Last weekend's sickness hit me pretty hard. My mind is full of ideas, resolutions, essays, motives, and plans, but I'm still in the process of recuperating and too weak to give everything the focus it deserves. It looks the like the few days of jump-start I had planned on will be pushed up to the beginning of the semester (on Monday). It actually got into the thirties here, so it's even too cold for me to walk over and do any practicing, and these snakeskin windows make it a chore to even get the temperature up to seventy, much less keep it there.
I think, then, that the best course of action will be to rest, read my music and history books, and watch movies until I feel better. The next update will be January 5th.
New Year's in Jacksonville: Part I of II
I'm feeling mostly better now, and ready to take on a new semester of composition and other enthralling musical ventures. I think I had some variant on the flu, and of course it came at a disappointing time. My friends from Tech, Scott, Wythe, & Nikki, drove down to Tallahassee on Sunday and rolled into town around ten o' clock or so. We got up for a leisurely breakfast of eggs and toast the next morning and were on the road for Jacksonville by 11:30. Scott drove the "party van" and I followed in my car, since we'd be heading our own separate ways after the game. Nikki's dad had secured us a room in the Navy Lodge at the Naval Air Station for $48 a night, which was tons less than the extortionist prices of the downtown hotels. I missed the Gator Bowl Parade and some downtown action for some much needed rest, but went out later for dinner. We ate at a local chain called Harry's, which easily had the worst Philly cheese steak I've ever had.
Restaurants definitely overcharge for their food these days. Because I don't eat much, I've never seen the logic behind paying ten dollars for a meal when you could get fast food at a third of the price. When I go out to eat, I tend to get the cheapest thing on the menu -- not because I'm miserly, necessarily, but because I don't think I could eat $10 worth of food.
New Year's Eve was spent at the Jacksonville Landing surrounded by millions of Hokies and locals. I think every third car on my trip from Virginia had Hokie paraphernalia adorning it, and the numbers just went up as the weekend progressed. By the time the game started, we must have had over forty-thousand fans in Jacksonville. At the stroke of midnight, Jacksonville put on a pretty decent display of fireworks over the river, with the usual gimmicks like stars and happy faces. For the finale, they set off long-burning fireworks down either side of a long steel bridge, lighting up the entire skyline for several minutes.
To be continued tomorrow...
I checked my grades yesterday and everything turned out nicely, as expected. I haven't gotten word on my history paper yet, but the final exam was like a slow pitch right across the plate (or a 1-2-3 spare, depending on your sporting preferences). Everything we studied ended up phrased and asked perfectly to match our prepared answers. On my counterpoint final project, I got bonus points for using "Deck the Halls" against "Fa-La-La" as a double-subject.
New Year's in Jacksonville: Part II of II
After sleeping in, we drove to the stadium and helped the local economy by paying twnety dollars for parking. At the stadium, we met up with Philip, his friend, Chris, Liz, Kathryn, and Kevin (pictures on the Photos page). We didn't get there in time to see Pre-Game, but apparently the Marching Virginians did their usual routine with the State of Virginia and the VT logo. The VT stands were fairly well packed, but the FSU side had plenty of bare patches which were never filled. FSU scalpers apparently had a rough day, with $40 tickets going as low as $5 a pair. At halftime, the MVs did a lackluster arrangement of Nature Boy and then the traditional Hokie Pokie which I got some good pictures of. They were followed by the FSU marching band, which I finally got to hear from far away for once. The only other time I'd heard them was on the field at the Sugar Bowl in 1999. The band was good if not spectacular. Unlike the MVs, they couldn't hide their playing deficiencies behind solid arrangements -- the MVs are lucky enough to have a single arranger do every arrangement for the band, and the arranger also spent many years as the director of the band. The FSU drum major had a laughable conducting style, but I bet he'd get a great boxing scholarship with his moves.
The game itself was exciting and close until the fourth quarter when FSU pulled ahead to win 30-17. There weren't any surprises -- the same quarterbacks getting sacked, and the same receivers dropping passes. Overall it was a fun game, although I hope Tech doesn't become the resident Gator Bowl team. Three Gator Bowls in five years is pushing it.
After the game, we all drove out to Jacksonville Beach in search of good seafood, but most of the restaurants were closed for the winter. We settled for a little restaurant near the infamous Sea Turtle Inn (where three generations of Marching Virginians have stayed for this trip, and the site of the January 2, 1998 2AM trumpet sectional on the Beach). Following dinner, we headed back to the Lodge to rest up for our respective trips home.
The next morning, I made it back home through sheeting rain by eleven in the morning. The others had left for Blacksburg soon after I did, but snow and ice conspired to keep them on the road until 4AM the next morning. I think there was a big-rig accident somewhere along the way. Snow also hit the Atlanta airport, and the friend I was supposed to pick up at Tallahassee Regional at three in the afternoon didn't stumble in until after seven. I spent the extra time there sampling the fine cuisine and doing an endless string of crossword puzzles. Since then, I've been resting, reading, editing scores, and watching old movies. Classes start tomorrow, and (for the sake of looking ahead) exams will be ending this term on April 26.
It's time for the first day of classes. Being the stereotypical grad student, I only have one real class today, Pedagogy of Music Theory II, which is supposed to cover form and ear training. It'll be taught by a different professor than the first section but should hopefully be just as interesting as the first semester.
I don't have any bigresolutions for this new semester. Mainly, I want to get at least an hour and a half of practicing time in daily, and block off a couple of hours a day to get back into a composing regimen. I'd like to work a little faster this semester, and have more to show at the end of the day. Last semester was technically an orientation semester, but I still think I could have done a little more than I ended up doing. I also still have three side projects that are on the back burners: the Ewazen MIDI transcription, the Augmented Fourth game update, and the PRIMA programming project.
"I only know two tunes. One of them is 'Yankee Doodle' and the other isn't." - Ulysses S. Grant
Today's a day for Fugal Writing and History of Jazz II. The second half of pedagogy should be interesting -- the professor has a completely different method of provoking thought and response than the previous professor. At some point today, I also need to run over to the bookstore and pick up the remainder of my books. I need to get a Burkhart anthology as well, as that was one of the few books I sold back but shouldn't have as an undergrad. My music textbooks tended to stay on the shelf of academia that all music students should eventually generate, but the computer science and math books weren't so lucky. Those overpriced pontifications of uselessly important theory rarely lasted more than a term before being sold back to buy the next batch.
While at home, I also came across my textbook for 20th century world history from a core curriculum class in 1997 that I learned nothing from. I remember setting the book aside so I could read it on my own when I no longer had to, and I've actually been reading it pretty steadily over meals since I got back to Tallahassee. I tend to do better with materials I get myself interested in, rather than materials other people push upon me. After modern history, I'm not sure what I'll study next, but part of my New Year's resolutions include constantly learning something that I don't necessarily have to learn (which precludes music fields by default).
I also finished up parts for the first movement of my string quartet, and started rough work on the second movement. If all goes well, I will finish this movement in about a month.
I spent yesterday evening with some friends who were studying for the Listening Exam, which is being offered again today. One of them had gotten copies of someone's personal study CDs, which had excerpts and high points from most of the music on the exam. The editing of the CDs was a bit overzealous -- excerpts were too short to really learn, and massive works were compressed to just a few seconds, according to the importance it was given by the student who had made the CDs. It's interesting to think that a future measure of acceptance and staying power for current composers will be such academic exams in the twenty-first century. Barring acceptance by the mass media culture, the main place our works will be studied and/or enjoyed will be in academic circles. It's also unsettling to think that I could spend years perfecting the details of a single piece, only to have it systematically pared down to its "essential" motives and phrases for the purpose of memorization and regurgitation.
I passed my trumpet audition last semester. One less thing to worry about for the future. As this semester gears up, it looks like I'll have plenty of free time for practicing and composing, although how wisely I use that time will always be in limbo.
"It's that damn Connor piece. Man, I hate that piece." - composer, on what future listening exam students will say
Fugue is shaping up to be a good and intensive class. History of Jazz seems like your typical undergraduate lecture class but the subject matter is interesting enough for me to read on my own. For some reason though, I always seem to forget about that class when planning out my day. The student clientele is an interesting mix of majors, non-majors, and grad students, which is a little overwhelming for the instructor. While he patiently tried to explain "what is a B section and why do I need it" to one student, the brown-nosing hep cats in the front row kept pointing out the alternate bebop influences in the aural examples.
I did the math this morning and discovered that I travelled roughly 3,900 miles in cars over the Christmas Break. That includes my trips up and down the Eastern seaboard, and scenic I-95 from Jacksonville to Boston. That's far too much road-tripping for any sane individual. Luckily, I'm not planning any big trips until I go back to Virginia for the summer.
I was listening to some music of the Dave Matthews band this afternoon. In my opinion, it's one of the few musical acts from the '90s with any semblance of musical talent and lasting appeal. However, I noticed today that I've never actually cared about the lyrics, which usually turn out to be overly trite on closer hearing. I listen to the band for its unique sound rather than any socially-conscious messages because they sound good, regardless of whatever the hell they're saying in a given song.
Kind of like Kansas.
Today, I read an article for pedagogy class entitled Epistemology and Procedure in Aural Training: In Search of a Unification of Music Cognitive Theory with Its Applications. Sometimes the tradition of academic wordiness for the sake of sounding smart pisses me off. People seem to directly correlate obtuseness with intelligence, resulting in dry, tortured prose that only serves to create a stuffy wall between the reader and the materials. I myself have engaged in this pastime, and there's no doubt that it's added a few points to my past grades. Perhaps my music would become more academically acceptable if I renamed Vanishing Point as A Systematic Attempt at Achieving Pandemic Harmony from Obfuscation Through the Joint Efforts of Multiple Solo Instruments. On a coincidental sidenote, the article was cowritten by a professor at the University of Kentucky who was my contact point for admissions and fellowships and such.
I finished Return to Wolfenstein the other night. It had excellent graphics and was fun while it lasted, but it was no big breakthrough in first-person shooters. It's one of those games that I may play again someday, but it's lacking in the lasting appeal of games like Starcraft, which I still play regularly five years after its release.
I still haven't played any spectacular, engaging games in about a year now. I'd considered picking up a copy of the latest "massively multiplayer" role-playing game, Dark Ages of Camelot, which is getting great reviews, but I just don't have the time to devote to an online pay-by-month game. Back in '98 when it first came out, I joined the Everquest craze for a few months, but stopped after realizing that it took too much time. Persistent online games are usually set up so that progress can only be achieved with constant and tireless playing. Although I did meet a few "regulars" to play with, my available time was so much less that I'd constantly be playing catch-up to them, which just wasn't as fun.
The Jam Miami CD which came out at the end of last year is really good. It's a series of live performances of Latin jazz in the Miami scene, with names like Arturo Sandoval and Chick Corea. There's a fair amount of gratuitous high notes on the part of Sandoval, but he's never played as tastelessly as Maynard Ferguson. The CD has some solid charts and performances, and some of the solo work is really excellent. I'm a big fan of through-composed jazz, so it's pretty rare that I find a combo setting or solo-saturated recording enjoyable. Of the small group recordings I've listened to, the only two that I really liked were Chick Corea's early fusion work and the Lennie Niehaus saxophone octet. Most other combos get caught up in their own importance and start talking to themselves in their solos, neglecting the audience. Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis are pretty bad in that regard.
"If you're in jazz and more than ten people like you, you're labelled commercial." - Herbie Mann
I think too much when I compose these days. Sometimes I yearn for the naive days of my youth where I could just write notes that felt right, without overtly worrying about craft. It seems that the obstacles between inspiration and the written score increase as you learn more about writing. You'd think it should get easier, the more you know...
I had my first lesson of the semester today and it went pretty well. I tend to compose chronologically: adding rough material on the end, while sculpting the material just previous to it to my satisfaction. Once new material survives long enough to be about thirty seconds from the end of the old material, there's a good chance that it's there to stay. My lessons work well in tandem with this approach, because Dr. Wingate gives good observations on the old material while helping to shape the roughness on the end. This approach makes successive lessons into a gradual refining process of my work, and gives me a clarified focus for the week following the lesson.
With my first undergraduate professor, I never looked forward to lessons. It got to the point where I'd finish works before the next lesson, just so I could say it was finished and not have to worry about incessant note-changing. It's probably one of the reasons I was so prolific as an undergrad. By the time I switched professors, I'd gotten into the habit, so lessons were usually a presentation of what I'd done, rather than a collaboration of what I was doing.
Man fainted, will be okay. Dogs watched. (from the "It's a slow day for news in Afghanistan" files)
"What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about." - Sir Thomas Beecham, on the third movement of Beethoven's Seventh
Another lively round of Fugue class this morning. I think I've had to exercise my mind more in a single Fugue class than all my other classes combined. In Jazz, after doing some Fugue work and reading the textbook chapter that directly mimicked the lecture, I took a nap. It was like the days of olde in Theory of Computation or Combinatorics and Graph Theory. I really think it's a mistake to have students of such varying levels of musicianship in a single upper level course. It just doesn't fit the "rubric" of a graduate level class.
I've almost finished twentieth-century world history book that I've been reading in my spare time. Now I've got to decide on another random topic to overview in my New Year's Learning Spree. I think I've narrowed it down to group sociology, learning to code in PHP, or the history of Australia. Any suggestions?
"Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands -- and all you can do is scratch it." - Sir Thomas Beecham, to a cellist
To me, Pedagogy class is a disorganized collection of tangents and anecdotal evidence. We seem to dwell too much on reviewing topics from previous classes, and this whole week has been given over to a couple theoretical articles that deserve about half a class each. We talk about the problems of the information-retrieval method of teaching, and then learn a continuing parade of specific tidbits and examples, as if by that same system. I think it may just be that the teaching approach used in the class doesn't mesh well with my learning approach. I like to see the overarching point of a lecture, or at least know that supportive evidence will eventually be tied together in a complete package. Last semester's course was taught in that manner, which kept me interested throughout. Now, the lectures progress in an "Oh, and by the way," fashion, so although the information presented might be good and topical, it just doesn't go anywhere.
Peril's Gate, the next book in my guilty geeky fantasy series arrives in stores at the end of the month, and work of all kinds will stop when it arrives. It's one of those series that I just have to read all at once, coming up for air 800 pages and a few days later. The problem with series like these is the waiting time between books. Unless you're reading historical tripe like Tolkien, chances are very likely that the author hasn't finished the series yet. I just hope the author doesn't die in a tragically freak tuna fish mishap before she finishes. Speaking of which, the next Harry Potter book comes out sometime this year, and it's supposed to be even longer than the last. Since Harry's now 15, there's also supposed to be more teenage lovey-dovey writing...
"I don't like composers who think. It gets in the way of their plagiarism." - Howard Dietz
I found out yesterday that the Music Department has decided to waiver one additional credit for the graduate assistants, which amounts to a refund of about five hundred dollars. There's still a reduced summer course schedule, and copies are still forbidden, but it seems like a step in the right direction. No doubt they got the extra money by killing off a few undergraduate saxophonists and selling some others into slavery. Speaking of money, Dr. Wingate's revised grant proposal was submitted yesterday, so we should know by March whether there will ever be an electroacoustical lab at FSU.
Back in the 80s, Luther Henderson, arranger for the Canadian Brass, arranged a three movement work titled The Well-Tampered Bach, with selections from the Well-Tempered Clavier in various jazz styles. Though it might seem sacreligious to some, here's an MP3 of the third movement, Dixie Bach, based on Fugue No. 2 in C minor, which we studied in class this morning (1.6MB).
Here's two news stories to renew your faith in human competency. Especially take note of the last paragraph of the second article:
"Actor's plaque mistakenly honors King's assassin"
"Surgeon operates on wrong side of man's head"
"Mine was the kind of piece in which nobody knew what was going on, including the composer, the conductor, and the critics. Consequently, I got pretty good notices." - Oscar Levant
It's Rush Week here on the campus of Florida State, so you see khaki clones with visors and ties everywhere you go. I've never understood the urgent need to belong to a fraternity -- paying annual fees to associate with a group of people and add a line to a resumé. When I was an undergrad, I never even bothered joining the various Honour Societies, and the only one I've even been associated with is Delta Mu, the non-service music fraternity coined on a whim by three anti-establishment performance majors to mock Delta Omnicron.
Speaking of Delta Mu, one of the three original members (the "Triumvirate") has an MP3 site containing several of his original guitar & vocal songs. They're all good stuff, and I've even burned a CD for the road myself. Others who've heard me play the CD have said that he sounds like a "laidback Dave Matthews". Give a listen at www.davidmcgarry.com .
I finally heard back from FGM where I work in northern Virginia, and it looks like I'll be heading back for another summer of high pay and tricky top-secret coding. It's interesting being something of a full-time employee that only works four months out of the year. Rumour has it that the company has gotten too big for its offices in Dulles and may be moving to some new location in July or August. Hopefully that will do something to reduce my sixty mile round-trip daily commute.
"After I die, I shall return to Earth as the doorkeeper of a bordello, and I won't let a single one of you in." - Arturo Toscanini, to his orchestra during a difficult rehearsal
I've added two more CDs to my list of reviews, both movie soundtracks this time. Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favourite Danny Elfman scores and is a really cohesive, unified affair, although it does go a little overboard with its predictable rhyming couplet scheme. Danny Elfman actually sings the lead role of Jack Skellington on the soundtrack and in the movie, which is also worth your time. I also like the music from Conspiracy Theory, even though it's entirely predictable and somewhat clichéd. It works well against the screenplay even if people don't consider it to be a serious musical work.
I had pedagogy yesterday. We don't learn anything by doing undergraduate ear training drills. The time wasted doing a single drill could be better spent with a discussion of how to teach, rather than constantly reiterating that "new teachers teach the way they were taught".
My upstairs neighbour got some sort of exercise-based video game controller over the break, evidently akin to the Nintendo Power Pad from the late 80s. He and his friend sound like a couple of fornicating hippos when they play, so I told them they could only use it between 10 and 6 during the day. We'll see how that goes.
"I'm told that Saint-Saéns has informed a delighted public that since [World War I] began he has composed music for the stage, melodies, an elegy and a piece for the trombone. If he'd been making shell-cases instead, it might have been all the better for music." - Maurice Ravel
I've decided to switch back to the Schilke 14B3A mouthpiece from the 15 I was experimenting with. Although the 15 gives me much better tone quality in the lower register, I lose some flexibility in fast passages and struggle with intonation in the upper registers. With the 14B3A (which I played for about three years as an undergrad), I retain a breathy quality to notes in the low register, but have much more confidence on intonation and notes in the stratosphere. Someday, if I ever go back to a medium large bore, I'll try the 15 again.
I read another article for pedagogy yesterday. This one wasn't as bad, but it was written by an author whose only arsenal was analogies and metaphors. He was hoping to "roll out the big guns on this one". I think music researchers spend too much time publishing and not enough time enacting the changes they recommend.
"Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." - Carl Sandburg
"A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it." - Thomas Beecham
There's no classes today, so I'll probably spend some time catching up on my composing, which slipped a little in productivity this week. This is actually the only federal holiday FSU allocates this semester, so I may as well enjoy it while I can.
This three article series that we had to read for pedagogy is a ridiculous waste of pontification. The original article, which I read on Saturday, was a rational comparision of three solmization systems: one fixed syllable and two movable syllable. By the end of his supposedly unbiased comparison, he was obviously advocating the movable systems over the fixed systems, with one system getting more adulation than the other.
The next article was jointly written by two advocates of the other movable system as a paragraph by paragraph rejoinder to the original article. Like kids in a sandbox arguing about whose dad could beat up who else, they took issue with the author's favourite system and proceeded to quote various passages to provide counter-arguments. Since they were apparently seeing things through a red haze, many of the arguments were unsupported, vague, or actually in agreement with the original article (but worded differently). I think my two favourite arguments were those that basically said "the perceived faults in our system are really just the result of stupid people who don't understand the system" and "music theorists are destroying our music students by emphasizing analysis over listening".
After this, Analogy Boy returned to the fray to defend his original article. Apparently, he wanted to take his flotilla of arguments and launch it from the anchorage of joint authors' harbour to show that they were sailing in the same direction. However, instead of providing any new information at all, he preferred to restate everything he said before in a quick introduction, and then spent the rest of the article brutally mocking the joint authors' short-sightedness and inability to understand complex issues through fantastic hypothetical situations and rhetorical statements. You could tell he was having a great time at their expense, but neither his article or the rejoinder provided any relevant information to the topic at hand. The whole thing reminded me of a flame war on Usenet from the mid 90s. Of course, we couldn't just read the first article for Pedagogy and call it a day; that would be too easy.
If you're in Pedagogy and you haven't yet read the two response articles, I'd imagine that you could have an intelligent conversation in class about them just by reading this News page. Who said this site doesn't have redeeming social value?
Alias was really good last night. I read somewhere that the creator of the show also writes the music. At least the show is good.
"Jazz will endure, just as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains." - John Philip Sousa
I found a practice room with a perfectly tuned piano yesterday evening. With most of them ten cents flat, finding a tuned piano is like winning the lottery, but without the subsequent monetary satisfaction.
I finally broke down and ordered a copy of Finale 2002, which is supposed to arrive this afternoon sometime. It's really ridiculous the way Microsoft has started the trend to release new versions of software on a yearly basis, with just enough modifications to be useful. Maybe on my next birthday I'll shave my head, add a letter to my name, and charge twenty dollars more per commission.
With Finale 2002 almost in hand, I think my next free-time project will be to read the manual from cover to cover to become an expert. I haven't actually read a Finale manual since they shipped the printed edition that accompanied version 2.0 back in 1994. Consequently, I probably don't do things the most efficient way. I do hate reading online manuals though; after wading through screens of text all day, nothing beats a paper copy for reference and ease of use.
You know, when I listen to the third movement of Beethoven's Seventh, I actually do hear the yaks jumping about.
"There is no doubt that the first requirement for a composer is to be dead." - Arthur Honegger
No Finale yet, because they decided to leave my apartment number off the shipping address. It's supposed to arrive today instead, along with an Amazon shipment including Peril's Gate and a wall calendar. Now maybe I won't be so chronometrically impotent. They're also changing all the locks in the building this afternoon. Looks like someone lost the master key again.
In my spare time, I've been playing Wizardry 8, the final game in a series that started back in the 80s. It's gotta an incredibly stupid and clichéd story, but it's fun, and has that cheesy retro-ambience quality of the old-school role-playing games. It kind of reminds me of Might & Magic VI on Ritalin.
It's supposed to get up to 80 today with sunny skies. I could really get used to this weather.
"Playing 'Bop' is like Scrabble with all the vowels missing." - Duke Ellington
My copy of Finale finally arrived yesterday, and it even came with a free designer-blue glass. I presume that if I drink out of it while composing, my work will be of a higher caliber. I spent yesterday afternoon printing out the user manual in its entirety. It will take about nine hundred pages (front and back) and a good deal of toner, but should be a great reference source for the future (as well as a much easier read for me). If anyone ever wants to borrow the hard-copy, just let me know.
Peril's Gate and the calendar arrived on schedule as well. I bought a cat-themed calendar because there was nothing else sufficiently manly or artsy enough to order.
There's something intoxicating about getting a brand new hardbound book of several pounds and seven hundred odd pages, especially when you know it's going to be good. This will sidetrack my other current reading assignment, The Muse That Sings, which I'll talk about on a later date.
Another pedagogy class yesterday. I think the main reason that it's ineffective as a class is that we're wading through tons of minutia and examples of the materials to be taught, but we don't discuss it from the pedagogic standpoint, or study the overarching premises behind the examples. It presents a splintered view of the subject from the outside, when we should be studying from the inside-out. The situation reminds me of the old S. Gross cartoon where several blind men are in an elephant pen trying to figure out what an elephant is through touch alone. They each give their conclusion ("An elephant is like a tree trunk." or "An elephant is like a long wiggly vine"), and then the final guy (who is kneeling in spoor) concludes, "An elephant is soft and mushy".
"If I had the power, I would insist on all oratorios being sung in the costume of the period -- with a possible exception in the case of The Creation." - Ernest Newman
We went and saw A Beautiful Mind the other night, wich turned out to be a really well-done movie. It stumbled into "feel-good" mode right at the end, but the rest of the movie was rendered extremely effectively. I haven't seen many movies since last summer, but there really haven't been many worth seeing. At some point I'll have to see Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, just because of all the hype. I also want to catch Final Fantasy sometime, just for the technical aspects of it.
I finally finished printing out the Finale manual yesterday -- it now resides in a pair of two inch binders on my shelf. I'm also about two hundred pages into Peril's Gate, which is just as good as I expected it to be.
American Taliban John Walker is going through the justice systems back in my hometown this week. I love how smoothly the search for Osama bin Laden became an excuse to eliminate an unpopular regime. As news reports continue to paint the Taliban as the opposition, it seems like more Americans equate beating them with retaliating for September 11. The mindset seems to be that "we've won because we beat the Taliban", and the original foe seems to have become a secondary concern.
"Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour." - G. Rossini
I'm slowly working my way through the Finale User's Manual. It's not so much for memorization as it is for knowing where information is and discovering things which can be done that I didn't know of before. The manual has always been comprehensive, but it's written with so many step-by-step instructions that you could use the product for a year without realizing that something is possible.
I've often thought I'd like to write a Finale plug-in, but I've never been able to think of a good task that warrants automation. Most Finale plug-ins fall into two categories: inane music generation tools for the creatively disinclined, and tools that eliminate gruntwork when prettying up a score. If I ever wrote one, it'd be in the latter category, but I probably won't write one anytime soon. Plug-ins must be written in C++, a god-awful programming language at best.
"I know two kinds of audiences only - one coughing, and one not coughing." - Arthur Schnabel
I've discovered an interesting trick to increase motivation for composing, though it only works if you tend to listen to your previous work a fair amount. Myself, I listen to what I'm currently working on when I wake up and before I go to bed, as well as other random times throughout the day, even if I don't plan on composing at the time. That way, my current work is always on my mind at some level, and I find that it makes problems a little easier to solve when I finally do sit down to write. I often find it difficult to begin a writing session, even though I do fine once I've actually stopped procrastinating and begun.
The trick is this: At the end of a composing session, add a measure or two wherever you've stopped. Make it the most musically deficient, incredibly stupid music you can think of; trite music that you would be ashamed of in a public setting. Then every time you listen to it, you'll be so embarassed at its ineptitude that you'll want to drop everything and change it. Making that change will put you in the mood to write, and get the ball rolling. It's worked well for me this week.
"The good composer is slowly discovered; the bad composer is slowly found out." - Ernest Newman
Yesterday, I started the arduous process of converting all my old Finale files to the new format. It will probably take a few months to get them all done, as I'm also remixing their respective MIDI files for the SC-8850 at the same time. Some of the files use fonts that don't even exist anymore, and many haven't been touched since I was using Finale 97. I also want to clean out my haphazard collection of old motives and unfinished threads that has been building up over the past eight years.
Last summer's project was the revamping of this website. I believe that this summer's project will be to create an MP3 archive of the MIDI renditions of every single work I've ever done for posterity's sake. With sound standards always changing, and some works still mixed for the Ensoniq Soundscape that went defunct years ago, it would be nice to have a CD archive of my early works, especially those that will never (or maybe "should never") be performed by acoustical instruments.
I was talking to Mark the other night about the need to make this News page, and the site in general, more interactive. The big limitation to adding a guestbook or message board is the lack of scripting support on the Virginia Tech music server. I don't use the FSU server because the Domain is over 100 megabytes already. Once I've settled down in a permanent location, I plan on getting a cable modem and hosting the site myself, which will allow me to program my own applications for user feedback. I may even bring back the message board I wrote so long ago.
Liszt's Les Preludes was on the Simpsons last night.
"He uses music as an accompaniment to his conducting." - Oscar Levant, on Leonard Bernstein
If I ever want to host the URI! Domain on my own, I'll have to think up a suitable domain name to register. Disney claimed a monopoly on all forms of the name "llamaboy" back in 1999 when The Emperor's New Groove was released, but they've never actually put a site at any of the locations. I guess cybersquatting is acceptable when it's a big corporation.
The essence of my second movement is finished now. All that remains is some tweaking of the proportions and fine-tuning of the transitions in the B section. This movement came out quite a bit faster than the first; subsequent movements tend to compose themselves faster because the first movement really limits the number of possible outcomes available. I'm going to start the final movement immediately and hopefully I'll finish the quartet before spring break.
By the way, the Finale 2002a update is available at the Coda website. The update itself is a whopping six megabytes, and the documentation updater is twelve megabytes.
I finished Peril's Gate yesterday afternoon, and it was worth the read. Since it's actually the third fourth of a four-part book, there wasn't a massive climax and lots of questions were left up in air. However, it did a good job of setting up the final section of the book which should be released next year sometime. The reason for publishing the parts separately is a practical one: if the book were printed in its entirety, the binding would be five or six inches thick, and a paperback edition would be impossible.
"Piano: a parlour utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience." - Ambrose Bierce
One of my pet peeves is instructors who use the piano to play examples but don't have the proficiency to do it without numerous repeats and mistakes. If the purpose of playing an example is to allow your students to assimilate music through a different sense other than sight, you're doing them no service by giving them a haphazard or improvised performance. Instructors who don't have the ability to play on sight (which there's nothing wrong with at all) should either use recordings, throw up a MIDI, or even practice before class.
I remember a theory instructor from my pre-college years who assigned a short composition to the class. When everyone finished their diatonic wonders the following week, they brought them in, anxious to hear how they sounded for real, with the instructor sight-reading at the piano. What followed probably did not compel many of those budding composers to appreciate their own work.
The Composers' Forum starts up again today for the first time this semester. It's a bi-weekly gathering of composers and interested innocent bystanders where various composers can present their past works. The Forum was new last semester, and so far it's worked out pretty well, drawing some outside music majors as well as the usual contigent of graduate composers. I think it would help to expand the influence of the composition department if we also had class-applied composing classes, and informal round-table looks at works in progress.
"Nothing is more futile than theorizing about music. No doubt there are laws, mathematically strict laws, but these laws are not music; they are only its conditions." - Heinrich Heine
Every night when I'm in the practice room, I hear some anonymous freshman trumpeter down the hall, practicing the same tired three measures of the Hummel trumpet concerto at a plodding, methodical tempo. He or she never varies from the strict tempo and notes, but just keeps playing it over and over again without any sign of improvement. It seems like many performers in the practice rooms recognize the importance of reduced-tempo practicing, but never actually exploit the opportunity to get better. Hopefully this trumpeter will either get better or give up sometime soon...
I'm looking for a nice, compact title word that describes an outlook on life where you just don't give a damn. "Carefree" isn't quite right and "happy-go-lucky" is too long. Any ideas? Send me an e-mail with the mail icon on the right.
Popup ads kind of piss me off.
"It's like being forced to undergo 'chemo' three times a week when you don't even have cancer." - student, on his MWF morning class
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