So Not a Rondo

Right. It's my blog. Craig Ferguson once said that a book is like a blog only bigger. Well, I could write a book, because I have so many stories. So I thought I would wander cheaply into the world of blogging.

You won't be able to comment here. On the other hand you are probably here only because I posted a link to this page on social media - and THERE you certainly can comment.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Late Afternoon Stroll

It was actually just a little unnerving. On a casual walk last week, I was buoyed by a sense of contentment, enjoying being where I was. I was pleased with the evening, then realized it was neither evening nor just afternoon; it was a late afternoon. And those words triggered Simon and Garfunkel's "Dangling Conversation." I must have sung the entire song five or six times as I continued. It seemed like it must have been written exactly at this time with exactly this kind of ambience. So many phrases from the poem resonated so solidly: "still life watercolor," "now late afternoon", "shadows wash the room". the singer and the one to whom the song is sung are both reading poetry "your Emily Dickinson...my Robert Frost." I have always been struck by "bookmarkers that measure what we've lost." Imagine thinking of oneself as a "poem poorly written," or a couple being "couplets out of rhyme. And even more impressive, how Simon's music lends the perfect stillness to the duo's performance.

It was a very pleasant late afternoon stroll, I must say.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Christmas Hymn

It may seem a bit out of place at the Christmas Season to be reminded of the kinds of visions described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. It is even more so to hear these solemn words of Habakkuk: “… the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” Christian churches around the planet will incorporate many carols and hymns into their December services. Yet most are only somewhat likely to find the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” included as part of their December services. This carol, like the sobering 4th verse of "We Three Kings" (Myrrh is mine, it's bitter perfume...), offers a different tone than the cheerful, even triumphant Yuletide messages. Here the hymn writer brings us into the same Presence of the Isaiah and Revelation visions: “At His feet the six-winged seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye,/ Veil their faces to the presence,/ As with ceaseless voice they cry:/ Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!” So in the face of the overwhelming secularity of the Christmas season, “at this festive season of the year…it is more than usually desirable...” (apologies to Charles Dickens) to take time to let our “mortal flesh keep silent,/ And with fear and trembling stand;/ [to] ponder nothing earthly-minded,/ for with blessing in His hand,/ Christ our God to earth descends/ Our full homage to demand." The significance of Christ's arrival goes far beyond the helpless Babe. It is good to be reminded why He came: "That the powers of Hell may vanish as the darkness flees away.” These thoughts enhance my understanding of verses in other carols: "Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ Breathes a life of gathering gloom:/ Sorrowing, sighing. bleeding, dying,/ Sealed in a stone cold tomb." And why? “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”

This is music that has played a significant and enduring role in my musical aesthetic.

Tuesday, September25, 2018

Musical Influences

Bobby Darren’s only real hit record, “Goodbye, Cruel World,” dealt with a broken heart and the circus. It was one of the songs that, when it was popular, was SO popular that it played on my transistor radio all the time. It got in the way of so much math and English homework!

I knew virtually nothing music theory at the time, at least about its intellectual aspects, but I was forming my own theories as I intently listening to what was coming into my ears.

I learned the importance of parody, of borrowing familiar riffs and licks from other music to add to the setting of a song. The famous tune from Czech composer Julius Fucik’s military march, “Entrance of the Gladiators,” which later became the “screamer march,” “Thunder and Blazes,” arranged by Canadian composer, Louis-Philippe Laurendeau, became used so regularly, at a much faster tempo, than the original, in the circus. Of course, you may know it best when played on the fairground organs (the calliope): (dot dot da-da-da-da dot dot DAH dot, dot dot da-da-da-da dot dot DAH dot)

Important yet otherwise useless note: it takes longer to credit the music than it does to play it!

I learned the shape of melodies. “Good-BYE Cruel world…” The second syllable (BYE) of the first word is the highest note of the melody so far. Then, “a broken-hearted CLOWN” gets the next highest note. But “MEAN FIC-kle woman” is the apex, the apogee, the high point of the melody, and, indeed, of the whole song!

I also learned the importance of peripherals. (Can one work in the digital universe without the assembled peripherals on one’s desk?) Why would the record producer hire a percussionist at Union rates just to play a handful of pitches on the big kettle drums (timpani) when there will already be a perfectly good drummer on his traps sitting right there? Because the deep-throated sound of the kettle drum, unlike the more powerful big concert bass drum, lends not only a thud, but a pitched thud, to accent the determined singer’s plans. The drums put feet to the singer’s footsteps: out the door and headed for the circus.

In other words, I learned to listen to everything in music: the foreground, middle-ground, and background. I began developing an ear for nuance, for shades, for textures. It’s why I love contrabassoon solos in orchestral music. Who else can do what they do? In its higher ranges, the horn is of a MARKEDLY larger bore than its cute little forbears, and therefore capable of so much more resonance. The Contra’s key clatter is just a bonus for its comic moments.

Perhaps I missed my calling and should have joined the circus!

The Wayward Wind (September 10, 2018)

Going back and listening to Gogi Grant's 1956 version of "The Wayward Wind" is, on the one hand inspirational, and on the other, sort of "Huh?". The version I hummed yesterday had a "Bolero" kind of rhythm in my mind, but the original, as it turns out, is just eighth notes in pairs. Nevertheless, with the unidentified female "choir" breaking out with the clichéd sound of wind in the treetops and the rather "naked" French horn declamations of more heroic feelings, that underlying agitated rhythm served to plant that song in my mind forever. It seems to say that something bigger is afoot, that this isn't just a broken heart torch song, but a depiction of something inevitable, even if unfortunately so. While the recording lacks the kind of finesse that engineers brought to bear in the decades that followed, it still seems to have a larger than life sense about it. The horn seems harsh and brassy, sort of like an offensive Tweet, but it also seems important, meaningful, something that demands attention. The wayward inclinations of certain individuals is established here as a fact of life, and since such waywardness also brings sorrow, these inclinations are also tragic; they are as inevitable - and compelling - as calling the wind "Mariah." In fact, that's the problem with trying to use words to describe music. This was my first experience dealing with the inexpressible. As Victor Hugo once wrote, "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." 

"Silent!" More about that later!

Musical Influences (September 9, 2018)

I feel the need to explore the musical influences of my life. I feel that way partly because I am often surprised by the tunes that spring into my mind and out of my mouth, that hang around for so long, and sometimes won't go away. I also wonder how, and to what extent, they influenced the music I write. I think there's something to be learned, and I hope there's some truth to be shared among us all.

Just moments ago I started singing (quietly, to myself) lines from Gogi Grant's 1956 hit (Billboard #1 for 6 weeks), "the Wayward Wind." Why? Huh? WHY did I do that? Why did it crawl so deeply into my psyche, and into my soul, and come flowing out of my mouth as if it had some important message? Or was it pure nostalgia? It may take me a couple of days, but I will 
get in touch" with whatever associations may be attached to that song. I'll have to begin with where I was and what I was doing in 1956.

Yes. I was there. In 1956. My age at that time is represented by a single digit, but I was there! But...how much of the music I write - have written - has been influenced by that tune wafting around in the corners of my mind? Better yet, assuming that it surely did, in what way did it do so!

It may be a waste of time, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this; right here, in these digital pages. 

The American Way (September 7, 2018)

Let's say you're presented with a rare opportunity to do something that, while admittedly extravagant, nevertheless would treat you to one of the most memorable moments of your life, one such as rarely comes along. You know you don't have the money to do it and so you're just about to decline when someone nearby suggests you simply put the whole expense on your credit card. "It's the American Way," you're told.

Seriously? I would like to say it's unAmerican, but that would be a lie, wouldn't it? Our illustrious government comprised of PROFESSIONAL politicians has been digging holes straight down to the underworld for our offspring. We call it the National Debt. Recently I took a screenshot of the National Debt Clock. The figure is $21,453,201,867,638. Say it this way: $21 TRILLION DOLLARS. Isn't that magical? Is that even a number? Is the universe even that many years old?

What does that mean to ME? The National Debt per U. S. citizen is $65, 312. That doesn't sound that bad. How about I just pull out my credit card and...No, no, no, that can't be a good solution. Besides, that $65,312 is the amount each of us as citizens owes; the debt per taxpayer is $176, 104.

Irony alert! The average salary for Congresspersons is $174,000.

You see, I just can't figure out what the standard should be. U. S. Federal Spending is $4 TRILLION dollars, yet Federal Tax Revenues are only $3 TRILLION, a deficit of like $800 BILLION dollars. The government spends $4, but only takes in $3.

That's it! I'm IN! Starting today, for every $3 I earn, I'm going to spend $4. Why not? That's what Americans do. That's the American Way. Just ask your Congressman!


A Lesson from Uncle Bob (July 23, 2018)

I wasn’t even in my 20s yet when I worked for several months as a clerk for a stock brokerage firm. We had one whole floor of a downtown office building in the District of Columbia, but I was ‘way back in the back of the “back room”. My wages were low, of course, so I rode public transportation to work as often as I could. But sometimes, I didn’t even have enough cash for fares!

I once asked my uncle if I could ride with him. He was a technician for SCM and picked up and delivered adding machines and such that he would repair. I remember the smell of machine oil whenever he would pop the trunk of that Plymouth. He worked from company offices downtown but drove all around the area dealing with customers.

We’d start for downtown while the sun itself was still trying to figure out what day it was! We parked near Uncle Bob’s favorite greasy spoon for breakfast. That was his routine. Instead of eating breakfast at home and joining that mad rush hour nonsense, we were calmly sitting, talking over a good breakfast, visiting with other folks who did exactly what Uncle Bob did. It wasn’t that far to my office building, so we could be rather leisurely about it all. Of course, I’d have to catch the bus back home in the evening; he had no idea where he would be when at the end of his day and couldn’t promise me the return trip.

Uncle Bob would buy my breakfast, since my finances were the reason he was giving me the ride. But when I could I paid my own way, because the time with him and his friends was time well-spent. I somehow loved the fact that we had beaten the whole rat race and rush hour thing. It felt pretty good to be there with him those mornings. I remember thinking I should adopt the same philosophy wherever I ended up.

I don’t think we did it all that many times, but the memories are well-etched into my brain.

“Rat race.” The term just sounds like something everyone would – should – choose to evade at all costs!

Thank you, Uncle Bob.

July 9, 2018

I have to begin my blogging journey by telling you about a friend of mine, a former student with one of the sharpest minds I've ever encountered. I HAVE to tell you about her because she's the original author of the phrase "So not a Rondo." It's not MINE, it's HERS. Well, actually hers was more like "Sooooo not a Rondo," but that doesn't look nearly as good in print as it sounds out loud, "live" and in person.

I first heard the phrase when she was in Sophomore Music Theory at Wayland Baptist University. She and some of her classmates created a pretty special theatre piece for the class. At some point, when (obviously) the "cast" was discussing the form of a certain composition, she dropped that sentence - and I remember just losing it. It was one of those perfect lines at the perfect moment. I've never forgotten it.

It was almost as perfect as when, in a show called "Musical Mayhem," one of three students who were playing roles having to do with criminal justice (sort of), suddenly froze and asked the other two, "Wait. You didn't see LaFors out there, did you?" "La Fors? No." "*Whew* For  moment there I thought we were really in trouble." That not-veiled-at-all reference to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" powerfully coerced a fit of laughter out of me. It was hilarious. And (if I may take a moment just to boast a bit about my own intellectual capacities, seein' as how I'm about to denigrate them a bit!) I was the only one laughing. And that surprised the live actors who remained frozen, unsure as to why, after 5 other performances, someone was finally laughing at that line: someone - just ONE - but someone.

I laughed as much at "So Not a Rondo," maybe more because at least others got THAT punch line and I didn't feel so all alone and awkward this time!

I considered calling this page "So not a Blog" but, well, obviously it IS a blog. Then I thought about "So Not a Form" or "So Not a Formal" and then went much further into weirdness after that. So let's give credit where credit is due. Rachel's line is far more betterer than my brain can come up with. In fact she could no doubt improve on the grammar of that sentence betterer than me. Rachel, I hereby ("form"ally! lol) appropriate your intellectual property. Your intellect is so far superior to mine. I yield, and I confess: "Yours is the superior intellect." (Name THAT "veiled" reference, right?). You continue to prove it with your successes up there in the north. You go girl! I'm happy I got to share in your development in our discipline.

Finally, let it forever be noted that I am not above extolling the brilliance of brains that are greater than mine. And I apparently will gladly appropriate any brilliance that I believe could suit my own purposes, right?

Good Day!

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