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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra*--my latest public performance.

Hey all, Daniel here.

I'm going to indulge in a little shameless self-promotion here:.

I'll be performing the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by Danish composer Launy Grondahl with the Warminster (PA) Symphony Orchestra at William Tennent High School, Warminster PA, on Saturday, March 14, 2015, at 8 pm. Tickets are available online and at the door.

The WSO will also perform Sibelius' Symphony no. 2, and short works by Halvorsen and Alfven.  I'm having a great time playing with the orchestra, and if you're a music teacher, I understand that there will be a tribute to you--it is, after all, Music In Our Schools Month.

*--Launy Grondahl, 1924.

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night*

A colleague whom I've known since our undergrad days recently posted a Music In Our Schools Month meme, and added a few choice words in recognition of some issues he's having with the state of Music Education in his area. This was my response:

It's tempting to give an "Elevator Speech" answer to that question, but it deserves better, we both know that. From a music history standpoint, Jazz Band is as central to the music curriculum as American History is to the Social Studies folks. It may simply be a numbers game, Roger.  Band directors are putting their core ensemble, be it Marching band, concert band--whatever the largest number of kids is--in the class schedule in the hope of keeping it viable in the eyes of administrators.  

Academic demands have increased. More time and attention are being given to STEM and Language classes. The impression is that colleges want to see AP and Honors on those core classes. As a result, students, parents, and music educators are put in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between an arts class or no arts class.  When we were in high school in the 1970’s, we could take band and orchestra or band and choir during the same class week. There weren’t many of us who did, but we at least had that opportunity.  From a student body of 1000 at Holland (MI) High School, we had 150 in the marching band, well over 100 in four choirs, and 40-50 in the orchestra.  Some cross-over, but not a lot. As a music educator in 2015, you’re risking a lot to add to the curriculum, particularly at the secondary level. Adding Jazz Band to the class day could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your best players will become stronger musicians for the experience. On the other hand, you might not be able to stack that ensemble the way it should be because of class conflicts.  I had a 30-piece band at one of my last teaching assignments, playing well, doing right—only to have the principal say, well, these students can graduate early if they take this class, and kablooey, there goes half the group. My complaints fell on her deaf ears, and when I persisted I was reassigned.

Part of the problem here too, is that school administrations tend to have very narrow ideas of what a music program should be.  The biggest disaster is the concept that it should be all things to all people. It needs a central mission, a vision. Proverbs 29:18 says it best: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). Band programs wither and die, too, and it’s sad.

In an ideal world, where the elementary and middle grade feeder program was solid and well-supported, I’d do this for my high schoolers:

1)      Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band would be classified as Honors classes, where there are prerequisites, auditions, and high expectations. Concert programs would be created “Collegium Musicum” style, whereby a different era, composer, or geographic area (or other criteria at the teacher’s discretion) would be studied in depth each semester, much like a school’s theater department concentrates on a certain play each semester or season. Administrators would have to understand that they couldn’t arbitrarily put student X in the group “because there’s room”.
2)      Concert Band would be the core of the wind band program, out of which comes
a.       Marching band, out of which comes
                                                               i.      Auxiliaries (flags, rifles, drumline) and winter guard, all meeting evenings and weekends
3)      Chamber Music would include Rock and Jazz combos, handled as group lessons taught on a “pull-out” basis and/or after school, with regularly scheduled performance opportunities.


Unfortunately, it’s not an ideal world, is it?

*--composition for Concert Band by Elliott Del Borgo, 1978; also scored for full orchestra.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Still Crazy After All These Years*

I watched the last hour and change of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special. I knew it would be impossible for someone like me, who reveled in the antics of some of the minor characters--Dr. Jack Badofsky (Tim Kazurinsky) and Operaman (Adam Sandler) spring to mind--but there were palpable yawning gaps in what they presented.

I did enjoy the too-brief clips of actors breaking character, but they didn't show Debbie Downer at Disney World. Adding Jon Lovitz to the necrology was a weird but funny touch (He's not dead yet), and it reminded me that folks like Jan Hooks, Jon Belushi, and Phil Hartman were gone all too soon.

But the two moments that really gave me pause to reflect both involved Paul Simon, a performer who had graced the 8H stage at 30 Rockefeller Center many times over the years.  The first was Miley Cyrus singing "50 ways to leave your lover" sounding for all the world like Reba McEntire in her prime--but hardly my first choice to cover that song, especially given her stage antics of late.

The second, and far more poignant, was Simon himself, singing "Still Crazy After All These Years". Looking downright elderly--and I guess he's entitled, being 73 (but when do the pop stars of our youth gain the right to look their age?)--he creaked through the song, leaving out some of the high notes, but it was as though he had the presence of mind back in his early thirties to pen lyrics of such wisdom and strength that would serve as inspiration to the next generation of singers and songwriters. They've become timeless, along with Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages", Harry Chapin's "Taxi", and Dan Fogelberg's "Same old Auld Lang Syne". There are no doubt other songs like that, and I'll add them as I think of them--but I'm not the only one who knows song lyrics.  If you think of them, let me know.

Onward, SNL, to whatever the future holds.

Cheers.

*--Paul Simon, 1972

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Songs of Innocence and Experience"

I was advising a student this morning, and it reminded me of what a great opportunity music school can be. He was looking for Mozart piano sonatas, a typical enough request, in particular K. 331, which includes not only the well-known "rondo alla turca", but a delightful, lilting first movement. In some dusty corner of my brain I remembered an old promotional recording I'd received many years ago from the Eastman School of Music, on which was a piece by the late U-M composer William Albright, one Sleepwalker's Shuffle, the opening of which was based on the opening of that first movement.
My memory being what it is, I mistakenly told this young composition major that it had been composed by William Bolcom. He responded with the question I'd hoped for--'who's that?" So i took him through the story about how he'd won the Pulitzer for his first set of 12 etudes for piano, when in fact people were remembering his magnum opus from the year previous, "Songs of Innocence and Experience", a complete setting of the poems by William Blake, using everything from Reggae to 12-tone to (yes) cowboy waltz. If there was ever a 20th century musical version of "everything but the kitchen sink", this was it. (Bad joke alert). Bolcom was obviously saving the kitchen sink for Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise (no, really, this song really exists).
I was in Ann Arbor, and attended the North American premiere of the work, which featured Charles Holland, Leslie Guinn (cowboy music), and Richard Taylor(rock and reggae sections)--and that was just the baritone soloists! I attended the dress rehearsal, and I have a lot of stories, but I'll just make you suffer through one. Carl St. Clair, then associate director of bands, was sitting a couple of rows behind me, taking in everything.
This piece was a study in contrasts, and undoubtedly displayed Bolcom's dazzling talent in many different musical genres; There was a piece called "the shepherd", which started with rather noisy, menacing music, and just as suddenly stripped down to two violins playing ever so slightly off key, but unmistakeably a country waltz. I hear Professor St. Clair guffaw loudly, but the best was yet to come--as opera luminary Leslie Guinn steps up and, in his best semi-cowboy yodel, sings "How sweet is the shepherd's sweet lot, from the morn to the evening he strays". Gustav Meier (conductor/traffic cop for the performance) stopped to correct something, but the choir gave Prof. Guinn a rowdy cheer for decidedly stepping out of character.
I DO wish I didn't have to leave before the semester's over, but c'est le guerre..I've done good work while I was here, and I left a lasting, positive impression on nearly everyone I worked with. Yet. 
Onward...

*--William Blake, set to music by William Bolcom over the course of 25 years (1955-1980)..

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rebirth*

I'm in the third day of cleaning out a storage practice room/sorting through some of the personal effects of Dr. Hoyle Carpenter, late and esteemed Professor of Music at Rowan/Glassboro SU/STC.

I started to keep an excel file of the work I'd done, only to be told not to--making too much work for yourself, I was told.  So in the interim, I'm going to keep an informal record here, with the eventual intention of creating and publishing a paper or article.

So far--boxes and boxes of books.  You can tell a lot about a man by what he holds on to.

Dr. Carpenter studied organ music; Portugal; languages; organ construction; architecture; early music. Dr. Carpenter taught music theory, history, and perhaps composition.

FRIDAY: It's the end of the week, and I've processed a couple dozen boxes of materiel from his collection.  I'm feeling good about the amount I've done--and I hope the feeling is mutual. Time to bug out for  a long weekend.  Happy MLK Day, readers. I'll be taking my son back to college on Monday.Ordered his textbooks yesterday, not as big a hit as last time, which is good. Onward.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Changes*

When I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989, I was struck by the contrasts in the classical music scene.  One could perform in a group of just about any level, and some of them were quite good, even the ones at the community (amateur) level.

One city boasted four "professional" concert bands, including one whose recordings get played frequently on WRTI, the public radio station out of Temple University. Being a solid player at the time, I was flummoxed when the first question out of everyone's mouth was, "are you a union member?".  Since I wasn't, I didn't get work, even though I could play rings around most of the local talent. This probably stems from the union shop atmosphere in the region, who had lost the major employer due to union nonsense. It was immortalized in a song by Billy Joel.  Some in the area still haven't forgiven him.

2) The leader of one of those bands was also the personnel director of the local Symphony orchestra, which meant that he got first crack at wind, brass, and percussion players who auditioned for the ASO.

3) There were three local professional orchestras, all staffed by pretty much the same players.

4) The local chamber music society seems to think that only orchestral string players and pianists play chamber music, and that's all they program. To be fair, they do have a "special relationship" with a local youth orchestra (translation: the kids get 10 minutes as a curtain raiser for no pay), and they are having a brass quintet fulfill this purpose once this season.

5)  One of the local community choirs had a gala fundraiser recently with a world-renowned performer who has performed many contemporary pieces. Her program that night? Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on the first half, and salon-style, I-can-play-this-faster-than-you pieces on the second. Yawn.

6) One of the local colleges built a new (and admittedly very nice) performing arts center. The opening concert featured no less than the New York Philharmonic, playing Bernstein's Overture to Candide, and Brahms' First and Second Symphonies--well performed, I'm sure, but a program they could have done in a drunken stupor. The next two visiting orchestras played Brahms First and Brahms Second.  I called them on that nonsense in the local paper, saying that the audiences in that area deserved better. To their credit, they did respond to me, but they didn't take me seriously. They should have.

7) Most ticket prices are exorbitantly high and will likely remain so.
Symphony Orchestra--$19-$52/$10 for students
Choir: $35-$36/$9
Chamber orchestra: $25-$35
College theater: $15-$22/$8
Same college's summer theater: $33/$18
Private college symphony orchestra concert: $18
Private college band concert:$15/$5
Private college choir concert: $15/$5
Community theater: $20/$10

I'm reminded of the trend in professional sports towards smaller stadiums.  Fewer seats means higher ticket prices--and many of these groups play in relatively small houses.

8) The only public college in the region (actually about 30 miles away) doesn't have much of a music department.  The region's private colleges, on the other hand, have well regarded music programs, but again, ticket prices remain unaffordable for many.

So what's the solution?

It could be argued that failure to pay union scale or better will cause the best players to go elsewhere. It has happened, and there's no reason to believe it won't continue to happen. Grants are out there, but with every arts group competing with a seemingly shrinking resource pool, some will swim, but surely too many will sink.

David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Call*

Today marks one month since I started at Rowan University, and to say it's been a challenge woefully understates the case. I have learned to do so much in the way of original and copy cataloging, and have had my reference skills tested on more than one occasion (note to self: finish the 18 questions from Bob). It's less than an hour till I go home.  I've worked on a couple dozen pieces of music today ranging from Bach chorale preludes to the Walton Viola Concerto, cleaning up records and adding barcodes, and getting around the University infrastructure.  People are getting to know me--but when you're 6'4", you're hard to miss.

This month, I've:
--hired one employee
--fired one employee
--commenced training for the Music Library staff
--worked on various phases of cataloging over 100 items
--nearly completed the workstudy manual for the Music Library
--successfully completed weekly payroll duties
--assisted students in a wide array of reference needs.

Bob, my immediate supervisor, Jim, my predecessor, and Mark, his predecessor, have been remarkably patient as I discover how much I don't know, and have been able to get me to melt my iron will enough to want to ask for help.

I do enjoy working here very much, and whether I stay a year or ten will largely depend on how I handle the work.

St. Jerome, Pray for us!
SS. Cecelia and Gregory the Great, Pray for us!

Onward.

*--from Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906-1911.