Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Professional musicians often face hearing loss

NBC News has an important story about musician hearing loss, this time about rock musicians.  The story today by Joel Aleccia (here) mentions particularly the danger of a particular instrumentalist playing next to another set of instruments, particularly percussion, often very loud.  Saxophonist Trevor Specht, of Lutherville, MD, mentions the problem of playing next to drums and cymbals.

Many rock musicians do use ear plugs.

Some instruments, especially percussion, require being able to play a particular combination of instruments, as in common in various groups, including classical orchestras (like in Mahler's Sixth with the hammer blows).  The range of instrumentation has certainly increased with modern music and the use of computers and very novel sounds and tones.

For that matter, DJ's, in smaller clubs, often turn the volume up way too loud, making the music screech.

Picture: "Pacific 231" (Arthur Honneger), maybe? (performance).  Also, try Alexander Mosolov's "Iron Foundry", which would certainly deafen workers so that consumers could enjoy music. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Some solo trumpet jazz music outside Nationals game today in Washington

I don’t know that a baseball game is quite the cultural event (a play or concert) usually on this blog, but I thought I would note that a female jazz player did quite a bif of improvising on a solo trumpet on Half-Street outside Nationals Park before the game.

The Nationals lost, 4-2.  In the second inning, a Nationals player, Danny Espinosa, was hit in the head (on a helmet) lay on the ground for a moment, but got up and stayed in the game. 

Later, the US Army Chorus, which had performed last Sunday at the Easter Sunrise Service, sung “God Bless America”.  It sounded like Reagan all over again (or maybe Kate Smith.
Brief correction and update:

It turns out that Espinosa was hit on the knee by the pitch and seems OK.  But Bryce Harper is out for at least two months with thumb ligament surgery. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunrise Service at Arlington National Cemetery; more interesting Easter music at FBC (some Stanford and Bax)

Today, I attended the Easter Sunrise Service in the Ampitheater of the Arlington National Cemetery.  Parking was at Fort Myer, off route 27, with a shuttle bus.  This experience brought back memories, of my own three months at Fort Myer and the Pentagon in the summer of 1968 during my own military service, covered elsewhere in my blogs.

There were two “musical selections” by the United States Army Chorus, a cappella. One was “I Cannot Tell”, a setting of the Irish Folk Song “Danny Boy” which became Charles Villiers Stanford’s Irish Rhapsody #1.  The second was a pre-Baroque “Alleluia: Today Is Christ Risen” which I believe is by Michael Praetorius.  The second hymn was of note, “He Lives”.  The same hymn was sung with guitar at Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas one evening in August, 1979 during which a woman claimed to be healed of paralysis.

The sermon (or “message”) by Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben, Chaplain of the United States Marine Corps, repeatedly asked the audience to respond “He is risen, indeed”.  Kibben referred to Communist Russia’s atheism, and seemed to allude to the irony that it had helped drive out Hitler and Nazism from a supposedly Christian Germany, an observation covered by Dr. Edward Hughes Pruden of the First Baptist Church of Washington DC (1936-1969) in a 1951 book, discussed in the “BillBoushka” blog, April 8, 2014).  This may have been an allusion to Putin’s aggressive behavior in many areas.

The Army Band and Chorus performed the “Hallelujah Chorus” that concludes Part II of Handel’s Messiah.  I have always preferred the Amen chorus at the end of the entire work. 

There was an interesting sight just before the service started.

Just outside the ampitheater, I noticed a touching encounter between a soldier and his police dog.  I've noticed that some dogs like the sound of human heartbeats, and can probably even sense the electromagnetic signals from the body normally picked up by electrocardiograms.  

I did attend the Easter service at First Baptist in Washington DC today. 

There was a brief prelude-concert with organ, tympani, and trolley chimes,  conducted by Neil Holliker. It started with J.S. Bach, “Is Thee in Gladness”, followed by and Aria by Cynthia Dobrinsky, and then “Spirit of the Living God” by Martha Lynn Thomson.  There followed a fanfare-like festive piece called “Shall We Gather at the River” by Michael Helman, not to be confused with the piano rhapsody called “At the River” by Timo Andres (covered here Feb. 24, 2013). Finally, there was a “Celebration Fanfare” by Charles Callahan. 

For the main anthem (“The Gradual”) the choir performed (with brass and organ) “A Hymn of Resurrection” by Gwyneth Walker, a loud and triumphant piece in C Major reminding one of Vaughn Williams in some of his more joyous moments. The Postlude was the usual Hallelujah Chorus of Handel.

There was also setting of Lowell Mason's hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", but with complex harmonization very close to that provided by composer Sir Arnold Bax in the triumphant epilogue that closes his Symphony #5.
The sermon, by Dr. Stan Hastey, discussed the books of late North Carolina gay writer and English professor Reynolds Price (“A Long and Happy Life”, “The Names and Faces of Heroes”) and his battle with an unusual spinal cancer later in life. 

The service also had a baby dedication for a family from Nigeria.  The extended family that appeared was very large and with women dressed in brightly-colored attire typical in the country.   Nigeria, of course, as a country, has gotten a lot of unfavorable attention in the news recently, because of religious divisions, corruption and security problems that have all politically exacerbated serious human rights abuses.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Lost Highway" is also an opera by Olga Neuwirth, based on the film of David Lynch

The now “classic” 1997 noir film “Lost Highway” by David Lynch exists also as an opera, composed by Olga Neuwirth (female, Austrian) with a libretto by Elfried Jelinek. The original film score had been filmed by Angelo Badalamenti. 

The opera can be played “free” on YouTube from this link right now, with one still picture showing;  it runs 93 minutes.  It can be purchased on a CD through Amazon (link) for $26 but requires hardware that can play “super Audio” SACD compatible which many CD and DVD players (even BluRay) may not yet have.  I checked mine and it doesn’t seem that I have it.  The publisher (Kairos) should issue the score on conventional CD (2 discs, 33 tracks) and make available for “Cloud” Mpg download on Amazon, if it wants revenue from legitimate sales.  I would have been willing to purchase it.

The style of the music is certainly expressionistic, and is almost “non musical” as it begins with subterranean groans.  There are plenty of surreal effects from the Webern world, like flutter-tongueing (sounding like a gurgle, reminding me of those days in the early 1960s when my father complained that I was “listening for distortion” in my records).  But it livens up, with many sharp chamber and brass passages, and sometimes will scream out repeated notes, like the famous “B” near the end of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” (which I did see in New York City at the Met in 1974).  This is about as atonal as you can get.
Some of the critical lines from the story are spoken, which does help the listener follow the high points, particularly when Pete Dayton is found in the jail cell replacing Fred Madison (about 32 minutes into the opera).  I love the line toward the end, “We have to go to the desert.” The reader can read the find details on the Wikipedia entry for the movie.  The buildup in the first half hour is mesmerizing, as Fred keeps getting videotapes of his activity at home with his wife, and then is teased by a Mystery Man in two places at the same time.  The idea of waking up in a different body, maybe barely possible according to quantum physics, certainly can lead to some areas of existentialism, applicable in my own writing, to be covered soon on my new Wordpress blogs.  (You can see the interpretation of Elijah Malmrose in the video above.) The very end is fascinating: fortissimo, but then dwindling back in guttural noises of the grave, as Fred meets his well deserved demise, perhaps “escaped”, but on the Lost Highway.  It seems to me that if “you” do something evil, you won’t get away from it that easily with an escape through fantasy.    

The opera was premeiered at the Finney Chapel at Oberlin College in Oberlin Ohio in Feb. 2007, and performed by Oberlin students at the Miller Theater in New York. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A little hymnology (after some fact checking)

Well, let me get the record “straight” on what I said at brunch and after church at an MCC in Fairfax County, VA today.
The last hymn was “In the Midst of New Dimensions”.  The title suggests something that could fit into NatGeo’s “Cosmos” series.  We can wonder if a Creator set up the laws of physics to work out exactly right for us.  But I got the composer wrong.  It really is by Julian Rush (reference ).

I was mixing the music (and memory by ear) up with the somewhat similar (in terms of emotional effect and style) “In a City Just Beginning”, by the Minister of Music and organist Lawrence P. Schreiber, composed in 2002.  The FBC, as I has covered, installed its new Austin organ in 2013.  It would be expected that this piece might be performed on it.  The hymn is in G Major, with a third verse in parallel G Minor.  The words were authored by former pastor Jim Somerville, now the pastor at FBC in Richmond Va on Monument Ave.  The words would refer to the city of Washington in the historical time before the War of 1812, when FBC was founded.

Today, at MCC Northern Virginia (near downtown in Fairfax City and two blocs off Rte 123, not far from GMU), the postlude consisted of a couple of variations for piano and violin on the Rush hymn.  I don’t know if Rush composed it this way for concert performance.  But it made perfect sense, as if a movement of a violin sonata.  

Hymnology was a big thing at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in the 1950s and 1960s, with the active music program which Dr. Pruden encouraged.  There were a lot of concerts, and later Alvin Lunde founded the Bach Orchestra there.  Another organist while a Peabody college student in the mid and late 1960s, William Evans, taught organ and brought modern French organ music (especially Marcel Dupre with that notorious “Cortege and Litany”) to the congregation, to the consternation of some people who just wanted old fashioned Bible hymns.  I recall that controversy while I was away at graduate school (at KU).  Later Mr. Evans worked at a Lutheran church in Baltimore, which was even more high church and ready for music education.  Not many people (including me) that the organ at FBC then had been built in the 1930s and had been brought over from the previous building. 

There was a member at MCC Dallas, Danny Ray, in the 1980s, who apparently had composed a number of hymns in widespread use.
My own favorite composer as for consistent contribution to hymn literature is British post-romantic composer Sir Hubert Parry (“I Was Glad”).  I like a little bit of harmonic complexity. 

Video: A curious bird, outside the church today.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Havergal Brian: "Gothic" Symphony. Yes, I'd love to see it performed live

Today, I played the entire “Symphony #1, ‘Gothic’” by British composer Havergal Brian, from a Marco Polo (aka Records International) CD set that I believe I bought at Tower Records in Washington around 1991.  The performance, recorded in 1989, is by the CSR Symphony (Bratislava) and the Slovak Philharmonic, conducted by Ondrej Lenard, with a large ensemble of different choruses and soloists from the Czech Republic, all done about the time Eastern Europe was falling away from the Soviet Union (almost the same time that the Berlin Wall fell). 
This is said to be the longest “symphony” ever composed, but it comes across as a set of two works.
Part I is a fully orchestral symphony in D Minor, in three movements.  The first movement (Allegro assai) is compact, fast, a bit blunt or even brutal, and clear in form with distinct themes and clear sonata structure.  

The mood is closer to that of Vaughn Williams in his most celebratory moments than to Mahler, to whom Brian is often compared.  The very end has rich modulations to finally end fortissimo on the Picardy D Major.  You can imagine Prince Charles and Prince William liking this music.  The slow movement (Lento) is somewhat pastoral, again evoking Vaughn Williams a bit.  The complex “finale” (Vivace) seems to rework some of the preceding themes (sometimes fugally).  It is about to end furiously and triumphantly, when the harmony turns abruptly back to minor for a “last chord”, and then there is a one minute D Major epilogue – maybe after Bax – which seems to be an connection to Part II.  So Part I would be a complete and satisfying symphony without this last “epilogue” or transition.

Part II, a church liturgical choral work, will shift the tonality to E, and take us into a different world, that to my ear sounds like a reworking of the mood of the Verdi Requiem, with a lot of dissonance and polytonality.  But in fact, it starts with a “Te Deum”, which actually ends quietly, and then is followed by a “Judex”, which will end triumphantly.  The musical effect is something like that of the Sanctus and Offertorium in the Verdi work.  The last movement, over a half hour, is the  “Te ergo quarenumua” more or less provides a “Dies Irae” and a comparison with the violent treatment by Verdi is appropriate. The music rises to several huge climaxes, often over crashing dissonances in the brass, and seems to literally explode near the end, over drum rolls, with brass and organ falling around.  The work could end with this, fortissimo, in E, but instead chooses end with a quiet Epilogue, which is a curious mixture of Mahler, Verdi, and Sir Arnold Bax.  
 The cello plays a theme recalling the opening of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, and then the choir sings a cappella, closing with soft, comforting E Major chords.  I don’t know of any major orchestral-choral work that ends a cappella.
The music is available on YouTube, I don’t know how legally.  Here’s the First Movement link. By itself, it sounds very “British”.  

If you want to hear this work live (just as with the Third) you probably need to go to Britain. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Amsterdam Opera and Ballet plays the "trademark" game, will present Gurre-Lieder

Apparently, trademark and brand matter for arts organizations, especially performance centers, and overseas.  In Amsterdam, the Dutch equivalent of our Kennedy Center will be known as the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, according to this news story.
The Center has an impressive schedule
In September, it will present Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder (reviewed here Feb. 22, 2012), and the Gounod Faust  (the Berlioz “Damnation of Faust” is covered here Jan. 21, 2009). I’m pretty sure that I have rented a DVD of Gounod’s Faust – some years ago; right now I can’t find my review. Who can forget the lilting aria melody at the end, and the chorus as Christ rises (some versions have the guillotine and coffin).

It will present Verdi’s Falstaff, based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in June.  I have an RCA CD of an RCA Italiana performance by Sir Georg Solti from 1964, a bit tinny.  Verdi has a way of making the fast, perpetual motion passages for orchestra interesting (even at the C Major lively conclusion)  This opera was a favorite of a friend nearby in Falls Church, VA who passed away at 69 in 2011 and who had built up one of the largest collections of classical music in the country.  

In 2015, it will present Verdi’s Macbeth (Jan 12, 2008 – Met performance broadcast to theaters, and Jan. 30, 2012, the BBC film of the Shakespeare play in a modern setting on PBS, TV Blog).

Lohengrin, the last “conventional” romantic opera by Richard Wagner, will be presented in November.  I have a Sony CD of a 1982 performance with the Bayreuth Festival conducted by Woldemar Nelsson with Peter Hoffman as Lohengrin, in this mythological tale.  The last act opens with the famous active prelude, and then the Wedding March (and this was “Will and Sonny Day” on the soap “Days of our Lives”).  The entire work does end triumphantly in A Major. 

The Stravinsky Firebird appears to have been presented in March of this year.  This is the one “romantic” (like Rimsky-Korsakov) ballet before Stravinsky moved to his “modern” style (Jan. 18).

Wikipedia attribution link for Amsterdam picture 

Update:  I did find my review of the Gounod, May 18, 2008.