The URI! Zone - 10/2001
It's always comforting to know that our major news organizations are up on their geography lessons.
I had the practice room without a doorknob today (different from the practice room with the bent metal, the one with the broken stool, and the one with the writing on the walls). Down the hall, I heard a freshman trumpet player going through the motions of learning the Haydn trumpet concerto. It's too bad you can't start freshmen on more varied, non-classical literature... wherever you go, there's always someone doing Hummel or Haydn.
I'd say that today was a successful day. Sometimes a little proactivity can be a good thing. I haven't had time to do serious work on PRIMA yet... it seems that I always come up with interesting projects just as the free time runs out. I have, however, updated my string quartet under "Work in Progress" on the Music page.
I also got a haircut today.
For some reason I find it highly amusing that the library CDs from the Classical and Romantic periods are scratched, broken, worn, or just plain missing, while the CDs of composers like Berg, Webern, and Schoenberg are in mint condition. I've only got about forty more works left to catalogue from my 125-selection Listening Exam list. Pretty soon the library staff here can stop giving me dirty looks for checking out so many CDs at one time.
"Oh books can be indecent books,
though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed, everything is lewd,
I could tell you things about Peter Pan
And the Wizard of Oz (there's a dirty old man!)" - Tom Lehrer, Smut
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is now targeting the Boy Scouts of America because of a merit badge given to members who exhibit a mastery of fishing, an activity PETA claims "[teaches] young people that hooking, maiming, suffocating, and killing [fish] is acceptable." To spread its message, PETA has begun running television advertisements calling on the Boy Scouts to retire its "Fishing" and "Fish and Wildlife Management" merit badges. "We say fishing is a violent activity, [because] fish suffer when they are impaled in the mouth and yanked out of the water," [Dawn Carr] said. "Kids should be encouraged to participate in other activities that don't involve killing fish."
I think I have both of those merit badges from my Scouting days a decade ago... Does that make me a horribly vicious person?
"Stephen Foster really irritates me [...] He writes these smarmy, nasty, little tunes [...] But it is a good example of a two-phrase period, blast him!" - professor, in a diatribe on the audacity of Stephen Foster, and the use of Camptown Races as a politically incorrect example of periods
Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes modern music just gets to me. This afternoon, we had a guest forum with freelance composer and FSU graduate, Stephen Montague. The lecture he gave was articulate, opinionated, and full of good information, but while I respect how well crafted his music seemed, it really didn't do anything for me on any level. As I glanced around the room and saw various students smiling or nodding with comprehension, I had to wonder just how many were faking it. The list of excerpts Stephen distributed was for a mixture of acoustical and electronic playback, often with a tape accompanying a live ensemble for sounds they can't replicate. He's also done off-the-wall commissions including a work for 1000 performers on the beach, and a work for claxton horn soloist and twenty automobiles. Though I haven't heard the works, I've always thought that ventures like those reduce the credibility of new music by emphasizing a gimmick over musicality.
Then again, I still don't stray very far from the bounds of functional harmony, so my opinion is definitely not the status quo of modern composers.
"It was horribly out of tune, but it was good enough for jazz." - professor, on his "A-B-C" trumpet
Last night was the first Composers' Concert and there was a surprisingly good turnout of over eighty people. Sadly though, much of the audience turned out to be undergrads in search of a quick and easy recital credit. Works by five composers were performed, and I will say that I really enjoyed a couple of them. It probably wouldn't be polite to give my full opinions here without sharing them with the composers privately first. I think one of the best things a composer likes to get (after good recordings of their music) is feedback.
One non-composer trait I will mention though, is performer gesticulation. While it's great for a performer to really "live" the music, sometimes body language can get out of control and go off the deep end. In my mind, a few choice gestures can really bring something special out of a piece, but looking like an intoxicated Muppet while performing is more than a little distracting, and usually ends up hurting the performance.
Anyhow, I think the first concert went over very well. I wish I could put a work on the next one, but I'll be out of town that weekend, attending the "Retirement Concert" of one of my undergraduate professors.
Having grown up in a strong band tradition, the music I compose tends to be strongly accessible -- definitely not esoteric by any stretch of the imagination. It's not that I hate dissonance and non-tonal music, it's just that I don't really feel like its the proper language for my voice. Writing music or telling a story in a language that's not your own is like walking around in someone else's underpants. I think there's far too many possibilities in tonality to be ignored, and probably won't change my mind until I've exhausted all of those possibilities. To me, studying contemporary music is more important for redefining the boundaries of dissonance in my writing, rather than introducing a whole new way to compose.
By the way, the Hokies beat West Virginia yesterday 35-0 on Mountaineer turf. The stereotypical attitudes of West Virginia's fans really make that stadium a horrible place to visit and play ball. I think Tech's made a good decision in deciding to phase WVU out as a "big-rivalry" opponent, and bringing in Pittsburgh in its place. For the first year in quite a while, the Marching Virginians didn't travel to Morgantown, but they will follow the team to Pittsburgh next month.
After almost a decade of putting up with defunct soundcard manufacturers and dubious wavetable synthesis solutions, I finally broke down and ordered a top-of-the-line Roland SC-8850 MIDI module, which should arrive sometime this week. I realize that MIDI is not the greatest solution in the world for music composition, but if you understand its limitations, it's an extremely powerful tool.
I'd talk about the latest air strikes on Afghanistan, but my uninformed opinion wouldn't contribute much. Head for CNN if you're interested in that sort of thing.
"I can't express how nice it is that sites that have nothing to do with the terrorist attack on America are finally stopping talking about it. It's immensely wearying to not be able to get away from the damn thing. We all know it's there, dammit. It doesn't need to be mentioned everywhere." - AJ the Canadian
I'm listening to Prokofiev's third Piano Concerto, and I have to say that I really like it. Of course, I'm biased because I listen to a lot of PRKF, but it really is an attractive, little package. Weighing in at just under a half-hour, it's got that characteristic Prokofiev charm, and hints at some American jazz influences.
Today's modal counterpoint presentation went off without a hitch, and there's no doubt that we wowed the screaming fans with our period rendition of Zarlino's counterpoint example on trumpet and steel drum. I expect the recording contract to arrive any day now.
I just picked up a library CD of Henry Mancini arrangements. What makes it unique is that it contains special arrangements of pop tunes from the eighties, like Thriller, Material Girl, and Every Breath You Take, performed by the "Royal Philharmonic Pops Orchestra" and conducted by him. The arrangements have the expected level of Mancini polish, but the orchestra just sounds stereotypically "white", the way the Boston Pops probably sounded at its inception. The things they tried in the eighties...
The problem with internet content these days is the scarcity of new material. All too often, I'll discover a great new site and spend a few days enjoying the old content and archived stories. Of course, there's never enough to last forever, and it's disappointing to hit the latest story or article, because updates on most sites tend to be few and far between. Even blogs have this problem to some degree, as I have the bad habit of reading peoples' blog archives in one sitting and then being out of luck in waiting for more.
If you're hungry for some fresh sites with big archives of good content, try a few of these out for size (they should be read from the beginning of their respective archives to really appreciate): The Cheney Daily (since 3/2001), The Seanbaby Probe (since 1999, possibly offensive to some), Sluggy Freelance (since 1997)
"10-08: They finally gave me Internet access from my bunker." - The Cheney Daily
I've never understood the fascination people have with making their cell phones play a melody when a call comes in. I think cell phones would be a lot less obnoxious if they actually sounded like real phones, and didn't make a garish effigy out of some classic (or not-so-classic) work of musical literature.
I'm still finding it incredibly difficult to get motivated in areas that I really have no interest in. To keep from having to study for my History of Music Theory test yesterday, I started and completed my entire modal counterpoint project which isn't even due until next week. I may be horrible at doing anything classified as "work", but the projects I do instead certainly benefit as a result. In fact, I made this website over the summer instead of rigorously studying for my music placement exams, and that seemed to work out well for everyone involved.
My new toy, the Roland SC-8850, won't get here until next week -- it's shipping from the manufacturer's warehouse in Washington state. For once, when they say UPS Ground, they really mean UPS Ground.
Another Friday rolls around... you can tell it's Friday because everyone skips class and all the metered spots outside my apartment are empty. It's a little shocking to realize that there's only about eight more full weeks until the end of the semester. A year ago tonight was a round of Thursday night football with West Virginia at Tech, which Tech won 48-20. Maybe I'm a traitor, but I hope Miami wins in the FSU game tomorrow... it will break FSU's home game streak, and make Tech look better when Tech beats Miami in the final home game of the season.
I went back out to Marshes Sand Beach this morning to take pictures of the sunrise, but got stuck behind a slowpoke on 319 and missed it by about six minutes. Better luck next time... I've put up the pictures that I took this morning on the Photos page.
On Thursday, a bomb-like device was found on the fifth floor of the Newman Library at Virginia Tech. It shut down campus for several hours and got everyone from the local police to the FBI involved. The bomb later turned out to be a hoax -- an extremely realistic replica filled with liquid soap. You can read the full story here in the campus paper , although the reporting in that paper has never been particularly good.
This was a good weekend in college football, with another Top 5 team losing, and Miami looking better (because Tech will look better defeating an undefeated #1 team). Even though the Hokies gave up way too many points late in the game against Boston College, they looked pretty good in the first half and won 35-20.
My computer's become pretty unstable from trying to rip so many scratched and marred CDs from the library. Although I love VisualAge as a Java environment, its database structure isn't great with frequent crashes, and I've already lost good chunks of code twice now. Because of this, I'm postponing PRIMA until I have time to do another reformat of the entire system...probably around Thanksgiving or Christmas time.
I think one of the main reasons I compose and do computer programming is because it gives me the opportunity to create something new. While sitting in History of Music Theory today, I realized how miserable I'd be if I devoted my entire life to different permutations of things that already exist, like theory and analysis. To a lesser extent, I think performance is included here as well, because I'd much rather create my own works than interpret someone else's. I guess it just comes with the territory of having a short attention span with anything I view as "work".
I've gotten back in the habit of doing crossword puzzles again; something I haven't done regularly since early in my undergrad years. I do the Washington Post puzzle over breakfast and the USA Today puzzle over lunch (online of course). If you know of any puzzles that are about the same difficulty level, let me know.
"A mnemonic I use is the phone number, 473-6251. I tell people that's actually a bordello in Miami. Students seem to get a kick out of it." - professor, on remembering the circle of progression harmonic motion
My new toy, the Roland SC-8850, came yesterday, and I'm really impressed with the sound quality so far. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of complexity on it, but even the basic vanilla samples sound worlds better than what I'm used to. Here's an MP3 sample of a MIDI theme I wrote a few years back, with the SoundBlaster Live and with the SC-8850 . I'll post more after I'm more comfortable with its operation.
History of Music Theory is such a dry topic.
Now that Florida has a reputation as the place to come to be bitten by a shark and to contract anthrax, tourism has dropped and there are budget cuts all across the board. All the graduate assistants received notices this morning limiting photocopying (they made copies for all of us), and most spending is frozen (my professor is still without the lab he moved here to start). It'd be a disappointment if Dr. Wingate decided to go elsewhere as a result of this latest disappearing money case, but I can't say I'd blame him if he did.
It might be an interesting proposition to contract incurable anthrax. I work much better on a deadline.
"When you go to the store to buy marmalade and there's a whole row of jellies and marmalades, what do you do?"
"Taste them? No wonder we've got an anthrax problem." - professor & student, analogies that don't quite connect
Some of the recent pieces on the Listening Exam list I've enjoyed so far: Josquin's Pange lingua mass, Franck's Piece heroique, Smetana's Die Moldau, Debussy's Preludes (Book I), Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Ravel's String Quartet, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto 3 and Sonata 7
"Not so much...": Ligeti's Continuum, Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, Berg's _____, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppaea
We played a Sochinski arrangement of Moldau on the marching band field in 1997. It's amazing how effective that arrangement was, when the original is such a lyrical and romantic tone poem.
My parents were in town for the day, so I took them down to St. Mark's to see the lighthouse and the assorted wildlife in the area. I've added those pictures to the Photos page, as usual. Now it's time to buckle down and start memorizing the names of useless music theory treatises for Monday's test.
The URI! Domain has finally hit 1000 verified visits today, only two and a half months after opening. Not bad for a cult-followed site...
I spent over five hours yesterday cataloguing ancient music theory treatises; time that could have been spent teaching inner-city children to fly, or better yet, time I could have been composing. No doubt everything I've memorized so far will go out the window by the time the test arrives on Monday. It's tough keeping a bird in a cage when the cage thinks the bird is a waste of time and space.
I've heard that the TC Williams football team lost 56-6 to Robinson on Homecoming. That's called losing with dignity... and other things elsewhere.
I probably did just fine on the history of music theory test this morning. Again, it's not that it's a horrible class; it's just that too much time is spent on minutia, to the detriment of the big picture. My composition professor likened music theory history to a long, dark tunnel. You start at one end with a dim lantern that allows you to see a little bit of what's written on the walls. You can spend a long time staring at one part of the wall, but if you don't keep moving, you'll never get to the end. Also, it's going to take more than one trip through to figure out all the connections. In my current class, it's like we have to study, memorize, and spit-polish tiny portions of the wall. Then again, maybe I just have less of a tolerance for it, not being a dedicated music theorist like some in the class.
My string quartet work is coming along nicely. I think I'm about halfway done now.
I signed up for spring classes yesterday. I'm planning on taking eleven credits-worth: Composition lessons, Pedagogy of Music Theory II, History of Jazz 1950-Present, and Fugal Writing Styles. I was a little disappointed that Dr. Spencer doesn't teach the second portion of Pedagogy, but I made up for it by taking Fugal Writing (which covers an elective requirement anyhow). He's a sharp teacher, and his dry wit makes classes interesting as well. I'll do better in History of Jazz than History of Music Theory, because I'm much more interested in the subject matter.
P.S. The Hokies are ranked 5th in the BCS.
"The 'whatever' will hit the fan, and we need to make sure the fan is running very slowly when that happens." - professor on the pitfalls of overexplaining figured bass symbols in basic theory classes
Next weekend, I'm flying up to Blacksburg to see the "retirement" recital of one of my undergrad composition professors, Dr. Jon Polifrone. It'll be good to be back in town for a few days; the weather is the only thing I don't miss about the place. I miss hanging out with the usual suspects, exercising at night without fear, weekend practicing in the empty Recital Salon, and the bacon at Schultz. I don't miss the Computer Science department, but there really isn't any reason to. I kinda miss the Marching Virginians, but I still think that a sixth season of it would just piss me off.
I miss my cat too. That cat is a "hoot".
There was a master class with Ellen Taafe Zwilich this afternoon and a few of my contemporaries played recordings of their works. I still feel like I'm in a "traditional harmonies" minority.
Today is the 20th birthday of one of my roommates from last year. Doesn't that cat look thrilled to be wearing a party hat?
I recorded the last of the works for the Masters level Listening Exam yesterday evening (the last work was on a CD three weeks overdue) and now have sixty-two hours worth of music to study and learn before the next exam. Luckily the exams are offered twice a semester, just in case you don't do well the first time around. Hopefully I'll do well enough to pass the Doctoral level as well, so I don't have to take it again in a couple years.
I'm considering putting Badinage on a composers' concert next semester, performed by me and a to-be-determined pianist. That'll require a second edition with a lightened piano part so I don't prematurely earn the enmity of local piano players. I thought about outsourcing the trumpet part to one of the local majors, but I think I can convey the piece best with the least amount of work, even if I'm not the greatest trumpet player in the Southeast.
That does mean I'll have to get the willpower to keep practicing for the next few months though. The things we do for art...
I finally got around to finishing the second edition of my marching band arrangement of Brick House by the Commodores. I'll pass it along to the director of the Marching Virginians when I fly up and hope that it works better than the current version. I've put a MIDI file of the piece up on the Music page under Arrangements.
The problem you have to watch out for with arrangements like these is that the band isn't always composed of top-notch musicians. A lick that I, as the arranger, found simple and straightforward could just sound bad in the hands of three Animal Science majors with home-whittled clarinets. When the audience finally hears the arrangement, they usually don't separate the band from the writing, so the arranger's reputation could suffer as a result.
My counterpoint professor didn't notice that I used "Deck the Halls" as a cantus firmus in my last homework assignment, but I got a 99 nonetheless. I'm such a musical geek; if this composing thing doesn't pan out, I can always go on the road doing modal vocal arrangements of popular melodies. What the world really needs is a Phrygian version of "Surfer Girl".
The second season of Boston Public starts on Monday. It's really a well-done show, even if the choir teacher can't conduct worth a damn. If you've never seen it, you should check out a couple episodes and see what all the fuss is about.
I'm still learning all the ins and outs of the SC-8500 that I got last week, and thought I'd post a couple new comparison MP3s. This is my Latin funk tune from 1999, One for Rosie, on a standard soundcard and on the SC-8850 . The files are pretty big, four and a half minutes each, but it's worth the wait if you've got the time. You can also find the MIDI file for this in Volume Two of the Music page, so you can see how it sounds on your own computer.
Professor: "Is there a place that students hang out these days?"
Student: "...the Chiefs hang out in the lounge, the 'players' hang out down by the lockers, the string players hang out on the fourth floor..."
Professor: "I see. So where do the weirdos hang out?"
Composer: "We hang out in the breezeway!"
The Virginia Tech Hokies lost at home against Syracuse yesterday. Highly disappointing.
I made a second edition of Badinage this weekend, with a slightly easier piano part. I've added a MIDI file and commentary to the Music page. I'm also considering reworking Loneliness for performance... I just need to find a good soprano.
"When you're teaching, try to get yourself into the minds of students, to the extent that some of them have minds." - professor
100% on my History of Music Theory exam. Not bad for a weekend's work. Right now, I'm catching up on my composition and tying up loose ends before my weekend trip to Blacksburg.
"'Cadential' isn't the most common word in student conversation. The most common word is 'like'. Isn't it fun sitting at the table with a younger brother or sister and having no idea what they're saying? It took me a while to figure out the word 'bad'." - professor, on defining theory terms for students
I have a lesson with Martin Ellerby tomorrow, a guest composer from England. I went to his concerto seminar this afternoon, and I really liked the sparse selections that he played, as well as some other recorded music of his that I own.
I really wish mayonnaise jars weren't so deep. Once you reach the bottom, you have to go spelunking just to make a turkey sandwich, and then the knife's coated with old mayo funk. A tube of mayo would be the perfect solution.
"Let's go on to the Mozart... the hell with Beethoven; he never knew how to part write anyhow." - professor, on clear examples of diatonic seventh chords
My lesson with Ellerby went really well this morning. He said I had a natural fluency, and that my next step should be the art of structure, balance, and placement -- things that aren't necessarily taught as much as they're discovered. We went through Badinage, and he made some very on-target comments about how to improve the piece's cohesiveness.
There's not enough good pieces of chicken in fried chicken boxes these days. There should be a white-meat trade-in program so I don't have to bother with so much dry stringiness -- Dark meat is definitely key.
Monday's Boston Public episode was definitely a good start to the season, if a little over the top. I'm glad they started a little ways into the year, so they didn't have to waste time directly introducing the new students and teachers. A "first day" episode would have been such an easy throwaway.
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