Musical Literacy versus Musical Fluency

A couple years ago while reading Dick Weissman’s book, Making a Living in Your Local Music Market, I blogged about the section in the book about Musical Literacy. As Weissman related some remarks by Bruce Ronkin:

He defines it as an awareness and understanding of all musical styles, instead of concentrating on technical aspects of music.  I think this is a very useful concept, because it places emphasis on the student and teacher being open to many musical styles.  The truth is that most of us are fixated on specific musical styles and techniques, and many of us don’t listen to a variety of musical styles.

Continue reading “Musical Literacy versus Musical Fluency”

What Really Handicapped Classical Music?

Prime, retrograde, inverse, and retrograde-inverse permutations.

Bill Eddins wrote a provocative and over the top post claiming it’s Schoenberg’s fault that classical music has lost its audience.  His follow up post, No One Expects the 12-Tone Inquisition, explains some of the method to his madness–namely attacking Sacred Cows, but one statement he made really caught my attention in light of all the issues surrounding the rise of the mass media industry that serves as infrastructural support for more dominant entertainment industries:

The flip side of that coin is that I don’t believe in coincidences.  The “composer as international celebrity” idea effectively died between 1945 and the early ’70s, and I do not believe that it was a “coincidence” that this happened when this particular compositional technique was in the ascendant.

Continue reading “What Really Handicapped Classical Music?”

Modern Cello Techniques


Quartertone excercise from Modern Cello Techniques

Modern Cello Techniques is a fantastic new website dedicated to extended cello techniques by Chicago based cellist, Russell Rolen.  Of special interest to my blog readers who also are interested in Arabic and Turkish music, there is a section on Quartertones and a page with some samples from usage of them by Western classical composers.

Be advisd, though, that Western composers use quartertones and microtones in very different ways than you’d find them used in Middle Eastern or South Asian Music so don’t expect to find much that would be useful for pedagogical or learning purposes if you’re interested in non-Western microtonality.  Also, see my caveat about the whole issue of microtones here and here which help to explain some of these differences between the West and the Rest.

What’s really wonderful are all the exercises such as the one picture in this post.  As I slowly brainstorm how to start an Arabic Orchestra, I’ve only given passing thoughts on how to train the string players how to learn the ‘scales’ used in the music.  I actually hadn’t thought of approaching it in the same methodical way that our Western music training does in the copious number of method books for instruments that we have.  Mr. Rolen’s website just pointed me in a direction that I hadn’t thought about in this context and I may have to start developing some form of method book for training Western Classically trained string players in many of the Eastern Classical music styles!

Korean Chôngganbo and Far Eastern music notation systems

An example of Korean Chôngganbo music notation

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having some relatively in depth discussions about music systems and notation for them with Bryan Townsend.  A statement in one of Bryan’s recent posts got me thinking a bit about notating rhythms, for which the Near Eastern notation systems aren’t particularly well suited. Here’s that statement

So we may be forced to the conclusion that, like accurate music notation, harmony and polyphony were invented exactly once in music history. Even more astonishing, they were both invented at roughly the same time in roughly the same place: southern France, northern Italy around 1000 AD. Nailing down the details of notating rhythms took until about 1500.

However, from what I remembered about some early Far Eastern notation systems, rhythm has been notated for some centuries and with a relatively high degree of precision.  One such system, Chôngganbo (정간보), which was develped by Sejong the Great (1397 – 1450) who is also credited with creating/promulgating what many linguists consider to be the most perfect alphabet, Hangul (한글).

I only happened across Chôngganbo via a strange route.  When I was following the career of Rock and experimental musician, Mike Patton, I was delighted to find and hear a bootleg of a live performance of a collaborative work he did with  William Winant and DJ Eddie Def that was called “Phono Sanjo.”  The piece combined elements of Mike Patton’s vocal acrobatics and Winant using various percussion including some very distinctive Chinese cymbols (for those of you who listen to Chinese Opera with any regularity you know exactly what I’m talking about) and DJ Eddie Def on turntables.  Many of these live performances of the piece took place in the mid to late 90s in the Bay Area.  I first got a bootleg around 1999.

The title of the piece refers to the two aesthetic driving forces of the work.  “Phono” obviously is a reference to “Phonograph” or the turntables; “Sanjo” is actually a style of art music from Korea, so many of the actual samples used by the turntablist are samples from Sanjo recordings.  Most prominently heard in the samples is the gayageum, one of the principle instruments used for this style of music and a close cousin of the Chinese guzheng and Japanese koto (Eric–now you know how I first came across gayageum music!).  Though sanjo is primarily an instrumental style of music, Mike Patton’s vocalizations evoke some of the Far Eastern vocal traditions (in the same way that Winant used a Chinese Cymbal) in the creating of a sort of Pan-East Asian experimental music piece. Continue reading “Korean Chôngganbo and Far Eastern music notation systems”

DaHjaj QeylIS qa’jIH.

A scene from Commedia Beauregard's production of "A Klingon Christmas Carol"

“I am the Spirit of Kahless Present.”

Sometimes I have to be in the business of creating culture, not just re-creating culture (or ‘re-presenting culture’ as I sometimes refer to my musical activities).  I’ve been watching a DVD of the final performance of  “A Klingon Christmas Carol” which is a production by the Commedia Beauregard that has been running during the Christmas season for the past four years.  This is in preparation for scoring incidental music that my group, il Troubadore (or more properly, the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project), will be recording for the live production this season.

As I’ve been developing Klingon Music and the possible theory behind it for the past year or so (though my interest in Klingon music dates back many more years as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) sometimes projects like this are incredibly satisfying.  Nothing like creating not only original music, but a completely ‘original’ style of music for a culture from a Science Fiction series.

While I won’t be posting actual examples that will be used for the score/soundtrack of this production, I will continue to blog about (with other examples) the music as I spend more and more time immersing myself in Klingon Culture.  As I mentioned in a previous status update at my facebook page that I still haven’t gotten the typical post conference/event blues after having the chance to play a concert with Yo-Yo Ma–this project and the project in my previous post are the reasons (amongst so many others).

I’m just so thrilled and pleased that I can have all these exciting musical experiences without having to leave this little quaint part of the world as I’ve said regarding this past month or so of such wonderful strangeness!  As the saying goes–“Show me a bored person, and I’ll show you a lazy person.”

Or, as the Klingons would say, Hoch ‘ebmey tIjon (“Capture all opportunities!”)!