The Epiphany Season
Sinden.org is very proud to announce:
Eric Harding Thiman (1900-1975) was an English composer and organist who wrote a lot of really pretty anthems.
Of his music, the New Grove's Dictionary of Music writes that it is
distinguished by a neat, textbook craftsmanship and easy melodic flow, and a firm grasp of what is practical and effective for the amateur.
I really like digital media except for one thing: there's no bargain bin.
Lately, I've been really fascinated by the music of Britney "oops, I dropped my baby . . . again" Spears's husband Kevin Federline.
There's something about his geographical identity (Fresno) and his repeated allusions to sockwear that I find alluring. Well, in truth, I was wondering about using him in my ongoing series on American creativity and organ improvisation.
K-fed is also an interesting example of a
popular mass-mediated (this term from Mary Hess who commented at AKMA's Random Thoughts) artist whose output is now failing to find an audience.
I would buy his single PopoZão on iTunes if it weren't 99 cents. I mean, I can get movements of Sibelius symphonies for the same price.
Would iTunes sell more music by Cletus, as Federline is sometimes derided, if they lowered the price? Yes, but the online music store refuses to pass value judgments itself (though there is plenty of room for comments) and has no incentive to ever lower the price based on unpopularity.
iTunes is able to generate as much music as there is demand for, and in so doing has made music into a perpetually renewable resource. This is sort of fun, and it fits with my understanding of music, but it means that I will probably never hear some really bad songs.
Naked Violinist Scarcity: To the person on persons using ask.com to search for "pictures+of+naked+violinists," let me assure you that there are none on Sinden.org. However, based on my cursory knowledge of search engines, it is my understanding that this notice is flagrantly self defeating. You naked violinist picture searcher(s), you.
Music Tangent: I've never liked the idea of music competitions, because I don't really like the idea of music coming from scarcity. Music should come from abundance, I think. Lately, I've come to realize that I respond to music competitions in the same way a chef would likely respond to eating competitions.
Venn diagram tangent: How many naked violinists participate in eating competitions?
Organists, more so than other musicians, are immediately in contact with others when they sit down to play their instruments. In halcyon days past, organists communicated with calcants (bellows pumpers) and assistants. And in France, beginning in the late 19th century, organ lofts were crowded places. A couch and cigar-smoking spectators would not have been out of place (or visible to the worshipping congregation). Today, things are different. Motors have replaced calcants and combination action has largely replaced human assistance at the console. American architecture and rigid puritanism among church leadership has led to the decline of lounge-furniture and tobacco (or other?) smoke near the organ console. The organist of today, however, is still very much in dialogue with the organ builder.
Though he may not be physically present, the organ builder's vision and skill have left a unique instrument on which the organist may perform. The uniqueness of each organ is at once limiting ("Dude, why is there no trumpet on the Great?") and freeing ("Wow! A thunder pedal!"). The organ builder tries to fill a space with sound. It's up to the improviser to fill a space with music.
For the improviser, each organ can either be an inspiration or a challenge. Most organists -- whatever their professed skill in improvisation -- will improvise to some degree when sitting down at an instrument for the first time.
American organ building has littered the country with a collection of organs as diverse in style as they are in quality. I can be really pretentious and drop a lot of names here (like Aeolian Skinner, Austin, Brombaugh, Berghaus, Casavant, Dobson, Fisk, Flentrop, Goulding & Wood, Holtkamp, Hope-Jones, Noack, Roosevelt, Schlicker, Schoenstein, Taylor & Boody, Wicks, Wilhelm, Wolff, ) but I'd rather not do that. Instead, I'd rather take a more post-modern approach.
Though the improviser must relate to a specific instrument with memories of all the other instruments he has known, he ultimately must work with the instrument on its own terms. More than that, the improviser must relate to the instrument as it exists in reality, not in some idealized abstract theoretical vacuum.
It is with this kind of awareness that the improviser must approach the instrument if he is to use it successfully.
Did I really write all this pompous stuff? Geez, who am I, Dupré?
Finnish language tangent: Urkujenpolkija is Finnish for calcant.
Short of calling others' attention to immediate threats of well-being - "Don't look now, but a free-range thurible is hurtling toward your head!" - cultivate the discipline of silence when not making the appropriate liturgical responses.
Even if the cleric is your lifelong best friend and you are still threatening to tell his mother about that childhood indiscretion involving his kid sister, the lizard, and the neighbor's vegetable garden, the dignity of his office should be honored when he is executing the functions of that office.
When making a simple genuflection, touch the right2 knee to the ground, close to the heel of the left foot (unless the genuflection is made on a step). Do not bow the head or prop a hand on the floor; we are not in the huddle before third-and-one on the ten-yard line at the Harvard-Yale Game.
A Final Word
While the foregoing may seem excessively fussy, particularly in an age when manners are out of fashion and seminaries are apparently intent on turning the Mass into a rock-'n'-roll show, remember that Divine Service is not a casual activity. The Lord's Supper is a heavenly banquet, not a drive-thru lunch from a fast food shop. Lack of attention to deportment at Mass is as inappropriate as wearing torn jeans to a formal dinner. Sloppiness of appearance, movement or behavior will not show forth "the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty," which is what we seek to present.
The Easter Vigil
THE FIRST MASS OF EASTER:
When the Litany of the Saints is ended, SMs go up to the footpace. AA, TH, and MC proceed to the credence. SMs reverence the altar. D and SD turn inward to face CEL as he turns to face the people and shouts the Easter Acclamation. ALL respond; be prepared for multiple shouts, molto con brio - the more so the better, especially if the Celebrant is feeling frisky and does not find the congregation's enthusiasm in responding adequate to the occasion.
SMs turn to face altar. ALL pick up their handbells as the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is intoned. The CHOIR ring their bells and are soon joined by ALL as the lights are turned on. The cacophony is tastefully exacerbated by an organ fanfare.
exceprts from the Liturgical Customary of Church of the Advent, Boston.
Labels: Jean Sibelius
I'm gearing up for a series of articles on creativity, which will culminate in an assessment of the nature of American organ improvisation.
In preparation for this, I'm re-reading Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain.
Jourdain begins his chapter on composition with a discussion of Rosemary Brown.
Brown claimed to be able to take dictation from composers who were no longer living: including Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.
And so, this is how I came across a fun entry in the university music library today.
Author/Composer,etc: Schumann, Robert, 1810-1856 (Spirit)
Uniform title: [Cameos]
Title: Twelve cameos for piano solo / from Robert Schumann ; as dictated to Rosemary Brown.
Published/Produced: Eastwood, Essex : B. Ramsey ; New York : Agent for USA & Canada, A. Broude, c1980.
Physical description: 20 p. of music ; 30 cm.
Notes: Cover title.
Brown claims Schumann dictated the music by means of spirit communication.
Subject: Piano music.
Related name/work: Brown, Rosemary.
Jourdain, in consort with many musicologists, denounces Brown's composition as just that: composition. As far as we can ascertain, she wasn't really in communication with these other composers (her Bach, for instance, lacked counterpoint).
But, the fact that she is creating music is no less amazing, no less inexplicable than if she were somehow in contact with the dead.
If Brown was not in contact with the spirits of other composers, what was she in contact with? From whence does musical inspiration come?
And, for the sake of argument, lets assume that Brown was in contact with Bach (Spirit). From whence is Bach (Spirit) drawing his musical inspiration? Does of the source of Bach's inspiration differ from that of Bach (Spirit)'s inspiration? How does one make a possessive of "(Spirit)"?
This is all a long way of saying that I think that a study of improvisation must begin with composition. It is the aspect of musical creativity that is studied even if it is not understood.
But perhaps these labels too neatly codify our perception of the creative process. Don't composers improvise at the piano? Don't improvisers utilize composed devices? Taken further, don't some "improvisers" just perform what are essentially their own composed pieces?
What makes artistic creativity authentic? What is creativity's relationship to the self? to society?
In this country, what makes creativity American? and must it be American to be authentic? How much can contemporary creative output be influenced by historical models and still retain a current authenticity?
I want to explore some of these questions this summer, especially with regard to organ improvisation.
With this in mind, I'm especially excited by the upcoming documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry.
I am especially intrigued by phrases like "it was like jumping off a cliff" and "Frank believes in accidents, but some of his accidents are failures" and "there is a certain threatening to taking a leap, but once you try that, you can't stop."
Text-painting (pronunciation) occurs when a composer "paints" the text he or she is setting through musical devices, rather than just using music as a vehicle for text delivery. No one seems to be willing to define "text-painting." It's not in the The New Grove Dictionary of Music. The pronunciation above is actually part of an online dictionary, but this entry lacks a definition. Wikipedia mentions text-painting in articles on various composers ranging from Thomas Tomkins to Hugo Wolf, but at this point, no one has created an article for the term.
Perhaps the most famous instance of text-painting in recent cultural memory occurs in "All I Really Want" from Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here can you handle this?
Here, singer-songwriter Morissette uses an electronic technique to paint the word "silence." Imediately after she poses her questions, the accompanying ensemble electric instruments ensemble and percussion instruments are abruptly cut off. A period of silence ensues.
Recently, I've been struck by two instances of text painting in two anthems by English composers: Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies by T. Frederick Candlyn and And I Saw A New Heaven by Edgar Bainton.
T. Frederick Candlyn
Candlyn's anthem, Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies, is a setting of the text by Charles Wesley. The text-painting I noticed occurs at the second stanza: "Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by thee."
At the word "unaccompanied" the organ stops playing. This simple, literal gesture--leaving the choir unaccompanied--is quite effective. As an organist, I also appreciate that Candlyn equates the organ with Christ.
Edgar Bainton (1880-1956)
and his daughter
Edgar Bainton wrote a lot of music, including some choral anthems, but never worked in a church as far as I can tell. He studied with Walford Davies and Stanford and moved to Australia in the 1930s. (For more on Bainton, and the source of that crazy viking picture, see Edgar Bainton: Musical and Spiritual Traveler.)
In his anthem And I Saw A New Heaven, Bainton doesn't do anything you can point to other than write a tune that will make you cry for the words "and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Text-painting of a different sort in this morse code chart
West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden, Indiana
Built in 1902, this was the largest domed structure in the world until a domed stadium was built in Houston, Texas sixty-two years later.
I played in the IU Chamber Orchestra a couple weeks ago. John Harbison was conducting. At the dress rehearsal, after the orchestra tuned, Harbison came to the stage, looked at me and said:
You look like God
Usually, musicians try to collect praise on how they sound, but I'll take what I can get.
(I was standing on a box to play a continuo organ. I guess I looked really tall.)
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