Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 12 Tones of Christmas (The 12 Musings of Christmas #11)

Once again, today's feature isn't my own creation (though I wish it was), but it's a true Christmas classic that should be celebrated - and, I do have my own two cents to add. Richard McQuillan's "The Twelve Tones of Christmas" brilliantly houses a famous count-to-12 song within a 12-tone accompaniment, "fiendishly deployed to maximize the dissonance level," in the composer's words. He also scored it for the unusually piquant combination of ocarina and harpsichord, instruments which are perhaps even more chilling in digitally synthesized form.

I wrote a couple of years ago that it "sounds like the kind of thing that would be playing if Captain Kirk showed up on a planet ruled by some sort of eccentric aristocrat." In fact, I'm sure I was thinking of "The Squire of Gothos" episode, in which you can see the strange guest star playing some intergalactic Scarlatti at the 5:48 mark here. It's not 12-tone music, but it would be better if it was.

Anyway, Schoenberg supposedly dreamed of a day when children would be whistling 12-tone tunes in the street. We're not there yet, but I decided to do the next best thing and have my 9-year old daughter sing "The 12 Days of Christmas" while I played McQuillan's spiky accompaniment on the piano. Child labor laws being what they are and me trying to read from an iPad (which allows Airturn page-turning but makes for some small notes), I can't say I nailed every tone in the few takes we did. Perhaps an advanced ear training class could take on the challenge of figuring out where I betrayed the row. Nonetheless, I think it makes its effect, the child's voice bringing an extra layer of sweetness to the texture.

I wish I'd used separate mics to get better balance, and I wish I hadn't kept rushing ahead to the cadences; but the world needs more domestic 12-tone music-making, and I'm glad to have done my small part. Some day, perhaps, every home will have a harpsichord and Schoenbergiads will be commonplace - if not in this galaxy, then in some strange new world.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. Savior of the Nations, Come
  10. Make it so!
  11. The 12 Tones of Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2014

Make it so (The 12 Composers of Christmas #10)

Day 10 might be considered either the best of times or the worst of times in "The 12 Musings of Christmas." This video is brilliant and entertaining, but I can't take ANY credit for it, nor have I creatively interacted with it in any sort of way. I'm just saying it's awesome. I'd penciled it in when I first started plotting out this series of specials, but I hadn't realized just how popular the video is, so I'm not sure I'm doing much service by possibly adding a few more numbers to the half a million who've already seen it. Nevertheless:

Naturally, I did start thinking about ways I might interact with this idea, but I couldn't come up with anything half as clever. Plus, silly as it is, creating this video must've taken a LOT of time. I did notice a few years back that Charles Ives wrote a song which begins (in the piano part) with the first seven notes of "Let it Snow." It would be easy enough (trivial, really) to work the rest of "Let it snow" into Ives' open-door harmonic world, but I'm not sure that would be very entertaining since Ives' song isn't very familiar. 

So, if you haven't yet seen Captain Picard et al singing "Let it snow"...make it so.

Also, since I'm here, I might as well mention (already tweeted) the perverse delight I experienced on Saturday at a Christmas pageant rehearsal. Using the accompanist edition of The Hymnal 1982, I was about to start in on the last phrase of "Hark, the herald angels sing" as a hymn intro. My foot headed for what I assumed was a B-flat in the pedal when I suddenly noticed there was no B-flat in the key signature...in the bass clef. The treble staff had the expected B-flat, so it's obviously a misprint, but that's a pretty big misprint. You might be wondering what it would sound like to hear the bass staff played without B-flats. Make it so!

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. Savior of the Nations, Come
  10. Make it so!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Savior of the Nations, Come (The 12 Musings of Christmas #9)

For the first eight days of "The 12 Musings of Christmas" I've focused on lighthearted holiday fare. On this 4th Sunday of Advent, which also happens to be the darkest day of the year, here's a more somber musical offering. (Yes, I know that running this series before Christmas should make it all Advent and that the real twelve days of Christmas start on the 25th. We'll put such complaints in the "so sue me" category.)

Many years ago, I had the idea of creating a complete set of piano transcriptions of the 46 short chorale preludes in Bach's Orgelbüchlein. (Busoni made characteristically rich transcriptions of a small selection, but at the time I wasn't aware of any complete piano sets. Now I am.) I only made it through about ten before putting the project on hold, but I might return to it some day. My idea had always been that this kind of repertoire is a great way for pianists to work on voicing and balancing dense counterpoint - and to get to know a type of Bachian keyboard writing different from what one finds in the suites and the Well-Tempered Clavier.

One of my favorites of Bach's collection is the first piece, Nun, komm', der Heiden Heiland, based on a chorale which the composer also featured elsewhere in a much more elaborate prelude and in a couple of cantatas. But I love the simplicity of this relatively straightforward setting, in which the tune is presented once, slowly, above a rich web of interlocking countersubjects. It's almost as if one hears Bach slowly harmonizing the tune one part at a time, so there's always something in motion and out of synch. I think of such music as tilted. (Here's my favorite tilted piece.)

I do play it more slowly (on organ and piano) than most, I suppose because I like hearing the gears turning. I have much more I could say about the arrangement, Bach on the piano, the fact that my piano needs tuning, the use of Lilypond as an engraving tool, and the way in which Bach's music beautifully captures the mystery of anticipation at this darkest time of year. But, it's almost midnight, so I'm going to let the starkness of the music, the arrangement, and the impromptu recording* speak for themselves:

And, if you're curious, here's what Bach's original version sounded like on the organ when I was practicing for Advent 2 a couple of weeks ago.

UPDATE: You can hear the chorale tune sung, followed by a real organist's performance of the Bach prelude here.

* made just minutes ago at the end of a very long day on this shortest day of the year.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. Savior of the Nations, Come

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Christmas Carol (The 12 Musings of Christmas #8)

Today, we turn from distorted sleigh rides to a more sentimental type of musing. What's better than gathering the family around to watch a classic Christmas movie on a cold winter's Saturday night? How about watching a movie starring your family? Here we have my first ever cinematic production, a somewhat abbreviated filming of the Dickens' tale (which, itself, is a pretty short story) starring a variety of nieces and nephews. Here's what I wrote about it seven Decembers ago:
The backstory is that I'd just gotten a computer powerful enough to import and edit video (remember when that wasn't routine), so on the drive down to see our large assortment of adorable nieces and nephews that Christmas, my sister and I hatched the plan of making a movie. Dickens' tale seemed the obvious choice, and somehow the casting all worked out pretty easily too. Since many of the actors were under the age of 6, the basic process was to feed lines one at a time and shoot. I made all sorts of videoing mistakes, such as not realizing that when I stopped (not paused) and then restarted the camera, I'd lose the last few seconds of the previous take. This, and the realities of shooting the whole thing in a couple of days with young children (and those annoying child labor laws) meant that the editing task that followed presented some . . . challenges. Although it took me almost two years to brave the task, I had a great time working within these rather tight constraints.

The final product is quite charming, and even features some special effects that tested the limits of the bargain-basement software I used. Of course the cute kids carry the film (my then 1-year old daughter makes a tiny cameo walking through the party scene), but the aesthetic point to be made here is that the constraints become a part of the language of the work. I wrote about that (and another family movie) in a past post, how certain flaws that would be unacceptable in one context are actually positives in another. (I was thinking something tangentially related the other day listening to Kermit the Frog sing on a Christmas album; that goofy, shaky voice would not be acceptable from just any singer, but our associations with Kermit's persona make it meaningful. Maybe the same could be said of Bob Dylan's voice, although his sound isn't as polished as Kermit's.)
It's amazing to realize that the Scrooge and Bob Cratchit from this production are now college freshmen, and the even younger "Christmas girl" is dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy this weekend for an excellent ballet company. My oldest daughter was only a toddler at the time, so she only toddles on and off screen briefly in the party scene. This movie is definitely a ghost of Christmas past.

I know that posting it veers pretty closely into family insider territory on the level of making someone sit through all your vacation photos - which, come to think of it, is now pretty routine on Facebook. I don't expect everyone to be as charmed by my family as I am, but I do think this is a fairly unique document of...something. There's bad jokes aplenty, a singing fish, and some genuinely moving moments. And it's much shorter than all those other Scrooge movies!

I've posted this on YouTube in two parts before, but this is the first time it's available in a single movie, with somewhat improved video (though this was in the "Christmas past" days before HD.)

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8
  8. A Christmas Carol

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sleigh Ride in 7/8 Time (The 12 Musings of Christmas #7)

We conclude our "Sleigh Ride" portion of "The 12 Musings of Christmas" with an arrangement I can only say I wish I'd created. John Eidsvoog's suave setting of the tune in 7/8 time glides along with such elegance that it hardly sounds off-kilter, at least as he plays it:

When a friend posted it on Facebook a few weeks back, I found it so irresistible that I ordered the sheet music right away (a bargain at $3.99). It is as delightful to play as it is to listen to, in part because EIdsvoog writes in a wonderfully pianistic way; it's not easy, but everything feels right and natural under the hands. (My biggest objection to much new music I encounter is that it seems to be written against the hands and the instrument. Writing for the piano is a very sophisticated art in itself.)

Since I'm advertising it as a pleasure to play, I thought it would be fun to try to record it myself. The arrangement is listed by the publisher as an "Early Advanced" solo, and it does fit the hands beautifully, but it's still full of traps, especially because the hands leap around a lot. I could really use more practice, and I haven't quite gotten into that relaxed groove in which Eidsvoog glides along, but perhaps my rendition is thus more neurotic. (It's hard in 7/8 not to get caught up in the feeling of falling forward!) I tried recording it first reading from my laptop and using a page-turning pedal, but I don't really know the notes well enough to read them when they're so small - so, I found a handy page-turner in the house, and got this done in the first take. There were a few takes that followed, but things didn't improve, so the video below is Take One, unedited. (I'm sure there's a Law Of Faking somewhere that says, "the first time is always best.") Not perfect, but proof that I've played it.

[Oh yeah, since I took a portrait-mode video and had some blank space on the edges, I decided to add a little running meter counter. If you'd prefer to view without the numbers, go here.]

For regular readers of the blog, the following will seem inevitable, but when I first followed that Facebook link a few weeks back, I ended up clicking over to the sheet music link in another tab. Turns out the purchase page starts the same video playing so, yes, I was suddenly hearing the arrangement mashed up against itself. And, yes, I liked it! I couldn't resist recreating that experience, though I cheated by starting the second recording right as the first section is ending in the other. (I always miss that effect now when I play it.) Sounds like this:

It becomes frenetically chaotic at some points (I think in part because the arrangement goes briefly into 5/8 right after the "second entry," so the downbeats don't align for awhile.) But there are some really fantastic harmonic clashes along the way, and those high hits starting around 1:20 are especially exciting. I can't help but think of the greatest 7/8 piece ever written.

Prokofiev. Piano. Precipitato. Pollini. Perfection.

Finally, in a fortuitous coincidence, Eidsvoog's arrangement in 7 lands on Day 7 of "The 12 Musings of Christmas." I didn't even plan it that way.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries (The 12 Musings of Christmas #6)

Yesterday, I mentioned that not all YouTube commenters are thrilled with my Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine. Then there was this more positive (?) comment:

I can't disagree with ol' Curt - I didn't even post the "Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries" on my blog when I first created it. But, it's grown on me over the years - more smash-up than mash-up, perhaps. The opening actually works pretty well, and the final cadence has a nice whiplash effect. The less said about the middle, the better. I think what I like best about the whole thing is the unlikely combination of Sleigh Ride's completely good-natured merriment and Wagner's slashing menace.

Anyway, to quote Taylor Swift, "haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate." Nicholas Slonimsky has famously documented a wide-ranging number of great works that were initally panned by critics. In fact, when the #fakeAMS meme was going around a few years ago (mimicking the absurdist style of so many musicology paper titles), I proposed the following:
It's true that this "work" was also initially panned by me, but what do I know?

If this holiday offering disappoints you, I can also recommend Matthew Guerrieri's 2006 Dreidel Attraction, in which the Valkyries take a ride Wagner would never have imagined:

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine (The 12 Musings of Christmas #5)

This will be a quick post - a fast ride, if you will. We're entering the "Sleigh Ride" portion of these twelve days, so today's special is a 2010 Anderson/Adams combo. If you don't know John Adams' scintillating Short Ride in a Fast Machine, here's a short, fast video to get you up to speed:

Adams' piece has also taken on a life as a "music history survey" piece that shows up in a variety of textbook anthologies. Strangely, it's often presented as a rep for Minimalism, even though there's more variety and clear forward momentum here than is typical of such music - of course, the "short" quality is handy for those survey courses where the last fifty years are generally handled in something like half a class. Anyway, it's a delightful fanfare, full of vibrant orchestral color and sophisticated syncopations, and it actually works pretty well with Leroy Anderson's biggest hit. In fact, I only just learned tonight that Mr. Adams himself has viewed and posted about this mashup in a good-natured manner.

Of course, with attention comes notoriety, and I've noticed one YouTuber complaining "If the tempos were lined up this might actually make a good mashup. As it is, it just sounds a bit like a mess." Well, yeah. It's more a mildly elaborate realization of a pun than a fully realized musical concept. However, I think the way the the pulses phase in and out of each other is actually related to the kinds of metrical phasing characteristic of much Minimalist music. Yes, there are audio-manipulation tools that might make it possible to synchronize the beats more squarely, but audio layering provides some wonderful opportunities for phasing effects that would be extremely difficult to realize in real time. I enjoy trying to follow both tracks as they weave in and out from each other. As it is, with the Short Ride slowly coming to the fore as the mashup progresses, Adams' sharp accents do interact pretty effectively with horse and sleigh. Or so I choose to believe, even if scottallen1990 disagrees.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Rite of "Spring Sonata"

We interrupt the "12 Musings of Christmas" with this special musicological news bulletin. (It is Beethoven's birthday, after all.)

When you break a story (as I did three years ago) about how Stravinsky's famous Rite of Spring chords were originally sketched by Beethoven for possible use in his "Eroica" Symphony, a few things happen. First, people warily avoid any mention of the scoop because the truth frightens people; the musical world just goes about its business as if nothing had happened. But also, as I've learned, sometimes strange men with hybrid German/Russian accents approach you in the back of libraries to whisper secrets that dare not be uttered in the light of day. So it is that I was recently presented with more Beethoven sketches (too fragile to be photographed as of yet) that prove Beethoven had also imagined using these same famous chords in what would come to be known as as his "Spring" Sonata.

It's always been a bit of a mystery as to how this sonata got its name, but these sketches make it pretty clear that Beethoven had something much darker in mind before he took a left turn (opposite of rite) and published one of the sunnier sonatas in the repertoire. The music is still being painstakingly reconstructed from the sketchy sketches, but here's a sampling of what Beethoven might've had in mind, if he'd truly had the spirit of a revolutionary....OK, wait, I gotta admit, this is one of my least successful experiments ever. I thought the idea of a Rite of "Spring Sonata" seemed clever enough, and these fairly distinctive repeated chords in the Beethoven seemed to be the rite place for Stravinsky's famous chords to intrude:

...and it could probably work if enough work was put into it, but I'm gonna step aside here and leave this as is.

[UPDATE: Looking at it again the next day, I realize it would've made more "musical" sense to start Stravinsky's chords in that third measure, right after the sfp. Those actually look like the "rite" chords. Maybe later...]

...and done!

...and, there's more [Updated 12/17]:

I'll just exit by affirming that I've had better luck with these chords in the past:

The Reich of Spring

and maybe even here...

Trippin' with Chestnuts (The 12 Musings of Christmas #4)

We continue the mashup theme (surprise, surprise) for Day #4 with a particularly quirky favorite of mine. As I wrote when I created this a few years back, The Christmas Song used to be one of my least favorite seasonal staples - just too maudlin and sappy for my generally cynical tastes.* But, as A Mighty Wind proves to me every time I watch it, having a little fun with sentiment can put just enough of a spin on the experience that I end up laughing AND enjoying the sentiment. I've got issues:

Anyway, I'll save myself some time by quoting MM2010:
The beauty of this song for mashup purposes is that it's already so soupy that it blends quite naturally, like Campbell's® in a casserole - and what better to blend it with than itself? Instead of "double the Johnny [Mathis]," I've enlisted Mr. Tony Bennett to man the other half of this duet, and as an added bonus, Tony's in a different key! Yet, because both arrangements are so schmaltzy and mellow, with their hazy rhythms and beds of sappy strings, the blend doesn't sound stridently dissonant - just blurry and, well...trippy. And, quite frankly, the Mathis version was pretty trippy already; I'm just helping it towards its logical conclusion... 
To be specific, Mathis is in D-flat, and Bennett's a whole step up in E-flat - like some sort of global appoggiatura. As with my Callas-Fleming "Canon a 2 Tempi," I just set these guys off at the same time by synchronizing the "Chestnuts," and then let the individual phrases fall where they fell. Tony pulls ahead pretty early, but things settle into a satisfying, lazy back-and-forth for much of the rest of the song. My favorite happy coincidence is how Mathis finishes up (technically, his version is supposed to go over the bridge again, but I cut that) and then fades into the end of the Bennett playout, so we get an almost Coplandesque final cadence. Almost.
I'm probably as proud of the visuals as anything else, but at this point the music sounds pretty right to me as well; there's something genuinely intoxicating about letting the mind drift back and forth from tune to tune and key to key. And you may have noticed that this tune I once derided now proudly serves as the emotional climax of my In Season medley. Although it's been said many times, many ways, perhaps "Merry Christmas" hasn't been said bitonally often enough.

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts

* I've also been realizing, while planning Advent/Christmas hymns for the year, that perhaps my two least favorite sacred Christmas tunes are the ever-popular O little town of Bethlehem (the "St. Louis" one) and It came upon a midnight clear. Each sports a kind of late 19th century chromaticism that just doesn't sit right. Perhaps I need to mix them together....

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vertical Christmas Medley (The 12 Musings of Christmas #3)

Today's feature is something both old and new. Even before I had a blog, way back in Aught Five or so, I created a little online greeting card titled "Merry Christmas from the Ives Family," which effectively reduced Charles Ives to the idea of throwing a bunch of tunes together in chaotic simultaneity. (Be warned that music will play automatically if you follow that link.) I made a blog version in 2007 (same warning) which added the option of hearing the individual tunes in isolation. It was designed rather cleverly but clumsily as a webpage with embedded audio, back in the days before YouTube had become a ubiquitously effective multimedia delivery system.

So, I've figured for years that I should bring this, perhaps my first-ever mashup, into the more user-friendly world of YouTube; that day has finally come. I've even updated the hard-working little pianists so that they are, more or less, in synch with their own tunes - and you can still click on each pianist to hear what he's doing. This lets you experiment with the interesting concept of how seeing affects what you hear. If you focus on just one of the pianists below, does it help your ear isolate the tune he represents?

This old audio/new video makes a nice companion to yesterday's In Season. It even shares a flaky background with the "In Season" snowman webpage. Both mashups allow you to consolidate your holiday listening in an efficient and engaging (?) manner as you tune your ears this way and that. As I've written before, a favorite feature of this feature is "the way it illustrates the tendency for tunes to be more rhythmically active in the middle of measures/phrases; there's this sort of frenetic undulation as the rhythmic activity quickens and then slows. It definitely puts me in the Christmas spirit."

The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Season (The 12 Musings of Christmas #2)

Today's offering is actually the most recent of the MMmusing Christmas creations, but since it debuted a bit pre-seasonally in November, here it is again as Day #2 of "The 12 Musings of Christmas."

I've done a few live readings of this with the family, but since we number only five (two violins, two cellos, and piano), we're a little thin texture-wise. Plus, two of our performers are under 10. Hopefully, I'll get some document of that posted eventually.

In the meantime, I only learned yesterday, via this epic Matthew Guerrieri article, of the amazing "In C" Performer iPad app. It lets you control 12 independent parts performing Terry Riley's minimalist masterpiece, the work on which my humble little creation is based. My first reaction to that news was to be a little disappointed, because I'd been fantasizing about creating a program to do much the same thing; but the truth is, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it (not even sure I have the programming chops), certainly not before In C's 50th anniversary years ends in a few weeks.

So, I downloaded the free app, started "playing," and thirty minutes later, I'd overseen a complete, somewhat rushed, performance. It was somewhat rushed because my 7-year old son (who loves anything called "app") was supposed to be going to bed, and he was almost as mesmerized as I was watching things unfold. I didn't want to get us in trouble for keeping him up past his bedtime, so I punched through some of the fragments pretty quickly. (If you try it, I recommend following Riley's loose instructions and keeping all the parts within 2-3 patterns of each other, though that often enough broadened out to 3-5.)

Guerrieri cheerfully concedes that the app is "compulsively fun," though he also expresses some speculation about how it might undermine Riley's idea/ideals:
"The In C iPad app can even be interpreted as underlining the factory-like aspects of the piece. The performers, the cogs—the workers, just like so many others—have been replaced by technology: cheaper, more efficient, more pliable."
It's true that the "community" aspect of the music is lost when it's just me working the buttons on an iPad screen, but the app underlines another important aspect of In C and In Season and so many mashups (more on those in days ahead) - that random or semi-random juxtapositions can lead to all sorts of satisfying possibilities. Yes, it's true that a great performance of In C probably depends on performers who know how to listen and make good decisions in the moment, but the outcome still relies on chance much more than the typical jazz improvisation. I'm not sure how many more times I'll "play" the app (my fear is that every time I open it, I'll be lost to the world for an hour or so), but it's like magic watching/hearing varieties of interlocking patterns (Riley called them "fantastic shapes") emerge. I know that I'm exercising some limited amount of control, but the texture is so rich that I have to admit that many of the most delightful intersections simply seem to materialize on their own.

Perhaps I'll set my sights on designing a program to help you create your own In Season performance...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Time is Here (The 12 Musings of Christmas #1)

Trying something a bit different this year. My posts tend to be lengthy rambles and cover lots of tangential topics, but who has time for that in December? So, for the next twelve days, I'll simply be featuring various holiday creations, including some favorites that I only wish I had created. We start with one of the must humble of my own efforts. My sister needed some opening credits music for an "extended family" version of A Charlie Brown Christmas she'd produced. My then 6-year old middle child had not had a very big role in the movie, so she was asked to sing Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" over the opening credits. I took the lazy route and found a karaoke file for the backing track and then set her up with some fancy headphones as she sang through the song multiple times. I then did a bit of patching together to make her a one-girl chorus, and here you go:

Pretty much speaks for itself. #2 drops tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Louange à l'éclat de Messiaen

Somewhere in the midst of the day, I saw someone mention that today is Olivier Messiaen's birthday. This set my mind to wandering a bit, and I thought of Bruce Adolphe's gorgeous "Piano Puzzler" setting of Hey Jude, in which McCartney's tune wanders among a series of transcendent chords from Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus, the particularly radiant fifth movement of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. I played Adolphe's arrangement in a "mashup" recital I gave in 2013.

So, I figured a birthday tribute might be in order. I'm slightly torn about taking such an overexposed tune and mixing it in with Messiaen's transcendent musical visions, but I think Messiaen wins here, with the tune coming across more beautifully than I'd expected. I've heard many, many "Happy Birthday" transcriptions "in the style of" various composers (including this), but somehow this one doesn't end up sounding silly to me.

For some reason, I first panicked about posting this before Messiaen's birthday ended overseas, so seconds before midnight in Paris, I twittered out a link to a hurried synthesized version, which you can hear below. Within the hour I'd also recorded a live piano version; but best of all, I've now talked the house cellist into a cello/piano version, which is how the 5th movement of Messiaen's quartet is scored. We got this down in one take after dinner, and though I wish the piano was better tuned, it's worth remembering that the composer premiered this monumental work on a very humble-looking prison camp upright piano, so I probably shouldn't complain. Happy birthday, Olivier!

What lurks under the sea of my mind?

Last Friday at my kids' school assembly, all the children and parents were invited to sing along in a rousing rendition of "Under the Sea." I've always had trouble keeping lyrics straight in general (to the great amusement of a new church children's choir I rehearsed on Sunday), but "Under the Sea" has always presented a special problem for me. For as long as I can remember, the first four pitches have invariably sent my mental pathways scurrying over to another tune, to the point that I've never really internalized "Under the Sea" as its own thing. Here's the way it tends to go in my head:

[For those concerned about my sanity, I really didn't spend much time on this!]

As I've emphasized many times in the past, this kind of connection isn't the kind of thing I intentionally go looking for, and though there's nothing profound about the mashup itself, I am endlessly fascinated by what stumbling on this kind of connection says about how listening works. On a fairly trivial level, this kind of link is closely analogous to a verbal pun (and my mental pathways seem programmed to look for those just as readily) - as with a pun, the fun is in finding a close bond between two seemingly unrelated entities.

But, given that pattern-recognition plays a pervasive role in musical perception, this kind of experience is also a useful way to zero in on how the brain organizes what it hears. (I'd guess it's related to how facial-recognition works.) My musical Christmas fragments play off the fact that a small group of pitches, organized in a certain way, can immediately trigger an association with a specific tune. In "We are the Sea," there are only four shared pitches, and they're not particularly distinctive as a group, but the fact that each has mi-re-do (scale degrees 3-2-1) functioning as pickups into a downbeat on la (6) means each tune (each is actually the beginning of a refrain) arrives first on a IV chord instead of the much more common I. So, that shared harmonic implication is probably a key factor in giving these four pitches a reasonably strong identity.* I'd call it a fingerprint, except fingerprints aren't supposed to be shared. (Yes, each tune has its own differently syncopated rhythm as well, which I've chosen to obscure in the C Major-ified version below.)

Indeed, the fact that four pitches can be building blocks for a seemingly infinite variety of tunes is the point of Leonard Bernstein's wonderfully engaging "Infinite Variety of Music" talk, which I uploaded to Youtube a few years back. That discussion is focused on the even more basic sol-do-re-mi ("How dry I am") pattern; but, I think the little four-note "under the world" descent above has a significantly more distinctive quality.

Just when I thought I was almost done with this post, I had the idea of looking for online resources that would show what other tunes have this particular fingerprint. I first checked out this "best classical tunes" online dictionary, which lets you input scale degrees via keyboard or solfège syllable. It turned up seven "classical" matches, though only one (as far as I can tell) that starts with the 3-2-1 landing on a downbeat 6: this lovely theme from Tchaikovsky's 6th:
Tchakovsky: Sympony No. 6, 1st mvt, 2nd theme
[Listen starting at 4:45 here.]

However, in this case the arrival on B (scale degree 6) is still harmonized with a I chord, with that B treated as a dissonant appoggiatura that resolves to the chord tone A. So, this doesn't quite fit the mold.

Then, for the first time in some time, I remembered Harold Barlow's remarkable Dictionary of Musical Themes, which I used to browse forever in school libraries. Someone has created a fairly unsatisfying digital version of that database here (only returns MIDI audio, no scores images and the search function has issues), but I was able to download an enormous PDF of the whole thing here!

Man, do I ever love this book - so much so that I just ordered a hardback copy since the PDF is a bit unwieldy for browsing and because...because I wanted to have that book in my hands again! Barlow's handy "all converted to C Major" index turned up 14 matches (Tchaikovsky is T282):

I happily "thumbed" through the PDF to check out each tune and found that only one (B710)

meets the "land on a downbeat IV chord" requirement, this theme from a Beethoven Sonata I learned a few years after "We are the world" debuted:
Beethoven: Sonata in Eb, Op. 7, 1st mvt., 2nd theme
[Listen starting at 0:50 here.]

I'll admit I'd never heard "We are under the sea-world" while playing this piece, perhaps because the rhythm is so unsyncopated, and because the "pickup" notes are harmonized as well, even though the IV chord is still the first major harmonic stop along the way. But I do find it easy enough to hear the affinity now, and it's definitely closer than what I hear in Tchaikovsky's tune. Neither of these databases searches the enormous melodic worlds of pop/rock/folk/jazz, so there's probably a larger family of "we are the sea" tunes, but I still think it's a pretty distinct species.

It's possible that I particularly enjoy this little mashup because I'm not such a big fan of either tune on its own.** Thus, like a phoenix rising from the anacrusis, this new anthem of underwater unity beckons to us all - or, at least, to all of us who get these tunes mixed up. Turns out I'm not the only one, as I discovered this (less artful) mashup on Youtube right after posting mine. (My version transposes "Under the Sea" and adjusts tempos a bit to make the recordings fit better.) I was kind of sad to see that someone had beaten me online, but also strangely comforted to know it's not just me. Is it you as well?

P.S. Right after posting this, I discovered this excellent online tool: Themefinder. Enter 3216 into the scale degree box and you'll get the same (?) 14 matches as Barlow...plus lots more from folksong and Renaissance reps, but still no pop/rock/jazz. Nevertheless, this site is A M A Z I N G. Note that Bernstein's "How Dry I Am" theme turns up 149 classical matches! I may be spending the rest of my days on this site...

* Speaking of close melodic identities, I was amused/alarmed to see someone trying to assert online that John Williams' "Can You Read My Mind?" theme from Superman is not closely related to the transfiguration theme from Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. On this comment thread, we read:
"This claim has been around in print since at least 1979. And it's completely bogus.

Can You Read My Mind: C E G e d

Death and Transfiguration: C D E e d

Of the five notes, three are the same and two are different. And after these first five notes, the rest of the melodies are completely different."
This simplistic analysis overlooks the fact that the leap up to that "e d" descent has a very strong fingerprint which I discussed in this post. The three shared pitches are easily the most important structurally. You can follow that link to read more about my reasoning, but, as with "Under the Sea" and "We are the World," the proof of the connection is that I heard it before ever thinking about it. (And yeah, sure, the tunes then go in completely different directions; the point is that just a few pitches, shaped in a certain way, are enough to make a distinct melodic character.)

[Click on the examples to hear them played.]

** I'm definitely not a big fan of either tune, but I've got to admit that revisiting "We are the World" was a fun trip down memory lane. It happened to come out during the one year of my life that I listened to Top 40 radio regularly, and I can still remember being completely perplexed by the sound of Bob Dylan's voice, which I'm not sure I'd ever heard before. (It's not a coincidence that his solo made it into my mashup.) The whole production is pretty hokey, but there's something genuinely moving about watching this diverse group of stars (Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Al Jarreau, Cyndi Lauper...) seem really to enjoy singing together - to be themselves while also looking beyond themselves and enjoying the camaraderie. I've since come to understand Dylan's voice as something other than comical, although I still am bewildered that anyone wants to hear Bruce Springsteen sing anything - he sounds horrible and just about ruins the song. That oh-so-earnest gravel always sounds more like affectation than authentic to me, whereas Dylan (and even Cyndi Lauper!) don't bother me nearly as much. Go figure.

Final Point: I know Do they know it's Christmas? came first, but in my totally biased view, We are the world is far superior. USA! USA! USA!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inside In Season

In our last episode, I debuted a new little holiday piece, In Season, inspired by Terry Riley's In C. Although it's silly and lighthearted, I seriously hope it will inspire a few people to give it a try, so I've given the arrangement its only little webpage. In addition to making new versions of the score available in alto/bass clefs and Bb/Eb/F transpositions, I made a new version of the video with highlighting to show which fragments are being played at a given time. (Sorry, no link to the video here; you've got to visit the page!) Although my knowledge of javascript is pretty sketchy, I also managed to build some cool little "chapter" buttons* below the video which allow the user to jump instantaneously to any of the 14 entry points.

I took no small delight in watching my two younger children (9 and 7) push the buttons and follow the highlighting, listening for the melodic fragments to emerge from the mild cacophony. This is a fun little pedagogical aspect of this kind of project, as it takes a particular kind of listening focus to hear through such a dense texture. It's a bit like one of those magic eye puzzles, except here you have to "squint" your ears to zero in on a particular register or sonority or whatever. Even though I had the "performance" notated explicitly in Finale, so that I could track exactly when and where each fragment begins and ends, it wasn't always immediately easy for me to hear certain parts - and then, suddenly, the same parts would sound with absolute clarity. I found this to be true especially with the high-register glockenspiel tones, which often sound virtually un-pitched until I really tune in to those frequencies.

This kind of skill is, of course, quite handy when listening to just about any kind of music; as I've observed many times before, I suspect much of the pleasure I get from mashups* is the way they challenge the brain to distill discrete musical meanings from the mixed-up muddle. Of course, performing a piece like this (or, better yet, In C) is also great for learning group improvisational dynamics within a pretty non-threatening context. There's really no "wrong" way to play or repeat the fragments in a group performance, but learning to respond to what you hear around you and create inter-relationships on the spot is a great exercise for just about every part of your musical brain.

Anyway, I hope you'll take a second to check out this new In Season page. Did I mention that the page elements are designed to look like a snowman? 

OK, it's kind of a slightly creepy robot snowman, but I'm still not going to embed the new highlighted video in this post - you've got to face the snowman to give it a try.

* The chapter buttons work better on an iPad/tablet or computer than on smaller phone screens - at least on my iPhone, the video automatically goes full-screen when it plays, which means the chapter buttons become unavailable.

** Note that just about any kind of music is a mashup at some level.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Season's Greetings in C

I can't believe I somehow made it through most of 2014 without realizing that this is the 50th anniversary year of Terry Riley's In C, an iconic work that I've come to love while leading annual performances of some kind or another over the past 4-5 years...until 2014, that is. Although the music is hardly old-sounding, it's become so influential that it's hard for me to believe it was only 20 years old when I first encountered it at a high school summer music program. (This is a roundabout way of saying it's not much older than I am.) Riley's original instructions specify that "the pulse is traditionally played by a beautiful girl on the top two octaves of a grand piano." The main thing I remember about that first performance is sitting on the piano bench next to a fellow student who fit that description, though she and I switched off between playing the pulsing octaves and playing other patterns below (on the keyboard), so we were bending at least one rule when I was on top.

The music and concept themselves seemed fairly silly to me at that time, although performing al fresco in a courtyard made for a lovely happening. I'd since listened to parts of recordings over the years, but this is music of the moment that can only truly make sense in the moment, which is one of its most bittersweet qualities. Thus, it was only through leading performances for various classes that the work really made a strong impression as music. I can remember a couple of performances in which my hands/wrists should've been about to fall off from playing those octaves (alone and un-beautiful) for 45 minutes or so, yet feeling so sad to find we'd come to the end. (Curiously enough, I just heard Beethoven's Op. 132 string quartet live for the second time last week; both times I've heard it, I felt a deep kind of regret when the eternity-on-earth third movement ended. I just wanted it to keep going and going. There is a quasi-minimalist vibe to the last six minutes or so in which the parts move in and out of synch with each other, at times seeming to ruminate in their own separate spaces...à la Riley.)

The high school me couldn't make heads or tails of music which didn't make it clear where every note belonged, to say nothing of the absurdly simple looking musical materials. Of course, the key is that the performers get to discover in the moment how it is that those simple materials can interact with each other in all sorts of unexpected and delightful ways. Riley writes, "some quite fantastic shapes will arise and disintegrate as the group moves through the piece when it is properly played." This turns out to be true (!), and the disintegrations are sad indeed, but life is like that.

As luck would have it, I've also been thinking lately about needing a new Christmas project for the blog, and when I recently saw a notice about an upcoming In C performance, a string of light bulbs went off in my head. It started with the first three notes of Jingle Bells, and pretty soon I'd put together a series of distinctively seasonal melodic snippets that could be "In C-ed." I understand, of course, that I'm both blatantly copying Riley's concept and violating some essential aspects of that concept, but I'm nevertheless quite pleased with the result (so far as it's gone so far).

[If you don't know In C, the basic idea is that an unspecified number of musicians play through the numbered patterns in sequence, with each performer repeating each pattern as often as desired; parts do not need to synchronize, but all are held together by a constant pulse, and the performers should listen to the group and stay within a few numbers of each other.]

Riley's work builds (quite literally) on the elemental nature of most of its 53 patterns - many feature just two or three pitches, and only one (the epic #35) has a sufficiently distinctive contour to be described as a "melody" (and a pretty quirky one at that).

Riley's first five "elements"
Riley's epic #35

On the other hand, I've chosen short melodic patterns that are intended to be immediately recognizable as triggers for calling up various holiday tunes. I'm hopeful that these patterns can do double duty - serve as reminder triggers and also detach themselves from their original contexts and take on their own identities, so there's a kind of deconstructing/reconstructing going on here. Maybe.

MMmusing's first five fragments
There's a possible advantage in that the listener can experience the satisfaction of recognition as these tunes emerge from the texture. The fact that the patterns are more "formed" than Riley's means it's also more likely for there to be awkward clashes as various pitches and rhythmic shapes collide, but Ives taught me long ago not to fear clashes. (In fact, one of my first holiday specials was this Ivesian mashup of seven Christmas tunes.) I'm guessing one fallout from this is that, whereas Riley specifies an ideal performing group of about 35, I think something closer to 10 might work best here to avoid total congestion - which is just as well, because assembling 35 musicians is no easy feat, and it's such a busy time of year!

Perhaps the biggest and most interesting challenge in putting this together was trying to create a "performance" - a kind of reverse-engineering problem where the process to be reversed doesn't even exist. It was fun simply to work through the process with about ten "instruments"* and try to find a balance between letting things happen and looking for especially satisfying intersections. I suspect on the whole that this demo version is a bit heavy on the purposeful, but that also allows it to be shorter - a live performance would almost certainly benefit from more repetitions to give ideas time to gel.

As I've been writing this post, I've been listening to a much more ambitious project: Jeff Hall has created a complete, 50-minute symphonic-style performance of In C by layering together 21 synthesized tracks. By dispensing with the regular pulse and mixing instruments in and out regularly, he does an excellent job revealing how much variety and shape can be found in Riley's overall vision, although the synthesized orchestral sounds get on my nerves sometimes. I think this large-scale structural aspect of In C is under-appreciated (at least it was under-appreciated by me for decades), and in a small way, I've tried to create some structural flow within my holiday jumble.

Most obvious is that the more rhythmically busy patterns occur in #6-11, bookended by the two longest and slowest fragments, #5 and #12. (Note also that #5 ascends and #12 descends.) #3 leads very naturally into #4, both by shared dotted rhythm and the G-F-E connection. #4 ends with the same rising G-C that begins #5. Only C-D-E-F-G are used through the first five fragments. A appears only in #6 and #8-12, with the leading tone B appearing only in the climactic #10-12. The final fragment, #14, is the only one not to include C, so it serves as a kind of implied dominant that might lead back...

In referring to the numbered patterns as fragments, I'm alluding both to the incompleteness of each as a musical entity and to the shared knowledge that each fragment points back to a complete musical entity of its own. I've been thinking about this idea recently after reading this review of an event in which pianist Andy Costello "performed" all of Chopin's Etudes (normally a wildly daunting task):
“...he only performed enough of each to make it recognizable, three or four seconds. This was just long enough to engage one’s own memory of each work, and Chopin’s genius became clear: only two seconds was enough to bring the entire etude into focus in one’s memory, so strongly characterized were each."
It's a wild idea, but true of course that hearing just a few seconds of music can set off much longer loops in our inner ear. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks describes a man who once "heard" an entire side of a Mozart LP only to discover, on going to turn the record over, that he'd never started it playing in the first place - but he still heard the whole thing. Technically, he imagined hearing the whole thing, but if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, maybe it can still make a sound in your imagination. (Did you hear that?) That's a little off-point, but it's part of the experience of this new little piece that your musical memory is sent in multiple possible directions. By the way, note that for those familiar with In C, the soundworld first evoked by Riley should also emerge as one of the recognizable building blocks of this new "tune." Nonetheless, this isn't pretending to be In C Lite. In Season is its own thing.

I'm presenting this now, pre-December, in hopes that maybe some theory/history classes out there will want to give it a try when Early Minimalism is on the agenda at the end of the semester. Although I believe Riley's masterpiece stands on its own just fine, it would be wonderful if this smaller, more easily accessible homage served as a kind of gateway drug for someone to delve more deeply In to the C. I'm certainly going to try to commandeer some musicians to see what happens when it happens in real time.

The score for In Season, complete with Riley-like instructions, can be downloaded here. Let me know if it happens to you!

UPDATE: The new In Season webpage is here. Read more about that here.

P.S. I wrote about In C several years ago when I created a little practice video to help performers learn their part. Strangely, I only just noticed last night, while listening to Jeff Hall's symphonic version, how much Riley's #27 sounds like Saint-Saëns Danse macabre, especially since Hall starts this motif out in the flute!

* If you're curious, my little band consists of flute, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, glockenspiel, marimba, harp, violin, cello, and the piano ostinato.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Generic 12-tone Happy Birthday

Turns out today is the 36th birthday of new BSO conductor, Andris Nelsons. Good for him, and let's face it, there are probably others with birthdays today as well - in fact, odds are that every day is someone's birthday, so I've repurposed a little 12-tone birthday song I wrote for a friend into a more generic version that can work for anyone deserving of a greeting. Happy Birthday to All!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

George Pastic's "The Violin"

Most of the multimedia featured on MMmusing is at least partly original in conception, but there are also a few "finds" that I'm pleased to have made available even though I had nothing to do with their creation. One example is George Pastic's "The Violin," a marvelous short film from 1974 which I'd first seen at several Suzuki Violin festivals more than thirty years ago. I had begun looking for it about ten years ago for my then young violinist daughter and managed to find an old VHS copy at the Boston Public Library. I decided to upload a copy to YouTube back in 2008 since it didn't seem to be available by any other means. Since then, many viewers have mentioned how much they loved this film and how glad they are to be able to see it again.

Last week, the following comment appeared on the video page from Greg Pastic, the director's son:
Michael, I don't know you but I want to thank you so much for uploading this to YouTube.  My father, George Pastic, passed away at the age of 86 on November 4th 2014, just six short days after losing his wife of 62 years in a tragic car accident.  The accident happened on Oct. 30th.  George had been ill for two years and my 83 year old mother and my younger brother Russell, had been caring for him at home.  When mom was killed, he simply lost his will to live.  This short film truly embodies my father's love of music, storytelling, the power of simple images, and most of all, his love for people.  I hope that, at some time in the future, my family can afford to release it on DVD.
Such sad news (an obituary for Pastic and his wife is here), but the film is certainly a wonderful tribute to Pastic's artistry, as beautifully described by his son. After seeing Pastic's comment, I noticed that an "official release" of the film on YouTube bad been posted back in August. You can view it here.

You can read a bit more about George Pastic here, and my original blog post from 2008 is here. The "print" of the film I'd posted is a bit darker in color, though I think the aspect ratio might be a bit more accurate. It would be great to see a fully cleaned-up transfer on DVD, but there's something about the old-world charm and simplicity of the film that easily overcomes these imperfections. A film about music and memory, it manages in less than thirty minutes to be lighthearted, bittersweet, and memorably musical.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

500 miles

For what it's worth, this is my 500th post here at MMmusing.

Milestones are quirky, arbitrary things, I'll admit. If we had eight fingers instead of ten, 320 might look like 500, and this would be post #764. Furthermore, a "post" is a wildly inconsistent unit of measure since a single post might feature 50 words or 500 words - or a picture that's worth 512 words (which would be 1000 words in base 8).

Furthermore, if you look at the number of posts by year, you'll see that I was more than 1/3 of the way to 500 after just one year! What happened?

Obviously, things have changed from those manic first couple of years, though not necessarily for the worse. (Perhaps I'm just closing in on the perfect zero!) There are a couple of logical reasons why the numbers have dropped so precipitously. First, when I was starting out, I didn't really know what I was trying to accomplish, so I was much more focused on getting something going - momentum seemed very important in proving to myself that the blog was a living thing. It reminds me of when I went camping this summer and tried to make a couple of fires, working with the limited skill set of someone who never made it past Cub Scouts. Even though I bought camp firewood and had a lighter, I'd still spend about half an hour feeding stacks of paper napkins and the like into the flames, along with whatever kindling I could accumulate (where's a viola when you need it?), until things really got going. There are definitely some stacks of paper napkins in those first couple of blogging years (though there's a lot of good stuff too!).

Just as importantly, the blogosphere has changed enormously in the last 7+ years. When I started out in early 2007, Facebook and Twitter weren't yet relevant, and even feedreaders weren't all that common, so it meant something to have regular activity at a blog as a way of encouraging return visits. Conductor Kenneth Woods, one of the best and most consistently productive music bloggers I know, recently wrote an excellent article about the way the social media revolution has marginalized blogs in some troubling ways (especially negating the way in which blogs used to feed traffic back and forth to each other), but Facebook and Twitter do offer useful, if Big Brotherly, ways to point readers to new material. Since I was desperate to look alive in those early days, there are a number of posts that are basically marking time by apologizing for slow output and promising more posts ahead.

I know this because I spent the last several days reviewing all 499 existing posts - not reading them all, for goodness sake, but at least glancing at each one, while fixing some dead links here and there. I was tempted to remove some of the paradoxical "sorry, no post today" posts, but then that would've thrown off the 500 milestone and made the post-count even more ambiguous. The line between substantive and trivial is often not clear; substance can be quite trivial, and trivia can be quite substantive! 

Although the best I can do is approximate, I'm pretty confident I've written well over 300,000 words here (about 3-4 novels' worth?), and that's to say nothing of all the fully integrated multimedia creations: more than 100 (mostly) original YouTube videos which collectively have been viewed more than 500,000 times, plus lots of images, live recordings, even a few compositions and computer programs. And don't forget the sonnets and viola jokes. I do sometimes wonder what the return-on-investment of all this is (it didn't get me tenured!), but I know I've created a lot of stuff I would never have otherwise created, and that's honestly satisfaction enough. There are plenty of fantastic music blogs out there, but I feel confident in saying there's no other like this one.*

Of course, one could make the argument that I should be putting some of this material into more permanent form, but let's leave that argument for another day. I still like the idea of working against the ephemerality of blogging and thinking of this richly hyperlinked "document" as a living, breathing permanent thing - although I have to admit that going through all of those dead links was a chore, and I know that many of them will die again, sometimes never to be recovered. In one case, I was sad to see that a lengthy response I'd written to a commenter had disappeared with the commenter's vanished blog! 

Anyway, even if there have only been 21 posts so far in 2014, they have included an intricately executed "shredding" of Bach (with "Pop Goes the Weasel" thrown in), a series of computer programs that interact with 12-tone principles and the formal properties of Erik Satie's music, a cool mashup ragtime arrangement, some experiments in 12-tone composition, and, in the self-referential spirit of which this post is an example, an interactive index for the blog itself. Although I originally expected MMmusing to be populated mostly by think pieces, I've found it's often more interesting to "think out loud" by creating. I've also used the milestone as an excuse to update the ol' "Musing Machine" in the margin, now with about 300 possible random multimedia outcomes. (Sadly, your mileage with that machine may vary on mobile devices.)

One last gesture for this momentous occasion: I've decided to give in to the inevitable and experiment with an MMmusing Facebook page. I'm honestly not sure what I'll do with it, but I've figured I can only figure that out by trying. I hate how little control Facebook provides for the look and feel of a page, and I'm not going to be paying them to promote my links, so it will likely wither away in cyberspace. So, I invite you to LIKE it! We'll see where it goes as I set out on my second 500 posts.

. . . . . . . .

Oh, one more thing. I recently came across this September 2012 recital recording of the Allemande from Bach's Partita in D Major. It is an extraordinary piece (introduced to me by this Jeremy Denk series), quietly unlike anything else of Bach's I know in its searching, meandering quality. I don't think I'd listened to the performance since the recital, but two years seemed like a safe enough distance...and I was pleasantly surprised! Some crazy sort of honesty compels me to admit that there was one very slight memory stumble which I was able to splice out since each half of the piece is repeated; at least this confession allows me to affirm that I performed from memory. It's not perfect, but it says what I think about this piece and Bach and the piano and music perhaps better than words could...so, enough words.

* I know an argument could be made that lack of focus hurts "the brand," that the blog darts in too many self-indulgent directions instead of sticking to a clear kind of theme, but the appeal for me of a self-published blog is being able to link up all sorts of divergent ideas in ways that inform each other. Some day, it will all make sense.