Friday, June 17, 2011

First Discussion for my Online Summer Jazz Appreciation Class

So, with a summer session class on the books I'll be working this summer. Since I'm pretty bad at keeping up with the blogging I'm going to cross post the discussions from that class here for all to see.

Here is the first......

Hi folks -

One of the great things about a music class is that we all walk into that class with an idea about the topic. We ALL listen to music regularly - while we clean the house, cook dinner, drive to work or school or hang out with friends. This isn't like astro-physics where we walk into the class complete blank slates with regard to the topic.

We know something about music - we know what we like. But do we know why we like it?

That's what this discussion is about. What do you listen to and why? Don't default to, "because it has a good beat" or "because it sounds good". Try to dig deeper.

To that end, I'll go first...

What do I listen to? Well that is a loaded question. I listen to Eminem, Duncan Sheik, Ben Folds, Van Halen (early stuff!), Bjork, Imogen Heap and countless other things. And that isn't counting jazz and classical music which I love and adore as much as my children...

OK - that was over the top, but you get the point.

I listen to a lot of jazz artists, the usual suspects, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus to start with. But I also listen to a lot of guitarists - like Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, Jonathan Kreisberg (who I brought to CSUB last year for a killin' show) and Lage Lund.

While what I listen to is very diverse, I have learned that I like smart music. Now, don't think that I mean I like music for and by smart people - that's not what I mean. I mean I like music that is smart, well crafted, well put together, unexpected, emotionally powerful, strong and undeniable. Music that doesn't let you sit there listlessly and have it wash over you. You need to meet it half way because it is challenging you in some way. Lyrically, harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, sonically. SOMETHING has to be pushing me musically - and then I respond. Usually very strongly.

So, I want to see/hear that the artist has poured himself/herself into the music in such a way that it is genuine and personal and forces itself upon you in a way that makes it impossible to ignore.

Some current(ish) songs that do that for me?

Earthbound Starlight by Duncan Sheik

Weightless by Becca Stevens Band

On the Radio by Regina Spektor

Claire's Ninth by Ben Folds

21 by Jonathan Kreisberg

That's just a few of thousands. Hopefully this will inspire you to dig deep and tell me something I don't know about the music that you love and cherish...



Saturday, September 25, 2010

Theory/Form/Music Major Question

Hi folks -

Here is another post I'll ask you to talk to. This assignment is different than I expected it to be - but very valuable.

The keynote talk yesterday was by Dr. David Meyers, Chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Music. Dr. Meyers' research is centered around the academic canon and how the curriculum (what we teach) relates to that. But that is not all. He is asking very pointed questions about WHAT we SHOULD be teaching in the 21st century and what we SHOULD NOT be teaching in the 21st century. What skills it is vital for an artist to have as they go out into the world, and how so many music programs are focusing on ancient and in some ways, outdated, obsolete traditions instead of being on the razor's edge of technological, musical and aesthetic development.

This is something I think about a lot - but the inertia involved with an Academic music program is pretty massive. To change offerings and the slant of a program would take a lot of collaborative work between all members of a program and it isn't something that is done lightly, or quickly.

To elaborate - his thought process was such: We are teaching students a set of skills (musicianship) at the exclusion of other skills - practical skills - that would allow them to better foster a career after graduation. Basically, there is a wealth of information that students learn to become - say - an orchestral player or player in a small chamber group in their local community. But what we aren't addressing is the idea that attendance to those events is down 39% over the last few years and by the time our current students are finished with school there may be little or no OPPORTUNITY to play in such a group because of attrition.

Why stick to a model of teaching that is going the way of the "do-do bird"?

We need to be - in addition to teaching musicianship - teaching you how to be a smart steward of your career. How to work with others - collaborate - to create your own opportunities for artistry. We need to teach you all how to make vital, meaningful connections with your communitities to both help your career and to help your community. By showing people the value of music in a society we can enrich their experiences, enrich our art and help create an interest in arts education that is lacking now.

His rationale was solid. He went on to talk about students today coming into college more aware of digital music, more likely to have recorded music in their home, more likely to have a clearly defined aesthetic because they are connected to their music all of the time through our mobile music players. Students have access to technology that brings the entire history of music to them daily!

Basically, the question I want to pose is this:

If you could create the curriculum for a department of music - come up with subjects that you would want to be able to study where you went - what what it look like? What skills/technology/topics etc. do you think are important to YOU as a musician and what would you absolutely NEED to study if you had the ability to study ANY subset within music?

I'll write more in a bit - but please talk to this last paragraph. Just a paragraph or two for each of you about your wants/needs in a music program.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 1 - CMS National

Well, the first day of the College Music Society Conference is over and I am super tired and ready for rest so that I am ready for more music and discussion tomorrow.

So, a short recap of day 1.

8 AM - MAX/MSP getting started session. I was reminded of what I like about this programming language and I think I am ready to bring that technology into the fold at CSUB. The leader of the session, VJ Manzo was young, hip and engaging. Also, he is working on a book about MAX as a teaching tool.

For information on MAX/MSP, go to

9 AM - A scholar from Argentina talked about the Tango.

Very cool discussion of a dance/song form that has permeated music from all over the world and has roots in Cuba (habanera).

A performance of modern Tango's followed with a quartet. Very good and lots of extended techniques they talked about that were idiomatic of the style.

11 AM - A talk about recording techniques that started poorly and was too simple for me. Basically how to get signal into a DAW.

A bit too "in the year 2000" for me.

There were a series of 10 minute talks about technology - one by a FB friend and a composer I have appeared with on many programs and two CD's recently - Jay Batzner.

It was great. He talked about the history of electronic music and how specific tunes have led to our current music. He drew a line from Xenakis to Lady Gaga - that's all you need to know. Jay is compelling, funny and smart. Nice to finally meet him and chat tonight.

After lunch, a panel of five theorists and musicologists talked about music by living composers - including two of my pieces.

Nico Shuler talked about Duality in Time and Bruce Taggart talked about Hop, Skip and Jump.

Both guys did a great job - Nico with a really cool analysis of each gesture and motive. He just dug in and got it all.

Bruce talked more about form and gesture and delineation of structure through gesture. Loved it all.

After the talk, a concert ensued where about 14 pieces were played, including my two pieces referenced above.

Michael Drapkin played "Hop" and he had some strong ideas about interpretation and even said that the piece was "overmarked". He changed the shape of the piece and while most of it worked just fine, his idea about tempo (about 12 BPM slower than I marked) was too slow. The piece stagnated a bit at that tempo - in my mind.

But, he played it really well, and made beautiful music with it. It's interesting, even too slow, the piece worked really well. I'd like it quicker, but it was good.

Evan Jones (Cello, Florida State Univ) and Rachel Bergman (Flute, George Mason) played Duality well. It was more dainty than I expected, less adventurous and less powerful. They played it well - but it lacked a bit of energy and power. But, again, I am very thankful to have these amazing players play my music. Just an awesome treat.

Thanks to all! Day 2
Is shorter. Thank God.