Go out and listen to something…

March 28, 2006

recent cinema: Ask the Wind

Filed under: film — burnett @ 8:09 am

The reviews are correct on this one… it just doesn’t work.� Having said that, the book itself has genuine attraction.� It is about two people who, although� drawn to each other, are trying to reject so much in their own lives, that they treat each other unkindly.� It is a classic psychological scenario.� Much of the movie shows Arturo being downright mean to a woman that he loves, and incapable of saying the things that he really feels.� (One of many things that makes the movie not work is that he is unkind toward Salma Hayek’s character, and there is nothing about Salma Hayek that makes the viewer quite buy Arturo’s need to treat her coldly.)�

Chopin and the piano today

Filed under: music — burnett @ 7:47 am

I was reviewing the Chopin Etudes this morning, and was vividly struck by the complexity of these pieces, the intuitive velocity of his musical mind and physical capability.� I have been playing them now for 35 years or so, and as anyone knows who works on them, there is always plenty of work to be done.�

But let’s talk about the development of Jazz Piano.� In the 20’s and 30’s, there was a ferocious school of piano playing in Harlem, that seemed to fizzle with the advent of the Big Band and the smaller jazz groups thereafter.� The stride style lost its usefulness when there was a rhythm section on stage, and otherwise brilliant pianists like Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock acquired a relatively benign piano method.� (If you track Count Basie’s piano playing from 1930 with the Moten band to 1950 with his own, there is a huge simplification:� there� just wasn’t the need anymore for the virtuoso stride player, even in the Basie Band.)

If you were to compile a compendium of jazz piano “technics”, as I am sure somebody is doing, most of the jazz pianists are missing 200 years of piano development, i.e. the contrapuntal skills exhibited by every self-respecting keyboardist of the early 18th century, to the Chopin/Liszt virtuosity of the 19th century.� Not only that, but the skills of Jelly Roll, Fats, and Tatum are not considered de rigueur for the modern jazz piano student.� I have been pondering this fact for years.� Every “classical” piano student, as narrowly trained as they may be, must master the variegated techniques and performance styles of 250 years of piano playing.� Why not the jazz players?� Why do they dumb themselves down?

March 27, 2006

…more education

Filed under: Education — burnett @ 9:28 am

originally posted March 26, 2006

1) Home schooling is only slowly being understood by those outside the home school loop. One only need glance at a home school newsletter to get the gist of what really happens in their world. In a way, every child benefits from a blend of home schooling and institutional schooling. Home school networks are an institution in and of themselves. And public schools depend on parental involvement, outside tutors, online instruction, etc. So in the future, which is now, a parent will actually be deciding on the blend of institutional and parental involvement, rather than either/or.
2) Item from a home school newsletter: Genetic Researcher hosts lab on Monday, Jan 5, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Can take 3 students with biology background. Call 703.555.1212.
Obviously, the so-called home schooled bio student spends a day at NIH or some such thing, observes real science with real scientists, the latest lab equipment, has lunch with scientists, etc. etc. I’ll take this any day over a high school bio course. The home school newsletter is full of such field trips and projects.
3) It is old news that home schoolers often become accomplished musicians and artists. Why? Because they can work without time constraints on their craft in the morning, when they are not exhausted by a day of dealing with 7 different teachers that start at 7:00 a.m. The typical high school student has little if any time, to say nothing of focus, for the development of skills on an instrument. And what time there is occurs during late afternoon or evening.
4) A local home schooled 12 yr old documented the construction of the family home: meetings with the architect, permits, trenches, inspections, concrete, plumbing, electric, framing, paint, finish work.

5) What the institutionalized high schooler and the home schooler share is online studying. Teachers put assignments on line and assignments may be completed and submitted online. Entire courses can be completed online, and this matter must be addressed by the schools.
6) The required state elementary curriculum can be completed in about an hour and a half each day for a typical home schooled student. So what are kids in school doing for the other 6 hours?
7) Often I hear, “Now that he’s out of college, he can figure out what he wants to do”. Why not let him figure that out when he’s 12? Lots of kids know how they want to spend their time, but have a required curriculum that defeats their goals from the very beginning. 16 years of this? Absurd.

The Future of Education

Filed under: Education — burnett @ 9:27 am

originally posted March 25, 2006

� This is the first of many references to the future, if not the present, of education for young people.�
There is no need to keep a kid at a desk with a regulated instructor or instructors for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.� The list of problems created by this scenario is long and pervasive in our society.�
A school is good for the following:
1)� science labs where materials and physical resources are needed that would be impractical outside of a home or other setting.
2)� sports
3)� art:� again, physical resources, i.e. pottery wheels, painting tools, cleaning supplies, etc.
4)� music:� orchestras, bands, choruses all require a group setting.

Grant Wood

Filed under: Art — burnett @ 9:25 am

originally posted March 24, 2006
Grant Wood is now at the Renwick Gallery. I knew nothing about this artist before viewing the show. It’s hard to know where to start…Grant Wood was a highly skilled artist and craftsman. He spent considerable time in Europe as an art student, but eventually wound up back home in Iowa. There he found what he was looking for in his own back yard, as the exhibit texts reveal. In his own back yard were modest folk, corn fields, barns, animals, farm scenes, etc.
The end result is his distinctive style presented with genuine technical mastery. I noted that his career included commercial work and reminded me in an odd way of Andy Warhol and Japanese master Katsushita Hokusai (see below). All three of these gents responded to commissions or actually had jobs working for commercial enterprises. Warhol was an excellent draftsman, and his drawings from the early part of his career are superb.
But back to Grant Wood. His distinctive mannerisms may have spawned an entire genre. Certainly that could be true of “American Gothic”, but also his portrayals of fields, houses and trees, often as though through a wide-angle lens. I would like to study him more, as these stylizations became the norm in cartoon drawings of the mid-century. This style must have come straight from Grant Wood. A must-see exhibit.


Filed under: music, music education — burnett @ 9:24 am

originally posted March 18, 2006:�

A student in this studio who is also a teacher took a moment to ask a question that is so obvious, one wonders why it is not the most important question to be grappled with by the Classical Music performing community, notably the pianists.

� � � � � � � � � � � “Why wasn’t I taught to think in terms of harmonic progression and content of the tonality, chord notes, etc. when learning ‘classical’ repertoire as a child?� Why am I only learning this in a “jazz” class?”
Telemann, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, et al, were notorious extemporaneous performers.� The idea of being offered a melody from the audience and making a composition with it on the fly is an old one, and this skill was part of the life with these and many other composer/performers.� So if this skill was alive in 1850, why is it dead today?� When did it die?� Why did it die?�

Defense #1:� In defense of the pianists, the tradition of classical piano playing has so all-encompassing in terms of epoch and thus massive repertoire, that there is no time to master the skills of improvisation.� The contemporary professional ‘classical’ pianist can perform music of 300 years, including exacting performance styles of 15 generations of composers.� The fortepiano and harpsichord repertoire has different demands from the Classical period, the Romantic Period, the Impressionist Period, the Modern Period, Post-Modern, etc.�

Any recital by the latest hot pianist at the Kennedy Center will include repertoire spanning at least 200 if not 300 years and at least 3 continents.� So let’s allow the pianist to say that they only have time for so much in life, and with the exacting demands of the piano performance circuit, they did not have time to also develop as a composer and improvisational performer.� Hence, the composer and performer are two different people.�

Hokusai, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, & DADA

Filed under: Art — burnett @ 9:23 am

originally posted March 16, 2006
The Japanese artist Katsushita Hokusai rules the roost at the moment in Washington, DC.� Although a great deal of his work (which includes 10,000 pieces) resides at the Freer Collection, little of it sees the light of day, since in fact, the light of day will destroy the paper and ink.� The Sackler Gallery is in the basement and dimly lit, a perfect grotto for the exhibit.� Hokusai lived for 90 years, and was productive for most of his life.� It is gratifying to see a great artist live past 35 so we don’t have to wonder “what if…”� Every ten years or so, he made a dramatic shift, and of course changed his name to help with the transition.� I was intrigued by the fact that his apprenticeship lasted until he was 34 years old, in 1794.� My first visit was yesterday, but intend to revisit often before it closes on May 14.
Other exhibits of note include Cezanne at the West Gallery, DADA at the East, and Toulouse-Lautrec and others at the Phillips Collection.� DADA is the most powerful show, it is huge, and covers the movement by city:� Berlin, Paris, New York, London.� I last saw a DADA show at the Embankment in London back in 1977.� That show was an eye-opener for me, but this one has a very comprehensive feel.� It requires several visits just to get a handle on it.� The movies alone require 45 minutes just to get through them once, and they beg a second viewing.�
Cezanne at the West Gallery was educational for me.� I prefer his early works from the late 1860’s and 70’s.� � An austerity takes over his later more progressive work, and I am losing interest at the moment.� There is a fascinating still life loaded with paint, and the portrait of his father, also with pounds of paint, that interested me the most.
Toulouse and others at the Phillips is a very rich show.� The NY Times thought it had very little to offer, but then the Phillips does not offer huge productions.� There is a great deal of interest in this presentation.

Arcane piano stuff

Filed under: music — burnett @ 9:22 am

originally posted March 15, 2006
Ok, this is arcane piano stuff, so you are welcome to skip to the date below.
In the F minor Fantasie of Chopin, a few pages in, he presents a charming theme in Ab. It is 4 measures long, which repeats for the most part, down an octave forming an 8 measure passage. The quick fluid theme is harmonized note for note in the right hand, a bit of a technical challenge. It features a few II-V progressions, the kind of thing adored by jazz arrangers. Anyway, it’s a fun little passage, great melody, beautiful sounds, etc. He throws off this melody as if it’s nothing, and it really is a fabulous little tune, albeit only 4 measures long.
But what really makes this interesting is that he brings it back twice: the first time in Gb, the second in Db. Gb is OK, as it is just a step down, and mechanically speaking, you are ready for it after you figure out the Ab section. The Db section is another matter. The bass accompaniment is spread out, requiring more attention down there, and the right hand is rather up in the stratosphere where the overall sound is for some reason a little harder to control. I’ve always (for 30 years) been uncomfortable in the Db section, but maybe that will change in the next in the next 30.
I’ve always adored this piece. The first agitato in f minor is for me one of the highlights of all music.

Alfred Brendel at the Kennedy Center, Feb. 7, 2006

Filed under: music — burnett @ 9:21 am

originally posted March 13, 2006

I landed some tickets to pianist Alfred Brendel last month. The seats were 7 rows from the piano, stage left. The sound is excellent there, big piano sound and very
clear. The Kennedy Center Concert Hall is otherwise murder for a solo event, as the sound collapses further into the room.

He played Haydn D Major Sonate, Schubert G major Sonate, Mozart C minor Fantasie, Mozart Rondo in A minor, and Haydn C major Sonate, Hob. xvi:50.

The Haydn was always scintillating and clever. His successful attention to detail reminded me of another obsessively detailed pianist…except in a good way. He really brings it off, and it was simply fantastic. It was nice to hear the Schubert, of course, but he held it in a kind of monochromatic light that didn’t grab me like the Haydn. In fact, I wonder why he didn’t put some of the same articulation elements and mannerisms in the Schubert, except that maybe he wanted a complete contrast.

The Fantasie, again highly articulated, and unpredictable. He has the nerve, and the right, of course, to sort of start with a clean slate and see it through. For a senior member of the establishment, he never fakes anything. No passages were thrown off or glossed over. That I found very impressive and convincing, as a listener.

The Rondo was simple and beautiful.

The Haydn C Major was simply fabulous. Very, very clever, clear as a bell, with a host of colors for the different themes and motives.

A renowned trumpeter and former member of the Chicago Symphony, describes what he calls “pianist time”. He has Barenboim in mind, and “Pianist Time” is the elusive, mysterious and inscrutable sense of tempo that piano players carry around with them. They get away with it because of all of the solo performances that take up much of their careers. But when they are conducting, as Barenboim does, it makes for a head-scratching soup of bewildering tempo changes for the orchestra players who love a clear beat.

I was thinking of that last night, notably in the opening Haydn, where Brendel took great liberties with rubato, ritardandos, and the like. Brendel was very capricious, and it reminded me of how I play when absolutely no one is listening.

Glossary: Upbeat

Filed under: music — burnett @ 9:19 am

originally posted March 12, 2006When performing in public, every musician eventually hears the request:� “Uh, can you play something more upbeat?”� This is at first puzzling if not indecipherable to the neophyte, but after awhile, one realizes that the request is for some rock’n’roll.� I have heard this request directed to� jazz bands, string quartets, pianists, violinists, swing bands, ballroom dance bands, and orchestras.� At the heart of the matter is that the listener does not recognize the music and style of music that the performers are playing.� The listener has been groomed by their own lifetime of listening to hear and recognize a thin slice of music that was probably offered on a few radio stations over their lifetime.� The average income of this listener is $100,000 to $700,000 per year.� The average education is a masters degree, LLD, or� PhD.In his autobiography, conductor Erich Leinsdorf addressed this issue on a more refined level.� As a Viennese artist serving in New York and Boston for the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra, he confronted a crippling issue when dealing with the Board of Directors. � � These civic leaders were highly educated individuals in matters of business, visual arts, architecture, the sciences, and possibly the theater.� But unlike their European counterparts, they did not address music in the same way as they did the other arts.� Whereas art, literature and architecture were welcomed in there most progressive forms, music was encouraged in the forms of its past.� The board members were not versed in the singular musical languages that developed after World War I, and hence it was impossible to project a vision of the future of music with them.� In other words, music was not recognized as an intellectual pursuit at the level of literature and the visual arts.

Whether it is a cabaret performer singing Sondheim, a jazz artist performing his own composition, a string quartet playing a late Beethoven quartet, or a bluegrass band playing Beautiful Dreamer, someone in the room will say, “but can you play something upbeat?”

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