Easter 2024

28 September 2006
off - day

Sometimes I have trouble believing that I am really employed as a full time musician. But then I open my messenger bag and look at all the music that I have to learn.

But when I opened my bag today, I realized I've been going at it for exactly one month now.

One month ago: change - complete, yet ongoing

And how am I celebrating? I'm taking tomorrow off. It's my weekly day off, and I'm realizing that it's really important to take it.

During the week, I practice a lot, keep track of my personal organ music as well as the music for three different choirs, rehearse with three different choirs at four rehearsals (one of which includes dinner), attend two meetings, and perform various tasks of administrivia.

It's a lot of work, but it's good work. The kind of work I've always dreamt of doing. And, unless I miss my guess, I'm starting to get into the swing of things.

So as much as I enjoy my Fridays and need to take them off, I am eager open my bag again and swing up on the bench the next day.

Allergies take the day off around these four thousand dollar cats. The sad thing is that I want one for the cat-allergic cat-lover in my life.

27 September 2006
knot - Pratt-Shelby

Since beginning my new position, I've decided I need to increase my repertoire. Namely, I need to learn some more knots. Not the kind that precvent your boat from slipping away, though those might be useful too, but the tying a tie kind.

I've decided on the hyphenated "Pratt-Shelby".

Mostly, I was intrigued because I had never heard of this knot before. I like the way it turned out (most of the time -- I'm still pretty new at this). I'm seeing a big difference in knot thickness.

I'm also seeing a big difference in the way I'm treated. When I walk into a business or a restaurant, service personell immediately are awed by the subtly increased power of my knot. I'm treated with more respect.

I have a feeling that had I jumped directly to the Windsor, they would have recognized me for the fraud that I am.

Humankind can never seem to settle on one way of just doing things. Instead of ringing Westminster Quarters, why not try Winchester? or St. Michael's? Instead of the four-in-hand, why knot try to the Pratt-Shelby? the Half-Windsor? the bow tie?

Strangely civilized minutiae can be fun to explore.

26 September 2006

Part of "Signs" by Julian Opie, Meridian Street at Washington Street, Indianapolis, Indiana

Opie Sighting! Today, leaving the cathedral, I saw Julian Opie! He was standing next to the mayor, who was reading from a teleprompter. They were being filmed in front of the part of "Signs" seen below. If only I had my camera, dear reader, you could see -- right here on! -- pictures of Julian Opie himself.

Opie website tangent: Julian Opie's official website is pretty fun. Very old timey Mac timey, and lots of stuff to explore.

25 September 2006
Rogers, Winthrop - publisher

I've never seen any music from a publisher named Winthrop Rogers, but last week, I found myself reading out of two scores published by him.

Benjamin Britten's Antiphon is a part of the Winthrop Rogers Church Choral Series.

Frank Bridge's Three Pieces for Organ (1939) are also published by Winthrop Rogers. They're pretty neat little things.

After a little bit of research, I've found that Winthrop Rogers is a cousin of Roger Winthrop. Roger Winthrop is the son of John Winthrop of "city on a hill" fame.

The Winthrops encouraged Winthrop to be "a publisher on a hill", and the rest is history.

You know, workers would show up in the morning all sweaty and out of breath, sometimes the presses would start to slide down the hill, etc.

The previous three paragraphs are completely made up, but they should still turn up in research papers for the next 50 years.

For some reason, I'm having a lot of difficulty typing the word "Winthrop". I have had to correct it nearly every time I've typed it into this article. For some reason, it always wants to come out "Wintrhop", which is an abbreviated version of "Winterhop", an activity that occurs in Scandinavian countries during the long, dark, snowy months.

Happy 100th Birthday to Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich, who, sadly, wrote very little music for the organ. I've always thought that of the 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, the first would be particularly nice to transcribe for the organ.

23 September 2006

Monument Circle, Indianapolis, Indiana.

This is part of "Signs", Julian Opie's installation that has descended on various parts of the city. I'm lucky I took these when I did, because the next time I passed by, it looks as if this one was already being dismantled (moving to another location?).

UPDATE: (25 Sept 23:47) This part of "Signs" was gone for the weekend, but was back up today. We'll keep watching it.

22 September 2006
creativity - revision of

We're a little late on this one, but cut us some slack, other people are late too. Like George Lucas. He directed Star Wars. It was released in 1977, but that version was only released on DVD on 12 September 2006. That's almost thirty years late.

Wednesday marked the 49th anniversary of the death of Jean Sibelius. Sibelius was also late. The fifth symphony premiered in 1915. Then he revised it and it was re-performed in 1916, in it's new version. Then he worked on it again, and released a final version in 1919.

Now, back to Lucas. The reason that he waited so long to release the 1977 version on DVD is because, of course, there were other versions. The past two years have seen a flurry of Star Wars DVD releases, none of which were of the original 1977 version, until now. And this has made some people upset. They've been upset with "changes" (revisions?) that they believe mar Lucas's original creative "genius."

"Genius" is a really harsh term, and I don't think it applies to Lucas. Bach, maybe, though even by his admission, anyone could do what he did if he applied himself and worked hard. Even this week, the MacArthur Fellowships were awarded. The MacArthur Foundations prefers the term "Fellowships" to "genius grants".

What makes me believe that Lucas perceived these as revisions rather than technological enhancements is that he was reluctant to release the 1977 version on DVD.

"Reluctant" is perhaps too simple a term. Maybe he just wanted to make a whole lot of money and was just waiting for the right time. I don't need to tell you that there's already talk about how Lucas is going to release the 1977 version on a better DVD. Or, considering a more legitimate reason:

If Lucas sees his revisions as representing the definitve version of the original (which I believe he misguidedly does), he would not want to stoop to releasing his pre-revision versions on DVD.

Anyway, Sibelius and Lucas are representative of how the revision of artistic creativity has changed over time. The latter is a case study in how modern artists (at least those who are "mass mediated") fail to understand revision's role in the creative process.

Sibelius wrote a pretty good symphony in 1915, and then, through a process of hard-wrought revisions, it became a great symphony (the one most often played and recorded today).

Lucas made a pretty good film in 1977 (we mean, we really like it, but critics never have. Let's be honest: it's like the biggest cult classic ever), and then revised it in a couple of different ways. The film's cult just sees this as tampering.

So what are the key differences in these two scenarios? What makes Star Wars fans so upset? Was one original version made widely available through recorded media? Well, yes. But is it more important that one is in music and one is film? Or is it that one represents a modern creative process, and the other a post-modern?

Linear revision

Consider the typewriter. If you want a perfect page, you have to start from scratch.

Sibelius's symphonies are masterpieces that thrive on interconnectedness. The work is a single unbroken thread. The ending only makes sense as a result of everything that has come before it.

This is particularly true with the end fifth symphony. I hope that I'm bring objective enough in my analysis to not be overcome with emotion or surprise at the visceral ending that Sibelius gives the work. I really believe that the 1919 ending is a logical conclusion, not just to the final movement, but to the work as a whole.

Sibelius's revisions then, involved not just certain sections, or movement orderings, but a macro-concept. When changes were made to the symphony, he understood that he had to account for every note in his composition.

It's also helpful to note that this was basically done "typewriter style", with a whole lot of ink, manuscript paper, and maybe a copyist or two.

Non-linear revision

Imagine the word processor. If you want a perfect page, just pull up what you saved and fix what you need to.

George Lucas has approached his revisions more in this vein. Star Wars was revised with a lot of bells and whistles that were generated by computer. And this is fun, especially for a director to whom this kind of revisionary paradigm was not available during the initial editing stage.

I do, however, see the musical equivalent being a Sibelius who simply added synthesizer, a whole battery of percussion and Ondes Martenot to the 1915 score. It just doesn't fit together.

Lucas couldn't reshoot anything substantial. And part of the limitation of working with actors (and waiting 25 years) is that they age, so you can't use them again unless you have magical makeup artists. So, in a way, he tried to effect substantial changes to the film with superficial techniques.

This process is also a bit self-centered; it presupposes an audience who is already infinitely familiar with the unrevised version (or has access to it on recorded media.) It also indicates that he had possibly fallen in rank with the cult to worship the original version. It could not be revised, then, but "enhanced" in a way that is the red-headed, left-handed, pigeon-toed step-child of revision.

It's also important to realize that Lucas too is working with a bit of a macro-concept. What was once Star Wars is now the fourth episode in an epic, six-part film series. This has ramifications. Is it legitimate for Lucas to now try to provide continuity with older work through revisions of that work? If it is, it doesn't work. The revised versions of his first three films aren't like single unbroken threads; they're like socks crocheted by drugged primates (not the Anglican kind -- well, either way. Whatever you want.).

Valid revision

Revision is a complicated animal. But for a revision to be successful, it has to be motivated by the work itself.

Sibelius's fifth symphony suggested some changes to the composer, and he made them. The revised work gains coherence and integrity.

George Lucas suggested changes to his work, and his work clearly rejected them. They don't work for the most part. They make the film a hyper-active post-modern pastiche of profiteering.

Tangent for further thought: I guess where this line of reasoning leads us is that created artistic works do gain some kind of "life". If they are made by humans (and are not purposefully avante-garde), works take on human characteristics like logic and short formative periods early in their lives. Can the works, then, have awkward teenage years where they rebel against their creator? "No, I don't want to be revised, and I would appreciate it if you would take your hands off me!"

Lucas revision timetable tangent: Besides, if Sibelius is any guide, Lucas's revisions should have been made in 1978 and 1981. And they sort of were, except they were called The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). The actors hadn't aged, anyway.

If Geraldine is reading: Yes, this does justify my purchase of the original version. Thanks.


21 September 2006
figured bass - how to realize

Here's a quick step-by-step guide on how to realize figured bass. Please understand that this will be slightly diffferent for everyone:

  1. Start by making yourself fully aware (alternatively, start by emptying your mind).
  2. Awaken yourself in a concienceness that is figured bass.
  3. Visualize figured bass as clearly as you can.
  4. Try to perceive the mysteries and fathom the depths while perceiving that which figured bass has to teach you.
  5. Understand the bass; notice the figures; apprehend them.
  6. Rinse.
  7. Repeat.

19 September 2006
special features - Howells's alternate ending

You know how movies on DVD are really cool because they have special features? You know, like deleted scenes and alternative endings and actor/director commentaries? Well Anglican church music also has special features. Here's one of them:

In the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense), AKA "the St. John's service", Herbert Howells (1892-1983) includes a nifty little back page for an Alternative Ending to the Nunc.

The alternative ending is marked with an asterisk by Novello, Howells's publisher.

* The alternative ending may be used if desired.
for [sic] alternative ending, see overleaf.

The two endings diverge at the words "world without end." In what I will call the original version, this unison line begins on an E-flat; in the alternative ending, it begins on F, a whole step higher than the original. Both of these lines travel the octave, meaning that the trebles then sustain a high E-flat in the original; F in the alternative.

Two endings diverged on yellowing parchment, and I took the one the choir did.

In the original the E-flat divides to become C and F (part of an F Major sonority) and then reconvenes to crown a D Major chord. In the alternate, however, the F triumphantly divides, first leaping up to F and A, then triumphantly resting with D and F-sharp.

The two endings still manage to end in D Major, but voicing of the alternative ending is much higher.

Interestingly, the choral crescendo is absent from the alternate ending. This is sort of par for the course with my experience with Howells, but it does make me wonder if it means anything.

There's something delightfully revealing about Howells's craftsmanship here. He can start with two very different places for his melodic line (a whole step is, after all, a big amount of step), and still weasel his way back to D Major.

These endings aren't drastically different from each other, and after the lay clerks have a couple drinks in the pub after evensong, they probably won't even remember which version they perfomred.

So why then did Howells take the trouble to include the alternative ending in the published version? Maybe he couldn't make up his mind? Or maybe he thought that St. John's could use the alternative ending for feast days? It does have a little more oomph (that's a technical term when it comes to the Anglican tradition), but not a whole lot.

Written in March, 1957, the alternate ending of the St. John's service predated the introduction of the DVD by about 40 years. Tune in next time for a "deleted scene" in Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's I Was Glad.

Word choice tangent 1957: alternative; 2006: alternate. Synonymous?

Recording tangent: I can't understand why St. John's didn't record their own service on the excellend Howells disc they have recorded for Naxos. What gives? Does anyone own/reccomend a recording of the St. John's service?

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18 September 2006
stupid - don't be

Recently, a nearby religious establishment has been snubbed by an earnest, albeit completely clueless organist.

Organists often have delusions of holy grandeur.

By entering church in a serious way whilst still young, they are fascinated by their proximity to holy people, things and words.

Here in the church, they talk to these people, study these things, and then, before you know it, throw big, holy words around and develop their own ideas instead of letting the church think on their behalf.

Letting the church think on their behalf can also be a bad thing. I'm just joking around here. The conscience of the individual must be respected, but does anyone's conscience fit squarely within denominational guidelines? And if not, should you start your own sect?

Everyone experiences this religious formation stuff differently, organist or no. It's a complicated process. So I don't mean to belittle religious formation, but let me tell you a little about my experience, and the experiences I think organists should have.

Been to church lately? How do you know what church to trust? How do you know what God to believe in?

If any of these questions interest you, you're in kind of an ideal position, as an organist. You see, organists actually get paid to go to church. There are very few other lay people for whom this is an option.

Now a story: back in my day, when organs still had pipes, I would get up early on Sunday morning, commandeer the family vehicle and navigate to a distant corner of our sprawling metropolis. There, I would engage elderly protestants in conversation and provide organ music for a religious gathering. Visiting these churches for one day, sometimes just one service, was an interesting and educational experience. It was usually possible to discern the health and polity of these congregations in a relatively short period of time.

Somehow, I was always able to answer the call of a religious institution that asked for my services as an organist. This was how I played my one (and only) Christian Science service.

Christian Science tangent: It is important for me to point out, even at the expense of the point that I might get around to making later, that the service was neither Christian nor scientific. They did read aloud from a textbook though.

Kwanza services? Right on. Within reason, I never said no to an opportunity to play the organ.

You know, being a guest organist is different than being an employee, and I understand that. But what I cannot understand is how any organist could not be where I am. I guess I subscribe to process theology for organists and I believe that organists need to go through this process, or something like it:

  1. Organists need to be able to play for religious services. (Both "need to be able" technically and "need to be able" opportunistically.)
  2. Therefore, organists should seek out as many opportunities to perform for religious services as reasonably possible. (This satisfies both, see?)
  3. Through this process, organists must be respectful of unfamiliar or uncomfortable faith traditions in order to be successful.
  4. This respectfulness leads an organist in to an open-minded awareness and dialogue with other faith traditions.

With only a few years of organ gigs, I came away with a sense that the Judeo-Christian religion is thriving in myriad forms in Southwest Texas. I'm sure it is in other places too.

However, some might say that this organist process theology I've outlined doesn't really focus enough on playing. They'd be right. It focuses more on being a decent human being. And not just a tolerant human being. Tolerance implies power and superiority. I'm talking about real decency and dialogue.

You know, some things are actually more important than playing well.


Hint: If you already know what's going on here, you might start over and check the first letter of every paragraph.


15 September 2006
organ - as image of christian communiy

Pope Benedict XVI (pictured right supporting an imaginary 4' Prestant) knows how to talk about the organ:

In an organ, the many pipes and voices must form a unity. If here or there something becomes blocked, if one pipe is out of tune, this may at first be perceptible only to a trained ear. But if more pipes are out of tune, dissonance ensues and the result is unbearable. Also, the pipes of this organ are exposed to variations of temperature and subject to wear. Now, this is an image of our community in the Church. Just as in an organ an expert hand must constantly bring disharmony back to consonance, so we in the Church, in the variety of our gifts and charisms, always need to find anew, through our communion in faith, harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love. The more we allow ourselves, through the liturgy, to be transformed in Christ, the more we will be capable of transforming the world, radiating Christ’s goodness, his mercy and his love for others.

Remarks at the Blessing of the new organ of Regensburg's Alte Kapelle 13 September 2006

12 September 2006
perfection - in search of

I've had a lot of exposure to new music lately, but I haven't written very much about it because my time has mostly been consumed by the pursuit of perfection.

I have to be honest here: it's pretty slow in coming.

What even constitutes perfect music? And who would want to listen to it?

I suppose, if one (an organist, in this case) took a score (an organ score, in this case) and entered into a computer (a Mac, in this case) in MIDI format, one would receive a note-perfect rendering of the composition.

But a MIDI rendition wouldn't really be that exciting to listen to because it wouldn't be "musical." You need a human for that. Ideally, someone who can play all the right notes and make music too.

One of the most fascinating things about organ pipes is their inconsistency of speech. Sometimes I feel like I've caught a pipe by surprise, and it sounds differently than it usually does. I'll stop what I'm playing and return to the offending pipe, and usually things are okay. But it often happens again, and sometimes other pipes sound in unusual ways.

This esoteric knowledge admittedly does come from playing organs for thousands of hours, but it too enters into the realm of perfection.

A pipe never sounds exactly the same way twice. In this sense, every noise a pipe makes is like a snowflake. Even if the organist could hold a key for exactly the same duration for several successive repetitions of the same pitch, the number and manner of the air column vibrations inside the pipe would be different.

Also, pipes talk to each other. Windchests allow pressures in one pipe to be affected by the opening and closing of others nearby.

So, I guess what I'm getting at is that these pipes are created in our image. They are designed to do certain things, but sometimes they don't do it correctly, and even if they do, they're often doing it in different ways.

So are our efforts as musicians snowflakesque. There's all kinds of variability in our performances, despite what recording engineers would have us believe.

Perfection is an illusion, though increasingly available (and necessary?) to the modern world.

A post-modern world that has no need for a perfect God must believe it is capable of its own perfection.

I, on the other hand, believe in an all-perfect God. Yet I'm still seeking perfection.


11 September 2006
Chyron - synonymn for "lower thirds"

ChyronI've always wondered what they were called -- wait, that's not true, but learning what they were called made me feel as though I had always wondered -- and thanks to NPR, now I know.

Chyron is a synonymn for "lower thirds." I don't want to descbribe namebars on TV news shows, so go check out the article.

Or follow along with my nifty SAT style analogies:

Kleenex : facial tissue :: Chyron : lower thirds

Coca-Cola : sugary carbonated beverage :: Chryon : the little identification doohicky

Merton, Thomas (1915-1968) - on repeating evil

Today marks the beginning of a new regular feature on Merton Monday. The second Monday of each month will feature an excerpt from the writing of Thomas Merton. pure evil

We are so convinced that past evils must repeat themselves that we make them repeat themselves. We dare not risk a new life in which the evils of the past are totally forgotten; a new life seems to imply new evils, and we would rather face evils that are already familiar. Hence we cling to the evil that has already become ours, and renew it from day to day, until we become identified with it and change is no longer thinkable.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 106. New Directions Publishing


05 September 2006
Pye, Kellow J. (1812-1901) - funny name of

For he's a jolly good Kellow?

You can hear some of his Anglican chants from time to time, but I think that's about it.

But what were this guy's parent thinking exactly?

I don't know, but I'll tell you what I started thinking.

In my ongoing quest to crack the Anglican Code, I wondered if Pye wasn't just coming up with a clever take on the composer Christopher Tye.

And Kellow is so close to fellow. Perhaps he truly did want to be a fellow composer with Tye.

So in "Kellow", before K we have

1 2 3 4 5

five letters to get to Fellow.

After P, we have

1 2 3 4

four letters to get to Tye.

So we have the numbers five and four, and let's put this together with the middle name, which is John:

Now, normally I would post John 5:4 here, but go check your bible real fast because it's not there! John 5:4 does not exist!

And so, the plot thickens.

Translation tangent: If you are reading John 5:4, something about an angel in a pool, you're reading a bad translation. Or not the NRSV at any rate.

Beethoven tangent: I'm not really sure what's going on here, but Pye's name is listed a lot.

Unrelated clothing tangent: Blue dress shirts with white collars are pure evil! I just want to be crystal clear about that.

UPDATE: (12 Sep 00:15) Less than a week after publishing this article, is Google's first result for "Kellow J Pye."

03 September 2006
SMS - heard on Nokia 2128i

Nokia 2128iThis evening I received a text message.

(It was from Andrew, incidentally.)

Upon receiving said message, my phone made a beeping sound.

This is not the first time this has happened.

The beeping sound I mean. Of course Andrew texts me all the time. He's, like, so like that.

Apologies: This article is really bad so far. Let's see if it gets any better. I think it will.

The beeping sound my phone makes has always struck me as a little asymetrical, and it has always bothered me a little. I would just prefer a simple, probably short, sustained pitch tone that is different from the sound my phone makes for an incoming call.

I'm picky this way.

Well, for some reason, probably just because I hadn't heard this sound in a little while, I listened a little more closely, and here's what I heard:

Short, short, short. Long, long. Short, short, short. (And then this repeats)

Suddenly, I realized for the first time that this might be Morse Code.

So, I did some research, and sure enough, my phone was beeping three letters: SMS.

Aha! Clever.

It's funny how just learning a little bit about how something is done can change your whole perception of something.

Now that beeping sequence is no longer off-putting, it's vaguely retro-glamorous.


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