December 5, 2011

Ring Out Ye Crystal Spheres - The Ringtone

I've been rocking this ringtone for about a year now and decided to finally give it out to the people. So, here it is, a ringtone with part of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Ring Out, Ye Crystal Spheres". Hopefully it will touch your senses so. Let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow suckas!!




"My cat shall be named "Oozy Channel"

Oh, and for those who don't know what all the fuss is about, be prepared to have your ear-holes obliterated and hastily raptured to the musical great-beyond.


November 26, 2011

Composers A-Z: Emma Lou Diemer

It's been a long time since I wrote one of these Composers A-Z things. And that's largely because I reached the letter E, which doesn't offer a lot for pianists. Probably the most notable composer whose last names begins with E is Edward Elgar, whose output for piano is pretty small and not well known. Instead I decided to break my own rule and feature a composer whose first name starts with E: Emma Lou Diemer. Better known among organists than pianists, Diemer's style is catchy, accessible and constantly changing in a way that can appeal to modern audiences.

I'm not going to write a ton about Diemer, because I frankly don't know her output all that well. I know her teaching pieces best, which are nearly always highly effective and well received by students. What I love about Diemer's didactic pieces is that they have the length and depth of a piece for an advanced student, yet have difficultly levels that can suit the intermediate student. Here's one such piece, "Another Moonlight Serenade" performed by the pedagogy professor from University of Iowa, Dr. Alan Huckleberry. I also have a student preparing this piece for a spring recital.



The piece allows for great freedom in dynamics, malleability in tempo, and exploration of the piano as a tool for color creation. Many of her pieces allow for this kind of exploration that is not always found in educational literature. Also, there's a ton of pieces.

Her advanced pieces are also extremely appealing. She's written several sonatas, my favorite of which is the third. This large work (it's about 40 minutes long) is a traditional four movement sonata with a Tango in the place of the third movement scherzo. Her themes never go on very long (think of her as the antithesis of Schubert sonatas) which I think reflect the modern audience very well. We tend to like pieces that are constantly changing, however subtly, and Diemer's writing caters to this well. Themes are constantly introduced, altered, or abandoned for new ones, all over a shifting tableau of keys and time signatures.

Diemer's most popular concert piece is probably the Toccata. Likely this is because the piece is very accessible to audiences and performers alike, while still using conemporary extended techniques. Many pianists avoid contemporary music, but by the time they get to graduate school feel the need to learn one token 20th century piece, and this has become one of them (other pieces include Lowell Lieberman's Gargoyles, Adams' China Gates, and Prokofiev Sonata #2...even if that's not really contemporary). That is not to deride the piece though. It's very engaging, and the extended techniques are an excellent fit. I actually have plans of my own to tackle the work. Here's an excellent student performance of the Toccata.



That's all I'll say about Diemer. She's a fairly new composer to me (introduced through her educational pieces) but everything I listen to or play makes me fall more in love. She's still living too, teaching at UC Santa Barbara. Check her out.

Honorable Mentions:
The letter E doesn't have much going for it...but here are some

  • Edward Elgar: Brits didn't love writing for solo piano so there's not much going here.
  • Maurice Emmanuel: Frenchman who wrote some lighter pieces over the turn of the 20th century.
  • Georges Enesco: Romanian composer known more for his violin pieces.
Next up is F, I'm thinking more educational composers, Ross Lee Finney, is it your turn next?

November 12, 2011

When I'm Tired

Sometimes, when I'm tired, I just hear dozens of high-school kids saying "Mr. Kraack" in different ways.

October 19, 2011

Musical Vocabulary and Grammar: Location in Music

When we talk about musical vocabulary and grammar, our thoughts may go immediately to music theory. We have to understand how music fits together, why a dominant chord resolves in certain ways to a tonic chord, why a Neapolitan chord is usually placed in first inversion etc. Equally important though are the language skills we need to properly write music, or talk music. I'm talking here about the real nuts and bolts. Without the nuts and bolts, even professional musicians can have a hard time communicating with each other.

I was in a rehearsal recently when a colleague asked me start on the note G. Figuring that we would be starting in a place that we had just been working on I played a particular passage that turned out to be the wrong on. My colleague grew irritated, began raising their voice and rushed to my side while telling me to "start at the G!" Unfortunately for me, both pages that I was open to were littered with G's. This would be like going to the produce aisle and telling someone to pick up "the banana" rather than "a banana". The frustration grew for both of us until this person pointed out where on the page I was to play. In the end my colleague was visibly angry, I was simmering (a polite Minnesotan type of anger) and everyone else in the room was uncomfortable. 

This entire situation could have been easily remedied if either A) I could read minds; or B) my colleague had used the proper language to express what they wanted. Situations like this, where we need to find a place in music, happen dozens of times every day (sometimes hundreds) for a professional musician. Luckily, thanks to centuries of musical dialogue we have a system in place to assist in this exchange of information. Below is a guide to talk about musical location from the general to the specific.

Page Numbers
Page numbers are useful in some situations, but are not always a reliable way to talk about musical location. For example, if everyone in a choir has the same edition of a given piece, say Poulenc's Secheresses, than they can all easily turn to the same page. If they are working out different editions this may not work. Different editions may fit differently onto the page for any variety of reasons and page numbers simply will not match up. The third movement of one edition may be on page 35 while another starts it on page 42. 

Additionally, page numbers will only work for people working out of the same instrument part. Two piano parts from the same publisher will probably have the same pages, but the violin part will not. This is because the violin part can all be fit onto a smaller number of pages than the piano score. This is why we have measure numbers and rehearsal letters.

Measure Numbers and Rehearsal Letters
Measure numbers are the easiest way for musicians to communicate their location in a score. In this system every measure of music (the space between two of those vertical lines that show up every inch or two on the page) is given a sequential number. Sometimes an editor will place a measure number before the first measure of every system (more on systems below). By telling a group of people, or any other musician working on the same piece which measure to start on, everyone can easily find their way regardless of which instrument they are playing or what edition they have, assuming that everyone is playing the same work and that the editions don't vary widely or have missing measures.

Sometimes a longer piece with a lot of measures will give occasional rehearsal letters in lieu of measure numbers. These are usually placed in a box above the staff and show up at every major event in the piece. These are useful because you don't have to say out loud large numbers that get lost, and the letters are usually placed at strategic points that make it easy to guide a rehearsal. Their great disadvantage is a lack of specificity. 

If a piece only has rehearsal letters, they must be used in conjunction with the techniques used to below to be really specific.

Systems
In a piece that lacks measure numbers (and rehearsal letters), it is necessary to name which system of music you want to work on. A system is a group of staves that have been grouped together. So in a choral piece, it will usually be the soprano, alto, tenor and bass lines as well as the piano. Here is an example:

In the above picture, the three string instruments are all tied together with a bracket. This bracket tells a musician that if they finish one line of music that they should move to the next bracket instead of just moving down to the next staff. Here each staff has its own clef. So the violin gets its own staff as does the viola and cello, but together they make up a system. Therefore it is erroneous to call the system a staff. To refer to the "first system" as the "first staff" beside confusing the singular with the plural (assuming the speaker actually means the first system, she should be using the plural "staves" to refer to all of them), this would really mean only the very top staff. In the above case it would refer only to the violin.

If you want to communicate to a musician where to begin in music that only has page numbers, one only has to give the page number followed by which system, and then follow that up with the steps below.

Measures and Beats
In the situation above, where there aren't measure numbers, the musician may have to specify within the system

We can be specific with beats regardless of how much information is provided to us on the page. We can say "measure 248, beat 3" or we can say "page 5, system 3, measure 2, beat 2". We can also count measures in relation to other landmarks. For example, "five measures before A" or "two measures  after GG".

Although it may seem like a mouthful and a lot of talking to do something simple, this language has evolved and stuck with us for a reason. It is the most efficient means of talking about music. It lets us all share a common thread on which to build and helps us work together. If we can all sign on to this system of language we can avoid disputes like the one above, and keep our music-making meaningful instead of frustrating.

September 27, 2011

Album Review: Kimbra - Vows

A friend of mine posted a video by Kiwi songstress Kimbra on facebook a month or two ago and after forgetting about her another friend recently sent another song to me. For some reason my curiosity was really piqued and I dove deep into the Youtubes to find some more of her music. Soon this unique woman's melodies and arrangements (not to mention dance moves) were crammed so deep into my brain that I couldn't resist grabbing as much of her music as possible. Unfortunately due international recording contracts, this is extremely difficult. But no one gets between this man and his musical obsessions. Behold, a review of Kimbra's American-unreleased Vows beneath the cut.


August 3, 2011

Classical Recording Artwork

I love classical music album art. Artists never seem to know what to put on the cover, or they let publishing companies choose for them. Art tends to fall in three varieties:

The "God is Watching Over Us" or as I usually think of it The "St. Olaf Choir Moment"
The whole choir, packed onto that little boat.

The "Piece of Artwork that Somehow Expresses the Music Within" variety
Mmmmm just find a painting of Romeo and Juliet, that'll be good enough.

And last the "Our Recording Artist Needs to be Seen as Well as Heard"
Behold as the Pacifica Quartet surprises Elliot Carter on his 200th birthday.

The real reason I love classical album artwork is that sometimes they turn out horribly. I found a few great ones this morning and thought I'd share them. Here's a particularly racy album cover for Bizet's Carmen.


Bizet's all about the T and A. Also, WTF CREEPY HANDS. Am I the only one who's thinking that Master Hand needs a restraining order?

Classical labels are always trying to force sex appeal into their recordings. Do they think a fifteen-year-old boy is going to pick this up just because it has a naked woman on the front? I suppose if you're going for the fifteen-year-old classical music enthusiast who wants a recording of Carmen but is just too bogged down in choices to make a rational decision market than you've got it nailed. 

Personally I almost always go for the "God is Watching Over Us/St. Olaf Choir" type artwork. It seems to convey some sort of sober intellectual romanticism that I enjoy. Oh, actually this CD is the reason I made this post:

Leanne Rees: PIANIST
Where to start with this monstrosity? Let's go with the fact that there are four (possibly five) different fonts on the front cover alone giving it the elementary-student poster board look. There are even two different fonts in the title alone and the font that "pianist" is written in makes it look she's an international killer-for-hire. There's way too much freaking red here. I'm not totally sure what all that junk in the background is but I'm assuming it's Bambi's home during a fire. The inferno mixed with her lipstick and the screaming italicized PIANIST is extremely off-putting. The yellow font (basically illegible from this grainy picture) is also really nasty against those red hellish flames. Lastly, in case you missed that she's a PIANIST, there's a piano shoved painfully into the foreground, and she's exposing her hands in a way that would make a 16th century gentleman blush.

Beyond the artwork, the title for this album is atrocious. Women Composers and the Men in Their Lives is not a classical record name. It's the name for a steamy fan-fiction impulse buy when you're shopping at Groth Music. The selections are even confusing themselves. She's chosen pairs of female-male composers who from the title you would pin down as lovers. The composers found inside however are: 

1) Marianne von Martinez and Franz Josef Haydn. These two lived in the same building and Haydn gave her some piano lessons and accompanied her voice lessons (according to the Wiks of Pedia).

2) Fanny Mendelssohn and Felix Mendelssohn. BROTHER-SISTER PAIR! NOT LOVERS! WARNING!

3) Clara Wieck Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Why she didn't go with the obvious choice of Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann the world may never know. Maybe she was specifically going with the May-September implied relationship thing here. The Schumann-Brahms story is a favorite of old piano teachers but I prefer to not really care about it.

4) The next three composers, Ralph Graves, Emma Lou Diemer, and Leanne Rees herself seem to have no connection other than they all appear on this CD.

I don't mean to rail on poor Ms. Rees. She's probably a fine pianist and this album may showcase that. What I do get upset about is the lack of thought that goes into these things She tried for a program on her CD which I really like, but by labeling it as Female Composers and the Men in Their Lives it gives a bit of the wrong impression. Also, if it wasn't for the inclusion of her own piece, the album would only be half female composers.

There's really no excuse for that album artwork. Update that crap please.



August 1, 2011

Dead Kings of Norway - New Album and Track Up

So uh, it seems like I just stopped making pop music but I actually didn't. I've been grinding away at a new album for the past couple of months and am about halfway done. Now that I'm done with grad school though it's been picking up. The album is called ...All Hail New Laser Cat and it's really peppy and a complete departure from Terrifyingly Efficient at Manufacturing Death. It features some higher quality production, higher quality song-writing, all original lyrics, and dance-beats dance-beats dance-beats. I'm very excited about it.

Here's a new song from what will be ...All Hail New Laser Cat.





Also, I'm releasing all of the B-sides that never made it onto albums in the form of an EP called Laser Cat is Dead... (see what I did there?). They're tracks for albums that got aborted, tracks that didn't make it onto TEAMD and one track that doesn't fit onto the new album.

I've created a nifty Bandcamp website for Dead Kings of Norway. There you can download all of TEAMD and Laser Cat is Dead... as well as a brand spanking new song called "Picket Fences" that is a good taste of what's to come. I'm so excited!

Click the link below to get sent to the Bandcamp website. First 200 downloads are free and then I think you have to pay $1. You can preview tracks on the page and download whole albums at once. It's swell!

http://deadkingsofnorway.bandcamp.com/

July 10, 2011

X-Files Microcut - Brand X

I'm bringing back my pretentiously named "Microcuts" which are just bite-sized songs  written and recorded in less than an hour and writing songs about X-Files episodes. Because I didn't have this idea when I started watching the entire series in order about two years ago, I'm starting at the end of season 7, which is pretty terrible. For each of these I'll write a short song giving a synopsis of the episode I just watched, plus touch on any themes that might be present. The first song is for episode, "Brand X". Hear it in all of its glory below the cut.

July 9, 2011

Student Compositions - Walking on the Keys

I love sharing my students' compositions and I'm really proud of this one. Sofia is a mere five years old and has been moving somewhat slowly but has shown a lot of dedication. Plus she's cute as a button. 

I'm a little bit fuzzy on the particulars of the assignment I gave to her, but I believe my only parameters were that she had to use some system to show "high notes" and "low notes". I may have also required her to put the notes into four-beat measures. In "Walking On the Keys" she used tall rectangles to show notes that were higher (played with her right hand) and the shorter rectangles are played with her left hand.


I'm hoping to build off of of this composition by making the distinction between quarter-notes and half-notes as well as adding dynamics. I'll post the results!

June 12, 2011

Composers A-Z: Debussy

I have to admit, since I graduated less than a month ago it's been hard to get myself to think about classical music. I'm clawing my way back though, bit by bit. D is one of the letters I've been dreading, just because there simply aren't as many composers whose names start with D, and of those the number of any real consequence that wrote for piano is even smaller. But hey, if Clause Achille-Debussy is an option, why not take him?

May 5, 2011

Composers A-Z: Crumb

Last time we met I gave the impression that I would write this about Freddy Chopin. Shortly after finishing that post (read: 30 seconds) I thought, hey wait a tic, shouldn't I write about a more obscure, hipster-loved composer? But since Phillip Glass is still a couple of letters away (even his cousins are hipsters!), I'm going to write about George Crumb.

George Crumb, in the garden, with the chair (1929-   )

April 13, 2011

Composers A-Z: Beach

The letter B is sacred ground in the world of music. I decided for the sake of convenience and so I wouldn't go crazy trying to make a decision, that some composers were disqualified for this letter because they're just too entrenched in the pantheon of greats. Therefore, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms aren't in the running for this installment of Composers A-Z (although it was originally going to be Beethoven).

There are about five hundred composers whose names start with B and maybe sometime I'll give a run-down of my favorite "B" composers but for this one I've decided to write a bit about Mrs. Amy Marcy Cheney Beach.

Amy Beach (1867-1944)


Amy Beach is very well known for her art-song catalog but after being assigned one of her pieces for a quick-study assignment as an undergrad I fell in love with her piano compositions. Many American composers in the late Romantic period allied themselves with the European school of style and Beach is no exception. Her compositions are essentially Lisztian although I think they contain a greater sense of humor and lightness than the Hungarian master's piano music. This absence of total European creative infiltration is perhaps a result of her never being sent to Europe like so many other composers (among them Lou Harris, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber) but instead being trained in America.

Historically Amy Beach is a bit of a conundrum for feminist music scholars. She is the first American woman to see great success as a composer, and after her husband's death she made a great name for herself as a performer both domestically and abroad. Currently, her name is the only woman's name etched amongst other great composers at Boston's Hatch Shell. On the other side though, she published most of her works under her husband's name, with the signature Mrs. H.H.A. Beach and while married, she seldom performed, turning instead to composition. I think that it is unfair to look at these facts through 21st century lenses though, and it is better to simply view her a great composer, one of the greatest of her generation and one of if not the greatest of the early American composers.

Beach's compositions have a wide range of styles, from the simplistic yet emotional as in "Scottish Legend" (video below) to the downright scalding as in the Variations on a Balkan Theme and the Tyrolean Waltz Fantasie. A fantastic pianist herself, some of her compositions are extremely difficult, and as such can be difficult to get hold of. Scores for the two works I just mentioned are hard to come by, but I think if more pianists picked up on them publishers might be less afraid to put out decent copies of them.

The pieces I've played, "Scottish Legend" and "La Fee de la Fontaine" from La Reves de Columbine are both quasi-programmatic and extremely evocative of their subject matter. She manipulates textures and what have become cliche stock Romantic figures to create sound worlds that not only titillate the audience but give performers something to chew on intellectually. She uses the register of the piano to create the sensation of floating high above the ground one minute to being dashed across the rocks the next.

Here is a video of her piece "Scottish Legend" (as played by a guy who looks an incredible amount like Larry David):



This actually isn't one of my favorite Beach pieces, but it's a great introduction. This piece plays it extremely safe (and the video really doesn't do it justice) and the rhythms are fairly unexciting but it does showcase her great ear for interesting harmony and simplicity of melody.

One of her greatest works, and a piece that should be played more often is her Piano Concerto. I have no idea why this piece does not get programmed more often. It is equal to the Grieg Concerto, and superior to many of the Mozart Concertos (although I know it's unfair to compare them). I think orchestras view the programming of the Beach Concerto as too much of a novelty, especially when they know they can draw a crowd in or sell records with a Beethoven Concerto (Minnesota Orchestra I'm looking at you) but this piece is fantastic and deserves to be programmed. Here is an excerpt from that work:



 I've seen a surge in Amy Beach's popularity over the past several years although if this is real or just due to my own awareness I'm not sure. Regardless, after some years in the middle part of the 20th century she is finally being recognized as the great composer that she was.

Here are some of the honorable mentions I considered (I mean besides the huge ones):

  • Bela Bartok - Bartok's Piano Sonata is incredible, and his dances and improvisations on folk themes are staples of the repertoire. Also his concertos...you know I maybe I should have written this about him instead...
  • Samuel Barber - Barber is another great American composer who has contributed fewer works to the piano repertoire than some other composers, but those works have become giants of the canon. His Piano Sonata is monolithic in the American sonata catalog, and his Piano Concerto is as great as Beach's.
  • Bach, the Entire Family - There are so many Bachs and such little time. Did you know Bach means brook in German? Now you do!
  • Mily Balakirev - But only for Islamey, and really is Islamey that great? Oh it is? Okay.
  • William Bolcom - Another American composer who has written some excellent dance music and the 12 New Etudes for Piano for which he won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in music yet which is still largely and sadly unknown outside of academic circles.
  • Blind Tom
I probably will have a whole article dedicated to all of my favorite letter "B" composers, but until then, look forward to the letter "C". Unless I disqualify a certain Polish composer because he's in the pantheon, you can probably guess who it will be.

April 10, 2011

Composers A-Z: Albeniz

I'm going to start a feature here where I name my favorite composers A-Z. It will be difficult to choose just one (especially with the next letter, B) but I'll do my best, and give some great compositions by the composers I choose. For A, I've chosen Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909).

Plus he's got mad facial stylings
Albeniz is one of those composers that all pianists profess to like, but never play. I'm one of those people actually. I love his piano music, but I've never played any of his music although I plan on doing it some day in the distant future. A pianist himself, Albeniz' compositional style is a mixture of the late-Romantic pianist-composers (read: Liszt) and the local influence of Spanish rhythms and gypsy/folk harmonies and dance idioms.

What I find engaging about Albeniz' music is the variety of textures and colors he manages to highlight on the keyboard. By using a variety of articulations interspersed with off-beat rhythms and extended "jazz-like" (it's not jazz though) harmonies, his music is evocative and carries the listener's interest throughout each piece.

Because he was a pianist himself he wrote mainly for his own instrument, primarily in the form of short pieces, often dances. Many of his pieces are overtly Spanish-influenced and have titles that evoke either traditional or exoticized Spanish hallmarks. His most famous work for piano is the monumental Iberia, a set of four volumes of short piano pieces evoking the titular Iberian Peninsula. The pieces are extremely difficult but are not necessarily expected to played as a whole. One can hear a good deal of Debussy in these pieces, but rather than Debussy or Ravel imitating Spanish composition (although Ravel would claim that he wasn't imitating anything, since he was born on the border between France and Spain) Albeniz doesn't need to imitate anything. A slightly easier work by Albeniz is the Suite Espagnole, a set of eight pieces, each depicting a different region in Spain, with the exception of the last which is titled "Cuba". Many of Albeniz's piano compositions have also been arranged for guitar, an interesting turn-around considering how much his piano writing was influenced by Spanish, and flamenco in particular, guitar playing.


Here is a video of probably his most famous individual piece, Asturias, which has become strongly associated with the classical guitar repertoire, but let's be honest, it sounds way better on the piano.




There were some "A" composers who I considered for this inaugural Composers A-Z. My honorable mentions are:
  • John Adams (1947 -  ) - for Phrygian Gates...and pretty much only that. Well, and the Violin Concerto.
  • William Albright (1944-1998) - He's recorded the complete Joplin rags, waltzes and everything, and he's written a whole bunch of bad-ass pieces on his own. Three cheers for cracked out rags!
  • Charles Henri Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) - I'm not very familiar with the repertoire of Alkan but many people absolutely swear by him. I have the feeling though that if I got into his catalog he'd take over this article from Albeniz. Busoni claimed him to be the best of all post-Beethoven piano composers, and basically he seems like the best composer most people have never heard of. Probably because he's French, and that's not even a joke.
  • Jean-Henri d'Anglebert (pronounced DONG - L'BEAR) (1635-1691) - For this picture:
Brother's got a lazy eye, so what?

March 26, 2011

MTNA Convention - Pedagogy Saturday Review

Do the words "Piano Teacher's Convention" get you excited? I find the thought particularly enthralling and this year I was lucky enough to attend a day of the Music Teachers National Association National Convention in Milwaukee. Unfortunately due to time constraints I was only able to attend the first day of the conference, dubbed Pedagogy Saturday. I attended a day full of seminars, master classes and performances, with varying levels of quality...but that's a teacher's conference is it not?

I'm not a big fan of watching videos when I'm at a conference, so I was a little disappointed to walk into the first session to be greeted by a DVD showing. Luckily it served a legitimate purpose. This year's theme is collaborative music making, a commendable if somewhat unpopular choice of programming (more on that juicy tidbit later) and this DVD was highlights of coaching sessions given by faculty at UT-Austin including pianist and presenter Anne Epperson to a violin and piano duo. The video tracked the student's progress from first rehearsals to performance. The video was well done, well shot, and contained excellent teaching moments, but in the context of what should have been a live presentation the video was less effective than an in-person coaching. The best part of her video was the thoroughness of the execution. The ensemble was captured on video in coaching sessions with Epperson, the flute professor, a separate ensmeble coach, their dress rehearsal, and finally in the performance. Eastman's Jean Barr's coaching of a Szymanowski piece was captured in a separate DVD that was not nearly as well executed. The video had only two parts: rehearsal with Barr, and performance. The inability to track the progress of the duo and lack of extra ideas given by non-piano faculty meant that the outside viewer could not interpret the difference between progress through coaching and progress through extra practice time.

Part of the fun of a convention is gambling on which seminars you'll attend. I had no choice on the first and I guess on the second one poorly. The topic "How to Talk to a Tenor" seemed promising, co-hosted by professors Ann Harrell and Janice Wenger of University of Missouri-Columbia about how to improve communication between singers and pianists. The presentation turned into a series of weak music jokes, extremely basic ensemble information and even some misleading piano reduction advice. I'll leave it at that.

The choice of a vocal masterclass given by singer Karen Brunssen of Northwestern University and vocal coach and pianist J.J. Penna from Westminster Choir College in Princeton. I had reservations about attending a vocal masterclass but it turned out to be one of the best events of the day. Apart from picking up extremely good vocal advice from Karen Brunssen, J.J. Penna turned out to be an extremely refreshing pedagogical voice. In a musical world where pedagogues have a tendency to use technical solutions for every problem, Penna used musical decisions to solve every musical problem. I learned a great deal from his coaching, both of the vocalists and of the pianists. His demeanor was kindly but firm and all of the duos he worked with improved greatly over the short amount of time he spent with them. Karen Brunssen was hilarious and despite an over-reliance on rib expansion (which don't get me wrong, fixes a whole heck of a lot of problems) gave helpful advice in a way that amused students and put them at ease in front of the packed room.

J.J. Penna, new mancrush.
The first session of the afternoon was the highlight of my day. Elizabeth Buccheri, of Northwestern University and part-time conductor's pianist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera and a variety of other organizations gave a thrilling session on dealing with orchestral reductions at the piano. Covering topics such as issues with the process of reduction creation, the ethics (or lack of ethics) in playing a reduction, and general tips on simplifying a reduction to score study for creating a better accompaniment, Buccheri's lecture was amusing and packed full of useful, musical information. Her skills with score study and orchestral playing (here I mean playing as the orchestra) were remarkable and frankly intimidating. Her many years of playing operas, symphonies and orchestral accompaniments for conductors has led to a knowledge of orchestral repertoire and orchestration as deep as any composer or conductor. The level of work she puts into her reduction editing is admirable, and in the face of a music world that often goes through the motions, her commitment to a more musical creation inspires me to bring a new level to my own ensemble playing.

Finally, a recital of commissioned works by famed educational composers Robert Vandall, Eugenie Rochenorolle, and Nancy Faber capped of a good day. Nancy Faber's fabulous composition Curiouser and Curiouser for piano, B-flat Clarinet and Alto Sax was the highlight of the event, with a composition that successfully played with timbres, rhythmically complex motives and a playful Prokofiev-like melody that wound together an altogether un-educational sounding piece. Rocherolle's piece, Crescent City Connection, a playful New Orleans jazz romp for piano, bassoon, and oboe was enjoyable with a slow smoldering B-section offset by an upbeat Rag in the bookending sections. Robert Vandall,  a composer who I am extremely fond of seemed outside of his comfort zone with his piece Allegro Fanfare written for piano, trumpet and trombone. The piece, although intended as an educational piece, seemed to lack the depth and intention that Vandall's pieces usually contain.

It's a shame that I won't be able to attend the other days of the convention, especially because it would be nice to see my adviser, Reid Alexander, in action but I'm sure there will be future conventions that I'll attend, and hopefully present at.

March 23, 2011

Frederic Rzewski

For a long time, I had only ever associated American composer Frederic Rzewski with his epic, celebrated set of variations on "The People United Will Never Be Defeated". After turning pages for a friend who played his "Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues" on her recital, I became extremely interested in his piano compositions.

He's got it.
Hit the jump for the article about Rzewski including some sweet videos.

January 5, 2011

Album Review: Cee Lo Green's The Lady Killer

Let me first say that I hardly ever buy an album immediately after it has been released. I think the last time I went out and bought a CD the day it came out was You'll Rebel to Anything my senior year in high school. I actually drove to Best Buy in the middle of the day to buy it. I've also had release day deliveries of The Blood Brothers' last album Young Machetes and 7000 Dying Rats' Season in Hell. That's a whole lot of background to tell you that I did not buy Cee Lo Green's album when it came out last November. I'm writing a review now, after most people have already heard/bought/downloaded/torrented the entire thing already. I bought it on Amazon for $4 with a coupon. It was totally worth every dollar I spent on it.


Read the review beneath the cut!