Program Note-oriety.

I was always quite annoyed at the ever-growing climate of pseudo-informative pre-concert talks and program notes in concerts spouting history trivia and detailed music analysis under the pretext of making the music in question ‘more accessible.’ I believe all it really does is make those overzealous audience members develop a smug sense of superiority to their peers, rather than a greater appreciation, as a large amount of music – especially the standard classical repertoire being played in such concerts – is perfectly able to be listened to without knowing that ‘the second subject starts in the relative minor of the subdominant,’ or that the composer was quite depressed at the time of writing due to the death of the family axolotl.

With an aversion to this in mind I prepared the notes from my 2010 Master’s Piano Recital accordingly: Giving neither meaningful facts or explanations, but rather an aesthetical rant… Complete with Sudoku puzzles because at times concerts are just plain uninteresting – a sombre fact many classical musicians have yet to come to terms with.

An End More Like A Beginning

8pm, 17th November, 2010

About This Concert:

Rather than provide trivial nuggets of information, such as what each piece is about, what to expect, when it was composed (if applicable), what key changes occur throughout, and what quaint observances make the above pieces (arbitrarily chosen) fit together in a nice program, I thought it may be more insightful to instead write down a few thoughts which have come to mind during the conception and gradual realisation of this concert, in a similar fashion to Ives who, in his Essays Before A Sonata, rabbits on about his aesthetics at length and relatively neglects addressing the actual content of the Concord Sonata (which contains “Hawthorne” and “The Alcotts”). In doing so, it is pretentiously hoped this can leave the temporal and abstract aspects of the music to their own devices, unfettered by pre- conceived expectations and forcing an audience to enjoy it on its own terms. Also, program notes are distracting. Granted, in boring concerts they serve as a kind of welcome refuge, with audience members passing time by searching for sentences they haven’t yet read properly. Ergo (!) perhaps a successful concert is one where no-one ends up reading the program notes at all. I don’t even really know if it is compulsory to provide them. So with this in mind, you will probably not find anything too informative here.

Reflecting on the concert at hand, I guess that nothing in it could be termed entirely ‘serious’ music, maybe with the exception of “The Alcotts” which nevertheless contains elements of Ives’s cynical humour with the intentional inclusion of ‘wrong’ notes (“What’s all this?” asks Rollo… NB: ‘Rollo’ emerged as a popular children’s book character, a creation of author Jacob Abbott. He was used by Ives as a figurehead of musical complacency.) Everything else is more overtly suspect from a conservative point of view, whether because of a close affinity with non-classical music genres, an intrinsic absurdness, or being infused with a deliberate intention to taunt and frustrate examination processes.

Rollo, a good little boy with an inquiring nature “who cannot stand up and receive the full force of a dissonance like a man” - Cowell

The latter is represented most by the interludes: their purpose is to provide changeover music while the stage is being set for the different ensemble combinations, and so they take certain liberties not consistent with a piano recital. They make no effort to defend themselves from the inevitable accusation “this is not piano music.” Yet as Hawthorne scholar Brian Way would say, it hints ‘at the existence of a universe that is more incalculable, more anarchic than that contained in the architectonic simplifications of art … and they imply a notion of art in which the grotesque is quite as important as the sublime or the inspiring’ (1982). But mainly they are included here because of the stage changes required.

A piano recital is, by definition, generally fraught with monotony and at high risk of lacking colour, no matter how brilliant the playing. I believe it was Franz Liszt who first coined the term ‘recital,’ to describe the new-fandangled concerts emerging post-1830-ish, where instead of musical evenings featuring an array of instrumental and vocal stimuli, a single virtuoso soloist occupied the stage for the entire concert duration. For those of you attending expecting anything like such an event, I applaud your aesthetical courage, but rest assured it is not necessary here. This is not a recital, but a concert closer to the earlier type, making good use of variety and innovation. Featuring not a single soloist, but five musicians, playing music or something close to it, or not like it at all. And especially refusing to adhere exclusively to the concept of a solo piano recital. It was not intended to be entirely consisting of American and Australian repertoire, but it is nevertheless, which is more a reflection on the creative and humourful spirit of these musical environments. (Also, to clarify, “humourful” is possibly not a real word, but it seems more appropriate than humourous in this context, and “light- hearted” seems too trivial.)

In dealing with technical aspects of Ives’s music, one is constantly faced with his own aesthetic principle, outlined for instance in the Memos: “It’s better not to … play every thing and piece and measure the same every time” (1973). Additionally, for a piece like “Hawthorne,” typical negative pianistic remarks associated with normal classical performance may actually be perceived as compliments, much to my teacher’s chagrin. Conversely, comments such as clear, accurate and polished playing are in fact criticisms in this context.

The title “CREDO IN US” is deliberately ambiguous as to whether it is pronounced ‘us’ or ‘U.S.’ hence the capitalisation.

The title of this recital comes from a description by the wonderful Ives scholar Jan Swafford on the closing few notes of “Hawthorne”: ‘An end more like a beginning.’ Endings and beginnings therefore play an important role in this concert, as they do in most things…

In summary, I hope you enjoy whatever it is that transpires tonight!

See you in an hour.

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Pinegolian

Have you ever wondered how far-removed pineapples are from traditional Mongolian cuisine?

I thought so: look no further!

No Explanation Needed or Provided.

Lets examine some common/potential/popular statements/misconceptions/ideals:

“Mongolia is a native home to pineapples.” False:

Geographical Displacement: The pineapple is native to South America.  Mongolia is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Using the map of antipodes, you basically cannot get two regions more further apart from one another.

“Mongolians found pineapples from overseas and cultivated them.” False:

Climate Discrepancy: The pineapple is a tropical fruit, thriving in the equatorial regions. Mongolia is high, cold and windy. Frost passionately disagrees with the pineapple.

A Yurt, two other Yurts, and Some Mountains.

“Mongolians traditionally went to extreme lengths to cultivate them in less-than-ideal conditions, including building sophisticated greenhouses and artificial sunlight.” False:

Nomads vs Bromeliads: Mongolians had a history of nomadic behaviour. Pineapples traditionally do not. Farming and producing a pineapple from scratch takes about 30 months of un-nomadic behaviour and TLC.

“Mongolians used them traditionally regardless, or at least pretended to.” False:

Style Clash: Pineapple is obviously a fruit. Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat and animal fats, and only rarely vegetables, A.K.A not fruits, and is heavily influenced by Chinese and Russian dishes.

Therefore Mongolian dishes should not really involve pineapple if you wanted to be remotely authentic. Furthermore, I have just now come across a segment in Wikipedia entitled ‘Misunderstandings’ in the Mongolian Cuisine section:

“Some restaurants in East Asia, Europe, and North America offer a type of cuisine called “Mongolian Barbecue.” Their staff will stir fry all kinds of ingredients (typically of East Asian origin) in front of the customer on a large heated steel or stone plate. Neither the ingredients nor the cooking method have anything in common with Mongolian cuisine.”

So there it is. It has now been proven that the pineapple clashes with Mongolia as much a picture of a rabbit (or bunny more accurately) with a bowl juxtaposed against this very topic does.

Please sir?

FYI: One cannot study music at the University of Mongolia.

Strumpy, Banjolike.

I am sitting at my desk. I am eating the porridge that I have made, but it is a bit bland. But neither of these things worries me in the slightest because I am listening to the music of Percy Grainger.

Once when he was teaching at a music camp in America he decided to form a student club called ‘Grainger’s Rangers.’ He was quite an athlete and the entrance test was to jump up onto a high stage in a single bound, as he proved could be done.

The problem with this concept however, was that musicians are often indoor-sy people and no-one there could achieve the feat. So he remained the only member.

Musicians: 'Because Vitamin D also comes in tablet form.'

I was alarmed that I could not find any reference to this story on the internet. Though I believe I read it in a book, in this day and age it feels like that if it cannot be googled, it does not exist. Hence this post. It has now been cemented into fact. Or folk lore. Or whatever.

There were no such issues finding Power Rangers sheet music en route however. *Frowns on Western civilisation*

Depiction of the Boston Tea Party, 1773.

Further to this argument, did you realise that we produce Vitamin D as a reaction to sunlight? As in we photosynthesise! Like plants. Good for the skeleton et al. However, the naked mole rat seems to spend most of its time underground, and is quite deficient in Vitamin D, but regardless is the longest lived rodent AND is highly resistant to cancer AND does not feel pain. They are fascinating critters! Go and read about them. You know they exist because they’re on Wikipedia.

Sibelius Syndrome

Dear Student Composers,

Learn an instrument. Please. I beg you.

An instrument according to our friends at Google.

I think that phrase distils the essence of all my lengthy and repetitious criticisms regarding playing new works by tertiary level composers. (Not of course that it applies to everyone, it’s just a general observation.)

Here’s a term: Non-musician student composers!

Come. A brief search on the interweb shows this topic has occurred before in human history. Alas, a thread inviting discussion on the trend of composers who aren’t performing musicians quickly denigrated into semantics about whether a composer was technically a musician or not. My faith in humanity just dwindled a bit. Never mind.

But as someone who has had an interest in student works, including actively seeking them out, I find the same cliche factors and tendencies, ironically to do with ensuring that their music is ‘different.’ This seems to mean removing any kind of association from Classical music. To start from scratch. Unfortunately this tends to have the same effect as teaching piano by letting the student pfaff around aimlessly for an hour without music to make them learn how to play on their own. How organic.

Pfaff.

Most disturbingly, possibly because of notational software, composers can sit back and put in dots without having to know or care about the realities of the instruments they write for, especially without regard to how difficult or easy what they have just written is.

A student composer loses my respect the moment they do any of the following:

1) In hearing musicians play their excessively awkward work badly, they have no clue if it was made up or not.

2) They give a meaningless instruction or a failed ‘advanced’ technique. “Pluck the string inaudibly”

3) The music written is excessively ‘copy and paste.’

4) Overly pretentious directions. Eg: “Tentatively like a harpooned whale” (Doubly so if they’re in another language. “Versuchsweise wie ein Wal harpuniert”)

A 'tentative' version of a great white shark. Made so by another (bigger) shark. P.S. I do not like the fact that this little 'tiff' happened quite close to where I live.

5) Notation is excessive and/or meaningless. Eg: Chords with lots of dots and accidentals that overlap for instance.

6) The writing is blatantly and consistently bad for the instrument. Particularly if it only explores a tiny fraction of it’s potential. It is true that many fantastic composers write/wrote awkwardly for instruments, and that’s the performer’s problem. But when a composer does it out of ignorance….

Ignorance is never a convincing excuse. Hence why learning an instrument would sort out most of the above points.

There will be times when the behavioural qualities of a punctured orca may be an appropriate direction, and in these rants I should stress that there can be a time and place for anything, but chances are if you’re still a non-musician student composer you won’t really be needing it until you know how just what a performer will think and do when they see your score. Perhaps the underlying problem is that as a student the dots only have to look good on paper and be argued in aesthetical rants not to dissimilar to this one, in order to make the composition lecturers happy.

Sigh.

Painting con moto et al.

I thought it may be slightly relevant yet self-indulgent to include here some paintings and such that I do from time to time. Maybe gradually though, and with explanations for two reasons.

A) To prompt me to do more painting in order to keep up with this.

B) To have more posts.

So here is the first instalment, largely at random:

 

The House of the Seven Gables. (2010) Ink on paper.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s relatively-well-known-in-America story: The House of The Seven Gables (1851) is well worth a read. But if you’re lazy/time poor and yet slightly curious you can read a synopsis here. Basically it’s about fundamental guilt and the Salem Witch Trials and whatnot. It’s not about architecture as such. A gable is the triangular part under the roof. You can see four such gables here. One can only assume there are three more elsewhere.

But you can do more than assume! Not only is the story loosely autobiographical, but the house itself actually exists! Hence the painting based on the following photograph.

Original Photograph

I had to read the story as background reading to my masters research (on Ives – the ‘Hawthorne’ movement of the Concord Sonata), and was just starting out experimenting in ink at the time. So it seemed more appropriate to use it in more of a landscape painting then the portraiture I’d been attempting up until then. Ink is not the most forgiving medium, but can be very effective at times, similarly to watercolours I guess. It is no doubt a travesty to be using it for photo-realism purposes, but I was pleasantly surprised on showing it to my piano teacher and his wife that they told me that their house was inspired by this style of…. house (abode for variation), from their visits to America.

Also, it was originally intended as a quick piece to let me ‘finish’ something as I had a couple of longer-term works to do at the time. Sadly it became evident it was also a bigger project than I had anticipated so I had to resort to the following, which was done in one sitting:

 

Fucia/Green Tyrannosaur. (2010) Ink on Paper.

Of course, this is not biologically accurate, as we now know Tyrannosaurs held their tails horizontally.

 

A more accurate, but less cheerful specimen.

But I am not so concerned as art is apparently all about expression and imagination. Is it not?!

Taxidemic!

I was about to launch into another rant, as I have been prone to do as late, when as I put the mouse into the title text box, the word ‘Taxidermy’ popped into my head.

Stuffing animals. Why not?

Apparently certain fish are easy enough to do-it-yourself.

Dr Harold T. Meryman of the Navel Medical Research Institute at Bethesda inadvertently caught and (simultaneously one presumes) inadvertently killed a bird (a cardinal) in a mousetrap baited with peanut butter.

Cardinals eat fruit, sap, seeds and insects.

Not peanut butter.

A cardinal that had never been caught in a mousetrap up to the point when this photo was taken.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that Harold froze and evaporated all the moisture from said bird in order to develop a new and easier almost do-it-youself technique for taxidermy – Freeze-drying.

Did you know that using this process you can then reconstitute the animal later simply by adding water?

Amazing indeed. And with unfortunate consequences should you have a roof that leaks, or enjoy storing your formerly living re-creations out of doors in full view of those playful young neighbourhood scamps. It is much better in that instance to have one of these:

Inflatable Giant Tyrannosaurus. I would appreciate one very much.

But on closer reflection I somehow doubt that taxidermy will ever become widely popular, no matter how streamlined the process is made.

Futility: uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result

Quite close. 😀

Monet-ary Deficit

What is wrong with this picture of the French wilderness? (Wild Poppies near Argenteuil) Specifically Monet’s impression of wilderness? I will tell  you:

1) Awkward Clothing: Clearly these people have not been trekking about all day in such full-bodied clothing, especially when it is ‘hot enough’ to carry a parasol. No one in their right mind would dress up so extravagantly to undertake any walk of substance. I bet they’re wearing heels too.

2) Location: As the house in the distance implies, they’ve probably travelled less than 100 metres from civilisation, whether it be from from their summer convalescence home, plush horse-drawn carriage or new shiny automobile. Probably on someone’s estate actually.

"Monsieur! We had the most splendid time out-of-doors this afternoon. We saw a bird"

3) Accessories: Obviously they are not prepared for lasting adventure. Instead of water, maps, backpacks and other vital supplies, they have chosen miniature umbrellas, of little use in the event of rain, and hats with a minimum of sun protection – liable to follow the wind at the slightest hint of a breeze.

Adverse weather conditions may in fact affect fashion.

4) Lack of Predatory Animals: No such wilderness would be complete without animals, and where there are animals there are always bigger and/or poisonous animals to eat them. To me, this landscape suggests no such presence of either. It seems perfectly safe, in an unrealistic way.

It could happen to you!

5) Landscape: Despite the gently rolling hills, it is doubtful that even the smallest of the children depicted will have to climb or even step over anything. It is a pleasant field. Too pleasant. Therefore I pity those poor Bourgeois souls, who have been given a false impression of what it is like to be out of doors. The scene is to wilderness what Nandos is to traditional Portuguese food.

Portugal

Impressionist's Portugal: Oh look I am now so very culturally experienced. Why ever do you not seem impressed?

Monet, and indeed the Impressionist movement in general – including Debussy – seem to exhibit this demented city-folks love of the ‘country,’ but this is as Ives would say manneristic – they don’t really get their hands dirty, instead bringing the rich trappings and comfort of the city outdoors with them. Why go out there then?

Moral: Real life – It happens.