What’s been happening lately . . .

A few things have happened lately. Some good, some bad. I’ll make a news sandwich by putting the bad news between the good news.

First, the good news: I got into the Masters program for Choral Conducting here at BYU! I’m way excited for all the new opportunities I’m going to have here learning about choral music. I’m thrilled because I didn’t think my interview went all that well. It was kind of a wake up call when Dr. Staheli was talking with a student about the choral conducting class this fall. When she asked if he was teaching it, all he said was, “No, but he might,” pointing right at me. *Gulp* Am I ready to teach this stuff already?  I feel like I barely know what I’m doing!  What an exciting opportunity!

Some bad news: Karen came up to me today and let me know that she had to cut the piece I wrote for her from her recital.  She said should couldn’t get in touch with the violinist and that she didn’t feel that she knew it well enough to really do well in her hearing tomorrow.  However, she wants to do it for her next recital in the future.  So, the premiere hasn’t been canceled, it’s just been postponed until further notice.  That’s okay with me.  Can’t wait to hear it still.

More good news:  I’ve been doing some preliminary revisions to “Water Lilies,” and have mustered up enough confidence to take it to Dr. Staheli and Sister Hall.  We’ll see how they like it.  It really could go either way with this one.  In the meantime, I’ve also mustered enough confidence to put page one up here on my blog.  Huzzah!  Revisions will be inevitable.

“Water Lilies” Finished!

Wow!  This was a doozy.  I just finished writing “Water Lilies,” from a poem by Sara Teasdale.  Such a moody, haunting poem.  I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.  It took a while to finally get a sense of what it was supposed to sound like.  Here are the words again:

“If you have forgotten water lilies floating
On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
Then you can return and not be afraid.

But if you remember, then turn away forever
To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart,
There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,
And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.”

-Sara Teasdale

As you can tell, it’s really has nothing to do with water lilies, but what an image.  The great temptation here is to write programatically.  I tried to resist, but some stuff still came out.  Oh well, what can you do?  Instead, I really tried to capture the feelings of these image.  The mood of watching water lilies floating.  So I used a lot of tritones.  I think that’s the most important interval in this piece.  There’s a section of secundal harmonies and I even used some aleatoric devices.

I’m hesitant to post any sort of sample of what I’ve written because I really don’t know if any of this will work.  It’s REALLY difficult.  I’m not gonna lie and say that it’s “Moderately Difficult,” like so many publishers would.  This is flippin’ hard!  I really don’t know if any of it is feasible or even if it flows the way it should.  I like a lot of things about it, but it’s still really, really rough.  It’s probably going to change quite a bit before I feel confident enough to post a sample here.

Anyway, here’s to the future!

In Paradisum

So, my mind is now stuck on this particular gem.  I found this in chant form somewhere online (probably CPDL).  It’s very useful to me because it shows the accent on various latin words that I’m not fully familiar with.  I don’t think I’ll write an arrangement based on the chant though.  I like new, fresh settings with no previous material.  Here are the words translated:

“May the angels lead you into paradise,
may the martyrs receive you
in your coming,
and may they guide you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you
and with Lazarus once poor
may you have eternal rest.”

Still working on “Water Lilies” as well.  It’s a tough little piece, but it’s coming little by little.  I think I’m going to hear “Lord, Open Thou My Eyes,” sometime this week with Karen.  I’m excited to hear it for the first time!

The Truth about Tonality

I feel like I have to write about this. It frustrates me when music majors around me talk about tonality and atonality in the wrong way. I feel like I need to talk about the things that I have learned about tonality now that I’m about to graduate with a degree in Music.

Too often I hear people talking about how they hate atonal music, and that it’s garbage.  They praise tonality saying that that’s the way music was supposed to stay.

In other words: Tonal = Beautiful.  Atonal = Ugly.

This is simply not what these words mean.

A lot of this is semantics but for the most part (really simplified) tonal is referring to a specific system of music composition techniques.  A set of certain rules helping to aid the “function” of music.  Tonic is home, dominant leads to the tonic, cadential material, pre-cadential material, post-cadential and so forth.  Harmony has a “function,” along with leading tones, resolutions, etc.  The climax of this sort of music belongs to J.S. Bach.  Of course it existed before him and after him, but we look to Bach as the ultimate example of this kind of music.

Before tonality was what we generally refer to as “modality,”  music based on modes rather than the tonal major/minor scales that we’re used to. We see examples of this in Binchois, and Du Fay.  So after Tonality, what then?  Atonality?

In a sense, yes, to say that something is atonal really means that it’s just not tonal.  That, however, doesn’t mean it’s ugly.  What are some examples of atonal music that aren’t ugly?  How ’bout Debussy?  Copland?  Vaughan Williams?  Holst?  Shastokovich?  Duruflé?  Barber?  Pärt?  Whitacre?  These are all examples of music that’s beautiful but not necessarily tonal.  They don’t follow the rules that Bach did.  They’re not concerned as much with resolutions, dominant-tonic relations, and leading tones.  They follow a different set of aesthetics yes, but they don’t follow tonality.  By strict definition they are all atonal composers.

Many would then say that it’s the dissonance they don’t like.  Suddenly Consonance = Beautiful, and Dissonance = Ugly.  But this isn’t correct either.  Dissonance has been around since Medieval music.  Dissonance causes tension between the consonances.  Can dissonance be jarring?  Yes.  Irritating?  Sometimes.  Necessary?  Absolutely.  The music of Bach, Beethoven and Purcell displays a great deal of dissonance, and yet we don’t find it ugly, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

In general, when people refer to “atonality,” they are referring to the Second Viennese School, the music of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg.  True, it isn’t tonal, so it is atonal, but atonal isn’t the only way to describe it.  Schoenberg went through several styles of composition but the ones he is most famous for is his so called “free-atonal” period, and his serial period.  The hallmark of the “free-atonality” period is his multi-movement, Pierrot Lunaire.  Despite the lack of rules in tonality, it’s highly organized in form, rhythm and instrumentation.  After this period, he then created a system of composition based on the use of all twelve unique pitch classes.  Despite that it sounds random, there is a high level or organization of the pitches.

My point it, this is serialism, or dodecaphony.  Is it atonal?  Yes.  Is this what atonal is?  No.  To say that this music, alone, is how atonal music is defined is too narrow.  One side note, Schoenberg himself preferred that it be called “pan-tonal music,” because it uses all twelve pitch classes.  I don’t particularly care for this style of music myself, either for listening or composing, but it is a part of our history of music.  Some of these techniques can be quite useful.

So that’s my little rant.  Just be more careful about how you use the word “atonal.”  Is it an inaccurate term?  Yes, but it’s all we’ve got for now.

Music Video as an Art Form

Some say the Music Video is dead.  If you look at MTV that’s absolutely the case.  MTV has recently even removed “Music Television” from their corporate signs.  But we all know that MTV gave up music videos a long time ago.  The new medium for this art form is YouTube, Vimeo and other streaming video sites.

There are a few artists who are still using the music video to full effect like Beyoncé, Mute Math, and even Radiohead.  Radiohead is an interesting case because they’ve stopped making the music videos themselves and encouraged their fans to make them instead.  The result?  Dozens of creative videos produced to a very high standard.

One band that stands above all the rest in this art form is OK Go.  Time after time they’ve produced some truly ingenious videos.  I wanted to share some of my favorites with you but most of the videos block embedding by request.  Regardless, they’re all spectacular and worth a view or two.  Here’s some of the links to these videos:

“A Million Ways” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bav63MWNUKg

“Invincible” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LNbzqoOPu4

“Here it Goes Again” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI

“Do What You Want” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRHwoIvAUI0