In defense of Bach and Mozart

November 28, 2010 at 10:46 am | Posted in Composers, Repertoire/Programming, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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While riding in the car with my violinist son (aged 20) this week, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto came on the Sirius Radio (one of the greatest inventions of the past 20 years, Howard Stern notwithstanding).  “I can’t wait to play that”, he said.  “When?”, I asked.  “Not for a while.  They say you shouldn’t play it until you are at least thirty.  It’s not very difficult, but it’s very hard.”

Bach wrote 6 unaccompanied Partitas and Sonatas for violin.  Mozart wrote five violin Concerti and thirty-six violin Sonatas.  My son told me that he hears a lot of violinists play the Bach or the Mozart and “you can tell from the first bar that it’s not going to be music, it’s just going to be note-note-note-note-note.”  He told me that every good violinist is musical when playing music from the Romantic period.  What’s really impressive is playing the seemingly simple and less “sophisticated” works with musical maturity.

“Beethoven created music.  Mozart discovered music” – Albert Einstein

There are a lot of ways to describe the difference between music of the Classical period and music of the Romantic period.  And while Beethoven is usually described as a “transitional” composer, the distinction that Einstein made is useful.

Albert Einstein loved Mozart.  He also loved Bach, about whose music he said “I have this to say about Bach’s works: listen, play, love, revere – and keep your trap shut”.  But mostly, he loved Mozart.  Einstein was an accomplished violinist.   He once said that had he not been a scientist, he would have been a musician. “Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” he declared. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music…I get most joy in life out of music.”  He never went anywhere without his violin.  He particularly loved to play Mozart Sonatas and Quartets, often playing the quartets with other scientists and professors who also played music.

Einstein credited his violin playing experiences with leading to some of his greatest insights. Einstein explained that he loved Mozart because it seemed that Mozart was capturing a pure music that was simply formed by the universe or divined by God.  Mozart himself would sometimes say that he felt like he was not composing so much as taking dictation.  Einstein would go on to explain that while Beethoven was a revolutionary genius, that his music was “too personal” and thus overwhelming and unnerving.

This makes sense though.  Einstein never saw himself as creating anything.  His quest was to simply discover how the universe worked, perhaps to explain it.  Mozart and Bach had a structure and simplicity that he saw as coming naturally from the universe, not from Mozart or Bach themselves.  It fits with his life long quest to explain the physical universe in a complete and organized way.

Another great figure of the 20th century, physician, philosopher, and theologian Albert Schweitzer, was a devotee of Bach.  Among his many accomplishments he was a music scholar and organist who studied the music of Bach extensively, examining its symbolism and imagery which he said illustrated with sublime simplicity the religious themes of the hymns the works were based on.

There is a belief so long held that it is axiomatic among many musicians.  It is that Baroque Music and Classical (period) Music is too simple to be given any more attention than the occasional “roots” performances.  It is a belief that Romantic Music, 20th Century Music or Post-Modern music is the only music with sufficient sophistication to be taken seriously.  It is a belief that only the common rabble prefers Mozart or Haydn or Bach over Mahler or Bruckner or Stravinsky.  It is a belief that the earlier music is not sufficiently complex to warrant much attention.  It is no small thing that Mahler and Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky revered Mozart and Bach.  It wasn’t nostalgia.  It is in their music.  The third movement of Mahler’s First Symphony works because even if the melody is altered just enough to not be obvious, something in is will still subconsciously recognize and be moved the simple folk tune Frere Jacques.   Percy Grainger, Aaron Copland and Anton Dvorak had a reverence for simple accessible folk songs that informed their greatest works.

I would submit that it is in this simplicity that genuine sophistication lies.  Countless philosophers, educators and scientists have opined, researched and concluded that music is a basic human need.  It is a need for all humans, not just the initiated.  If that is true, then accessible music is far from being inferior music.  Music that reaches humans at a basic level regardless of their level of musical sophistication is “classical music” regardless of when it was written.

Einstein said, “ the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it—that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed”.

You won’t hear Mozart and Bach at the next IWS concert.  But you will hear some great Holiday music – much of it very familiar, accessible and comforting to the human soul.  Not a bad thing to accomplish on a chilly Sunday afternoon (Sunday December 12th, 3:00 p.m. in the Auditorium at Arsenal Tech High School).

Eardrum Assault Month Begins

November 26, 2010 at 9:28 am | Posted in Music Reviews, Repertoire/Programming, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Warning: I realize that many people may disagree with what I write here. This post contains only my opinions — and boy am I opinionated. Although I’d love to see a slew of commenters agreeing with me, I don’t expect it. You have been warned.

I am still amazed when I find someone who looks forward to Christmastime “because of the music,” but to those of you who love Christmas music, your time has come. With Thanksgiving in the bag and Christmas shopping season in full swing, the shopping malls and department stores that had occasionally tossed a carol into the usual background mix of muzak and eighties pop over the last month will dive wholly in with a constant stream (or barrage, take your pick) of Christmas music.

It’s a time of year I call Eardrum Assault Month.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked Christmas music.  Why? Because Christmas music is, on the whole, musically uninteresting. It’s built on basic major harmonies, simple melodies (after all, your five-year-old child can sing Christmas music), and an ungodly amount of repetition. There so little of musical interest in the most well-known Christmas carols — no chromaticism, no surprise harmonies, no dynamic changes, no modulations, no thematic development.

But I guess that comes with the territory, no? Most Christmas music is meant to be sung by hoi polloi, those with little musical education outside of what they can absorb from church hymnals. So the music is necessarily simple, sometimes rustic, and definitely short. Thank goodness they’re short. (So short, in fact, that you have to string a bunch of them together to create a whole piece. Come to our December concert to hear what I mean.)

My guess is that the people who truly enjoy Christmas music enjoy it for the feelings and memories that it evokes, and not for any musical reasons. Which is fine and good. I have the same types of reactions to the fifth symphonies of Shostakovich and Mahler. But I would not ever want every store I go into to play only these two pieces for an entire month. Those fond memories I hold now would surely be quickly replaced by feelings of weariness (like I get when I have to listen to Ravel’s Bolero).

The sheer repetition is a major factor in my dislike of Christmas music — and of Bolero, for that matter. Christmas music is the musical equivalent of political campaign commercials, only those commercials come every two years. And Christmas songs and carols, like political commercials, can become well-known specifically because of how bad they are. (Speaking of repetition and badness, let me just say that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is the second cruelest joke ever perpetrated on man, instrumental versions of the same song being the first.)

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t point out that some yuletide music is acceptable, and even good, to my ears. Here are a few of the songs that I enjoy hearing this time of year — or any time of year. Note that most of them aren’t related specifically to Christmas. The blokes who select what music to fill a department store with might want to give this list some scrutiny and consider what they’re piping into their stores. (Are you listening, Target?)

  • “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — A wonderful duet. I prefer more modern renditions over the somewhat dated versions from 50 years ago.
  • “Winter” by Tori Amos — I’m a huge Tori Amos fan, so this beautiful and haunting piece has to make the list.
  • “Long December” by Counting Crows — Easily the most depressing song on the list, this is a good addition to include those people who have no one to celebrate Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa with.
  • “The Nearness of You” the Norah Jones rendition — This is great to pair with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to capture the idea of curling up with a loved one by a warm fire as the snow falls outside. Which isn’t really what department stores et al. want to get you to do.
  • “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” — The sadder the better.
  • “Christmas Time Is Here” — Only the Vince Guaraldi/Charlie Brown version is worth a listen.
  • “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi — Not exactly a Christmas song, though I’ve heard it programmed on more than one Christmas concert.
  • “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice — Just kidding.
  • The Duke Ellington “Nutcracker Suite” — Russian musical giant meets American jazz master.

I’m sure there are plenty more examples of “acceptable” yuletide music out there. Unfortunately, they are up against a horde of traditional, uninteresting Christmas songs.

What Christmas songs grate on you the most? What wonderful winter music have I forgotten? What do you think of the music that gets piped into stores this time of year?

The Musical World of Harry Potter

November 23, 2010 at 12:28 am | Posted in Composers, Music Reviews | Leave a comment
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Ok, so it’s no surprise to any who knows me knows what a movie buff I am, and what a fan of movie music I am. (See the previous article I wrote here!) While I am not a crazy Harry Potter fan, I have seen all the movies and generally do enjoy what they offer, especially on the musical side.

For me, the biggest let down was when John Williams stopped composing for the series. As with practically any movie franchise John has done, he sets up the musical vocabulary and tone for the films. However, once he no longer composed our musical vocabulary dried up.  From having all these wonderful melodies, we get instead quasi, wanna-be themes. They don’t stick with you cause they don’t have any substance.

So we went from the amazing soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, including such amazing music like this selection from “The Knight Bus”…

…which is arguable one of the most jazzy themes we’ve heard from JW in recent years, and a heck of a lot of fun to listen to!

Then we get our roulette of composers, staring with Patrick Doyle. All of them have done admirable, but writing music that is nothing but cool sounding at the time. Nothing offensive, but nothing that make you want to go buy the album. Of Doyle’s best is this cool brass band-inspired tune.

Next in line for the job is Nicholas Hooper, who writes even less memorable music than Patrick Doyle, save one track which has some potential, Professor Umbridge’s theme! It is the only thing I left humming.

What I really don’t understand about the HP folks is why they seem to hire someone less known for each  movie, and most disconcerting is that these composers just dont have the composing chops of a blockbuster franchise. A British movie with a room and a view of a pond, sure. Harry Potter, hmm, not so much!

The most recent addition to the composers of Harry Potter is the Alexandre Desplat, an odd if not random choice. His biggest claim to movie music is the soundtrack from The Golden Compass, as well as some of the Twilight films. When I heard the opening titles, I was excited. This has potential! Unfortunately, due to a creative decision I’m sure, there are long sections of the new movie sans music. It fits the mood, etc, but wish I would hear more of Desplat to get a good feeling for him. At this time, I imagine Desplat will return for the final movie. JW is only rumored, but I imagine with only 7 or so months until release, we’d know if it were him writing the music. I am looking forward to some cool battle music from Desplat, who at times was channeling a bit of Hans Zimmer, and at times, a little Williams. Of the tracks of the new movie, this one is one of my favs!

I hope he is given a nice canvas to do some good work on the final Potter film! So any movie music people out there? Which HP film soundtrack has been your favorite (or your favorite parts)?

Attack (and Release) of the Downtown Busker

November 19, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in Humor, Saxophone | Leave a comment
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Late October had put a chill in the air. The grayness of the sky seemed to suck energy from everything. I shoved my hands deep in the pockets of my brown leather jacket as I trod the grimy sidewalks of downtown, heading toward its center in search of something to eat.

The sound came faintly at first, barely noticeable as it began to penetrate the rumbling of tires over brick and the white noise of water rushing from a nearby fountain. As I came closer to my destination, the wailing became eerily recognizable. As soon as I rounded the corner onto Meridian Street, I couldn’t help but cringe as I spotted him at the entrance to an alleyway, honking away in constantly changing pitches. There was no doubt—I was approaching the dreaded downtown busker.

It took several seconds of listening before I recognized the pattern of the sounds coming from his tenor saxophone. It was what can be most complimentarily described as an original rendition of “In the Mood.” I hurriedly took refuge in a nearby Mexican fast-food joint.

——-

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being original. Music can be interpreted in different ways with variations in style. But playing every note fortissimo and clipping every phrase (well, actually, partial phrases), plus pausing a beat after each (partial) phrase is not exactly the most musical of styles and actually could be argued to not be a musical style at all. (Saxophones actually can be played quite musically, as evidenced, I’m pleased to say, by the Wind Symphony’s sax section. It might be in their interest to sue this guy for defamation of instrument.)

I hypothesize that this street musician plays loudly to be heard by as many as possible so as to maximize his handouts. (Please don’t suggest to him that a trumpet can be played even more loudly.) Consequently, he has to take deep breaths fairly frequently, creating a clipped and staccato style where too many breaks are inserted into the “music”.

But I believe his approach is less than optimal. Wouldn’t people be more likely to give and more likely to give more to a busker who shows some true musical talent and entertains them? When people move to the other side of the street or roll up their car windows (which doesn’t help much) to minimize the assault on their eardrums, one’s instrument case is not going to be filled with cash at the end of the day.

If he doesn’t realize this or just doesn’t grasp the concept of musicality, I’d recommend that he go instead for sympathy. Wearing a sign that says “Can’t afford music lessons” would, no doubt, increase the contributions.

——-

After finishing my tacos, I found it necessary to head outside again to make my way back to my office. The busker was still honking away across the street, but in the block or so I walked before his notes faded once again below the sounds of tires and fountains, I wasn’t able recognize the new tune. Fortunately, I didn’t have to attribute that to a lack of musical knowledge.

The walk back allowed me to reflect a bit and realize that there are a couple of good aspects to the busker’s performances. He is attempting to earn a few bucks by doing something more than sit on a street corner with a cardboard sign and, as unmusical as he may be, he is still much more melodic than someone rattling coins in a plastic cup.

To March or Not To March, That is the Question!

November 16, 2010 at 7:33 am | Posted in Random, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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For those of you who clicked on this blog post looking for some suave literary reference beyond the title have been rickrolled. The title is actually quite succint. We’re talking about marching band here folks!

Wait, hold on! Don’t close that browser window just yet. I am not going to be writing a blog post about the latest marching band results at BOA. My topic is one much more philosophical, and at times, very volatile between music educators. As the title suggests, to march or not to march? That is, should a school spend the time and resources on marching bands or spend it elsewhere?

Now, before I go any further let me make a few statements of my own background regarding marching band. When I was in high school, I was a member of a large (200+ member) non-competitive marching band. Our band director was an amazing teacher, and put on a quality product every year. However, we did only one competition (district), some marching band festival-type invites, and of course the home football games. That was is it! I never marched drum corps, and there was no marching band at my undergrad university. Throughout my college studies, though, I was involved in several competitive marching band programs too. Some were very competitive (all way to BOA) and some were merely involved at the state level, advancing to regionals, semi-state, etc. So while I have not myself marched competitively, I have been involved both with programs that did and some that did not.

Background given, let’s continue by discussing the pros and cons of each argument:

Pros:

  • Marching Band teaches students cooperation, hard-work, and leadership skills
  • Marching Band gives the general public a “face” to the band department as a whole
  • Marching Band gives the students something positive to be a part of outside the school day
  • Marching Band is a social/fun thing for the students
  • Marching Band enhances the students’  physical and playing abilities
  • Marching Band attracts students to continue in music

Cons

  • Marching Band is time consuming, expensive
  • Marching Band is not musical: it’s all the same stuff for 3-5 months
  • Marching Band teaches bad playing habits
  • Marching Band dissuades students from continuing in band

Now, these are just a few of the things off the top of my head. Marching Band clearly has elements of both good and bad. Marching Band is most importantly a face for the public. The community might not know a thing about your wind ensemble, but every person has probably seen a marching band on TV, or in a parade. It also does teach many positive things like team work, dedication. But there are also negatives for people who take it over the top: it is very time consuming, and frankly can be argued that it is very unmusical in its concept.

For me, the discussion really boils down to what your goals are for your program. As with all good things, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Does rehearsing the same music from June-November constitute a productive thing? (Given you could be working on your concert band music, talking about sound production, air flow, talking about musical form of a piece, etc) Likewise, does putting on a marching band uniform and walking out onto the field and standing and playing constitute a marching band?

Let’s look to the middle! If we in Indiana are devoted to doing marching band, do it so it isn’t overkill. Plan some good music, decent drill, and do it well. When it comes time to competitions and performances, play for the home games, and some shows. But when it comes down to it, remember that the band program’s core ensemble is the concert band. As music teachers/band directors, we need to focus on things that can enhance our players’ sense of musicality, rhythmic accuracy, intonation and other basics. We also need to focus on that core gorgeous sound, and how to produce it. If marching band can enhance your program and players’ development, use it for that vehicle. (But be sure not to drive it 100mph into a ditch!)

Please note, I am not arguing a particular case, but rather presenting arguments for discussion. So what are your thoughts on marching band, either for or against?

Speaking of Conducting

November 15, 2010 at 10:34 am | Posted in Conducting | 1 Comment

On the heels of the last post about the job of a conductor — especially the part about conductor-as-hand-waver — check out the videos that Roger Ebert has posted on his blog of a three-year-old named Jonathan. I only had time to watch the first one so far, but in that first one, young Jonathan “conducts” the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It’s adorable to watch, but there are some really great, warm-fuzzy-generating things in there:

  • It’s obvious from how he anticipates some of the changes in the orchestra that he has heard the piece numerous times.
  • For a three-year-old, he has great rhythm!
  • This is my favorite part, the part that makes me feel good: About three-and-a-half minutes in, Jonathan says “This is my favorite part!” Now ask yourself, did you have a “favorite part” of any symphony when you were three years old?

My thanks and congratulations to Jonathan’s parents for raising him in the world of music. And for posting the videos!

Also my congratulations to Jonathan for not stabbing himself in the face numerous times, as I likely would have done at that age.

What’s the Conductor’s role? (Hint: It has nothing to do with trains!)

November 12, 2010 at 7:58 am | Posted in Conducting, Humor | Leave a comment
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I’m currently working on my Masters in Conducting at Butler  University. When people ask my wife what I’m going to school for, and she tells them “conducting” they almost always reply back something about “Like Leopold on Bugs Bunny?”

It’s interesting how non-musicians interpret what the role of the conductor is. For a large majority, they believe conductors simply wave their arms around until the music stop. Indeed, who hasn’t seen some comic in the paper about conductors?

Train Conductor
(Not a music conductor!)

 

A conductor does not simply wave their arms and wait for the music to stop. In fact, a conductor’s role in music is much more involved than many people may believe. Here are some different roles a conductor serves:

1) Interpretation: A conductor must study the score, the instruments, the rhythms, the dynamics, tempi, style, and many other elements, and codify an interpretation from this.  Ten different conductors can conduct Mahler 5 ten different ways. Why? Because they each have their own experiences, their own view of what to bring out, and even how they hear things.

2) Show the music: A conductor should be a visual representation of what style of music is being played. If it is a legato passage, the conductor should show smooth, horizontal motion. In a more dettached or pesante section, a heavy style should be displayed, etc. The conductor should be using their conducting to show the ensemble how they want the music to sound, whether it’s loud/soft, staccato/legato, fast/slow, etc.

3) Facilitator: Some conductors believe that they, contrary to what I typed earlier, do not in fact interpret the music. Rather, they follow the markings by the conductor exactly to perform the music “as the composer intended”. In this school of thought, they serve more as a facilitator, guiding the ensemble to the correct “version” as the composer has indicated.

4) Time beater: Yes, some people think the conductor should be a metronome. Their purpose is to keep time. This is especially prevalent in wind band music. Orchestra conductors tend to conduct emotion of a piece, and choral conductors tend to conduct the rhythms of the words. Wind band conductors have gotten into a bad habit of conducting time. Yes, I think it’s important for the ensemble to have tempo and have it presented in a well-organized form (i.e. patterns). However, too few band conductors actually conduct the music short of the left hand crescendo/decrescendo ala The Karate Kid.

 

Miyagi

So, which of these is a conductor’s role? Ultimately, all of the above. It’s the job of the conductor to know the music, and develop their own interpretation of the music that is based on their experiences. This is part of music-making that is so amazing! How I view Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral is not the same as somone who is older, younger, less experienced, more experienced, etc. They are also responsible for showing how the music sounds with their baton technique, showing tempi, and at times, being a facilitator (chamber music is a great example!)

Next time you find out someone is a conductor, don’t make the obligatory “move your hands” joke. Instead, ask them about their interpretation of a piece they are conducting and you will learn so much!

Veterans Day Salute

November 11, 2010 at 10:56 am | Posted in Repertoire/Programming | 1 Comment
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Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th in the United States, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended WWI. On this day, we honor our military troops, both current and former. While parades and other celebrations take place, there are some excellent pieces that are programmatic in nature and very appropriate for a concert to honor these military men and women.

1) Lonely Beach (Normandy,1944) – “James Barnes was inspired by film footage that recorded the assault on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. In the film, four soldiers are seen attempting to reach the relative safety of the sea wall. Three of the soldiers reach the wall, while the fourth is hit and falls, unmoving. Although surrounded by thousands, he dies alone. The first part of the tone poem begins with the sound of wind and waves. As the assault begins, the music builds to a frenzy, portraying panic and the death of the soldier. The second half is a eulogy for all the soldiers who died on that beach. Composed in 1992, the work was commissioned by the United States Army Band in Washington, D.C. Its premiere performance was on November 11, 1992, Veteran’s Day.” – via http://www.denison.edu/offices/publicaffairs/pressreleases/hwe02.html

This piece uses alleatoric music to very impactfully demonstrate the scene of Normandy Beach. Watch the video below to listen to the recording as done by the UIndy Symphonic Wind Ensemble circa 2004…

2) American Salute by Morton Gould – This piece was originally written for orchestra, and later transcribed for band. It is something that should be in the standard repertoire of any high school or college band program. Based on the theme of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” as it’s melodic material, Gould essentially weaves a fantasy setting on this melody. It was written in 1943, and according to another blog post I came across, was written for a radio broadcast (and supposedly, overnight!) It is a powerful musical setting, techinically challenging, and a great piece for both students playing it, and for the audience listening.

3)  Each Time You Tell Their Story by Sam Hazo – This piece is another programmatic piece in that is was clearly written to honor our military men and women. It starts as a ballad, has a short narration, grows in intensity to a powerful chorale style section, and ending quietly. Technically, it is not too challenging and allows for some nice musical moments.

4) Star Bangled Banner (A Love Song to Our Country) by Jack Stamp – This is a hymn-like treatment of the Star Spangled Banner. Jack Stamp actually wrote this piece in grad school, and some 13 years later it was brought back to the band world after 9-11. There are different harmonies present at times, and it captures an entirely different emotion than the version we are all used to hearing, but it is entirely still appropriate. This would make an amazing concert opener.

5. America the Beautiful arr. by Carmen Dragon – No Veterans Day concert would be complete without playing Carmen Dragon’s America the Beautiful. This is a very beautiful arrangement of the song many people consider our nation’s second national anthem. This music also has optional choir parts to include your school choir to make an even more powerful concert closer.

So, if you are thinking about doing a program for Veterans Day, these are just a small sample of good music that can both be challenging and musically satisfying for your students, the audience, and an appropriate tribute to our Veterans. Thank you for all you do!

Do You Need Room for Some Clarinet in Your Coffee?

November 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Clarinet, Composers, Trombone | 1 Comment
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I just happened upon this post at the Improbable Research blog about a recent UK study testing the link between flavor and different musical sounds. The research results, encapsulated in the improbable-sounding (is that where they got the blog name?) “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic responses in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes,” highlights the findings that even for people who are not synesthetic*, the different sounds of different instruments affect the perception of taste. To quote Martin Gardiner at Improbable Research:

For example, the piano was felt to be particularly appropriate for the taste of sugar — and quite unsuitable for brass instruments. Similarly, coffee was more woodwindy than brassy, and orange-flower was brassy rather than stringy. These newfound associations between flavours and individual instruments lead on to a new hypothesis — might similar matching effects occur with more complex sounds — and even perhaps with music in general?

The implications of this research could be felt — er, tasted — in restaurants near you. If experiments reveal that, say, low string sounds make tomato-based dishes taste more succulent, your next trip to the Olive Garden may find your family dinner conversation drowned out by an invasive, unwavering bass solo.

This may explain the existence of haggis, which may be the only food that tastes good while listening to bagpipes.

*Synesthesia is a condition in which a sensation normally felt in one sense is felt instead in another. A synesthete might, for example, hear colors, feel odors, or in this case, taste sounds. It is believed that a number of musicians were or are synesthetes, including Leonard Bernstein, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Billy Joel, Duke Ellingon, Tori Amos, and Eddie Van Halen.

A Shelf of Musical Quotes

November 8, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Posted in Humor | 1 Comment
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I’ve been collecting books since high school, which, after almost two decades, amounts to a lot books. They have provided entertainment, insight, and wisdom; they’ve been invaluable as reference sources; and they’ve helped me kill time. They’ve also been a huge pain in the but when I have to move.

I’ve always liked my book collection, and thought I knew it pretty well. But tonight, I think I’ve finally hit the point where my book collection has become too large, because tonight, I found a book on my shelf that I didn’t know I had: The Music Lover’s Quotation Book, edited by David Barber. Which is the only reason I bring it up now.

Everybody loves a good one-liner, so here are some quick musical quotations from this handy little reference book. Enjoy:

“I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle and the other one isn’t.” This sounds like a Victor Borge quip, but it’s really from Ulysses S. Grant.

“In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that nobody else has thought of.” Robert Schumann

“Music, to create harmony, must investigate discord.” Plutarch. I like this one because so many other ideas can be substituted for music and still make sense.

“Eunuch: A man who has had his works cut out for him.” Robert Byrne. I’m not entirely sure why this is in a book of musical quotations, unless the editor is confusing eunuchs and castrati. But it’s still a nice quote.

“Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps and 10 percent playing out of tune.” Igor Stravinsky

To be fair, Sergei Prokofiev called Stravinsky’s music “Bach on the wrong notes.”

And finally, Ambrose Bierce’s definition of piano, from his The Devil’s Dictionary: “Piano: A parlor utensil used for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.”

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