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This week's featured recording:

Veni Creator Spiritus:  verse 1
by Hieronymus Praetorius

This week begins, for many of us, with an extra day of rest. In parts of Europe, it is Pentecost Monday. Folks in the United States get the day off for an entirely different reason: to remember their war dead. However you get (got) to spend your day, I hope it was meaningful. This week I'm going all the way back to the Renaissance for a piece based on a Pentecost chant by one Hieronymus Praetorius. If the organ sounds nasal with all those reeds on, imagine what a relief it was to no longer have to play every note full blast, as was necessary during the Middle Ages. It was the new thing then, to play with contrasting groups of sound, made possible by the technological innovation of "stopping" the air flow to various groups of pipes, rather than having all of them sound at once. This gave rise to the science of organ "registration." Presented here is the first of a group of three pieces--you can hear the others in the pianonoise listening archive here.

New on the Blog  

Monday 5/18


If you don't read this blog by next week...you'll have to find it in the archives

Wednesday 5/20

How long?

If I start now, how long until I master the entire piano literature? Just wondering.

Friday 5/22
Sleepers, awake?
a little wind and fire never woke anybody up, did it?

upcoming performances....

--gig with "Timezone" Friday May 29 at "Cowboy Monkey" in Champaign (9pm-10:30)

We may rock out but we also like to get to bed on time--especially for our 6am gigs on Sunday mornings! (this one happens to be on a Friday)

not pictured: our drummer. Not that he was sore about that or anything!  :-)

5 Second Rule

Hello. Now that I have your attention, I'd just like to say....

Wait! Don't go!....too late!


Well, for anybody who stuck around long enough to read this sentence, let me just say what a pleasure it is to have you and thank you for violating the 5-second rule. It is quite an honor.

If you are scratching your head at this point I should point out that the 5-second rule as used in this blog does not refer to how long a potato chip can be on the floor before it is no longer safe to eat, it refers to how long you have to get someone's attention in today's society. I heard that somewhere, and, not unusually, I can't remember exactly where. Let's assume it holds up. There has probably been a study done on it.

This is not a rule that is particularly congenial to the goings on at Pianonoise. Most of the musicians whose music is represented here probably thought their hearers would give them more than five seconds to develop what they were saying.

A particularly good case in point is the offertory I prepared recently for church by a fellow named Jan Sweelinck. Sweelinck's piece takes me about ten minutes to play, which I presume means the world was in less of a hurry generally back then (c. 1600). If you only listened to the first five seconds of that piece you might come away thinking that Mr. Sweelinck had written a very nice test pattern. If you stay a bit longer you might realize that that test pattern is actually a very long note--the first note of the tune, actually--and soon gives way to other notes, which, eventually, make up a slowly unfolding melody, as well as a few other things.

Many a composer from the past doesn't seem to have felt the need to capture your attention right up front, and many of those composers are represented in the listening archive here at Pianonoise, particularly the section devoted to organ music. What would it be like to listen to the first five seconds of each selection alone, I wonder, deciding which pieces you would like to listen to based only on that early snippet?

I treat it like an odd thing, when, in fact, I'm sure many of you do exactly that. I can tell because of the proportion of hits to a file and amount of memory taken up by those requests. In other words, most people are clearly not listening to the entire selection. Or, more exactly, their computers are not loading the entire file, which, in the case of fast internet connections must mean some people go away in a hurry. If it isn't what you thought it would be, something you were looking for, something you'll immediately recognize, then our composer doesn't stand a chance. But even if you're here with an open mind, prepared to meet the unexpected, ready for something new (only not too new), that opening measure had better catch your attention.

Beethoven had a pretty good gift for that. It isn't just those famous first eight notes of the Fifth Symphony that I'm thinking about, either. Running through the early piano sonatas in my head (sorry, but I didn't think to record them for you) I note that the first few bars of each are filled with drama and visceral excitement. If Beethoven can't get you hooked that way, there really isn't much any mortal composer can do. Ok, there aren't any electric guitars. Sorry.

Scott Joplin wasn't bad at it, either. Unless you hear the piano and the slow tempi and decide to turn him off regardless of whether the opening motive has a catchy rhythm in there. Now that I think about it, Brahms can sometimes rise to the occasion too, in his early works. Maybe these composers were very aware of how badly they needed to impress people early in their careers. Besides, it isn't much fun to develop bad material. It just winds up boring for longer than it would be without the development. Maybe worse.

People have pointed to great literature with great opening lines which draw the reader in from the first. Some of those lines are famous--but how many of us read the rest of the book, hook or no hook? "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Ok, but why? "Call me Ishmael." Yeah, maybe we can do lunch sometime. "It was a dark and stormy night." Anybody know where that lulu came from?

Ok, so even a fascinating opening line isn't enough sometimes. It may take on a life of its own, of in the corner by itself, living its own life aloof from the rest of the book. And some of the best books don't have very memorable openings anyhow. "Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way." Not bad, I suppose, and I can remember it. I have no memory at all for the opening of War and Peace, which I read twenty years go. I seem to recall it starting with a very long sentence, which didn't strike me as inappropriate at all under the circumstances. 1500 pages later there had been a number of great lines and memorable episodes, and some degree of slogging involved as well. But it couldn't very well announce itself in the first page. Tolstoy had something to say that took 1500 pages to say, that's all there was to it. And if you didn't slow down long enough to find that out, that was just going to be too bad. You'd never hear it.

Never mind the nature of the content: we know that activity catches the eye and the ear. Dumping people right into the maelstrom without an introduction seems to work, sometimes, unless of course you are looking for some peaceful bit of soothing noise, in which case that won't do at all. And sometimes people don't even get that far. I was a little disappointed last week when next to nobody listened to the weekly recording, which was a nice bit of flashy organ music. It had a high sugar content and a lot of flair and by putting it right there at the top of the home page for a week I was sure it would get a few listens the way all of its predecessor in that spot have fared during their time in the sun. No dice. Was it because it was organ music?

In fact, month after month the same few pieces on Pianonoise get a few thousand listens and the rest manage only a hundred at best. And usually far fewer. That's because most people don't visit the site at all. They go on MP3 finders and look for particular pieces of music. And, for some reason, my renditions of a couple of famous piano pieces seem to cut through some of the noise. No idea why. They aren't the best things on here. But that's popularity for you. And I suppose it's better than nothing. But a lot of that depends on what you make of it. I've gotten to know a lot of new pieces during my time making these recordings, a lot of rare ones, and a lot of very interesting ones. It's really opened up my world, and I'd love to be able to do the same for you.


5/26  (2/26/13)