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TGIF – Unwind to Bolero!

November 20, 2015 at 10:00 am

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Machiavelli, Socrates, and Nicolas Cage.)

French composer Maurice Ravel‘s (1875-1937) most famous piece is probably Boléro. The piece is basically a one-minute melody, repeated 17 times. The tempo (speed), rhythm, notes of the melody and the harmony remain virtually unchanged from the beginning to the end. Some might call this insanity (the snare-drum players definitely call this insanity, because they play the same two-measure idea over 150 times, unchanged, until the very end of the piece. If you don’t believe me, take a look!)


Oddly enough, people seem to enjoy this insanity. So what makes it exciting? First: each time the melody is repeated, Ravel changes what instruments are playing, exploring a wide palette of orchestral color. Second, the whole piece is one gigantic crescendo – it starts soft, and grows to a full blow-your-ears-off loud. Turn your speakers up and make sure your boss isn’t around.

More than one person (two, to be exact) have told me that they love to start this piece with the volume turned all the way up – and they see how long they can last until they HAVE to turn it down.

Thanks to Larry, who gave the little push I needed to start this blog!


Crossover what?

November 19, 2015 at 11:07 am

Humans love to categorize things. It’s not a bad thing – it helps us predict what will happen when we come across something new. For example, if I come across a new life form, and it looks like a plant, smells like a plant, and acts like a plant, I might assume it’s a plant, and therefore, it probably won’t jump up and eat me. On the other hand, if I meet a new life form that looks like a tiger, smells like a tiger, and acts like a tiger, it’s probably too late to run, because that tigeresque creature has already thought that I look like food, smell like food, and act like food.


The problem with this is miscategorization. What if the plant is actually that man-eating thing from “Little Shop of Horrors“? (what a bizarre idea for a musical …) By miscategorizing it, I’m no better off than I was with the tigeresque creature. (this is starting to get a little surreal …)

So how does this affect music? You probably know Leonard Bernstein from his “West Side Story“. You might also know he was the longtime conductor of the New York Philharmonic, one of the top orchestras in the world. People today are still arguing whether his pieces are “Musical Theater” or “Opera”, “Classical” or “Pops”, “new musical territory” or “borrowed from other musical genres”. So then they start calling this music “Crossover“.
Oy vey.

His Broadway Show, no, Opera, no, piece “Candide” is based on the story by Voltaire. The overture, below, has clear, singable melodies (like musical theater) and complex rhythm, harmony, and masterful orchestration (like opera.) And, no matter what it looks, smells, or acts like, it won’t eat you.


The Fine Art of Listening – in the beginning …

November 18, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Music has been around for thousands of years. Actually, tens of thousands of years. Maybe it’s too bold of a statement to make in my first blog post, but I’d like to think that the ability and desire to organize sound – to make music – serves as one of the greatest milestones in human evolution.

This new blog, I suppose, is nothing new. We’ve been doing this for 40,000 + years. Amazing, though, that we are still fascinated by music – in fact, you could say we can’t get enough. Music is everywhere in our modern lives, from formal events like church or graduations, to casual things like shopping or even sports games.

Claudio Monteverdi‘s (1567-1643) opera “L’Orfeo” (1607) was not the first opera ever written, but it is the earliest opera written that is still performed today, 400 years later. (a mere 1/100th of 40,000 years – the dating of the earliest musical instrument found). The overture is pure rock-and-roll: 8 bars of loud music, all in the same key. No development. No tricks. Just rock, and repeat. After the overture, a sweet aria, in which a character called “La Musica” sings:

I am Music, who with sweet accents can make a troubled heart to be at peace;
I can set ablaze even the coldest of minds with noble anger or love.

A fitting beginning for the Fine Art of Listening. Thanks for visiting!

How about them Harry-Potter robes, eh?