Monday, June 5, 2017

2011 - 2017

Today is the sixth bloggiversary of the Music Salon. Yes, it was June 5, 2011,  a Sunday, when I got up and said to myself "today is the day I start my blog." A few minutes later my first post was up:
People have urged me for years to publish my thoughts about music. Well, ok, two people and I think they were just tired of getting the rants via email! But what the heck, I've enjoyed reading blogs for years and I certainly have thoughts about music. Let me give you some background: I've been a professional musician all my life, most of it as a classical guitarist. I studied with some great maestros of the guitar: Jose Tomas, Oscar Ghiglia and Pepe Romero. I also have composed my whole life, though not so much as a professional composer as just to get something out of my system. I also spent several years studying musicology which was enormously fascinating. Nowadays I do the occasional public performance but spend more time composing and writing program notes for concert series.

But enough about boring old me. What about music? We live in interesting times: the recording industry seems to be in deep trouble, classical music seems to be in a long decline, pop music seems rather vacuous and I'm starting to have doubts about this whole recording thing. You know, whenever you go into a public place these days you are assaulted by some horrific recorded music. Old news, I know, but we are still living with the consequences.

What kind of blog will this be? The Instapundity kind with links and very brief comments? An Alex Ross type blog with longer entries and lots of photos? An Ann Althouse type blog with linked items and thought-provoking comments (and furious wars in the comment section)? I guess things will just have to evolve naturally. I tend to write 500 to 1000 word essays from time to time, but I suspect there will be lots of linkage as well. The focus will be on music, but I will wander into other things as well. Events will dictate coverage.

So hello and welcome. I will put up the first essay post in a couple of minutes...
That first month was pretty busy; I put up 47 posts! Lots of Bach, pop music, musing about composition--lots of themes I have continued to pursue. Hardly any comments as at that stage I had almost no readers other than a couple of friends. Things have picked up! At last count there were over 6000 comments and over a million page views. You might go back and look at some of those old posts just for fun. The only problem is that almost all of the YouTube clips have disappeared so you will have to guess what I originally had. It would be easy with this post, about three different versions of the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower."

I might not put much else up today as I am busy with some other things and doing research for some posts on Stravinsky. Last night I was listening to his first big success, the Firebird ballet. Have a listen! This is Valery Gergiev conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 2000. This is the full ballet, not one of the suites extracted from it.


Will Wilkin said...

Happy Anniversary Bryan! I missed your first five and a half years but since I found your blog about 4 months ago I've read every post. Definitely my favorite music website on the internet!

It was through you (or maybe one of your commenting readers) that I discovered the website Pardon these extended excerpts, but I am using them to make a point about what I find so engaging in your own blog. At futuresymphony, John Borstlap, in his article "The Relevance of Classical Music, Part 1," says something I expect you agree with generally:


...there is indeed a problem with classical music as a genre, a problem that goes to the heart of its nature and meaning and which can be best described as the problem of relevance in the context of the modern world, in relation to modern life which is in many ways so different from the art form and the times and places of its birth.

The problem [with] ...making classical music “easy” – grows out of the idea that this art form is old, that it comes to us from premodern times (at least the heart of its repertoire does), and that the only way to make it relevant for modern times is to make it in some way compatible with the modern age. That means, not only making it “easy,” but also combining it with elements which typify our world today: visuals, media’s various cultural artifacts, a promotional cult surrounding it like that of pop music marketing, performers who adopt the images of pop idols complete with “bling,” and new concert halls which outdo each other in their efforts to look like futuristic space ships from sci-fi TV series or computer games. Central to this approach is the reassuring suggestion that classical music is as quickly digested and understood as all the other offerings of modernity. These are all attempts to rescue the art form from its historic shelter and to bring it into the bright daylight of our own time, with its intense and evanescent life experiences. But here we touch the real problem which is ignored in these attempts: the real nature of the art form is its interiority.

We could point towards classical music as a repository of emotional knowledge and civilizational values, as an emotionally uplifting experience, as a signifier of cultural identity and a symbol of ethical awareness, but since these things have different meanings for every individual, it is much better to describe the art form in a way which includes all of these things: as offering an alternative to the modern world, contrary to the idea that classical music should be a reflection of the modern world. Where modernity draws modern man out of his own inner realm, classical music offers a place of inner restoration, anchoring one’s Self and creating a point of orientation and awareness from which the outward, modern world can be seen and dealt with. In this way, it protects the Self from being constantly bombarded with contradictory and confusing stimuli that cannot be properly digested because there is no coherent filter to manage them. So then, classical music is not a form of escapism but a balancing act to keep the inner world sane.


This gets at why so many times, as I read your laments about popular culture and various attempts by classical music artists to compete for audiences, I am reminded of the "monastic solution" by which certain thinkers (such as Morris Berman or Rod Dreher) see an unstoppable decline in western culture and advocate preserving our best values and aesthetics in subcultures that resist the pressures of contemporary culture without trying to change ("fix") that larger culture. The hope is there will someday be a cultural shift when the larger public is searching for deeper values and will benefit from the preservation (and development) of our heritage delivered via these subcultures.

Will Wilkin said...


Anyway, another few lines from Borstlap's article describes for me what makes you, Bryan, a composer so superior to Steve Reich and all those formulaic and machine-oriented composers so fashionable today:


...classical music...has been intended to communicate something – but what? Not clear information, as one might communicate using language. It was meant to create an effect in its listeners that embraced more than the perception of its sounds alone; it was meant to have an effect deeper than words, deeper than rational thought, and touching the emotions and that mysterious thing which the poets call “the soul.” .....classical music was meant to create an effect on the inner life of the listener, bypassing language and reason, and touching those layers of inner awareness that we might relate to intuition, dream, instinct, and soul.


I've been listening to your 4 Pieces for Violin and Guitar, and I find them quite beautiful! Very lyrical and fanciful and HUMAN! This is music that could not be written by formula or mathematical or mechanical concept. It is music that comes from a feeling person who understands the musical instruments and uses them as seamless extensions of his soul to express feelings and instincts perfectly suited to the instruments as they are held and played. Even the descriptive note at the beginning of #2, "Cloudscapes," which says "fluid and drifting" is a qualitative feeling that no mere compositional device, however clever, could ever convey.

Yes, I bought the score (and free audio cd download) to your 4 Pieces out of curiosity about the music made by the mind I've come to know through this blog. And I am not disappointed! I love it! So, forgive my copyright violation, but I printed 2 copies of the score and of the CD, and will present a copy to my guitarist brother when I see him this weekend on a retreat (there's another example of cultivating "interiority"). As an adult autodidact violinist only in my 26th month of playing, I find the violin part too hard to play, but already I hack through it as an exercise in learning new positions so I can hit doublestops of notes I normally play singly on the same string. Like all the other music I am teaching myself, this is over my head but another goal for my playing over the next year (or 3). Everything else I try to play is baroque, but Bryan I've decided to use your beautiful duet as my foray into contemporary music, just to keep my playing "relevant."

Bryan Townsend said...

Will, I am humbly grateful for your thoughts and praise. Thank you so much. I think those pieces for violin and guitar are quite nice, and am delighted that you have found them! I have a Finnish friend, a guitarist who is married to a violinist and am just about to send a copy to him, so perhaps there will be performances popping up here and there! Don't tell my publisher, but yes, feel free to make copies for your brother.

Will Wilkin said...

The audio CD download that came with the purchase of the score is GORGEOUS! Played by you and violinist Claudia Shiuh, I've played it many times both for the joy of hearing it and for the guidance in the sounds I aim to eventually make when I sight-read the violin score.

Bryan Townsend said...

On behalf of Claudia and myself, thanks! We had a lot of fun recording them. I think I have a video around somewhere with photos from the session. I will look for it and send you a link.

Will Wilkin said...

I made my own jewel case liners using the pic of you two together holding your instruments. For the front, I lightened the pic to about 60 or 70% opacity and then pasted the relevant text (Composer, Titles and performer names) on top, positioning the text to spaces where the essential parts of the pic would not be obscured. For the backside of the liner, I pasted in the "Composer's Notes for Four Pieces." The resulting liner might not be up to the standards of a professional graphic artist at a commercial record company, but I think it looks (and reads) great!

Bryan Townsend said...

Sounds well done! It is amazing what you can do with a graphics program and a CD burner.

Marc Puckett said...

Congratulations on six happy, thoughtful, and (sometimes very) challenging years; I've only been along for the ride during the last couple: wish I had discovered your blog much sooner. Ad multos annos! ('Noticed' your anniversary on Facebook and my blog this morning but then work caught up with me before I had a chance to write here.)