Sunday, July 29, 2012

A visit to a Southern Baptist church for personal history reasons; and some music pointers

I visited a supposedly “conservative” Baptist church this morning, the Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, VA (it has two other locations in northern VA and a variety of worship service formats).

My reason for doing so was to look up the church whose home health service had provided my mother’s care back in 1999 when she had coronary bypass surgery.  I’ve talked about the significance of this episode of my life on other blogs under my “conflict of interest” discussions.

The church has a complete symphony orchestra, which performed a set of variations on “Nearer My God to Thee: by Hogan.

The main anthem was Jane Marshall’s “My Eternal King” (with organ and chorus, but not orchestra), which I have already discussed here March 4, 2012. 

Back in the 1970s (as I best recall), the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC (often covered here) had a “Bach Orchestra” organized by its minister of music at the time, Alvin T. Lunde. Most of the music it performed in special concerts was baroque or earlier. 

The pastor, Dr. Jim Baucom, gave a totally non-political sermon, explaining how he saw “the Church” as arising out of the relationships among the members who form it, and he even started by saying (after taking a straw hand poll) that he didn’t believe in “organized religion”.  No presidential candidates (or any of their issues) were mentioned, but they both would have done well to hear his message.

I notice something interesting about the hymnal.  Many hymns explicitly showed a transposition up a half-step or a whole-step for a final verse.  It's not a practice that makes musical sense to me.  I didn't see any hymns by Hubert Parry ("I Was Glad"; "Oh, Jerusalem") in the composer index; other denominations have lots of them.  I recalled then another controversy back in the 1960s at First Baptist downtown, when it had a Peabody Conservatory student, William C. Evans, as organist (who actually gave organ lessons, including to me).  Some members then did not like the "modern" music played during offertories and wanted just "hymns".  Okay, maybe some regular hymns could use some polytonality; just not obvious transpositions.    

After the 75-minute service, there was a special luncheon ($6, Japanese chicken), and I was lucky enough to sit with former graduates of my own Washington-Lee High School.  I missed the 50th Anniversary Reunion last October because of an event the same weekend in Williamsburg at William and Mary, so today, I celebrated my own high school “reunion”.  Today’s events made for a very productive field exercise as well as worship.

The experience gave me pause to recall my own experience as a substitute teacher, in a music and band class that I previously discussed here on Oct. 17, 2008.

It seems to me that I did miss a real opportunity to “step up”.  How?  I could have told the class (sixth to eighth graders) of my own “stake” in music, for what it was.  I could have talked about the twelve years of piano, the Wednesday ear training classes held by my first piano teacher, until she suddenly passed away in 1958 (when I was in ninth grade) .  I could have even talked a little about composition – my hand written manuscripts.  I should have gone with what I had, which is really considerable.  I don’t know why I choked.  Or maybe I do.
 Last picture is Baptist World Alliance in Falls Church, VA.  The Columbia Baptist Church is listed online as part of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Undiscovered Worlds": planetarium show by Whoopi Goldberg doesn't give much details about possibly nearby "earths"

The National Air and Space Museum runs a Planetarium Show “Undiscovered Worlds”, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg ("Sister Act"). The experience examines the history of discovery planets in other solar systems. 

It fist shows a “hot Jupiter” revolving at close distance around a star similar to the Sun, discovered in 1995.

It then looks at “super earths” or rocky planets.  It shows a super-Venus with surface temperature of 4000 degrees, and then presents the star Gliese 581, just 20 light years away, with several planets.  It says that the farthest of these planets may be in the Goldilox zone.

There is some controversy as to whether that last planet really exists.  Since Gliese is a small red dwarf or M class star (they don’t mention that), all of the planets are probably tidally locked, facing the same side all the time to the star.  On a nearby planet, the dark side might be warm enough for life; on a distant planet, the sunlit side might be suitable, and in between there would be a twilight zone annulus with the mildest climate.
An extraterrestrial civilization could colonize all of these planets, with different environments, setting up bizarre political problems.  

The link for the 30-minute show is here

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Church guitar concert about King David; Church Civil War exhbit

Today, on Sunday morning, after resting my ankle from a stumble in a disco last night, a couple of quiet “events”:

At the Clarendon Presbyterian Church, in Arlington VA, the Rev. David Ensign mixed his sermon with a guitar “concert”, called “David’s Dance Party”.  The message concerned the controversial story of David and Michal.  David had to prove his worthiness to Saul, in order to take a bride, by taking a particularly intimate part of the bodies of the Philistines – something that would sound “adult” today. (I don’t know how explicitly Carl Nielsen covers this in his stunning opera “Saul and David”, which I have on Chandos and which ends with a volcanic musical explosion.)

The story between David and Michal gets complicated when she arranges his escape, and later David, somewhat insensitive to her faithfulness and love, dances almost nude on the street, impressing both men and women.  Perhaps this episode in the Bible anticipates the movie “Magic Mike”, or perhaps it even foreshadows today’s gay discos (the dancers).  And yet all of this followed the rituals that honor the Ark of the Covenant.  There’s a good “about” reference on the story here

 Sounds like it would make a good modern opera for one NYC’s young composers today to attempt.
And as much as David was motivated by the politics of blood lines (and he probably could see where it would lead some day), there is a lot to say about his love of Jonathan, as here

After the church “concert”, I visited a special exhibit at Mount Olive Methodist Church, nearby in Arlington, “Civil War: Living History Event”.  Much of it demonstrated a field hospital and tent city outside.
 Indoors, there was an exhibit of medical equipment used on the battlefield.  No photography was permitted, but the instruments (needles and saws) looked much too big and unsanitary for medical use. 

"Arlington Now" has a story about the exhibit here

Indoors in the Church, in the basement, there is also a photography exhibit of young people building or fixing old homes (for the elderly?), such as a picture of siding being replaced with manual labor and elbow grease.
 As if all this weren't enough, I encountered a new "mini Farmer's Market" on McKinley St, near the Post Office, Wells Fargo, and popular Westover Market. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Avid makes confusing statement about its commitment to Sibelius (music software)

The company that owns Sibelius software, Avid, has put out a confusing statement about its sale of M-audio, and of its “commitment” to Sibelius, the music software for which I forked over about $1000 last spring.  The statement refers to reducing the size of a corporate location in the UK and presumably downsizing of staff.  It sounds to me like the corporate "public relations" ought to be out on the hangman's plank for cuts. 

Is Avid pulling our leg, or is this press release just an example of poor writing?  We don't need emulations of Jonathan Swift.  I don't need more reminders of high school English literature!

The statement link is here

There is a Facebook page for Sibelius here

Good holding companies leave their component staffs alone. 

By the way, I don’t need to take the time to hear that lovely passage from the Sibelius Symphony #7 every time I open the product.  The excerpt is wonderful (this was an important work to me my high school Senior year), but you can tire of it every single day. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Andres has more compositions based on "trade"; more news from FBC; composition process

NYC composer Timo Andres has posted a few more of his compositions online for listening. I thought I would discuss two or three of them.  His basic link is here. Note his metadata page, which lists some other interesting contemporary composers, like Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, and particularly Nico Muhly (the score for the film "Margaret"). 

Trade Winds” (10 min, for clarinet, string quartet, percussion and piano) is a ground-bass composition, a sort of chaconne, more or less built around the “circle of fifths” concept, with a curious, comforting, Ravel-like effect.  The rhythm seems to be quadruple most of the time but sometimes alternates into triple.  You can look up “chaconne” in Wikipedia and read about the theoretical difference between chaconne and passacaglia, which has become less important since I took piano in the 50s.  The piece was recorded in Saratoga Springs at (apparently) Skidmore College

Timo has another chamber piece with a similar name, “Trade Secrets” (6 min), which premiered in NYC this spring.  The title is curious since it is an important legal concept that I’ve blogged about elsewhere.  I hope the site will offer than piece soon.

I also listed to “Chamber Music” , 13 min, a set or variations for two violins and piano, apparently recorded at Yale.  The variations become more like the original theme as they progress.  For some reason, this called to my mind the palindrome in the last movement of Hindemith’s Horn Concerto, of which I have (packed away) an old Angel recording performed by Dennis Brain in the 50s.  The generic title has precedence in the concert world, as with Bela Bartok's rowdy "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta".  Or try Arnold Schoenberg's eclectic "Variations for Orchestra", Op. 31.  A middle school chorus teacher back in the 50s played for me her piano composition simply called "Ballet Music". 

Timo has a couple of YouTube videos from Fortnight, “The Beginning” and “The Middle” and “End” andwhere he explains how he composes, and talks about the Chopin Scherzo #3  as an inspiration.

The videos that will follow shows how he works with the computer and software (Finale? ; doesn’t look like Sibelius).

In “The End”, Timo discusses why many of his pieces end quietly.  (A major exception is “Flirtation Avenue” in “Shy and Mighty”.)  He says he likes the ability to respond to an “event”.  The piano, of course, cannot sustain a concluding fortissimo as an orchestra can, since it is percussive – an observation which calls to mind the perplexing way that Dvorak provides a “diminuendo” on the very last (brass) chord of his New World Symphony, an effect I’ve never understood.

(For a complete performance of the Chopin on line, try Martha Argerich on YouTube, 2000, Carnegie Hall here).
Here’s some more news: The new organ console has arrived at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, and it will be installed on the right side of the chancel after some major construction in August.  The Church is also setting up a memorial room for its late sound engineer (for 50 years), Charles Hailey Jr. (“Chip”) who suddenly passed away (at age 69) in late 2011.  I’ve known Chip all my life and earlier in life I often visited his home in Falls Church and listened to samples of his even larger record and CD collection, which I understand is available to the Falls Church public school system.  (His favorite piece: Liszt’s “Battle of the Huns”.)

Chip also recorded my playing my own "Third Sonata in C" in a DAT tape in 1991, on a grand piano in the Chorus room (or maybe Youth Lounge) at FBC in Washington.  I could not really play it well, but I am now working on getting it coded into Sibelius.  The first three movements were composed in early 1962, when I was home from the William and Mary Expulsion (discussed elsewhere on my blogs), and before I was a “patient” at NIH in the fall of 1962.  My father was recovering from a mild heart attack supposedly caused by the stress of the “expulsion”.  There is a theme in the slow (third) movement that reflects his reaction to these events.  I sketched the finale in 1974, while living in Bound Brook, NJ and traveling a lot for Univac, just before moving into NYC in late 1974 (right after Nixon’s resignation due to Watergate).  Recently, a second chorale theme has come to me, which will conclude the work (very loudly, with no response).  The theme has a remote resemblance to the opening of the Chopin A Major Polonaise Militarie, but harmonically goes off in a very different direction, avoiding simple reflexive (and trite) rhetoric.  (There’s also a similarity to a trick in the finale of Rachmaninoff’s fourth piano concerto.)  I find myself playing with modulations, over the tritone distance between F# Major and C Major.  (Elgar did the same thing with the keys of A-flat and D Minor in his first symphony.)  The interplay is not that of tragedy or lament and triumph, but more playfulness turning serious and finally triumphant.   D’Albert does this brilliantly to conclude his first piano concerto, and we all know the examples of the Rachmaninoff Second and Third Concertos. I start out the finale with a natural fugato-like play theme that seems to develop itself and then rather rains itself out, before the chorale idea is first introduced, with immediate modulations.

Update: July 17

WQXR in New York has a program mix by Timo Andres soon, "Music for an anxious and materialistic week in Brooklyn", details here. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Capitol Fourth, 2012, close-up (from the living room)

Today, with a slight ankle sprain (were I a subscriber to Natitude, it would cause Davey Johnson to scratch me from the lineup), I stayed a home, “cheated”, and watched a Capitol Fourth (hosted by Tom Bergeron) on PBS. And that was without cable (which is still down to my home because of a wayward tree limb), but with an emergency RCA digital antenna from Best Buy. (Guess what: old master antennas in 50s houses don't work, either.) 

The height (or best highlight) of the "presentation" came quickly, with John Williams (whom I did not realize was New York born – I had always thought he was British) conducting his own Olympic Fanfare (5 min).   I didn’t know that John Williams had also composed music for Sunday Night Football (NFL). Being at home, I could check the key (of the fanfare) on the Casio (C Major). Apolo Anton Ohno introduced America’s Olympic entrants.

Matthew Broderick sang from the Broadway musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (no, haven’t seen that one, but numerous others)

Javier Colon honored disabled veterans (the projected video showing the injuries was disturbing).  Phillip Phillips (21), American Idol winner, sang some country just before the climax of the concert, the usual Tchaikowsky 1812 close.

There’s an advantage to staying home – you can see the performers on stage up close, and you can see the fireworks much better.  One of them looked like the Crab Nebula.

The PBS descriptive link is here.

I've always wondered who decided which artists to invite to the concert. In 2004, I was there, up close, when Clay Aiken performed. 

This morning, on a crutch, I did make it to a local pancake breakfast, a join gathering of a Mormon stake in north Arlington VA (with full power restored) and the Trinity Presbyterian Church across the street.  The Mormons were in a large majority, and many uniformed members of the Boy Scouts of America (with a lot more discipline than in "Moonrise Kingdom") were there for the flag raising and National Anthem played by solo trumpet. There was a six-minute “sermon”, which stressed the idea that national identity and outcome means a lot on top of personal performance in life.

P.S: Made an early morning ("The Fifth of July") visit to Barrack's Row, Ted's Bulletin (of interest to Nationals' fans  -- whole families with children were waiting to be seated this morning; I ate at the counter), and particularly the Marine Barracks (8 ST SE Washington DC), where the Marine Band could be heard rehearsing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (Louis Lambert, 1863).