March of the (Nasty) Women

January 21, 2017 at 12:48 pm

As I write this, hundreds of thousands of people are filling the streets of major US cities for the Women’s March on Washington, to protest the Great Farce which began yesterday. It was only a century ago that women in the US were fighting for the right to vote; just like today, protest songs were written and sung.

Ethel Smyth was a Nasty Woman. She was a lesbian who not only wanted to be a composer, but also to vote. Born in England in 1858, her envisioned life was not one to be easily won. She had to keep her homosexuality hidden, and her career in music was suppressed by sexism; her father strongly discouraged her from pursuing music, and Smyth had to forge her own way. She became very involved in the Women’s Suffrage movement, and ultimately did see English women win the right to vote when she turned 70.

Progress is slow, but it can happen, thanks to Nasty Women like Smyth. Here is her “March of the Women“, written in 1910.

While this piece is fitting for this post, I’d recommend digging a little deeper and listening to some of Smyth’s other compositions, which better show her compositional personality. You can start here.

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Happy Birthday to FAoL

November 18, 2016 at 10:30 am

As I mentioned yesterday, today is FAoL’s birthday.

It all began as a way to keep my mind fresh, to fight off the mid-life blahs and boredom: one post a day, 300 words maximum, for one year.

I’m under no illusions that I have more than a dozen or so readers, but that’s ok. If you’re reading this, please accept my humble thanks for taking time out of your life to read my ramblings, whether it was every day (thank you, my wonderful supportive wife) or only when Facebook was so miserably boring that you decided to click my daily spam. I do get the occasional note from a perfect stranger, thanking me for the blog, which is always uplifting.

At first, I wasn’t sure I could find 365 pieces worth writing about; ironically, I have a long list of pieces I still want to feature. Then I was concerned about finding something interesting to say; I’m proud of many posts, though certainly some are just “meh”. The future? I’ll be reposting stuff I’ve already written, and writing new content on occasion.

For FAoL’s half-birthday, I had a (musical) champagne toast. For its actual birthday, something more sincere and contemplative: Franz Schubert‘s setting of An die Musik. It’s one of Schubert’s 600+ art songs for solo voice and piano. For me, the spirit of the piece is better captured when sung by a choir – music is so much more glorious when it is shared!

Translation from Wikipedia:

You, noble Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s mad tumult wraps around me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Have you transported me into a better world,
Transported into a better world!

Often has a sigh flowing out from your harp,
A sweet, divine harmony from you
Unlocked to me the heaven of better times,
You, noble Art, I thank you for it!!
You, noble Art, I thank you!

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Veterans Day

November 11, 2016 at 11:11 am

Happy Veterans Day!

I am humbled when I think about those in the armed forces, willingly putting themselves in danger for the welfare of others. They have more bravery than I could ever have, and I am thankful for their service and sacrifice.

American composer John Adams set Walt Whitman‘s “The Wound Dresser” for voice and orchestra. It is a lengthy and emotional narrative, in the tradition of Barber‘s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (listen to it here). Musically, it’s somewhere between an opera and a song cycle, and the text ranges from fine poetry to graphic description. It’s a longer listen, but well worth it, especially on this day. Whitman wrote his poem shortly after the Civil War, 150 years ago. Only 100 years ago, the Great War ravaged much of the world. And World War II was so horrific that we are still in shock concerning the horrors of the holocaust and atomic bomb. Take a mere 20 minutes, have a listen, and give thanks for our soldiers.

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