Month: July 2010

The Musical Ascent of Herman Being

I picked up a copy of The Musical Ascent of Herman Being recently, and this morning it seemed like a good short text to read while lounging at the pool. Ah, summer.

If you know absolutely nothing about classical music and would like a little impetus to sit down and listen to a forty-minute symphony and actually learn to like it, I’d recommend this book. If you’re so immersed in the music that you have trouble explaining the basics to a novice, it stands as a nice reminder that really, this stuff isn’t your average pop music, and no, not everyone just gets it from day one.

It’s short – less than 100 pages, and in a larger text format. I read it in less than an hour, and I’m a slow reader. So there’s no excuse. Pick it up.

The author, Robert Danziger (from CSU), takes a stab at presenting western art music to beginners, without any technical jargon. He introduces a twenty-five year old guy with no musical background who wants to learn: Herman Being. Herman consults a music guru friend of his, and through this, he is pushed up the ladder – on a musical ascent. His motivation is also driven forward as he crushes on a graduate music student (okay, it adds interest). (more…)

Culture Shocked by Tallahassee

The CON: Tallahassee is not New Orleans.

The PRO: I am so excited to start this program, I wouldn’t care if it were in Antarctica!

I can imagine foreign tourists coming here. Their vision of America would fall into line like a strip mall. (more…)

Conductors You Should Know: Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel (borrowed from

From Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (b. 1981) is the principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden and the current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also directs the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, a Venezuelan youth orchestra.

As a child, Dudamel was involved in El Sistema, the publicly financed method of music education in Venezuela. The system manages hundreds of youth orchestras and funds instrumental training throughout the country. Over ninety percent of the children who grow up in this system are from low socio-economic backgrounds (El Sistema website). (more…)

Hyper Mashup: Mozart Recap, Filtering Reactions, Poolside Music Theory, Fencing with Buddha, & Anxiety Meets Coffee Mug Tintal

Well that’s that. I’m having a love affair with Mozart. Now on to the Gran Partita. My new goal is to perform a lecture series on all 3 of Mozart’s Wind Serenades. Then I’ll back up a bit and disentangle a few divertimentos.

Yours truly, Conducting Mozart's K. 388 (July 22, 2010)

My lecture recital went well. I know it must have, because it’s 24 hours later and I’m not having doubts about it yet. Usually I have these filters in my head saying, “I think it went okay”, “I did terrible”, “ He said I did great but he’s just saying that” – I could go down the list. This is the first time [ever] that hasn’t happened. I was actually happier with this performance than either of my undergraduate recitals or anything else I’ve ever conducted as a graduate student– except perhaps the culminating spring concert of Saturday Music School, but that burst of pride had everything to do with how far my students had come.

The Mozart performance was nowhere near perfect – neither was the lecture… but I was prepared for both, and so was my ensemble. Actually, it wasn’t the best they’ve played it, but knowing how hard they worked on it, and how great they sounded in rehearsals, I’m thrilled with the results.

(This is one of those conflicting Buddhist moments of mine – is it okay to be proud of an accomplishment? WWBD?)…

I can take a deep breath now that it’s over, and find a new project or two. I’ve got 3 weeks until diagnostic exams for theory placement in Tallahassee, so my head will be stuck in a mosaic of musically historical examples ‘til then. Starting tomorrow, at least I can do it while sitting by a pool in Florida (assuming we hit the road ahead of this tropical storm). Cocktail please! The Type A side of me is trying to come up with a study plan. I like chronology so I think I’ll start with Josquin and end with John Mackey. The idea is that I should be able to analyze an excerpt from any piece of music put in front of me from the past thousand years or so, and be able to pop out the composer, their compositional techniques, style, and any relevant cultural context)…. Uh huh. Getting right on that. Ironic – I’m jumping into an academic program with an emphasis on music of the entire planet with the intention of escaping European art music for a while, and yet I can’t escape European art music in my round of entrance exams.

It’s a great example in reference to the lack of standardization of ethnomusicology programs (it’s still a new field). While some of the degrees (depending on the school) are analysis-based, some are based in historical ethnomusicology, some are based in western musicology, some are based in anthropology, some are based on world music performance, and some are based in sociology. I’ve seen some ethnomusicology graduate programs that don’t require a prior music degree assuming you can speak intelligently about music and you have a strong anthropology background. Some are a great mixture of all of it (like where I’m about to plunk down). Yep – I’m grateful for that.

Random tidbit: I spent about an hour tonight vigorously playing tabla on a rough ceramic coffee mug while chatting with my partner. I counted at least 15 timbre variations on that silly mug based on fingernail tapping, swiping finger-pads, and the occasional palm slap. I wanted to record it. Maybe it’s a sign that I need to rest… or lay off the coffee… or start this degree program.