Variety, Not Just for the Sake of…

My Inbox tells me some folks think I’m a music snob.

Well, I am. I prefer vocalists who can actually find and reproduce pitches accurately, as a bare starting point. (Most people can’t tell how very bad the vocals they listen to day in and day out are on just this very basic criterion.) After pitch production, still epaking of just vocalists here, tone, vowels, clarity and the degree to which a vocalist uses their instrument effectively all add up… or subtract from my consideration of their artistry.

And all this is quite apart from the artistry–or more usually lack of artistry–of the lyrics, the tune, the harmonies and rhythms of a simple vocal number, which is the most complex music most folks (don’t really) listen to.

And then, at some level, I’m always listening as well for ways I’d score the piece differently, ways I’d prefer the vocalist(s) and instrumentalists use their instruments differently, etc. Always rearranging and rescoring and re-performing pieces in my head. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Now, I’ve not been able to “correct” *heh* most orchestral works by really good composers in quite that way (although I usually have some small–or large–argument with a conductor on how he chooses o present a piece), largely because good composers and truly good instrumentalists (who have usually worked far longer and more diligently to create real chops than most pop “artists”) remove a grat deal of citical perdormance issues before the performance.

But still there is a lot of talent out there in the popular arena, and some of it has been burnished with enough hard work to be worth listening to. For example, despite the fact that I absolutely abhor the way Emi Fujita treats vowels (and the ocassional consonant) in her English performances, I have to give her a bit of a bye in that area simply because she is attempting English from her background as a native Japanese speaker, and I’d hate for, say, a native Russian speaker critique my Russian when singing a Mussorgsky piece! *heh* But I’d also have to cut her some slack because her performances are so very musical. Yes, I’d like to erradicate a couple of vocal idiosyncracies she exhibits, but surprisingly–to me–even otherwse annoying vocal habits are overcome by her simple artistry, where in lesser talents the same flaws stand out as glaring annoyances.

And her accompanying instrumentals are also always worth listening to–good arranging choices, more often than not.

Here’s an example–just a typical example, nothing special or out of the ordinary–of an average Emi Fujita performance:

08.Tir n`a Noir – Emi Fujita

Now, here’s the rub: I love her performances on many levels, but. *sigh* She seems to sometimes suffer from the same sort of problem many young students who are beginning to sing art songs in Italian, French, German or whatever suffer from: no real connections to the underlying meanings of the piece, just singing the notes and phonetically reproducing the sounds. I don’t get this feeling all that often from her, but it’s enough that it’s a small detraction. Small.

But even there, she’s so very, very much better than most American native English speaking popular vocalists that I almost despair for vocal music recording in these (dis)United States. *sigh* Almost. There are enough examples of good musical and lyrical artistry (Janis Ian comes readily to mind, for example) that I know musicality isn’t dead, but it’s discouraging to turn on the radio and be forced to turn it off, because there’s no music worth listening to.

So, yes, I am a music snob in that I much prefer actual music to regurgitated feces.

The Sound of Music

The sound of music today is… not so musical.

The manufactured sounds of contemporary rock, hip-hop, country and etc., are stale, boring, and often completely UNmusical. So-called “artists” who can neither find nor maintain pitch (admittedly those who pass as “country music singers” nowadays usually have a BIG edge over most in other genres in at least finding pitches) seem to dominate the manufactured music market.

Of course they do. Most people nowadays can’t hear thunder. Data point: anyone reading this who can discern pitches need only think back to the first few weeks of any season of American Idol. Think of all the completely clueless, tone-deaf aspirants who auditioned. They are among the best of the population in general.

Yes, most people in our society today are tone deaf. And I lay the “blame”–such as it is–at the feet of lazy generations of folks who have let the radio (and the technologies that followed it) make their music for them, instead of making their own music. You see, true tone deafness is extremely rare, but most folks nowadays have never bothered to learn to sing, play an instrument or even whistle a tune. Oh, as American Idol evidences, many folks think they can sing, but obviously cannot.

Heck, I spent more than a few years teaching music (both vocal and instrumental) in various settings and venues. Even kids who self-select to be in band or orchestra far, far more often than not came to the classes–in fifth or sixth grade… and even more sadly after several years of “instruction” by others–with only the vaguest idea of pitch differentiation. And I have heard “award-winning” high school bands that have never been introduced to that old Chinese gentleman, Tun-ing.

Go to a church, once one of the cultural bastions of vocal/choral music, and simply listen (if you’re one of the minority of those who can differentiate pitches). Horrible. Listless voices. Tuneless congregational singing. A far cry from the days of my youth (and even then it was not rare to find pockets of poor singing. The slide into musical illiteracy has been long).

My dad belongs to a church that has such congregational singing. It tries to make up for it by having a “praise band” and singers up front to “lead” the singing. Interesting thing: most of the instrumentalists in the band are in their 60s, 70s and even, like my dad, 80s. They come from generations when making their own music was still a common thing. (In his youth, for example, my dad and a bunch of his buddies bought a HUGE repertoire of charts of the swing music that was then popular and drove all over their home state playing gigs. As a real band, not some five-piece small ensemble that passes for bands nowadays.)

The musical illiteracy and lack of tone perception that is rampant nowadays is appalling.

For those few who can sing along without having some mindless drone from an electronic crutch, let me offer these chilling (yes, chilling) words from The Sound of Music:

When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most any thing.

Now, that’s a depressing thought in the face of American lack of musicality.

(Lest you think me some sort of pseudo-intellectual musical snob, academic/”serious” music nowadays is often worse thasn any of the pop genres. Heck, there’s more–much more–to appreciate in the musical wasteland of manufactured country, hip-hop, etc., than in the land of contemporary “serious” music. *sigh*)

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When memory fails…

…there’s the web.

For some obscure reason (well, obscured from my knowledge), I thought about Tattoo today. No, not body disfiguring by savages or Ricardo Montalban’s one-time sidekick, Tattoo the bugle call. I was rocking along just fine until the third phrase (the first two are virtually the same) of this longest of standard bugle calls eluded my flagging memory, so…

Via google, I hied meself off to the definitive bugle call resource on the web, at the U.S. Army Band’s site. Aha! That’s how that third phrase goes, I realized. Nice that the site includes both an mp3 file and the “sheet music” for download/listening/viewing/printing.

Reason #1,546,432 why I love the web. (Yeh, for those of y’all who read my reason #1,546,328, I’ve found a few more since then :-))

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New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day: Pig in a Blanket

That’s me: staying warm n toasty and “pigging out” on Bryn Terfel while enjoying some home brewed wheat beer (yeh, yeh: from a kit ;-)).


This kinda stuff can easily carry me through New Year’s Day.


Bryn Terfel - We'll Keep a Welcome

Bryn Terfel – We’ll Keep a Welcome


Mr. Beer Whispering Wheat Weizenbier Refill Brew PackMr. Beer Whispering Wheat Weizenbier Refill Brew Pack

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Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Blog @, Adam’s Blog, Right Truth, The World According to Carl, Shadowscope, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Leaning Straight Up, Big Dog’s Weblog, Pursuing Holiness, and Right Voices, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

Leader of the Band

Thanks to Leaning Straight Up I learned on first rising this a.m. of Dan Fogelberg’s passing. LSU posted an appropriate Fogelberg performance, but I thought this one particularly poignant (keep in mind that Fogelberg’s dad was a high school band director during Fogelberg’s youth):

A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldnt wait
He earned his love
Through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand.

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul —
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
Im just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.

Well, Dan, you left a musical legacy of your own. Requiescat in pace.

Principles of Classicism

Bear with me for a bit. This is all about why I’m a fan of classical (though especially Classical–the lowercase “c” is different) music. It’s not (exactly) what you may think. At least, not entirely.

In music, the term Classic Period refers to a period from roughly the middle of the 18th Century into (and perhaps a little beyond) the first decade of the 19th Century during which certain “givens” of musical expression were practiced and the major forms of most of what is viewed as “classical” music were developed. Do note: in architecture, the graphic arts and the like, the period is more likely to be called Neoclassicism.

(That darned lowercase–or uncial–c”. *heh* So “Classical Music” is NOT what most folks think of when “classical music” is referenced… )

One of the primary reasons I am a fan of Classical (and even much classical) music is not just because the music is complex, beautiful and compelling but because it is the expression of a particular ethos which our society sorely lacks nowadays.

Aside from technical matters of form, the principles of Classicism as found in Classical Music were

  • balance
  • clarity
  • accessibility
  • expressiveness
  • edification

Although two of these principles are still found in abundance in contemporary music (though not in contemporary “serious” or “academic” music, IMO) it is the lack of the others, especially the last, that has seriously harmful effects upon our society. Continue reading “Principles of Classicism”