Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Here is something kind of cool: watch and hear someone put together a version of "Gangster Paradise" by Coolio (which is based on a song by Stevie Wonder) on an iPhone running Garageband:

This is giving me some ideas, I have to say. I am working on my string quartet and I have a section where all the instruments are doing glissandi in different directions and my Finale program frankly just isn't up to it! So I may have to see if Garageband can handle it. Looks like it might...

* * *

Here is a wonderful interview with ex-Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating who is an avid (perhaps obsessive) aficionado of classical music.
KEATING: I’m a listener; I’m not an occasional listener. I find it very difficult to do something with music in the background. In fact, I can’t do something with music in the background. I always have to listen. So, what I normally do, I block out about six hours on a Saturday afternoon. I generally begin about 2:00 in the afternoon and finish about 8:00; but I’m always finishing on the big symphony, and after eight the neighbors, you wear the neighbors down, so I don’t press my luck past 8:00 p.m.
KAPLAN: That’s amazing.
KEATING: Yeah. I have six hours but I start off on some songs, or a violin concerto, or some encore pieces by Fritz Kreisler or, you know, something I was playing last week, I was playing Fritz Kreisler, playing in 1929 the Mendelssohn. There’s just a kind of lyricism that comes with that middle European feeling, you know? It was not something I had played for years, but there it was, and I thought, how good is that?
KAPLAN: Wonderful. So that’s quite extraordinary. You actually play music non-stop for six hours on a Saturday afternoon.
If you're going to listen, then listen!

* * *

Alex Ross rediscovers Salieri in this week's New Yorker.
Salieri is one of history’s all-time losers—a bystander run over by a Mack truck of malicious gossip. Shortly before he died, in 1825, a story that he had poisoned Mozart went around Vienna. In 1830, Alexander Pushkin used that rumor as the basis for his play “Mozart and Salieri,” casting the former as a doltish genius and the latter as a jealous schemer. Later in the nineteenth century, Rimsky-Korsakov turned Pushkin’s play into a witty short opera. In 1979, the British playwright Peter Shaffer wrote “Amadeus,” a sophisticated variation on Pushkin’s concept, which became a mainstay of the modern stage. Five years after that, Miloš Forman made a flamboyant film out of Shaffer’s material, with F. Murray Abraham playing Salieri as a suave, pursed-lipped malefactor.
Lovely summary!
The classical-music world has fostered a kind of gated community of celebrity composers. Our star fixation produces the artistic equivalent of income inequality, in which vast resources fall into the hands of a few. That arrangement lands particularly hard on contemporary composers, who must compete with a group of semi-mythical figures who are worshipped as house gods. Salieri is better seen as the patron saint of musicians who prefer to live in a republic of like-minded souls rather than in an authoritarian regime where only certain voices count. With that in mind, I left my cheap rose on Salieri’s grave.
I'm not quite sure that I welcome Salieri as my patron saint...

* * *

One of my obsessions is how little most musicians get paid. Here with one story is techcrunch:
Tired of noisy music venues where you can hardly see the stage? Sofar Sounds puts on concerts in people’s living rooms where fans pay $15 to $30 to sit silently on the floor and truly listen. Nearly 1 million guests have attended Sofar’s more than 20,000 gigs. Having attended a half dozen of the shows, I can say they’re blissful… unless you’re a musician trying to make a living. In some cases, Sofar pays just $100 per band for a 25 minute set, which can work out to just $8 per musician per hour or less. Hosts get nothing, and Sofar keeps the rest, which can range from $1,100 to $1,600 or more per gig — many times what each performer takes home. The argument was that bands got exposure, and it was a tiny startup far from profitability.
The exploitation of young musicians by wily promoters is an old, old story.

* * *

 A violist friend alerted me to the fact that the new emperor of Japan is an avid violist a while ago. Now Slipped Disc has the story that President Donald Trump, on his recent visit to Japan, presented the new emperor with a viola:
Slipped Disc has learned that the viola was sold to the US State Department by a violin shop in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was made in 1938 by Ivan W. Allison of Charleston, West Virginia.
Message from Joe Joyner, owner of the Little Rock Violin Shop:
On April 30th I heard a news story that Japan’s Emperor Akihito was stepping down and that his son, Naruhito, would be taking his place. 24 hours later I received a call from the U.S. State Department seeking an American made viola to give as a diplomatic gift. Shortly after this call, I began seeing news stories about Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito being a violist.
Nearly a month later, I can now say that last week I sold the Emperor’s new viola, an instrument made in 1938 by Ivan W. Allison of Charleston, West Virginia. The instrument was presented to Emperor Naruhito by President Donald Trump today.
* * *

Let's have a listen to the Viola Concerto by William Walton. This is the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra with soloist Antoine Tamestit:

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Favorite French Baroque!!

By request of a commentator, here are some of my favorite pieces from the French Baroque:

Forqueray: La Couperin

And because turnabout is fair play here is Couperin: La Forqueray

There there are the tombeaux. This is the Tombeau de M. Blancrocher by Louis Couperin, played by Gustav Leonhardt.

Too much harpsichord? Ok, here is the rondeau from Les Indes Galantes by Rameau:

And if you are ready to shed a tear or two, here is Les Tendres Plaintes by Rameau, played by Grigory Sokolov:

What I Owe to Bach

One photo I very much wish I still had shows me, age about 19, leaning out of the living room window of the little bungalow we lived in at the time, holding cradled in my left arm the Archiv box containing the three vinyl records of the Mass in B minor by J. S. Bach. It was a handsome box resembling white canvas with blue lettering. The sleeve containing the very same performance in the Bach Masterworks box is not nearly as nice:

The significance of the photo, I realize many years later, is that the discovery of Bach was, for me, a turning point in my life. It wasn't just Bach, of course, but in the fullness of time it becomes clear that the music of Bach is a kind of still point in the turning world to slightly misquote T. S. Eliot. Eliot, along with Hiroshige, Haydn, Homer, Rilke and some others, also played a role, but Bach is really the central figure. To this very day I try to play Bach every morning.

I once speculated to a friend that there are not very many people in the classical music world (with the exception of managers and record company executives of course) who are, to some degree, sociopaths. The reason I gave is that early in every classical musician's career he or she finds him or herself alone in a small practice room with their instrument, a chair and a music stand. Sitting on the music stand is the score of a piece by J. S. Bach that you have to come to terms with, i.e. learn how to play. It won't be easy and will take many hours of selfless dedication that a sociopath is simply not capable of. There is no-one else to blame if you can't get it right and no mercy if you fail. The only reward is an aesthetic one or, perhaps, a word of encouragement from your teacher.

I remember chatting with a cellist once, remarking to him that I had been playing (in guitar transcription) the Cello Suite No. 1 by Bach for a year or so and still occasionally had a memory lapse in the allemande. He simply said, "I played that suite for ten years before it sounded good." Around that same time I was sharing a concert with a very fine violinist. His solo piece in the concert was the Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor. As I was planning out the program I asked him how much time his performance would take. His answer: "thirteen minutes and forty-three seconds." You realize how complete his mastery of the piece was to be that certain? And, believe me, he was!

Bach, often voted the finest of all classical composers, is a kind of musical pinnacle that musicians, even those who are not classical, esteem without the usual caveats. He is buried in the Thomaskirke in Leipzig by the altar and fresh roses are placed there regularly (they were there when I visited the church in the 90s). Outside is a statue of Bach with the pockets of his coat turned out--perhaps that is to indicate he never made very much money from his music. At his death he was known as a fairly obscure Saxon organist. Three of his sons became important composers in their own right. A few other composers knew of his music which spread through hand-copied manuscripts. Beethoven owned a copy of the Well-Tempered Clavier excerpts from which he played in salon concerts as a young man in Vienna. Mozart, in his travels, heard some motets by Bach in a concert in, I think it was, Leipzig. At the end he leapt up and exclaimed, "now that is music we can learn from!"

What Bach came to be for me, a young man in a small town in Canada in the early 70s, was a bridge, a path, from the narrow horizons of the world I grew up in, to the wider horizons of history, art and meaning. In other words, he took me out of my petty self and surroundings and made me aware of the universe.

There is something almost cosmic about the music of Bach and it is not due to its supposed complexity. Bach touches and evokes a kind of fundamental being that underlies all of humanity. His music awakens something unnameable and inexpressible in words. When I was young it seemed I ran into Bach almost everywhere. On CBC television Sunday afternoons would appear Glenn Gould, at the pinnacle of his career, playing a few preludes and fugues. An amateur classical guitarist, the first one I ever met, averred that the only music really worth playing on guitar was Bach. And then there was that handsome box from Archiv (a label of Deutsche Gramophon).

Let's just listen to some pieces that I encountered for the first time in my youth. First, the Chaconne from the D minor partita, on guitar and then on violin. This is a performance by John Williams on guitar:

This is Jascha Heifetz on violin:

From the Mass in B minor, here are the last two movements, the Agnus Dei and Dona nobis pacem in a 1969 performance by Karl Richter and the same performers that made that recording for Archiv:

Many, many years later I discovered The Art of Fugue, but that is a story for another day...

For some odd reason, I am reminded of two quotes from Aristotle. The first is from the Metaphysics and, since digging it out would take too long, I am simply going to try and remember it:
Things are not good because we are attracted to them, rather, we are attracted to them because they are good.
And the beginning of the Nichomachean Ethics:
 Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. [from The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, p. 935]

Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Lots of musical Photoshop memes lately:

That's always been the argument for the bagpipe.

* * *

Yes, I know that I am normally very critical of these so-called 'scientific' studies of music that usually seem to turn up something we already knew (or something likely false) but here is one study I kind of want to believe: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study.
A new study published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences suggests that those who prefer instrumental music tend to be more intelligent.
Study author Elena Racevska, a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University, became interested in how musical preference is tied to personality traits as she learned about the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, which presumes that more intelligent individuals seek more novel experiences compared to less intelligent people.
* * *

Musicology Now has sprung back to life with three new postings in May. One of them is on the promotion of Avengers: Endgame and the music therein, one of many posts on the site dealing with popular culture. Another is on music in Paris and still another is about jobs for musicologists in academia. The situation seems as dire as in English departments.
Since 2008, the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty at higher-education institutions has declined by 35%. The Delphi Project reports that contingent (adjunct) instructors now teach 73% of courses (AAUP Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, p. 3; Delphi Project). Working conditions for contingent faculty vary widely; most work on one-semester or one-year contracts with no promise of renewal. The pay and working conditions for part-time contingent laborers are especially poor: pay may be as low as $1800 per course, and more than 70% of institutions that employ part-time faculty do not contribute to their health insurance costs (AAUP op. cit., and AAUP Annual Report, Appendix III). Part-time contract work is the fastest-growing part of the academic work force (Coalition on the Academic Workforce). The few musicologists who do find tenure-track jobs in the academy see increasing workloads and declining research support at all but the most elite institutions.
And what they don't mention is that the growth of administrative positions has outpaced that of faculty for a couple of decades. If you want a job in academia your chances are best if you are a diversity specialist or member of a "bias response team." Administrative bloat on campus has replaced full-time faculty and resulted in the decline of quality in education.

* * *

I've posted about the Grace Notes series at the Times Literary Supplement before, noting that its basic premiss biases it towards seeing composers as "pioneers," that is, as fundamentally innovators. This is an assumption taken from the modernist manifesto, of course, and I believe I cited composers like Mozart and Bach as being ones who tend to disprove the theory. Now they have a piece in the series on Mozart so let's see how they spin it!
A more familiar instance is the A major piano sonata, K. 331, conveying the musical sense of the word “rational” in its reliance on an utterly transparent series of ratios. Phrase answering phrase, two shorts followed by a long, and so on, contrast followed by return.
And then, within this tightly structured geometry, an explosion of invention, as idea follows idea, each seemingly fresher and more original than the last.
This is the problem that Mozart poses for our contemporary ears. His music is so balanced, clear, rational in its order, especially in comparison to the music that has come after, that it is easy – for performers as well as listeners – to miss the drama. Which is why we have to turn to the one place where drama cannot be ignored: opera.
In the original, they embed musical examples. The writer, Stephen Brown, goes on to discuss Beethoven's views on and uses of themes from Don Giovanni, which gets quite away from the issue, which is, was Mozart in any sense a "pioneer" or innovator in the radical way that, oh, Beethoven was? Instead, he focuses on how Mozart creates musical drama. Quite so! But that is a slightly different question. I think that Mozart's real role, somewhat akin to J. S. Bach's before him, was to look at all the advances in musical language discovered or invented by people like J. C. Bach and Joseph Haydn, and then to work out the possibilities, create a new synthesis and generally just to perfect what everyone else was doing.

* * *

What would a Friday miscellanea be if we didn't have a look at what is new in the avant-garde? One new figure that seems to be getting attention is Christopher Rountree:
At the vanguard of new music, composer/conductor/curator Christopher Rountree, who is also a music director and founder of the renegade ensemble wild Up, is certainly having a moment. A seventh-generation Californian, the 36-year old Rountree is the curator of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Fluxus Festival (in conjunction with The Getty Research Institute), a celebration of the anti-establishment interdisciplinary art movement that emerged in the ’60s. The year-long bash is part of the orchestra’s centennial season, with the festival culminating in two very different 12-hour marathon concerts (May 25 at REDCAT; June 1 at Walt Disney Concert Hall). The programs aptly mirror Rountree’s audacious, forward-thinking philosophy.
A graduate of Cal State Long Beach, where he studied trombone performance and education, Rountree earned a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Michigan and has been on a musical tear ever since. In 2010 he created wild Up, whose eccentric blend of new music, pop, and performance art has been lauded by critics across the board, with The New York Times’s Zachary Woolfe writing in 2015, “Boisterously theatrical and exuberantly talented, the group barnstormed its way through works written by its own members, and a couple of punk-rock arrangements, too.”
Isn't it odd how the CVs of just about every musical renegade these days sound just like all the other musical renegades? And there always has to be some punk rock in there somewhere.

* * * 

Across the pond The Guardian continues its never-ending quest to erase all high culture, School music lessons should cover hip-hop and grime, says charity: Youth Music calls for a focus on ‘Stormzy rather than Mozart’ to engage hard-to-reach pupils. Oh yes, by all means, replace Mozart with hip-hop in music classes because the students would certainly never run into hip-hop in their everyday lives!
A national charity has called for school music lessons to be overhauled to include grime, electronic music and hip-hop after research found that more inclusive music-making improves attendance among pupils at risk of exclusion.
A four-year study by Youth Music concluded that too many schools fail to include current musical genres and recommended that lessons should focus on “Stormzy rather than Mozart” in order to engage hard-to-reach young people.
That really doesn't need comment does it?

* * *

Hilary Hahn phones in an encore. No, it's not what you think! Usually the phrase indicates an indifferent, lackluster performance perhaps delivered with professionalism, but with little enthusiasm. That is never the case with Hilary Hahn. No, what happened was that she was not given sufficient time to play an encore after a performance with the Chicago Symphony because it would have resulted in unaffordable overtime charges by the musicians' union. Follow the link for both the lovely clip of the Gigue from the E major violin partita and for some illuminating comments.

* * *

I have been nervously waiting to see if my tickets to the Salzburg Festival will make it through the somewhat unreliable services of the Mexican Post and this week they did! Austrian efficiency delivers once again. The procedure, in case you were wondering, for obtaining tickets to the Salzburg Festival, reputedly the biggest music festival in the world with around 250,000 tickets sold every year, begins in December of the previous year when programs are announced. I ordered tickets in January to several concerts online and surrendered my credit card information. Then in March or April you are "allotted" your tickets (I seem to have gotten all that I requested) and your card is charged. They then mail the tickets, priority post, to your home address and I received them late last week. Yahoo! For one of the concerts I am inviting my German ex-wife, her new husband and their daughter to a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, a pretty good up-and-coming orchestra. For our envoi today, here they are with the Leonore Overture No. 3 from Fidelio by Beethoven conducted by Franz Welser-Möst in a performance from the 2015 Salzburg Festival.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


This is certainly a fun meme and it is even close to being true. According to his wife Constanze, he wrote the overture the night before, while consuming large amounts of punch, finishing it by seven the next morning, when the copyist arrived to collect it. (Reference, The Complete Operas of Mozart by Charles Osborne, pp. 258-9.) In the same book we learn that the librettist, Da Ponte, wrote the libretto while consuming Tokay and snuff. Those were certainly the days!

Let's hear that overture. This is the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, conductor.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Tacito Sensu

I was idly browsing through Cicero's De oratore the other day when I ran across this passage:
Omnes tacito quodam sensu sine ulla arte aut ratione quae sint in artibus ac rationibus recta ac prava dijudicant.
For those with "small Latin and less Greek" that translates as:
Concerning arts and reasons everyone judges right and wrong by means of a silent sense, without any art or reason.
Well, of course I wasn't browsing around in Cicero in Latin, I ran across this quote in Carl Dahlhaus' (translated by William Austin) book Esthetics of Music. I have even less Latin and Greek than Shakespeare! But I quite liked the quote.

Dahlhaus states that Cicero is "appealing to the capacity that eventually came to be called, metaphorically, 'taste.' " He mentions that the 18th century spent a great deal of effort trying to resolve the issue of taste, and never managed it (perhaps David Hume, whom Dahlhaus does not mention, came closest).

But I like the idea of a "silent sense" that responds to and evaluates music. I don't know if the metaphor of "taste" is the right one, apparently not, but the idea that there is something beyond art and reason ("art" in the sense of "artifice") goes along with my sense that there is always something magical about music--good music at least. What could be more magical than the peal of a single, mysterious note, falling into the silence? With all the infinite possibilities of its continuation?

Imagine a great, deep forest, silent save for the soughing of a breeze in the high branches. Then imagine a sound: the caw of a raven, the crack of a twig, the crystalline flurry of a birdcall, the sound of distant water. All this is like the basic materials of a composition. Then one searches for a narrative to unite them. But not a narrative in words or any concrete meaning. No. A musical narrative, one that only suggests without defining.

Now this is quite different, but just a bit similar. Debussy: Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune. Montreal Symphony, Charles Dutoit:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

String Quartet

I have been asked to write a string quartet for the Pro Nova Ensemble for next season and I've been thinking a lot about the genre. I have been very fond of this combination ever since I bought a box of the Beethoven late quartets by the Guarneri Quartet in the early 70s. I once spent an entire summer listening to the Haydn quartets. Back then you could buy Vox Boxes of the different opus numbers on vinyl. At some point I picked up the Juilliard Quartet playing Bartók. Not that many years ago I discovered the Shostakovich quartets and have listened to the complete box of CDs by the Emerson Quartet many times.

Now I find I want to take a close look at two recent contributions to the genre: those by Philip Glass and Elliot Carter. I have never gotten into Carter (I find his pieces for guitar particularly uncongenial) but I feel I have to investigate his quartets. Right now I am listening to the first and I am finding it surprisingly interesting, especially in the contrapuntal aspects. For some odd reason, I find composers I don't particularly enjoy personally to be inspiring and thought-provoking. I am not a big fan of Karlheinz Stockhausen, but I find his ideas really interesting. The same for John Cage. But while one movement of the quartet I am planning is going to be in moment form, an idea from Stockhausen, there is not likely to be any Cageian influence!

Here is the String Quartet No. 1 by Carter:

That was written the year I was born.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

I was looking at Slipped Disc for some wacky item to kick of this week's miscellanea, but instead stumbled across this: On Agents Who Demand Payment Up Front.
Whenever an artist tells me that an agency wants to sign him or her but expects to be paid for their services, I have given the best advice available in these circumstances: don’t go near them.
An agent who demands money up-front from artist is an agent who has failed to make money by legitimate means.
The link to a VAN magazine article takes you to a lengthy article about one agent's practices that might be worth reading. It seems the case that there are managers out there that do not hesitate to take advantage of the naïveté of young artists. One comment on the Slipped Disc piece is sobering:
Where the art form is considered a ‘highly competative business’ it has been killed-off and the music treated as a mere commodity to make money and a career. This is, mainly, the position of classical music within a capitalist, free market society, as it developed in the 19th century. In the ‘ancien régime’, however limited by restrictions by courts, nobility and church, musicians had decent, paid jobs and more security.
One reason I finally decided to be a "non-commercial" musician was due to bad experiences with record companies and artist management.

* * *

What do you do if your piano soloist falls sick at the last minute and you have to come up with half a program at the drop of a hat? The CBC has the story: Karina Canellakis conducts unrehearsed Tchaikovsky after OSM soloist Daniil Trifonov suddenly falls ill.
In one of the most anticipated concerts of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal's season, she was making her OSM debut on May 15 with a program comprising orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as well as Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra in the first half, and after intermission, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Russian piano phenom Daniil Trifonov as soloist.
But things did not go exactly as planned. OSM double bassist Scott Feltham posted the following account on Facebook after the concert:
"Daniil Trifonov, tonight's scheduled piano soloist, became suddenly ill just before the beginning of the concert and had to be taken to the hospital.... Instead, Madeleine Careau, our CEO, announced Trifonov's illness and the resulting change in program. We performed Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Cold. No rehearsing. In front of 2,000 ish people. Bravo to all my colleagues. Bravo especially to maestra Karina Canellakis, conducting us for the first time. Time for a beer."
The more cynical among us might say, "oh yeah, they probably played the Tchaikovsky just last week..." But no, the OSM hadn't played Tchaikovsky 4 for twelve years, though the conductor had done it fairly recently. On the other hand, it is likely that some newer members of the orchestra had never played it! Every time you go to a big budget movie and hear an orchestral soundtrack you are hearing an orchestra play something for the first time! Those scores get played once and once only--for the recording of the soundtrack.

* * *

The opening night of Opera Australia’s Rigoletto in Melbourne on Saturday saw drama both on stage and off, with audience members witnessing the latest protest by composer George Dreyfus. Rising from his centre front row seat just as the conductor was about to take their place in the pit, the nonagenarian used a megaphone to express his frustration about how the company had commissioned, but never performed, his 1970 opera The Gilt-Edged Kid.
Members of the audience became increasingly irritated at the interruption, with Dreyfus’ actions delaying the performance for 15 minutes. The front row was eventually evacuated in order to allow venue staff to remove Dreyfus from the theatre. He was then met by police who escorted him out of the building, where he was taken to hospital for medical attention. Charges have not been pressed against Dreyfus.
The composer has staged protests in previous years as well. Hey, my sympathies are with him. Or he has lost his mind? Whichever. Opera does seem to bring out the dramatic side of things, doesn't it?

* * *

This story is sort of entertaining: Academe's Extinction Event; Failure, Whiskey, and Professional Collapse at the MLA. As a sign of the academic background of the writer, it is almost impossible to summarize the long article. But this might give you an idea:
The number of jobs in English advertised on the annual MLA job list has declined by 55 percent since 2008; adjuncts now account for all but a quarter of college instructors generally. Whole departments are being extirpated by administrators with utilitarian visions; from 2013 to 2016, colleges cut 651 foreign-language programs. Meanwhile the number of English majors at most universities continues to swoon.
None of this shows any sign of relenting. It has, in fact, all the trappings of an extinction event that will alter English — and the rest of the humanities — irrevocably, though no one knows what it will leave in its wake. What’s certain is that the momentum impelling it is far past halting; behind that momentum lies the avarice of universities, but also the determination of politicians and pundits to discredit humanistic thinking, which plainly threatens them. They have brought on a tipping point: The stories they have told about these disciplines — of their pointlessness, of the hollowness of anything lacking entrepreneurial value — have won out over the stories the humanists themselves have told, or not told.
There are similarities in musicology, which is why I didn't pursue that career.

* * *

I am so busy this week that I haven't anything further for you. Let's have a listen to the Symphony No. 4 by Tchaikovsky as we haven't put up anything by him for a long time. This is Carlos Miguel Prieto conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Buying a Guitar

I try to post on a variety of topics and from a variety of perspectives here, but sometimes one area or another gets neglected. I haven't put up much for budding guitarists lately, so let's talk about buying a guitar.

If you are a beginning guitar student you should buy a student guitar, of course! With online retailers this is easier than it used to be. Look at this student guitar from Amazon, for example:

Without trying it out, I can't give it much of a review, but this is the kind of instrument you want if you are a young beginner. Seven or eight is a good age to start and you will certainly need a smaller size instrument. This one is a 3/4 size which will suit a lot of beginners. But younger ones might need a 1/2 size guitar. You need an instrument small enough so that your fingers can, with a bit of reaching, span the first four frets.

I haven't played any student guitars for a long time, but one of the most reliable brands has been Yamaha. Here is that same bundle from that company. Notice that the price is higher.

These bundles include odd things like picks and a strap, which a classical guitarist won't need, but a folk guitarist will. The Yamaha bundle does not include a case. You can get by with a "gig bag" which is a soft canvas case, but that offers little protection for the instrument. As soon as you move up in quality you will need a sturdy hard case.

If you are an adult beginner you will want a full size guitar and a little higher quality. Here is a Yamaha model with a cedar top in the low 200s:

The same is also available with a spruce top:

Yamaha makes guitars at various levels. This is one in the mid-400s with a spruce top:

Once you get past that level, you will want to start visiting music stores to see what they have. There are a few very simple things to look for.
  • the "action" is the relationship of the strings to the fretboard. This is critically important. If the strings are too high, it will take too much effort to press them down to the fret. If the action is too low, the strings will buzz on the frets as they vibrate. The action can be adjusted, but if it is really far from correct, it is a sign the music store doesn't know or doesn't care too much about their product!
  • the neck needs to be straight, not warped. Hold the guitar up to your eye and sight along the length of the neck to see if it is straight.
  • the instrument should not be too heavy. One quick way to sort out instruments is to simply go along the row and lift each one. Try out the lightest one!
  • Tap on the body to see if it is resonant and responsive
  • Finally, sit down and play it!
Just a few thoughts to get you started. Send me questions in the comments.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Composer Narrative

As a composer myself, I am intrigued by how composers are portrayed in the mass media. Of course, they aren't given much space these days, but occasionally we get a glimpse. Such was the case this week as Toronto's Globe and Mail published an extensive piece on Andrew Balfour, an up and coming choral composer. Canada has a pretty strong choral tradition, especially in Ontario where the Mendelssohn Choir is well over a century old and a major musical institution.

Journalism has been described as the "first draft of history" and as such it is interesting to have a look at how the story of a composer is told in 21st century Canada (though the narrative is one that certainly is not limited to Canada). Here is the link to the story. If you are blocked for some reason, try searching for the headline: Choral maestro Andrew Balfour pursues his Indigenous identity through music.

Read the whole piece and then let's look for the salient themes. The first paragraph gives us the generic picture of a classical music composer: early signs of talent, exposure to ensemble playing and devotion to classical rather than popular music. This is just to set up the ways that Mr. Balfour departs from the generic picture. He is of Cree descent and as part of a government policy referred to as the "Sixties Scoop" was removed from his indigenous family and raised in a middle-class family of Scottish descent.
The Sixties Scoop refers to a practice that occurred in Canada of taking, or "scooping up", Indigenous children from their families and communities for placement in foster homes or adoption. Despite the reference to one decade, the Sixties Scoop began in the late 1950s and persisted into the 1980s. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and fostered or adopted out to primarily white middle-class families as part of the Sixties Scoop.
This controversial policy, along with the residential school system, abandoned in the 80s, was designed to "educate Aboriginal children in Euro-Canadian and Christian values so they could become part of mainstream society." Perhaps one should note that living conditions on indigenous reserve communities are often very poor and certainly offer little or no opportunities for education or advancement, which goes some way to explaining why these kinds of policies were instituted.

Balfour says:
As a child of the Sixties Scoop, he considered himself lucky. He’d been adopted when he was six months old by a family with Scottish roots that he describes as loving and supportive. His parents shared their passion for music with him – his father, the minister at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Winnipeg, encouraged his choral singing, and played trombone. His mother was a violist.
But as Balfour grew older, he’d struggled, and become conflicted and confused about his identity. Attention-deficit disorder made focusing on schoolwork difficult. He dropped out of Brandon University after a year, plagued by growing pangs of isolation. His parents had relocated to British Columbia, and the move intensified feelings of abandonment that gnawed at him when he thought about his Cree background and his separation from his birth mother.
So his musical gifts likely were fostered and developed as a result of his adoption. But he increasingly felt deracinated from his core identity. As a result he went through a difficult period of drug and alcohol abuse, part of which was spent in jail. As a result of exploring his identity as an indigenous person he experienced a vision:
It felt like a near-death experience, he says, in which he was visited by people he’d known throughout his life, who spoke to him. None of it made sense at the time, and he still struggles to articulate what transpired exactly, but he’s certain about this: “It was another power, another spirit … something telling me that life was going to be okay. And from then on, that’s how I felt. And I knew that I wanted to pursue my identity through music.”
The article recounts the kind of compositions and performances that were a result of this pursuit. Occasionally we read pro forma digs at classical music and its sinning, racist past:
Balfour’s versatility has made it easier for him to breach the staunchly white bastions of the classical-music scene, which has been slower to embrace Indigenous artists than literature, film and even pop music have. 
For now, at least, there’s no getting around the fact that when Balfour writes a choral work, the sea of faces that ultimately performs it will likely be white. And so, too, will the audience that listens to it.
Well, yes, Canada does still have an inconveniently large number of white people. But doesn't anyone notice how astonishingly racist comments like these are?

The issues surrounding identity bring with them consequences regarding agency:
Arts organizations that want to perform music with Indigenous themes and content need to be true collaborators, Balfour says. “They need to reach out, talk to elders, do a lot of listening; not just take a work and perform it however they want to.”
This makes the claim that if you write music that stems from your identity as an indigenous person, this gives you all the agency. The institutions and performers who realize the work have to follow your requirements. What makes me uneasy about this is that it implies a lot more than just singing the right notes with the right phrasing. Somehow the performance has to carry with it the ideology of identity.
At a recent gathering in Banff, Alta., of the tiny community of classically trained Indigenous musicians in Canada, Balfour and nine other artists signed a manifesto in support of “musical sovereignty” that called for arts organizations to involve Indigenous artists in every step of the creative process.
Musical sovereignty is an interesting concept, not least because it has more political and ideological aspects than merely aesthetic ones.

I think what we see here are a number of conflicting currents. One of them is simply the excellence of a musical talent able to realize his gifts and have them recognized by the Canadian arts community. Another is the relating of his work to his rediscovered indigenous identity. Still another is the musical context of Canada at large, which has its roots in European music. We see all these currents in his piece Qaumaniq for choir, cello, percussion, narrator and vocal soloists.

There are elements derived from traditional indigenous music, from European tonal traditions and from the contemporary avant garde. The effect is sometimes uncomfortably diverse.

One can see the appeal of this kind of journey for an artist like Andrew Balfour for whom it offers a kind of ready-made authenticity. But it is a bit disconcerting to realize that, for that sea of white faces that the Canadian performing and listening community consists in, the focus on and validation of his identity implies a deprecation of their identity. True, there is a certain moral satisfaction coming from displaying one's appreciation of Indigenous art, but the price is a tendency to reduce one's own authentic identity. The embedding of identity within aesthetics has a number of unfortunate consequences, not the least of which is that it tends to divide a society into identity groups in conflict with one another.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Signs of life over at Musicology Now where Alex Ludwig has a new post up analyzing the music of Game of Thrones. I have to confess I did something similar in a couple of papers I delivered at a conference at the University of Huddersfield a number of years ago. My papers revolved around Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another contemporary narrative.
Wagner’s extensive use of leitmotifs, in which musical phrases represent people, places, and even emotions, is appropriated here in Game of Thrones so that people, places, and great houses all have their own musical material. Using Wagner’s Ring as a model, I examine the dramatic deployment of both diegetic and non-diegetic musical cues in a Game of Thrones episode titled, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (S8E2). 
In many ways, this episode is unusual: most of the main characters are gathered in one place, awaiting the army of the dead; and it functions like a giant anticipation, or upbeat, for the upcoming battle. The episode avoids action in favor of quiet contemplation, and reunites many pairs of characters (and swords) that have been long separated. 
Ramin Djawadi’s musical score, which combines both diegetic and non-diegetic cues, enhances these quiet moments with additional layers of information. In the first scene of the episode, Jaime Lannister—known as the Kingslayer—arrives in Winterfell, despite having fought against the forces assembled there nearly his entire life. He does so at great personal risk, which only subsides once Lady Brienne vouches for him. After this point, Djawadi includes a musical reference to Jaime’s past, a direct callback to the first statement of Jaime’s “Kingslayer” theme, heard in the episode titled, “Kissed By Fire” (S3E5).
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Just running slightly behind The Music Salon, Alex Ross has a piece up at The New Yorker about the new recording of two symphonies by Mieczysław Weinberg.
Weinberg, a Polish-Jewish composer who spent most of his life in the Soviet Union, has recently stepped out of the historical mists, encroaching on the mainstream repertory. He lived from 1919 to 1996 and long dwelled in the shadow of his older contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich. As more of his huge output emerges, though, his originality becomes clear. The Quatuor Danel has recorded Weinberg’s seventeen string quartets and is now playing them widely, honoring a body of work that rivals Shostakovich’s cycle in heft. A new Deutsche Grammophon recording of Symphonies No. 2 and No. 21, with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony, is an even greater revelation. The “Kaddish” is a gaunt requiem for a succession of twentieth-century tragedies, of which Weinberg experienced more than his share.
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Also at The New Yorker is another piece by Ross on conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler:
The moral quandary inherent in the Furtwängler box set is addressed forthrightly in the liner notes, which take the form of a hundred-and-eighty-four-page hardback book. The lead essay, by the musicologist Richard Taruskin, is one of the finest things ever written about Furtwängler, who has inspired a shelf’s worth of books, along with a Broadway play and a film (both titled “Taking Sides”). Taruskin, a ferocious critic of the fairy tales we tell ourselves about the autonomy of art, would be the last to argue that we should ignore the context to which Furtwängler belonged. Instead, Taruskin confronts the reader with a quotation from a 1943 Philharmonic program book, one that pits the noble art of Beethoven against the atrocities supposedly being committed by Germany’s enemies: “It is our world that sounds forth when the bows are set in motion, the world of a spirit that no enemy air raid can destroy, nor any bomb.”
Such a statement forces us to consider the possibility that the nimbus of greatness around Furtwängler arises not in spite of the historical situation but because of it. The conductor and his musicians were working “as if there were no tomorrow,” Taruskin writes, in discussing the last item in the set—the final movement of Brahms’s First Symphony, recorded amid the inferno of January, 1945. “The music builds unbearable tension, abjures all ‘Brahmsian’ restraint or relaxation, and its raging subjectivity hits dumbfounding extravagances of tempo at both ends of the scale. . . . The bloodiest of all wars brought the foremost classical musician in the country with the most distinguished tradition of classical music to the pinnacle of his career, setting a standard neither he nor any other symphonic conductor was ever moved to duplicate.”
It certainly seems the case that some of the most intense musical statements in the 20th century came out of extreme circumstances. One immediately thinks of the Symphony No. 7 of Shostakovich, the first movement of which was written in Leningrad, besieged by the Nazis.

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I love those articles about the lesser-known corners of the music world, that street in Paris where all the best bow re-hairers have their shops, the secrets of the Cremona violins, and today, an article in NY1 magazine about the role of the opera prompter. Sadly, the piece is so incoherently written that it is hard to determine what the job is, exactly:
“The prompter has to be a highly trained musician. She can hear if they made a wrong entrance she'll do something like that and ask him to hold up a second wait a minute wait a minute you have two more measures before you come in okay now. That's why the singers love the prompter because they put them back on track,” MET Opera Archives Director Peter Clark said.
The job is like that of the prompter in any live theatre: if the performer misses an entrance or forgets a line, the idea is to give them a hint in time to rescue the performance! Just exactly how this is done in various situations I would love to hear, but we don't learn much from this article!

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The New York Times has a piece on rebel hipster viol player Liam Byrne:
This week, Mr. Byrne releases his debut album with the cult label Bedroom Community. Titled “Concrete,” it stirs together an eclectic compound of ingredients. A graceful showpiece by the high-Baroque French viol master Marin Marais is bookended by two works by Mr. Muhly. Ambient works by the contemporary Icelandic composer-producer Valgeir Sigurdsson sit cheek by jowl with five-part Renaissance counterpoint in which, through the magic of multitracking, Mr. Byrne plays every single line.
“I like finding connections,” Mr. Byrne said in an interview, describing how his three most formative musical influences were the American composer Steve Reich, the English composer Orlando Gibbons and the girl group TLC. He grinned. “New York minimalism, Renaissance polyphony and early ’90s R&B. That’s the only music you ever need.”
You know, I think I know exactly what he means!

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The Guardian continues its neverending crusade to ensure that every niche and realm in the world of music is exactly gender equal, or, preferably, biased in favor of women: Girls to the front: why gender is still a headline issue at festivals.
“We need to change the ‘pale, male and stale’ paradigm,” explains Marta Pallarès, Primavera’s head of press. “We wanted to show that the likes of Tame Impala, Guided By Voices or Stereolab can happily live together with trap divas and reggaeton queens.” It’s this commitment that means the Primavera lineup isn’t just one of the most right-on bills of the summer, but also one of the best. The middle-aged blokes are still there (hello Jarvis, Primal Scream and Interpol!), but there’s a thrilling diversity in sound as well as gender thanks to the three-day event’s fresh approach. Like a whistlestop tour through your most genre-hopping friend’s Spotify account, they’ve got London MC Flohio up alongside pop royalty Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen, DJ Peggy Gou, Solange, Neneh Cherry, Lizzo, Tirzah and basically every woman who’s released music in the past year that made you go “Oooh, not bad”.
Pallarès is open about how this move did not actually require much work aside from a passion to shake up the industry. “It can be done now and it should be done now, but you need to want it. We hope that our move can spark change,” she says. So is anyone else following their lead?
Moral preening at the Guardian, it never gets old.

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And now, time for our traditional envoi to herald the weekend and may yours be fulfilling and bountiful. Here are a couple of clips by hipster viol-player Liam Byrne. First, a sarabande by Marin Marais with theorbo player Jonas Nordberg:

And here is something more contemporary: Lines Curved Rivers Mirrored by Edmund Finnis:

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Composition News

I probably spend more time with composition than I do preparing posts for this blog these days, but I usually don't have much to say about it. This week is different! The Pro Nova Ensemble, a string quartet  based in Vancouver, have asked me to write a string quartet for them, which I am delighted to do. I wrote a string quartet a few years ago as a kind of experiment and it was not very successful, so I am looking forward to taking up the problem again. What do I mean "problem"? For a composer, every piece presents its own set of questions, issues and problems to be solved, resolved, or at least handled in some way.

For this piece as the ensemble is based in Vancouver, my old stomping grounds, I have loads of inspiration based on my growing up in that area--Vancouver Island to be specific. Vancouver Island, like the area just north of Vancouver, is very mountainous:

When I was young I worked in close proximity to these mountains. They are surrounded by deep forests and nearby is the ocean, all of which I have always found inspiring. So since this music is intended for people, both players and listeners, that live in this environment, I look forward to letting the inspiration flow.

Of course the real problems are all musical ones. What kind of material is suitable? What kind of form would be best? How "advanced" do I dare to be with the idiom? Etc, etc. I already have an idea of how to structure one of the movements: I am going to use a variation on a kind of "moment" form that I have used before, with some twists. Do you find it odd that the first thing that comes to me is the structure? I remember reading an interview with David Byrne of the Talking Heads where he said he usually started with the texture of the song, the interaction of drums and rhythm guitar. Everything else came later.

I would like to put up a clip of Night Rain, an interesting piece in moment form by Anthony Genge that I have performed many times, but I don't have it on this computer. Here is a post that contains it, however. Just scroll down.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Great Pop Songs

Even though I have been a classical musician for, oh, a long, long time, I did start out as a popular musician and I have a continued interest in and enjoyment of popular music. Wandering around the web, I ran across the top ten songs from Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Here are the top ten from that list:
1Bob DylanLike a Rolling Stone1965
2The Rolling Stones"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"1965
3John Lennon"Imagine"1971
4Marvin Gaye"What's Going On"1971
5Aretha Franklin"Respect"1967
6The Beach Boys"Good Vibrations"1966
7Chuck Berry"Johnny B. Goode"1958
8The Beatles"Hey Jude"1968
9Nirvana"Smells Like Teen Spirit"1991
10Ray Charles"What'd I Say"1959
Does anyone else think that the list is a bit weird? Other than me? Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone," sure, that could be #1, certainly in the top ten. And maybe "Satisfaction." But isn't "Gimme Shelter" or "Sympathy for the Devil" a much better choice from the Stones? As for "Imagine" c'mon! That isn't even in the top ten songs by John Lennon! "A Day in the Life," "Come Together," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "All You Need Is Love," and even "Nobody Told Me" are all better songs than "Imagine" though that one might be more popular. "Hey Jude" you could make an argument for, but I would vote for a different McCartney song like "Yesterday" or "Got to Get You Into My Life." The Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" is a good choice as is "Johnny B. Goode" and "Respect." But I would really like to see B. B. King's "The Thrill is Gone" in there. Instead of Nirvana, who aren't aging well in my book, why not "Enter Sandman" by Metallica? I wouldn't mind seeing something by the Talking Heads or David Bowie or The Police in there as well. Heck, if I got a vote, I might opt for "We're Going Wrong" from the reunion concerts that Cream gave in 2005. Now that was something special:

Now, sure, this is about 50% just to provoke some reactions. Let's hear what you have to say!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The New 1%

I am very far from being any kind of socialist--my basic belief is that free markets create the most prosperity--but the music business often makes me shake my head in perplexity. The Wall Street Journal today has an article on the new one percenters: music superstars. (If you google "Music Superstars Are the New One Percenters" you might be able to get past the paywall.)
A small number of superstars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift is gobbling up an increasingly outsize share of concert-tour revenues, as music’s biggest acts dominate the business like never before.
Sixty percent of all concert-ticket revenue world-wide went to the top 1% of performers ranked by revenue in 2017, according to an analysis by Alan Krueger, a Princeton University economist. That’s more than double the 26% that the top acts took home in 1982.
Just 5% of artists took home nearly the entire pie: 85% of all live-music revenue, up from 62% about three decades earlier, according to Mr. Krueger’s research. “The middle has dropped out of music, as more consumers gravitate to a smaller number of superstars,” 
This is not a new phenomenon as various technical advances have steadily biased the playing field going back more than one hundred years. Historically, the amount a performer could earn was limited by how much the market would bear in terms of ticket price and by the size of the venue. I'm not talking about the music marketplace prior to the French Revolution when most professional musicians were employed by the nobility who just competed among themselves for talent. After the Revolution, as the public market for music grew, patronized by the middle class, public concerts and publishing became lucrative sources of income. But musicians can only give a limited number of live concerts and prior to amplification, concert halls were limited in size to one or two thousand seats.

Music publishing of works designed for domestic performance opened up a new revenue stream that lasted until the development of the photocopy machine. These days, music publishers are fairly poor!

The two technologies that really had an impact were first the development of recording technology and second the development of amplification. Up until the Second World War, these developments made an incremental difference, but after the war, and especially from the 60s on, the trends became huge. The Beatles were a big part of these developments. The huge number of records they sold freed them from the rigors of touring even as large amplifiers made it possible to play in large venues like Shea Stadium in New York which seated something like 55,000 people. That's a lot of tickets. But the royalties from record sales dwarfed even that and after August 1966 the Beatles gave no more scheduled live performances.

When the internet came along, for a brief moment it seemed as if was going to have an impact similar to the photocopy machine: suddenly the gatekeeper power of the record companies disappeared overnight as people could share, peer-to-peer, recordings with one another over the web. It didn't take long for the copyright holders to put a stop to that and now a few streaming services like iTunes and Spotify dominate that medium. Revenues for most performers are fairly small, however, so it is the live concert that is generating the most income.

I have a new CD of selections of my chamber music I would love to market somehow, but frankly, the whole commercial music scene is so perplexing, I'm not sure what I want to do!

UPDATE: Just realized that an appropriate envoi for this post would be this: the Beatles taking the state at Shea Stadium in 1965:

UPPERDATE: Wait, I have it figured out! T-shirts, that's the ticket! Music Salon t-shirts! With that logo:

Friday, May 3, 2019


The development of the electric guitar, probably, along with the electric organ and electric piano the most significant new instruments created in the 20th century, has led to some interesting perspectives on the traditional instruments. For one thing, we now need the description "acoustic guitar" when talking about guitars that are not electric. But today I noticed something quite odd. My intuition and experience tells me this cannot be correct (screenshot from an Instapundit comment section):

Click to enlarge

The claim is that the wood chosen for the body of a solid-body electric guitar is going to have a significant effect on the timbre. Can this possibly be true? Isn't it just a bit of knowledge relating to acoustic guitars spilling over into the electric world? Yes, the exact characteristics of the wood of the soundboard in particular of acoustic guitars is hugely significant in terms of the timbre of the sound. But I don't see how it can have any effect on the sound of an electric guitar. The sound from an acoustic guitar comes from the vibration of the string making the bridge move which in turn makes the whole of the soundboard vibrate in complex ways. This vibration creates compression waves in the air which we hear as sound. But electric guitars function in an entirely different way. Here, from the Wikipedia article, is how they work:
Unlike acoustic guitars, solid-body electric guitars have no vibrating soundboard to amplify string vibration. Instead, solid-body instruments depend on electric pickups and an amplifier (or amp) and speaker. The solid body ensures that the amplified sound reproduces the string vibration alone, thus avoiding the wolf tones and unwanted feedback associated with amplified acoustic guitars. These guitars are generally made of hardwood covered with a hard polymer finish, often polyester or lacquer. 
The degree to which the choice of woods and other materials in the solid-guitar body (3) affects the sonic character of the amplified signal is disputed. Many believe it is highly significant, while others think the difference between woods is subtle. In acoustic and archtop guitars, wood choices more clearly affect tone. 
Compared to an acoustic guitar, which has a hollow body, electric guitars make much less audible sound when their strings are plucked, so electric guitars are normally plugged into a guitar amplifier and speaker. When an electric guitar is played, string movement produces a signal by generating (i.e., inducing) a small electric current in the magnetic pickups, which are magnets wound with coils of very fine wire. The signal passes through the tone and volume circuits to the output jack, and through a cable to an amplifier.[32] The current induced is proportional to such factors as string density and the amount of movement over the pickups.
Here is my thinking on the subject. The extremely tiny effect that the solid body has on the tone is evidenced by the almost completely inaudible sound you get when you pluck the string of an electric guitar that is not plugged into an amplifier. The sound really comes from the signal created by the movement of the metal string in the magnetic field of the pickup. This signal--which has no acoustic component, let it be noted, is then amplified and modified by tone controls on the guitar and the amplifier and is often further modified by a whole panoply of other effects activated by foot pedals. Whatever tiny effect the acoustic properties of the body might have are completely drowned in the signal processing.

How could the acoustic properties of the wood body possibly effect the sound of an electric guitar? I welcome comments on this question, because I can't see how that could work. I'm not of course, talking about hollow body electric guitars which would be a quite different question.

Friday Miscellanea

This is really miscellaneous: apparently all species of perching birds (distinguished by having three toes pointing forward and one back to facilitate perching) originated in Australia!
According to a new study, all perching bird species — the majority of the world’s bird population — originated in Australia.
These perching birds — called passerines — make up more than 60 percent of all birds. There are more than 6,000 species of passerines – distinguished from other birds by the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back), which facilitates perching – including familiar birds like cardinals, warblers, jays, and sparrows.
In similar news, all hot peppers come originally from Mexico.
The chili pepper (also chile, chile pepper, chilli pepper, or chilli[2]), from Nahuatl chīlli (Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃiːli]), is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum which are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.[3] Chili peppers are widely used in many cuisines as a spice to add heat to dishes. The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and related compounds known as capsaicinoids.
Chili peppers originated in Mexico.[4] After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used for both food and traditional medicine.
Cultivars grown in North America and Europe are believed to all derive from Capsicum annuum, and have white, yellow, red or purple to black fruits. In 2016, world production of raw green chili peppers was 34.5 million tonnes, with China producing half of the world total.
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Wenatchee the Hatchet is a prolific blogger who posts a lot about music. Here is a post where he provides links to his music posts. His interests are quite different from mine, but he does write a lot about the guitar repertoire.

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I've had violinist Rachel Podger's integral recording of all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for years and years and now she has released a recording of the six Cello Suites on violin. Of course, as a guitarist, I've been stealing them for decades. The Cello Suite No. 1, written in G major, is usually played in D major on guitar (probably mostly due to the arrangement by John Duarte). I ended up transcribing it in A major where it lies a lot better on guitar. Rachel plays it in D major and it seems to work well. Here is a clip of the prelude:

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Here is an interesting premiere: Iranian composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh's Veiled for cello and electronics. The title refers not only to veiled timbres, of course.
“This work was inspired by the Girls of Revolution Street movement in Iran … it was a beautiful and peaceful instance of resisting one of the most prevalent discriminatory laws of the Islamic Republic … the compulsory hijab (veil) for all women …” Niloufar has told The Violin Channel.

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Musicology Now update. The site seems to have fallen back into its usual desuetude. No new posts since the one in February on folk music and fascism.

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We have posted a few times on composer Mieczysław Weinberg and today a recording of two of his symphonies, nos. 2 and 21, is scheduled to be released by Deutsche Gramophon. Here is a live performance of the Symphony No. 21 from a different orchestra:

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Aha, now we find out who to blame! From the New Yorker:
In June, 1987, four men met at the Empress of Russia, a pub in London, and reinvented world music. Scholars and archivists had been documenting non-Western musical traditions for at least a century, as had, later, record labels such as Folkways and Nonesuch. Many technological innovations in film stock and sound recording had been spurred by the desire to record the cultural customs of the distant other. The men at the pub, all involved in the music business, were inspired by more modest aims. For one thing, they were frustrated that some record shops were filing the Nigerian guitarist King Sunny Adé, famous for his sparkly, ecstatic West African juju tunes, in the reggae section. At other shops, Adé’s records were tossed into the undifferentiated mass known as Rock/Pop, where they were overshadowed by abba. The men began sending stores materials for promoting artists from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. World music was meant to make the consumer experience easier.
So basically they figured out better ways of marketing music that was largely influenced by Western pop music:
Their efforts paid off. In 1988, an article in Newsweek described world music as an unlikely fad, a harbinger of where pop was going, now that rock was, as one d.j. put it, “totally dead.” Yet “world music” took on icky connotations, as a too easy way to convey that you were a cultured and cosmopolitan listener. And it relied on a kind of legibility. Rock may have been dead, but marketing musicians to listeners in America and Europe still required Caetano Veloso to become “the Bob Dylan of Brazil” and Adé “the African Bob Marley.” 
In the early two-thousands, the Bishops and the sound recordist Hisham Mayet started the label Sublime Frequencies. It was initially a response to the reigning approach of ethnomusicology, which they perceived as prizing a kind of detached, academic expertise. Sublime Frequencies’ early releases revelled in zealous naïveté and randomness. Its CDs skirted legality—adherence to copyright would have made releasing many of the recordings, full of unknown performers, practically impossible. One early compilation comprised Cambodian pop songs culled from the Oakland public library.
"Icky?" It was inevitable, I suppose. But I do occasionally want to hear some music that has not been influenced by Western pop.

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Bowing to the inevitable we begin our envoi with a song by King Sunny Adé:

And continue with Ravi Shankar, playing the classical music of Northern India, not influenced by Western pop music. I bought this album on vinyl in the late 60s.