Sunday, December 25, 2011

LDS Washington Festival of Lights concert:: the crowd was huge Christmas night

On Christmas Day evening, I visited the (“free”) 34th Annual Festival of Lights on the Washington Temple Grounds at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints just north of the Beltway in Kensington MD, website here
The forty minute evening concert (7 and 8 PM) was a Christmas carols recital by Todd Thatcher, with a Steinway piano, drums, guitar (or ukulele) and flute band. (Different artists perform every night.)

I had never been in the auditorium before, and it is impressive. 

The event started right at 7 PM with a two minute "Imax" short film on Christmas at LDS with the idea that "people are more important than things." 

The pianist seemed to be reading a “score” consisting of lyrics and chord instructions, but no staves.  I believe Apple Logic can print scores in this fashion. 

One of the carols was about Joseph, where he sings that he is not the father of his wife’s child, but the child will be his anyway.  This idea has always been controversial and stimulates many sermons.  I doubt the many kids in the audience could have grasped the psychological edge of the carol. But at one point Todd went over to the pianist and “corrected” him. I’ve never seen this happen in a public concert before, but I am used to the more formal behavior at classical concerts. 

The crowd was very large, and the Visitor’s Center scheduled another performance at 9 PM.  I was surprised that the crowd was so large Christmas night.

I also visited an international exhibit of Nativity art, and the line was long. 

There was one Christmas tree decorated with small paintings by a 19th Century Czech artist Mikolas Alem.  I wonder if there any possible relation to my father's family, which finally came over to the US in the 1880s as Baptist. 

The art work at the Visitor's Center will normally inspire a visit. There is one mural that seems to suggest extrasolar planets. 

Finally, I've always loved Facebook-blue Christmas lights (I have normal color vision).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington DC gives "Red & Greene" Concert for Holidays at GWU

We all remember the typical colors for holidays, and they overlap. Red and green for Christmas; orange and black for Halloween;  red or pink and white for Valentine’s; red, white and blue for the 4th; maybe yellow for Easter, nothing with purple (maybe Gay Pride Day – lavender).  You need to cover the Rainbow spectrum.
So this weekend, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC hosts its “Red and Greene” concert at Lisner, link here

The Greene is in fact soloist Ellen Greene, who alternates (singing with a cello soloist Stephen Erdody), the Rock Creek Singers, and the full 200-member male chorus, which donned many outfits, changing quickly. 

The highlights came in the second half. The GMCW sung “A Nutcracker’s Christmas” by Dan Goggin and Tom Sarsany, with eight nuns (echoing Broadway’s “Sister Act”, reviewed here Dec. 1).   There were some lyrics to the effect, "It's better [or "more blessed"] to give than to receive".  I can imagine what some of my Army buddies at Fort Eustis (back in 1969 -- but they more or less knew I was gay) would make of this.  At the end, there was a Winter Party – a White Party, literally, as to the uniforms – with seventeen dancers in mild gender bending.  The Party included a rendition of Lady Gaga's "Born this Way".

The number “Red & Greene” opened, by Marvin Hamisch and Rick East.

Christian Klilovits conducted.

At the beginning of the concert, three DC area high schools with students in attendance were mentioned. One of these was West Potomac High School, in Fairfax County, south of Alexandria. I've discussed my own experiences there on the main "BillBoushka" blog July 27, 2007 and the Issues Blog Nov. 14, 2010.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Baptist Church in Washington holds largest Christmas concert ever; Arlington Church performs Britten; notes on NYC "Sleeping Giants"

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 was a big day for church Christmas concerts.  And this year two concerts provided a valuable exposure to modern classical music.

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA presented the thirty-minute cantata “A Ceremony of Carols”, Op. 28, by Benjamin Britten (1942), for three –part female chorus. Soloists, and a big harp, based on a book of medieval poems, “The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems” by Gerald Bullett, in eleven sections (processional, recessional in Latin, nine poems in varying forms of Old English – more challenging than what we had to read in high school literature).   Trinity offered adult male voices from age 16-70, doubling the parts in unison, so the effect was to give the sound more bass and sense of mass.  The harp Interlude is quite substantial, like a piano prelude, a bit pastoral.  I think William and Catherine probably know this piece well, but I don't think it go selected for "The Wedding".

The minister, in a Children’s story, explained the significance of Gaudete Sunday, when the pink Advent candle is lit. This is a time when people may need encouragement, even of a personal nature, she said. 

At 4 PM today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC gave its largest Christmas Candlelight service ever.  The service ran longer, about 95 minutes, and included more music of a modern concert nature, certainly trying to attract the interest of the DC music community. 

The service opened with a first-ever instrumental section.  Dr. Lawrence Schreiber performed an organ “sonatina” called “Il est ne le devin enfant” by Marcel Dupre, ending in a majestic but conventional fugue.  (Remember that composer’s notorious and bombastic “Cortege e Litanie”?)  The Brass Ensembles and Handbell choirs alternated groups of familiar carols, mostly arranged by Jim Lucas.

The conventional carol service followed,, with "O Come All Ye Faithful" as the processional.  (I was ready for Sir Hubert Parry's "I Was Glad" -- really; It's loud, and virile!)  But it would quickly offer major highlights. The offertory was a piano solo “Noel Novelette” by Emma Lou Diemer,  performed by Lawrence Schreiber.

The Runnymede Singers (Facebook site), conducted by Cory S. David, performed carols by John Rutter  (“Candlelight Carol”) and Mark Miller (“Christ Is Born”). 

The Friday Morning Music Club Chorale  (link for club) performed “Sweet was the song” by Jay Althouse, and then some plainsong.   I recall the Club from piano lessons in the 1950s. 

The service closed with Deborah Miller, soprano, and the combined choirs singing the closing passages from The Christmas Cantata, bringing the event to a rousing (or perhaps rowdy) close.  “There will be dissonance, there will be polytonality, there will be constant tension in the music.”  The final fortissimo chord has a dissonant note in it. 

One year ago today, which was Saturday Dec. 11, 2010, I “Amtaked” to NYC to hear a pre-purchased concert in which Timo Andres performed his “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” (as I recall, sponsored by the Metropolis Ensemble). Today, I found his discussion of its relationship to Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” on a “Sleeping Giants” page at WQXR, here. The comment that Schumann was at his best with miniatures and wrote in “fractals” is interesting.  (An onion is an example of a fractal, isn't it?  But so is a tree.  Maybe self-similarity generates entire universes.) Schumann is not Brahms, he is Schumann – but he could turn on grandeur with big forms sometimes: the big Piano C Major Fantasy (yes, the March is a "miniature"), and my favorite Second Symphony (C Major) – not just the famous Romanza, but the telescopic Finale, which attains incredible grandeur at the end with very simple manipulations of a very personal theme (it was probably a song).  

My own mother, then 97, had gone into a Hospice the day before (Dec. 10) – but I made the Concert with a one day trip, the concert experience (overlooking Central Park, almost literally) becoming a kind of personal memorial. The closing of the Schumann #2, through the Hospice bedside sound system, with me there, was the last music she would hear.  She would pass away Dec. 14.  

I’ve gotten to know Timo's “Shy and Mighty” from the Nonesuch CD over the past year and a half, and I now think the work is really stronger if played at once, and that it ought to be choreographed.  A one-hour ballet experience with a two-piano suite in many short movements, all stylistically and philosophically related, makes real sense to me.   (No, there’s no part for a “Black Swan”, and it’s not quite a “Rite of Spring” – although Stravinsky’s ballet sounds very compelling on the piano, actually – as movies about it have shown.) This might be the best way to get it more performances, especially on college campuses, and outside NYC.   There are many small choreography collaborations around the country. I even remember, in ninth grade, that my chorus teacher had composed a piece called "Ballet Music" which she brought in one time and played for me.

Readers may enjoy this blog posting from June 2011, "Get Classical" -- discussion of doing both performing and composing (after introducing the "Ecstatic Music Festival").

Friday, December 09, 2011

"The Crucible", by Arthur Miller, presented by Washington-Lee High School (Arlington VA) in an emotional production

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA, from which I graduated in 1961 (old building shown below), presents “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller as its “fall play” this year in its new theater (in a new high school building).  It’s directed by Keith Cassidy.

The program notes discuss well the way the play presents, with a setting in Massachusetts in 1692 with the Salem witch trials, an allegory to McCarthyism which was in full swing in 1952 when Miller wrote the play.
It’s amazing today, when anyone can write and self-publish and self-produce on the Web (and the current bill in Congress SOPA puts that in jeopardy – see my “BillBoushka” blog), that people could be blacklisted from working in Hollywood at all if they didn’t confess “something” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and then “name names”.  The same sort of thing went on for years in the military with its campaign to pretend it did not have gays, even worse under “don’t ask don’t tell”, recently repealed. 

The production contained the usual four Acts (I think without the addendum near the end of the second Act -- ), and lasted about 2-1/2 hours with the intermission (which gave the presentation the character of two acts with two scenes each, as in opera). The "wide screen" stagecraft was extensive (plenty of crosses and nooses), and the acting (sometimes off-stage in balconies), particularly the “screaming”, passionate.  Most of us know the tragic end, where John Proctor (Jeffrey Warren) tears up his confession in order to avoid the public shaming for something he did not do.  The phrase “hang ‘em high” occurs (itself the name of a famous western).  The gallows come down in silence, but it is a kind of American Lynching.  Proctor’s actor is rather heavily made up for the final scene, with watercolors on his wrists to simulate blood.  A lot of cameras went up when he appeared for the scene.  I remember in seventh grade feeling uncomfortable about putting goo make-up on my hands for the innocent musical "The Sunbonnet Girl".

The chamber music score, by Connor Browne, is dark in tone, and contains a figure that reminds one of the slow introduction to Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.   I was ready for the Allegro.

The audience included many members of the Cappies (Aug 5, 2007, "Senioritis"); I'm not sure if they helped produce it. 

When I substitute taught a few years ago, I had an English class where the audio from the last act of the drama was played from a simple CD.  There are lots of discussions centered around moral abstractions.  In the play, I thought a caught a line about having to have permission to write about someone in a pamphlet (imagine that on today’s Internet). It also seemed as though the townspeople make other people’s marriages and relationships very much their business, much as in soap operas. 

There was a major film in 1996 from 20th Century Fox, directed by Nicholas Hytner, of the play, which I saw when it came out at the old National Amusements (now Rave) property in Merrifield, now gone.  Daniel Day-Lewis, so completely body-shaved earlier for “The Last of the Mohicans” (another history lesson) is Proctor, and Winona Ryder (of shoplifting shame later) is Abigail.   I wonder how much of the cast has seen the film (PG-13, just barely).  

Some kids (AviOnyx) made a spoof of the last scene (as another high school English project), emphasizing the significance of publishing Proctor’s confession (as if on Facebook in public mode).  I guess this is a “derivative work”. 

Arthur Miller lived to about 90 (until 2005) and was incredibly prolific as an author.  He was Marilyn Monroe's last husband, and appears as a character (played by Dougray Scott) in the Weinstein Company's "My Life with Marilyn" (reviewed on my Movies blog on Dec. 6).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Christmas pagaents: simple, homemade stagecraft and music making

Church Christmas pageants are not Broadway, but they’re still 3-D.  Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC presented, after the Sunday brunch, “A Living Christmas Card” as part of the “Family Life Christmas Program”, with murals of the manger, wisemen visit and shepherds, and a trumpet solo “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro A. Yon. 

Earlier, in a sermon “The Mountain Climbing Mandate”, pastor Jeffrey Haggray made an allusion to the film “Shame”  (movies, Dec. 3) by mentioning the libertarian concept of “private choices” as often made without empathy or social connection.

Later today, in Arlington VA, the congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 16h St (2nd Ward) and Trinity Presbyterian Church held a joint “The Sounds of Christmas: Carols of the Season”.  There was a puppet show as part of the children’s story. There were two musical items outside the usual Christmas carols:  the Combined Choirs sang “Night of Silence” by Daniel Kantor, and Trinity Tollers played (on bells) the Introduction to “The Ringing in of Christmas” by William Payn.

The LDS hymnal does not name music composers of the individual hymns, and many hymns, while familiar, seem to have fewer verses.   

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Sister Act": a diva "takes the hint" from a convent (Whoopi Goldberg's musical)

Broadway musical, as an artistic form, is different from plays and film in the sense that the music and visual stage effects take off on their own, in a kind of abstraction.  That can mean that eventual film adaptation won’t have anything like the stage effect.

It’s almost impossible to see “The Book of Mormon” reasonably, but “Sister Act”, produced by Whoopi Goldberg and Stage Entertainment at the Broadway Theater, also starts off delving into the ambiguous morality of religious conviction. The music is by Alan Menken, and has several songs that are very familiar, at least one of which commonly plays in (gay) discos and even shows up in Apple Loops.  The lyrics are by Glenn Slater and Cherri and Bill SteinKellner.  And imdb shows a film from 1992 from Touchstone Pictures and director Emile Ardolino with Whoopi as Delores. It does not appear to have the same music.

Now, on stage, Patina Miller plays the diva, who witnesses a mob hit accidentally and needs “witness protection”.  She finds it in a convent, where the Mother Superior tells her to “take the hint” (that phrase could have become a song) about her values.  That is to say, more than perform in life and even pay her dues, she was to go along with God’s plan and be prepared to sacrifice for others, according to a variable personal calling.

But the diva’s values become infectious to the convent, and the comedy takes off, and the songs soar as the sisters sing, accommodating their spiritual values with earthly happiness. Indeed, “Spread the love around.”  At one point, two “bachelors” (a gay couple – J. Edgar and Clyde, maybe) plan to “buy the church” – but they’re so pleased with the collections the diva generates that the church survives.  It gets its new building.  

The stage effects with the Virgin Mary (who seems a bit like a golden calf idol) and all the variable colors dazzle at the end.

Tonight, the theater was honoring World AIDS Day with a special collection. (The seats for the show are reasonably priced.  But $10 for a coke at concessions is just too much.)

The website is this

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Music lessons with Apple Loops

Well, here I go, giving myself “piano lessons” – not exactly. I’ve starting to go through the Logic Express booklet on the Mac before deciding what score-management system (Sibelius or Finale) to get to carry on with my own music.

Yup, you can have fun with Apple Loops, -- that is, “Apple loops audio files” and “software instrument Apple Loops files” and combine these with original material in almost any fashion. 

My main interest is in recording and more professionally producing my piano works, and at least two orchestral scores. I hardly think pre-mixed clips will fit into my own plans. 

I suppose that when one buys Logic, one buys the right (from copyright perspective) to use these pre-mixed effects and thematic elements – but it’s “amateur mixing” of music that has become controversial in the fight over piracy, even though it’s probably fair use in many cases where a derivative work is created that is very transformative relative to the original (like a variations and fugue on someone else’s theme in classical music).
Here’s (first picture) what the first effort looks like. I can hardly protect it.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon discusses Mozart's Requiem, and makes points about content integrity relevant to copyright and i.p. debate today

Today, at the Cathedral of Hope (A Congregation of the United Church of Christ since 2007) in Dallas, Rev. Jo Hudson spoke about the suffix “Thine is the Kingdom” to the Lord’s Prayer, but what was interesting to me was how she applied a similar concept from the world of music to her sermon. 

She gave the example of the Mozart Requiem in D Minor, K 626.  It still strikes me today as one of the most energetic and moving requiems, sometimes even more so that the opulent romanticism of Verdi and Berlioz.  Actually, the Cherubini Requiem in the same key makes a good comparison. 

She mentioned the completion of the work by Franz Xaver Sussmayr, to make the point that an addendum to original source of any passage of literature or music does not detract from the integrity of the original. 

 She mentioned the Lacrimosa as a favorite passage, but it does appear that considerable portions, especially the concluding Agnus Dei, were composed by Sussmayr.  In fact, the Mozart  Requiem, as performed, perhaps is the only Requiem to end triumphantly (although in many requiems the Sanctus and Offertorium are rowdy and end loudly).

In fact, Mozart’s Requiem was commissioned by a count to commemorate the death of his wife, and the particular count was thought to try to claim credit for the music himself.  In Mozart’s day, composers usually could not compose and get music published with commissioning or subsidy from others, and often had to please “customers” with their work.  All of this seems to feed into the debate on copyright infringement raging today (as with SOPA on my main blog). 

Another great example of a musical completion is that of Puccini’s opera Turandot, by Franco Alfano, which sounds pretty seamless (and also triumphant).  I saw Turandot at the Dallas opera in 1980, right after Reagan’s election. I still remember the night. 

The Cathedral of Hope service today did include a wonderful offertory of its own, the cantata “To the Ends of the Earth”,  by Lowell Alexander (words Steve Amerson)  with Paul Mason as soloist, with the Sacntuary Chorus and Orchestra.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Music therapy can be helpful to Alzheimer's patients

Today, in teaching a Sunday School class at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, a physician mentioned the value of music sometimes reported in improving the lives of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Kansas  (from which I got an MA in Math in 1966) has a study showing that patients otherwise regressing maintaining social function during music therapy sessions. Here is the Sage Journal abstract link

Here’s another piece on music palliation from Bryn Mayr College in Pennsylvania, link

Indeed, relation to music seems to be hard-wired into human genes: it’s the brain’s most important example of aggregating experience over time and creating emotion or sensation at the moment.

Assisted living centers and nursing homes often bring in musical performers, and this can be an important source of income for musicians (try this Facebook group). The tone of musical entertainment at the Jefferson (Arlington VA) when my mother was in rehab after a stroke in 2009 was quite light and comical, however. 

Music does not have to be that well-written or developed to stimulate.  I’ve noticed that in church services people will sing the same hymns in many verses, repeatedly, without becoming bored by the repetition.  That’s why sometimes it could be used for immoral purposes, as during the Third Reich (and the conscience of composers like Furtwangler and Richard Strauss could make for another blog post).

It was noted that only about 75% of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a staple of performed choral music for a century,  is actually Mormon. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

My D Minor Piano Sonata (1960): posted old manuscript posted online

As a step in reconstructing and rehabilitating the music I composed earlier in my life, I’ve uploaded by Piano Sonata #2, D Minor, composed at age 16 (around 1960), 27 pages, into Adobe image format, here.  It should be possible to view it on an iPad by page.

The Sonata is in three movements. The first is an “Allegro commodo”, d minor; the second is a Nocturne, Lento Placido, G Major; the third has a cadenza-like introduction in G Minor leading to a Rondo, D minor with episodes in B-flat and G Minor and a Picardy D Major, triumphant conclusion.  I see that I had blogged about this work Sept. 13, but I want to do a little of my own constructive criticism here.

In the first movement, the Development Section starts normally enough and progresses naturally through a variety of key sequences for about 26 measures, before turning violent and cadenza-like, hanging in oscillation between D minor and the dominant A Major for about 40 measures (although it varies tempo, from ¾ to 4/4 and even one measure in 5/4 before recapitulation.  Also, the opening measures seem like a reduction of the opening of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, as if to mock it.  Maybe that’s OK. I’ll come back to that.

The slow movement is in the subdominant G, a little unusual for a minor-keyed work, because it throws the second subject back to D Major.  I remember, when composing it, that I thought this was original, because so often composers go to the relative Major (here, F) too easily.

The introduction to the Rondo may seem rather conventional, but it is when I get to the Rondo itself that I have the most interesting problem. 

In Vivace 4/4 (really 12/8), there are two measures of a fugal subject in d minor, and then a switch to A minor to continue a fugal idea with a counter subject.  But experiments with Bach die here. Then I stay in an A major cadence here with the rest of the subject, sliding into a Hanon-like arpeggio structure.  But the rest of the opening subject (the next 12 measures) going from G minor through E-flat back to D minor seem logical enough.  The second subject (the rondo alternate) will become the big tune at the end and has a lot of embedded variety (I think there is a theme a little similar in the Tchaikovsky Concert Fantasy in G). When I return with the first subject, it becomes very abridged, and the second return of it morphs into a restatement of the cadenza-like violence at the end of the development in the first movement. 

Is this (letting the opening subject hand in the dominant key) trite?  A virtuoso pianist, dispassionate and cocky, could pull it off.  What appears to me now is that maybe I had a “duty” to continue the fugato. I could use this kind of harmonic scheme:  “ d d a a F# F# B Bg#f A f# a# A”.  But then the harmonic progression in the development section of the first movement ought to follow suit, so that the modulatory scheme matches the subject. Then, for the triumph on the coda finale, re-use this scheme, and come crashing down in D Major “FFF” only in the last two measures or so.  (I could also change the Rondo subject my simply alternating tonic and dominant, fugato style.)

I believe I performed the whole work, not fast enough, in the spring of 1960 to my second music teacher’s class in front of about 10 students, on her Baldwin piano in north Arlington.  I had a “girl friend” of sorts in the class who actually could make comments about the development sections – but I don’t think the criticism led to tonal monotony.  I think I played the second movement once in a recital (at a local church) that spring. With all my schoolwork as a high school junior (the hardest year), with a term paper on J F Cooper and Virginia's hardest US History teacher, I don't know how I had time to hand-scribe this manuscript. Did I do the work at the kitchen table, like I wrote term papers?  I don't recall now. 

My musical ear at the time was influenced by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s moody Piano Concerto #3, also in d minor.  That work tends to hang in keys for a while during virtuosity, particularly in the famous “ossia” candenza in the first movement, performed here on YouTube (link).   Readers may enjoy this musical analysis of both cadenzas.  At the time, I had the RCA Victor 1957 recording with Van Cliburn and Kondrashin conducting the Symphony of the Air, with the Ossia cadenza.  I didn’t find out that the lighter one was actually more often played (even by Rachmaninoff) until much later.  (In fact, the Ossia could almost function as a separate Op. 32 prelude, a bit like the concluding D-flat Prelude, which I did play in high school.) This evening I played a CD of a 1982 recording by Zoltan Kocsis with the San Francisco Symphony (Edo de Waart) on Philips, which uses the "lighter" one.

As for "hanging in the dominant", there are many other examples. For much of its first half, the Bach C Major 2-part invention is in dominant G. And some composers tend to overuse relative major when starting in minor.  The Chopin B-flat minor Scherzo has this problem, and actually ends in D-flat.  (Tchaikovsky solved that problem beautifully when he opened his first piano concerto with a favorite theme and got it out of his system.)

I have a manuscript of the 4 movement Third Sonata (in "C" major-minor), the first three movements composed in 1962, and the sketchier finale (in better shape than I thought) in 1974.  The finale needs one more theme to scoop up some momentum toward the end to justify its final outbursts.   I may post this work this way later.  But then I’ll have to get my work entered onto the MacBook, probably with Sibelius.
Automatic copyright  permission is granted for immediate downloading and saving of the manuscript for personal and informal use.  By the way, the PDF was created from a scanner at a FedEx Kinkos.  One employee told me she could not copy music (even my own), but I could do it myself on a scanner, which was slow. Another employee a different day was able to do it on a fast scanner as long as I stayed on the premises.