I found a video of someone doing something similar to what I hope to accomplish on youtube. Check it out.
Cool implementations of electronic effects on the trombone.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Problems of Authenticity, Performance Practice, and my own work on Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations

At various points in Music: A Very Short Introduction, Nicholas Cook emphasizes the importance of the performers and listeners in musical experience as a way of questioning the usual dominance of composers in the creation of aesthetic capital. His discussion of historical performance practice suggests that a view of music that values performers might be on the rise. “In demythologizing the scholarly practice of (so-called) historical performance, Taruskin has placed performance style at the centre of music history; never again, perhaps, will it be possible to publish a ‘history of twentieth-century music’ that considers only twentieth-century composition, ignoring twentieth-century practice.” (1998: 98)

However, some backtracking is necessary to explain the “demythologizing” that Taruskin has repudiated. While historical performance has in some sense broken with how we traditionally view performers, Cook points out that many historic performers are timid about admitting their own role in music. Instead of declaring their interpretive activities outright, performance practice movements use scholarly language as a veil of legitimacy, relying on period texts, treatises, and various versions of the score to formulate their vision of the music. Even when historic recordings are available, Cook notes, performers add their own gloss, choosing to avoid simply mimicking the recording. At the heart of historical performance practice, then, is not so much scholarship but “the interpretive freedom, the creativity, which performers and audiences both value.” (1998:98)

This is all well and good from an academic standpoint. As performers, though, what do we do with this information? What is the role of doing research, if our performance is also to be our own? Reacting with cynicism against historical performance practice would not be productive; Taruskin’s point (and Cook’s) was not to delegitimate the research that historical performers do. How can we re-evaluate in a constructive manner? I was reminded of my own cello studies, as I am currently working on Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. This piece has been the subject of some historical debate, since multiple versions exist, with great difference between them. The historical performance movement took hold of this piece during the 20th century, pointing out that the most commonly played version had in fact been completely restructured by the first performer of the piece, Wilhelm Fitzenhagen. Looking at Tchaikovsky’s manuscript compared to the published version, we can see that Fitzenhagen re-arranged the order of the variations, also cutting one out. Those inclined to follow historical performance methods would probably cite the “authenticity” of the Tchaikovsky autograph. Of course, this reinforces the hierarchy of composer over performer. In fact, there were several stages to the editing process, some of which Tchaikovsky approved more readily than others (he appears to have changed his mind at least once about the structural re-organization).

When deciding which version of the Rococo Variations to play, I made sure to do my research on these versions. I chose to play the “original” version based on the manuscript, but not because I felt convinced that this version was better or more authoritative (as I think the last paragraph made clear, my research was fairly inconclusive). Instead, I thought it was an unusual and interesting experience to hear a familiar piece played differently, and I enjoyed the “missing” eighth variation. Ultimately my decision was based on what I thought would be interesting to perform and to listen to. Is this the new ideal that Cook and Taruskin would be aiming for? Somehow, my interpretive decisions seem too arbitrary to merit such a grand label. No matter what, we are stuck with several problematic definitions of “authenticity.” Is my individual interpretation “authentic” because I am being true to myself? Is hewing to the autograph score “authentic” because it represents Tchaikovsky’s work without any influence of Fitzenhagen? Both definitions are unsatisfactory, but as practical performers, throwing away authenticity as a concept does not leave us with much to work with.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Attending concerts is one of my favorite pastimes. I am fond of all music: world music, new or "unusual" music, as well as the "classics." Last Sunday, Longy offered a concert of Chinese music with traditional instruments. I am glad I went, particularly because I now can recognize the instruments that make the sounds. There is a man who often sits at Park Street station playing the Erhu or Chinese violin, but the performers at this concert opened my eyes to the true abilities of the instrument. As there are not too many traditional Chinese music concerts advertised at the BSO or other, this concert was a wonderful opportunity to really experience Chinese music.

On the topic of not-so-common music, the article "Probing discoveries from adept ensemble" caught my attention. It focuses on a new group called "Discovery Ensemble" directed by Courtney Lewis. They performed Britten's "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge," Frank Martin's "Jedermann," and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (in that order). Of these three works, Beethoven's symphony is the most performed by far. Britten's Variations is what launched him into international recognition after its performance in 1937 at the Salzburg Festival. Martin is not as well known, but composed well into his eighties.

Discovery Ensemble is breaking out of the repetitive repertory that many classical ensembles are stuck in. The same symphonies, concertos, and operas have been performed over and over again. There is new music that has been composed and performed, but it makes up a small percentage of classical concerts. By including Beethoven's symphony, Discovery Ensemble is gently moving away from what has become the "regular" concert. Many larger ensembles are moving in this direction as well. The LA Master Chorale released a CD last year with compositions by Nico Muhly, a 2004 Julliard graduate.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with performing the "standard" works by great composers, but there are many more out there from the past to choose from, not to mention all the new compositions being written today. Some of them aren't necessarily groundbreaking, but then again many of the composers from 200 years ago weren't either.

Here is a link to the article: