Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I offer for your consideration the tragic tale of a professor who specialized in Beyoncé: The Decline and Fall of an Academic Nitwit:
It's easy to get fired from an American college these days. Just make some innocent remark that a member of a recognized victim group claims to find offensive and you'll be on your way to the unemployment office pronto.
On the other hand, it's really, really tough to lose your college teaching job by spouting off leftist slogans. Which makes Kevin Allred a very special guy. He is a white man who, for several years, taught a course in the Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University entitled “Politicizing Beyoncé.”
Judging by all accounts, it was a perfect example of a thoroughly ridiculous 21st-century humanities course, heavy on pop culture and political correctness and light on anything remotely resembling academic or practical value.
Read the rest for the tragic denouement.

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Leonard Slatkin has put up a list of ten pieces he calls "Forgotten American Masterpieces." Or they could simply be examples of pieces that were never that good and are justly neglected. Remember the 90% rule? What do you think? Here is the first on the list, Donald Erb's The Seventh Trumpet:

I find most avant-garde music from around then, 1969, to be unlistenable, but there are lots of pieces worse than this. Certain gestures, the long trill, the triplet leaping over wide, wide, intervals, the gratuitous glissandi, the melodic pointillism--why were so many composers writing this? They became clichés almost immediately!

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I'm not the only one who thinks that a lot of pop music is really an industrial product:
Drummer Greg Ellis wants listeners to begin thinking about sound like food—as something they physically ingest that has a quantifiable impact on their wellbeing. These days, he believes most people are consuming the musical equivalent of McDonalds: processed, mass produced, and limited in flavor.
A lot of this aural blandness has to do with technology. It begins with the producer who relies on a computer rather than live instrumentalists and ends with the devices we use to consume our music, which cut out the dynamics captured in the recording studio.
The “click” is a digital metronome that musicians listen to while recording to ensure their rhythm is exactly in time with the tempo. A simple and now nearly ubiquitous part of the recording process, it has had a profound effect on the music we listen to.
While the click was originally intended as a tool for precision and cohesion, Ellis says its perfect uniformity ushered in an expectation that the rest of musical parts should follow. Suddenly singers, instrumentalists, and drummers were expected to sound like machines. When vocalists were slightly off key, they could be auto-tuned. If a bass player wasn’t perfectly in-time with the drummer, their parts could be processed in a recording program that syncs them up. Of course, that’s if a live musician is used at all—many producers in pop, hip hop, and R&B now use samples or synthetic sounds generated by computers instead of using their human progenitors.
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 Anne Midgette at the Washington Post puts up her list of The top 35 female composers in classical music. Here is a sample from the list:
Jennifer Higdon: One of today’s most-performed living composers, Higdon, 54, embodies a combination particularly appealing to American audiences: She’s at once a maverick and, in a certain way, a conservative. Self-taught until college, espousing no particular aesthetic school, she writes smart music that is not ashamed to be tonal, and beautiful. “Blue Cathedral,” one of the most-performed of all contemporary works, is a lush wash of tonalities throbbing through the orchestra. A teacher at the Curtis Institute, where she got her own graduate degree, she has formed relationships with some illustrious students, writing her vivid violin concerto, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, for Hilary Hahn, and her piano concerto, which the National Symphony Orchestra premiered in 2009, for Yuja Wang. In 2015 her first opera, “Cold Mountain,” had a success in its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera. “If my music is not communicating,” she said in 2012, “I feel it’s not doing its job.”
Jennifer Higdon left a comment here, on my post on Hilary Hahn's album of encores that included a piece by her.

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 Composer grave aficionado Alex Ross has a photo of the resting place of Monteverdi on his blog:

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Let's listen to a popular piece by Jennifer Higdon. This is Blue Cathedral with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Stéphane Denève:


Jives said...

re: the click

I'm so conflicted over this one...I have such bi-polar musical tastes. I take the point that a steady diet of top 5 radio tunes will turn your brain to mush fairly quickly, and also whet your appetite for even more thumpy, crashing, loud abrasive pop. That said, I totally fall for some of that vacuum-packed over-compressed pop music. Charli XCX's "Number One Angel" is my current guilty pleasure, like a really good sugar rush. There's a musical magic there, having to do with the trance-inducing properties of rhythm-first music, based in the body, that just isn't found in classical genres. I think you've referred to this before as the "somatic" response. You might say that my current playlist is a travesty of poser eclecticism too. Tchaikovsky, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Ockeghem, Simon and Garfunkel ... But I find that after a long, cerebral, classical experience (heard the Pathetique on the way to work today), I find something thumpy and loud goes down really well.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yeah, you don't want to eat miso-glazed salmon and spring greens salad all the time. Sometimes you want to eat a chocolate chip cookie and a bag of potato chips. My current guilty pleasure is Overdriver Duo.

Marc Puckett said...

Poor Maestro Slatkin; not a woman's name on his list, tsk. Off to the camps with him! Germaine Tailleferre's Le Marchand d'oiseaux (from AM's list) is quite pleasant. 7600 monthly listeners at Spotify to Erkki-Sven Tüür's 600.

Marc said...

Oh, and I had meant to mention that we get two of Augusta Read Thomas's pieces during the upcoming Eugene Symphony season, one a premiere, the other a West Coast premiere (she's on the Midgette list). Am hoping to be pleased.

Jives said...

check out the piece by Valerie Coleman from that same article where Higdon appears.