batlh qelDI’ tlhIngan, lumbe’!

il Troubadore Klingon Music Project (from l. to r. Jon Silpayamanant, Robert Bruce Scott, Paul Radecki)

A Klingon does not delay a matter of honor!  And neither does a composer!

As I’m recording guide tracks for the rest of the members of my Klingon band (surely any reader of this blog knows I have a Klingon band, right?) for our soundtrack to Commedia Beauregard’s production of “A Klingon Christmas Carol” I’m actually coning up with vocal lines in my head to fill (or amplify) the melodic gap(s).

This is an infinitely rewarding process, and I really have no idea if other composers feel this way, but being able to create a score in a very particular style is first, a challenge; and second, invigorating as I actually have to create (using what feeble resources for this style of music exist) something in a style that Klingons would actually use or do.

There are actually quite a variety of examples and precedents for this, and none of them particularly consistent (if we’re strictly speaking of ‘canon’ material from the series and movies in the franchise).  How to make sense of the pluralistic enterprise that constitutes Klingon music is at best an ad hoc affair as Mark Okrand (the ultimate canon source) has said very little about Klingon Music that is particularly helpful in re-constructing it.

At the same time, I think my musical instincts are particularly sharp for this kind of work, if only because I have a healthy knowledge of the variety of sources I can draw from all over the world.  Whether it be Western Classical, or Azerbijani Mugham, or Chinese Opera, or American Experimental and Noise, I’ve done them all to some degree.  In some cases I’ve “composed” (or at least am moderately proficient in improvising) within these disparate genres.

While there may exist plenty of other examples of this music outside of canon (Stovokor, The Klingon Terran Research Ensemble, Kosmic Horror), I’ve found so much of that material ‘missing the point’ and would like to think that I don’t do that.  I hope to turn all of these tunes for into actual vocal tunes for a possible CD release in the near future, but for the play they will be primarily instrumentals.

I don’t really want to make this a long post, but wanted to make it a point to post a blog post every day this month as I believe it is National Writer’s Month.  Though I did miss the first day, I hope to continue this streak for every day of the month of November.  As it is a busy month for me, I think that won’t be a problem to do!


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!”)!

What happened to the composers, anyway?

What happened to the composers, anyway?

I just read a strange piece at about Orchestras, 5 Bizarre Dark Sides to Modern Orchestras, which left a bit to be desired regarding some facts (what’s a third violin, anyway?  Viola?).  But some of the links posted in the piece were, in many ways, much more interesting than the article itself.

One in particular is a the annual report (1998) by Catherine Wichterman for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Orchestra Forum: A Discussion of Symphony Orchestras in the US, that talks about many issues regarding funding by the foundation to Orchestras.  Four issues in particular were discussed regarding institutional problems with Orchestras, and these were issues brought up during a forum in which mid-budget Orchestras ($844,000 to $21.4 million) were invited to participate in–the participants included administration, management as well as musical directors and musicians.

The agendas, as described in the piece, were as follows:

Each of the Forum meetings focused on issues that had been consistently raised in preliminary discussions and in proposals submitted by the 28 orchestras. The first meeting focused on leadership, decision-making, and collaborative cultures; the second on community relationships, education, and marketing; the third on composers, conductors, and repertoire; and the last on research, risk, and change. The agendas were consciously interdisciplinary, and a number of professionals from other fields were invited to contribute outside perspectives on the issues under discussion.

In particular, the section about Repertoire and Programming had some interesting tidbits about the role of composers in today’s Orchestras.  The opening paragraph to that section states:

Unlike theater and dance companies, orchestras have been largely unsuccessful in fostering the creation of new work and in involving creators in the artistic life of the institution. Composers today find much friendlier territory in dance, theater, and chamber music. [my emphasis] Many orchestra professionals blame composers themselves for their isolation. Others blame the academy, and still others blame broadcast media, recording companies, performers, conductors, and audiences. Most agree, however, that whatever the problems in contemporary composition, orchestras (which were once contemporary music ensembles) have neglected, perhaps even abdicated, their responsibility to create an environment in which new creative work flourishes.

The bolded section, in particular, got my attention as I recently got a gig composing music for an upcoming Commedia Beauregard Theatre production in Chicago and most of the music I’ve written has been for smaller ensembles (including some of my own) as well as specific works for dancers.  Basically all three areas in the bolded statement.  And in some ways, I’m not technically a ‘trained composer’ (sure, I’ve studied composition in music school, but my primary focus was always performance).

Continue reading “What happened to the composers, anyway?”

To teach, or not to teach: that is the question

Jon Silpayamanant teaching an "Alien Music workshop for Kids" at Cyphan Science-Fiction Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

So this past week was the first week of school and I’ve been coaching two periods of cellos since Tuesday. Earlier this week I read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that talks about some research regarding the correlation between teaching and research.  Most studies of this type looked at the connection between research activities and teaching, with mostly equivocal results though perhaps leaning in the direction that there may be a positive correlation.  Few studies looked at the connection from the opposite end of seeing how teaching experience can enhance research.  And fewer still (if this article is correct) have looked at it quantitatively, rather than through qualitative and often subjective surveys.

It was timely that the article was published just as my teaching load has increased (as it always does this time of the year) as I often question the function of teaching and education and how this can be changed and whether or not things like this should be changed.  But I’d rarely looked at it from the standpoint of how teaching music could possibly enhance, say, musical ability.  In many ways, I can agree–in others I can just as easily disagree.  In the end, it really depends on the teacher/musician.

For example, being able to show someone how to do something on a musical instrument would seem to demonstrate that you know the instrument well enough to be able to teach how to do it.  On the other hand, if your ability to do it on the instrument isn’t necessarily the most efficient or useful or, just downright idiosyncratic, then what you may be teaching would be how you would do it–not necessarily how it can or should be done.  Whether that idiosyncratic way of playing an instrument is the result of previous ‘bad teaching’ or just willful ignore-ance of former instructors (or combination of both) doesn’t necessarily matter.  And in some ways, I imagine it can simply be the result of a tradition of performance practice such as the holding-books-under-the-arm technique of bowing that used to be relatively commonplace in cello pedagogy.

The thing is, we can’t necessarily predict what might be a more efficient and useful way of doing things in the future.  In hindsight, as the saying goes, we’ll see it as inevitable but that doesn’t help our abilities to know future ‘good performance practice’–much less future enhancement of musical ability due to the ability to teach music.  Really, in many ways we’re just walking blindly into a future with only our personal histories or institutional histories (e.g. teaching traditions) as a guide.

I guess one of the questions is, if you can’t teach someone else how to do something, how much does that affect your ability to teach yourself something?  Another thorny question.  Some folks just have an intuitive sense of how to play a kind of music and can easily learn something within those boundaries.  Which says next to nothing about their ability to learn something in a different musical style or genre (or on another instrument, for that matter).  It’s an almost autistic way of relating to a broader musical culture or, rather, a broader culture of music.

Continue reading “To teach, or not to teach: that is the question”