Anti-Christmas Carols

December 13, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

Jessica Gentile at has posted The Ten Most Depressing Christmas Songs Ever Recorded. Go over there to get a closer look and to take a listen, but here are the ten she highlights:

  1. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, “Fairytale New York”
  2. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, “Cold White Christmas”
  3. Okkervil River, “Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas”
  4. Sufjan Stevens, “Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”
  5. Aimee Mann, “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas”
  6. Tom Waits, “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”
  7. The Boy Least Likely To, “Blue Spruce Needles”
  8. John Denver, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”
  9. Prince, “Another Lonely Christmas”
  10. King Diamond, “No Presents for Christmas” (I don’t know if this is classified as hard rock, heavy metal, thrash metal, acid rock, or what, but any juxtaposition of cacophonous, angry music and Christmas is worth a listen in my book.)

I had only ever heard the Tom Waits song before. I am most impressed by The Boy Least Likely To, and most distressed by The Pogues. I guess that was another time.

You probably notice that most of the bands and singers on this list aren’t the widely commercially successful musicians that radio stations stock their playlists with. (I suppose if you’re that successful, you have little to whine about at Christmastime.) There are a few big names out there, though (besides Prince and John Denver), who have some fairly depressing Christmas or winter songs. The comments following the linked article can lead you to some more.

My favorite winter song , which is both depressing and hopeful, is Counting Crows’ “Long December”: “There’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”

Perhaps a better list is this one from Creative Loafing, which includes Joni Mitchell’s “River,” “Brick” by the Ben Folds Five, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It through December,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.

Which just goes to show you, no matter how your holiday season plays out, there’s a soundtrack out there for you.

So who do you think has the most depressing Christmas song out there?

Posted by Andrew Hollandbeck

Do you get the chills?

December 11, 2010 at 2:07 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

Do you find yourself getting chills when you listen to certain pieces of music? Earlier today, I read and posted an interesting article on my facebook that deserves a read!

Here is the link for the article, called “Messiah give you chills? That’s a clue to your personality.”

Essentially, it covers an interesting phenomenon whereby a specific piece of music or song induces the sensation of chills in a pleasurable sort of way. These chills, sometimes called aesthetic chills can happen all over the body in response to music.

The article goes on to discuss the how/why of this occurrence. Basically, the music that gives you a reaction is stimulating your hypothalamus which is basically the pleasure center of the brain. (But also controls involuntary responses like blushing and goosebumps) When something connects with you emotionally for whatever reason, it’s stimulating the hypothalamus and hence  inducing the goosebump reaction.

For me, what I found very interesting about the study done is two-fold:

1) The genre of music doesn’t matter, only the emotional connection does. If you have an emotional connection to something, whether it’s David Hasslehoff, Stravinsky, or Sting it generates the same reaction of the skin/body.

2) Some people have never experienced this reaction, and their personality may be to blame! Yes,  in fact among all the factors taken into account, being someone who is open to enjoying art, music, theater, etc, seemed to make these chills more common.

I know as someone who is clearly a musician and music lover, I have experienced these aesthetic chills lots in my life. Usually they coincide with large, impactful moments in music or sometimes a simple dissonance with a stress and release. Just recently, I’ve experienced this with Whitacre’s October as I had the chance to conduct the Butler University Wind Ensemble. For me the big climax point just connects with me emotionally, along with many other spots.

So, my question is: Have you ever experienced aesthetic chills? If so, are you a musician/not, and what song or genre do you notice it most with?

Posted by Angelo

IWS Christmas Concert: Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

December 11, 2010 at 1:05 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

The last Indiana Wind Symphony concert before we make the move to the Palladium is this Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010 at 3pm at Arsenal Tech High School.

Now, I’ve gone off before about EAM (Eardrum Assault Month) and how I don’t like Christmas music, but this is one of the reasons why the IWS is such a great group to play in. When you hear the phrase Christmas music, musicians like Norman Dello Joio, Alfred Reed, and Gustav Holst probably don’t pop straight into your mind. But with the IWS, that’s just what Christmas music means.

Sure, we’ll do our share of Christmas standards; it’s what our audience expects to hear. But a major part of the IWS’s mission statement is “the performance of serious music for band,” and our Christmas concert is no different. Serious music doesn’t mean heady or inaccessible; it means well-written. It means good.

The concert opens with the relatively new “A Christmas Fanfare” by James Beckel, Jr. The IWS has been developing a relationship with Mr. Beckel, who has been the principal trombonist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for four decades. His reputation as a composer has been rising over the last decade or two, as well. “A Christmas Fanfare” would be the perfect processional for a December graduation ceremony, and it’s a great way to start a Christmas concert.

Then comes Pola & Wyle’s “The Most Wonderful time of the Year,” which is one of my top-ten most-hated Christmas songs. I’m certain you’ll enjoy it more than I will.

Third is Norman Dello Joio’s “Variants on a Mediaeval Tune.” (The mediaeval tune in question is “In dulci jubilo.”) This starts with a tune everybody knows, but it’s anything but your standard Christmas music. Dello Joio is one of the few band composers who consistently includes a part for the alto clarinet — the clarinet that clarinetists love to hate. Listen for it.

Then we do two Christmas music medleys: Jerry Nowak’s “A Christmas Portrait” followed by Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” Both arrangements are pretty good, and “A Christmas Portrait” will include a vocal quartet from Arsenal Tech. This is the Christmas reminiscences part of the concert.

After an intermission, we come back with Kenneth Soper’s “Jingle Bell March” (the two things I hate most: Christmas music and marches), and then we get to best parts of the concert — for me, anyway.

For the final four pieces of the concert, we start with “Ode to Greensleeves” by local boy Richard Saucedo. It’s extremely easy to make Greensleeves a very, very boring piece of music. Or to put it another way, it is not easy to make “Greensleeves” fun to listen to for longer than ten seconds. This arrangement, though, will keep your attention from the first note to the last. The orchestration is really warm and rich.

Then, to cleanse our musical palates, we play another Leroy Anderson piece, “Sleigh Ride,” as in “lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.” I admit that this one can be fun to play, especially when it slips into a swinging jazz feel. (Most Christmas music is improved by jazzing it up, including The Nutcracker.) The horse whinny written into the trumpet part is always a crowd-pleaser, too.

Next is a Robert W. Smith arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I don’t know this piece as well as I probably should, but as far as Christmas music goes, I like the title. “In the Bleak Midwinter” just sounds like it was written by a Grinch. (The music isn’t actually all that bleak. The title is from a very Christian Christmas poem written by Christina Rossetti in the mid-19th century.)

Finally, we save the best for last: Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music.” Reed was commissioned to write this piece in 1944 for a concert in Denver that was meant to improve Soviet-American relations; it was to include the world premiere of both American and Soviet works. Although you probably won’t recognize any favorite Christmas tunes in this one, it apparently is based on actual Russian Christmas carols. Wikipedia says that it’s modeled on Eastern Orthodox liturgical music, but the last half of it is downright Mahler-esque.  This piece is worth sitting through “Jingle Bell March” to hear.

And that’s it. Part toe-tapping, part thought-provoking, part memory-teasing; all Christmas.

When: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3:00

Where: Arsenal Technical High School
1500 E. Michigan
Indianapolis, IN 46201

How much:
$15 Adults
$10 Seniors and students
Children 10 and under free

Half-season tickets will be available!

Posted by Andrew Hollandbeck

Facebook Campaign Counters EAM with 4’33”

December 6, 2010 at 8:00 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

A Facebook campaign in the UK is attempting to make John Cage’s 4’33” the number-one song this Christmas season. Tom Breihan at Pitchfork covers the basics well:

In the UK, the race to become the number one song in the country at Christmas is a big deal. Last year, a Facebook campaign succeeded in making Rage Against the Machine’s years-old track “Killing in the Name” the Christmas number one, upsetting X Factor winner Joe McElderry. This year, an indie-leaning all-star group of artists is attempting the same thing, with a “cover” of John Cage’s experimental piece “4’33″”, which famously consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

The group is calling themselves “Cage Against the Machine” — a well-placed pun if ever there was one. Check out their Facebook page. Proceeds from the campaign will be split among five charities, one of which is the British Tinnitus Association. (Tinnitus is a ringing in your ears that has no external source.)

I think this is a great campaign to counter EAM, Eardrum Assault Month. But it opens up a few cans of worms.

First of all, the idea behind that campaign itself: I love the idea of gaming the system — at least when it’s such a nonessential system. I also love the idea of a group of people working together and focusing on a single issue to produce something surprising. That is, after all, what a wind ensemble does. Flash mobs, random acts of kindness, and senseless campaigns like this are like individual sparkling stars in the vast black void of geopolitical history. They remind us that the course of humankind is governed solely by the rich and the royal. So, my hats off to the people who conceived this idea, and especially to those who are seeing it through.

Second, John Cage’s 4’33”: This piece is often brought up in the broad philosophical discussion of “What Is Music?” Is John Cage’s 4’33” a piece of music, even though it consists entirely of silence?

Here’s my take: 4’33” isn’t music. Music is a controlled collection of sounds and silences, so this piece falls short by half. 4’33” is, though, an artwork; it’s a performance piece. Like any good piece of controversial art, it makes you think about what you’re experiencing. It makes you question what you believe and why you believe it. It makes you part of the art.

The question of whether or not 4’33” is music stems from the facts that a) it was written by someone known as a composer, and b) it is entirely concerned with the sonic. Artwork that deals solely in sound is normally in the purview of “music.” And so a performance of 4’33” makes you wonder not only “Is this music?” but “What is music?” And you must decide the latter before you can decide the former.

So, given the alternative of those insipid, repetitive, happy-go-barfy Christmas carols, 4’33” gets my vote. The next time you hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” just think how much better your life would be if you could just turn the noise off for four and a half minutes.

So what do you think of 4’33”? Would you, like me, prefer silence to Christmas music?

Posted by Andy Hollandbeck

Our First Crack at the Palladium

December 4, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

Last Wednesday, Dec. 1, the IWS had a concert of sorts at the nearly finished Palladium at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The purpose for this concert was to help the Palladium’s acousticians “tune” the hall for a group like ours. It also gave us a chance to hear what we sounded like and find the best seating arrangement for the band.

The performance was educational (we hope) all around. The Palladium folks got to hear us, we got to see what the new stage was like, and Charlie, our Musical Director, took the opportunity not only to introduce to Indiana Wind Symphony to a lot of people who had never heard us before, but to introduce the idea of the wind symphony and the various instruments found within it, which we hope the audience found both educational and entertaining; you know, edutaining.

After intial performances of Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival and Sleigh Ride, we began doing some experimenting with the seating arrangement, which made a world of difference both to the audience and to the band. The audience, then, got to see and hear something concertgoers rarely get to hear: the effects of different seating arrangements on the sound of the hall.

After the concert, we asked for responses from both band members and concertgoers. Below are the responses we received.

Response from the Audience

From Emily Walk:

I was fortunate to be in attendance for the IWS tuning on Wednesday, December 1, at the Carmel Palladium. I have been to many IWS performances and they’re always excellent, but the tuning session was educational. They sounded pretty awesome to begin with, but after Charlie moved players around, it was amazing to hear the difference it made. Who would have known that just by moving tubas to the end, or moving other instruments closer together that it would make such a difference. I also thought it was great that Charlie kept the audience involved by explaining what he was doing, and by introducing the different sections and letting us hear how the different instruments sounded. It was a special evening for all.

One of the ladies with me had never heard the IWS before. She LOVED it! She says Charlie is a fantastic director. She wants to go to more concerts, and I have assured her that she will.

Oh, yes, the Palladium is fantastic and I’m happy that the IWS has found a home there.

From Matt Burke:

It was like floating on sound.

From Chris Bailey (husband of IWS flutist Ellen Logan Bailey):

How much more exciting does a rehearsal get than last night! Wow! Group sounded fantastic and they made the new Palladium look good too! Way to go IWS. You all have come a long way and I am so glad for your success. Also, flute section rocks! Yeah flutes!

From Mark Burke:

The sound last night in the Palladium was great. One thing I would say is that after the tubas were moved to the right side of the stage, it became pretty difficult to hear the trumpets. This was especially evident during the Christmas Festival piece. The trumpets had the melody, but were drowned out when the woodwinds would come in with their parts. Moving the tubas did give them more presence, but it was a bit too much presence. There were others seated around me that felt the same way.

Overall though, your group sounded great. Thanks again for the tickets.

From Josh Frank:

This was my first time seeing the Indianapolis Wind Symphony and I was blown away. The Symphony sounded amazing and the beautiful backdrop of the new Palladium enriched the experience even further. It was almost as if I was in another time. I highly recommend any music enthusiast to check out the Indianapolis Wind Symphony.

From Patricia Pan:

Thanks so much for the opportunity to hear the IWS at the Palladium. The venue was very impressive, and seeing the band members in “concert dress” made the event even more special.

I especially enjoyed learning about the types of instruments in the band and hearing how the sound changes when the players are moved to different parts of the stage.

As the band was playing, the words lush, ripe, and sexy(!) came to my mind as I thought about the shape of the sound.

I look forward to seeing more of the IWS at the Palladium!

From Beth Knapik:

Wow! I was not impressed by the first song but OMG the sound was incredible by the time you moved and tweaked!!!! You could hear all of the instruments by the end of the rehearsal. There was still a discrepancy between the jungle bells and the trumpets (I don’t think they could hear each other). I noticed, as did my parents, that the flutes were still drowned out. But overall, the sound was fantastic and I was quite impressed by the wind symphony. I will definitely go back to hear you/them again. Great job.

Now the Palladium on the other hand is a different story (says a tax paying Carmel resident). Ha ha!

Responses from IWS members

From contrabass clarinetist Don Poulsen, quoted from a letter he shared with members of the Indianapolis Municipal Band:

“In my opinion, the Palladium lives up to its hype, despite still being under construction. The interior is beautiful, but I didn’t get much of an impression of the exterior because it was dark outside. The concert hall felt pretty intimate in that none of the seats are terribly far from the stage. On the stage, it seemed as if I could hear other instruments and sections more clearly than most any other place I’ve ever played. The stage is definitely a concert stage and not a multipurpose stage. I expect the audience would be able to hear a reed drop on stage when the hall is quiet. And, when a piece ends on a loud note, you will notice the sound decaying afterwards.

“Overall, it felt as though I’d made it to the big time, both from the feel and acoustics of the hall. I’m sure it inspired me to play better. I’m also sure everyone in the IMB will enjoy the experience of playing on that stage at least once in their lives. (Between the Palladium and the ArtsGarden, we’ll end up playing at both ends of acoustic spectrum during December, in my opinion.)”

In addition, last night I had trouble falling asleep because I was still thinking about the experience.

From Hornist Jason Gardner, who wasn’t playing with us that evening:

I think the Palladium is a beautiful venue. Wish I would have brought my horn and tux and sight-read the concert.

I was sitting on stage left (Orchestra right) in row U.

From the light trap the first piece sounded great. Good balance. Then the ushers let us in.

For Sleigh Ride there was just way too much reverb throughout. After the last note I counted to six or seven before the sound completely dissipated. Trombones got lost in the mix (but I did hear the seven most important notes!). F Horns were clearly audible all night, but at the beginning their articulation wasn’t very clear due to the reverb. I think their placement on stage was perfect. To me, trumpets really stood out and I think the clarinets and flutes were the most prominent at the beginning.

As curtains were added and seats moved around the brass blend as a section improved (although euphonium stayed very strong all night and even overbalanced the trumpets at times). I thought bringing the tubas to stage left helped a lot. Moving them back from the edge was better. Trumpets were noticeably reduced when moved towards the center as were the saxes.

The woodwinds alone sounded wonderful! Great balance. When the brass were playing, however, only the highest frequencies from the woodwinds were heard; mid and low range clarinets were lost and only the piccolo and first clarinets were clearly audible.

The glockenspiel was way too loud during RCM [Alfred Reed’s Russian Christmas Music]. I think it would be best to move the percussion to the center to blend in and to help with communication with the tubas.

I think adding a few more curtains in the second balcony would help clarify sound even more. There was still just a little too much reverb for my taste at the end, but adding the third balcony curtains all around was a huge improvement.

I think a little more fine-tuning is in order, but I heard much promise. The IWS sounded great! Can’t wait to play with the group again.

From clarinetist Amanda Dowell:

My parents were there. They said the sound of the ensemble did NOT come from the stage, as it usually does is an auditorium, but from the walls around them. Dad used the term “surround sound” to describe it. They thought it was just amazing!

The Center for the Performing Arts has some wonderful pictures of the Palladium on their Facebook page, including pictures of the IWS performance. Here’s my favorite:

IWS at the PalladiumThe space is just beautiful, both visually and acoustically. It has a real high-class, European feel to it, and a lot (and I mean a LOT) of great marble in the lobby areas.

Though I will note that I heard a few band members comment on what they believed was an overuse of pastel colors.


Posted by Andy Hollandbeck

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