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artist to have as they go out into the world, and how so many music programs are focusing on ancient and in some ways, outdated, obsolete traditions instead of being on the razor's edge of technological, musical and aesthetic development.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.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Discussion #1 for Theory AND Form Students

Hi folks -

Sorry this is getting up later than I had hoped - just tired and busy getting ready for the Conference. I'll post about that tomorrow.

Anyway, today's discussion has to do with music that moves you.

As you can expect, there is a ton of music I listen to regularly. I do listen to classical music, but more often than not I am listening to jazz or singer/songwriter types like Ben Folds or Duncan Sheik. Especially when I am listening for pleasure - I listen to more "pop" music than classical or even jazz. Don't tell anyone I said that!

That said - there are certain composers that just absolute floor me with their artistry. Beethoven is one. Brahms is one, too. Of the more contemporary folks - Aaron Copland is someone that I have studied a lot, and someone that I find terribly musical.

So, for your viewing pleasure - here is the Fourth Movement from his 3rd Symphony - probably his most important work. His first two symphonies were composed earlier in his career - when he was a young man and before he found his more accessible voice. Copland, for all of his accessibility, was a beast of a composer as a young man.

Well, after finding a more subdued language - a language that he thought could express his musical point without alienating his audience - he composed this 3rd Symphony.

One of my Grad School teachers - Barney Gilmore - talked to me a lot about this piece. He really thinks of it as "America's Symphony". The themes throughout are SO reminiscent of what we NOW think of as "American" sonorities that the piece seems to ooze Americana from beat one of movement I through the triumphant coda of movement IV.

So, what you have here is Movement IV conducted by the composer.

Listen now - to the whole thing. I'll wait.

Now - FORM students, I want you to talk about what you think is AMERICAN in this piece. That is purposefully broad - just dig in and talk/write about your feelings. It's a touchy/feely assignment. I want your thoughts.

THEORY students, I want you to talk about music (provide a link, too) that moves you - that makes you want to be a better musician. Music that, when you close your eyes and listen to your inner thoughts, reminds you of why you like to make music. It's the music of inspiration.

Write about that, please.

Gotta jet and get some sleep. Thanks for checking the blog - and be sure to give me your REAL name in your posting - so I know who is talking about what!

Take care and I'll post pictures and words about tomorrow after it happens. I have two pieces being played and discussed. Should be a really cool experience.

Good night, y'all.