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Above: New year's Eve concert at the Virginia Theater, Dec. 31, 2014 photography by Eric Frahm and Darell Hoemann (#4)
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This week's featured recording:

Arabesque #2   by Claude Debussy

It doesn't seem to matter that it's gray and gloomy outside; this piece can't stop bubbling along with an infectious joy. It doesn't even care that it is overshadowed by the much more famous Arabesque #1, which really doesn't seem fair when you listen to all of that vitality and musical laughter and rhythmic energy and--oh, just listen to it!


New on the Blog  
Monday 1/19
warning label

my lawyer told me I had to write this...well, not really.

Who really wrote the 8 little preludes and fugues? (part four)

I actually get around to visiting the library

Sunday morning (part two)
In case you were wondering what I do on Sunday morning

Articles from around the Pianoverse....
(one "new" article every week)

Onward and up--well, not this time, actually...

I felt like just having a little fun today, so if you're in a similar mood, this is for you. It's a bit of Joplin. I've been thinking about having a go at some Jelly Roll Morton, actually, but probably won't get around to it until after Christmas. At the moment, just not being sick and too busy is a good start. So let's have a bit of Joplinesque cheer...

The Cascades by Scott Joplin


The piece is called "The Cascades" and it is exactly halfway through the Joplin catalog. If you don't mind one nerdy observation, since I spent a month in 2009 working my way through the first half of Joplin's rags, I find this one interesting for one particular reason. The ideas are great, the tunes, the rhythms, are catchy, and, by the way, the second part of the piece, a little over a minute and a half in, when the 'trombones' come in in the left hand--that's the trickiest thing Joplin ever wrote, I think--but if you're a composer you know that after a while, cranking out piece after piece, you struggle not to keep doing the same thing. And for Joplin, it wasn't easy to stay fresh, since rags have a pretty set formula. The odd thing here isn't that there are four sections, all of which repeat (and each, conveniently 45 seconds long in the recording!): no, what's odd is that, after the first two parts, it's time to change keys. Nothing new there. But for some reason, Joplin decides not to go where ragtime composers nearly always go, which is four steps up; instead he decides to go one step DOWN. What made him do that, I wonder?       More





Simple Gifts

People have always been curious about the nature of certain artistic gifts, and, having been blessed with some of them, I thought it would be fun and enlightening to share what I think I know about musical talent and what I've observed about popular beliefs regarding them.

There are such a myriad of different kinds of abilities that it is not easy to zero in on what makes an artist. One of the most mythologized aspects of the craft is that it "springs from nowhere." People seem to want art to be mysterious, and, although there are plenty of great artists on record talking about how much work goes into their profession, most people don't seem to want to hear them. Inspiration is the key, we are told. Hollywood keeps feeding us movies about "just believing" or "following your heart" and the heroes of such films are successful just because they want it real bad, despite their lack of training. This kind of thinking may be so enchanting because it lets the rest of us off the hook. If it either happens to you in a bolt of lightning or it doesn't, and it doesn't, well, that's just too bad. No need to try. The funny thing about workmanship is that some of the greatest Symphonies ever written start off with tunes that just about anybody could've come up with. Frequently there will be a masterful subtlety that makes something that seems so simple actually evidence of a rare gift, but sometimes the theme is about as basic as you can get, and it is the working out of that theme that shows the composer's genius. That requires extremely hard work. It requires the kind of discipline that few people have. Many of my students could be much more than they are if they would only work harder. There is nothing profound about this. And there is nothing mysterious about the young lives of the great composers, either. Somebody was there early to impose a rigid work ethic on the child, in every case. A few composers known to history had little early education and so had to scramble in later life to achieve proficiency. Some were able to go a long way on what seems to be the strength of their inspiration, but the way was not easy. These composers are generally known for only a few of their best works. The lucky accidents, perhaps? To some degree, yes, but notice how luck favors the craftsmen, those with training, who know what to look for, recognize a great idea when it rains down upon them, and are able to transform even a mediocre idea into something sublime.




from the department of Godmusic:
Half the Argument
first posted March 1, 2011

Critical thinking is not a subject that is taught in schools. It is also not particularly encouraged in church. There is a reason for that—it is dangerous. Thinking almost necessarily implies asking questions, which means entertaining the possibility that you will come to a different conclusion than you are supposed to. And for many, religious faith is entirely about the conclusions—conclusions which have already been drawn and which it is your role to passively accept. The curious thing about all this is that we live in an age and a culture where enough of humanity’s members have a decent sprinkle of education, and where reason and the role of the grey matter is at least respected to a point, and so it is not always seemly to dismiss evidence gathering and analysis altogether—but the real thing still needs to be avoided.

Such, at least, is my uncharitable assessment of the character of a study I came across on the book of Revelation. I have so far not proceeded beyond the preface, in which the author tells us what to believe about the book’s origins, the author’s intentions, and the appropriate mode of interpreting the book’s contents. The style of writing, and the way the author presents his argument, remind me of my study bible, which also stacks the evidence, providing mainly conclusions, and a few handpicked supporting details to make its case, with nothing to get in the way. In case your mind has been dulled by years of such writing, I thought it would be useful to point out how the author of this study pretends to give us all sides of an argument, but really presents us with only one: the only valid conclusion! We have to agree with him because he gives us none of the other voices. Most of us are not likely to go looking on our own, and voila! The case is made.

To give an example: here he is about the likely date of the book:      More




I thought I could warm us all up with memories of my trip to Greece...

Greek Week

In the spring of 2005 I traveled to Greece with the St. Paul Saints, a chorus of high school girls who form an "elite singing group". Every couple of years they take a concert tour to some distant land. Since they were in need of an accompanist, and I didn't mind spending a week in Greece, off we went.  It was spring break and I needed something to do anyway.

What sorts of things can you expect from a trip to Greece in mid-march? Well, 70 degree weather, mostly, very little rain, and, of course, the Greek specialties--ancient ruins everywhere, picturesque mountains overlooking sparkling blue seas, invigorating music, relaxed and happy citizens, persistent merchants, friendly cats and dogs, feta cheese, more 70 degree weather--I mean, if you're into that sort of thing.   More