Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.

Conservative Girls are Prettier

Way back in 2001, good ol’ John “The Derb” Derbyshire wrote a column for National Review called “Hillary’s Style Crash.”  That was back in the days before NR kicked Derb to the curb for writing his controversial piece for Taki’s MagThe Talk: Nonblack Version,” in which Derb dropped some unpleasant nuggets of wisdom.  That piece went up during the first round of the past decade’s worth of race riots, back before most of us realized it was mostly ginned up controversy.

Regardless, while I don’t agree with Derb’s race realism overall, he does offer up some remarkably insightful commentary.  His weekly podcast is often the highlight of my Saturday mornings, and he comes across as an intellectually curious, gentle man who sincerely cares about his adopted country.  His best commentary involves cultural matters, and that 2001 piece offers up a great insight:  conservative girls are prettier, but progressive girls are easier.

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Phone it in Friday XII: Good Reads

It’s been awhile (3 April 2020) since I’ve written a Phone it in Friday, which means I’ve been doing my job and writing actual content on Friday, not just slapping together listicles of random thoughts (that link is not intended to diminish Audre Myers, a far more engaging random thinker than me).  That said, today seems like a good opportunity to phone it in—after a day of baby wrangling yesterday, and a fitful night’s sleep (thanks in part to some heavy, but delicious, meals).

I’m also planning on unveiling my 2020 Summer Reading List in tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday post (subscribe for a buck to read it!).  Ergo, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to highlight some good Internet reads from the past couple of weeks.

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Dystopia

In my darker moods, I can’t help but notice in what a bleak future we live.  Sure, there are many elements of America that still exist, and some of which are strong, at least in some parts of the country.  But things like constitutionalism, rule of law, respect for wisdom, faith, and a great deal many other wonderful items are daily disrespected, ignored, and/or abused.

I’ve been on a kick lately of watching dystopian films, that genre—next to zombie movies—that Americans love best.  Last week I watched the 1974 cult classic Zardoz (starring an out-of-work Sean Connery), a film that shouldn’t exist given the nature of studio politics (it’s a rare example of a studio saying, “Make whatever you want,” and the director took it seriously).  I also watched the less classic Equilibrium (2002), starring Christian Bale.

Zardoz explores a distant future in which frosty, immortal, aloof, and bored elites, the Eternals, live in perpetual paradise while employing vicious, gun-toting Brutals to exterminate the excess population of Earth.  Equilibrium tells the story of a society, Libria—a mash-up of America and Britain, it seems—that, in order to prevent a fourth global war, outlaws all emotions, on the premise that art and literature inflame men’s passions to destructive degrees.

While it might not qualify as a “dystopian” film, I also viewed the Coen Brothers’ classic Barton Fink (1991), about the titular writer—a successful Broadway playwright who writes theatrical productions about, of, and for “the common man“—who cashes in on his success with a move to Los Angeles to write for Capitol Pictures, where he immediately develops writers’ block.  Fink is a 1940s Jewish intellectual who pontificates frequently about his desire to tell the grubby, realistic stories of everyday people, yet he keeps ignoring his shabby hotel neighbor, Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman who tells Fink repeatedly, “I could tell you some stories.”

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.  NEW TIER: $3 a month gets one edition of Sunday Doodles every month!

The past few days I’ve really been pushing my music (see here and here), mainly because Bandcamp waived the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work yesterday (1 May 2020).  They’re foregoing their cut again the first Friday of June 2020, so I’ll likely be pimping out my electronic ditties again in a month (although, of course, feel free to pick up tunes any time).

I’ve maintained that Bandcamp site the better part of a decade, and until this week, I hadn’t made a single sale.  Perhaps the poor-mouthing about the impact of The Virus on musicians opened hearts and wallets.  To those of you that did purchase my work—I sold seven copies of my full discography (seven releases available now for $15.75), with many buyers paying more than the minimum—I offer a big and hearty THANK YOU.  Seriously, you have no idea what a morale boost it is to have your support.

As for the poor-mouthing, one of the lessons I’ve learned about music is that fans aren’t buying the music, per se, although that does have to be good; rather, they’re buying you and your story.  It’s a frustration for many artistic types that they labor over their art, putting all of their heart, soul, sweat, and blood into it, only to see people more interested in their personal lives than their music.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

TBT: Gig Day II

Tomorrow—Friday, 1 May 2020—Bandcamp is waiving the commission it takes on sales of musicians’ work.  That means every purchase made on the site from midnight to midnight Pacific Standard Time tomorrow goes completely to the musicians (other than PayPal processing fees)—another 15% in our pockets.

The Age of the Virus has really taken its toll on musicians.  As I wrote last Thursday, a substantial portion of my income in 2019 came from music lessons and gigs—nearly 17% of my gross income for the year.

With The Virus holding full sway over us, shutting everything down, there are far fewer opportunities for musicians to earn a living—except by way of online album sales.

As such, Bandcamp sacrificing that 15% commission is a huge act of charity for its users.  It also means that it’s the best time to support musicians you lovelike me!

Bandcamp gives musicians the opportunity to sell their music in high-quality digital formats directly to fans.  One nifty feature is that artists can offer their entire discography in one go, often at a discount.

To that end, my discography—seven albums, EPs, and retrospectives, spanning fourteen years of artistic development—is on sale for $15.75.  All of it.  That includes my tour de forceContest Winner EP and its hit single, “Hipster Girl Next Door.”

Another fun feature is that Bandcamp allows fans to pay more if they so choose.  Indeed, when I announced on my Facebook artist page that the full discography was up for grabs, two fans paid $20 for it.  Some artists have reported fans paying as much as $100 for a single album.  I don’t expect that kind of generosity, but, hey—dig deep.

Regardless, there’s never been a better—or more necessary–time to support indie musicians.  We can’t play gigs.  We can barely teach lessons (some folks are doing so online, but it’s just not the same).

So, any support you can offer is always welcome.  To purchase the full discography, you can view any of my albums (like Electrock EP: The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse) and find a button/link that reads “Buy Digital Discography” (unfortunately, there’s no way to supply that link directly).

Of course, you don’t have to buy all seven albums—it’s just a good deal.  You can also buy individual releases, like 2006’s Electrock Music (ludicrously cheap at $1 for twelve tracks!) or 2007’s Electrock II: Space Rock (just $5!).

But enough soliciting for now—there will be more of that tomorrow.  Let’s get to the ostensible purpose of today’s post—TBT.

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The Classiest Easter Eggs

It’s hard to believe that Easter is this Sunday.  The weather is just right for it, of course, with bees buzzing and flowers blooming, but with everyone cloistered away in their respective hovels, it sure doesn’t feel like the joyous, victorious Easter season.

Some perspective helps, though.  Other people in other times have endured far worse at Easter.  Just last year saw the Sri Lankan church bombings, a despicable act that itself came on the heels on the disastrous Notre Dame fire.  It’s surprising—even though it shouldn’t be by now—that we’ve largely forgotten about those two terrible occurrences, both acts of Islamist terror—religious war (it’s a bit unclear in the case of Notre Dame—which ISIS overtly tried to attack in 2016—but come now).

There was also the 1975 Hamilton, Ohio “Easter Massacre,” a brutal family shooting in which Jimmy Rupert murdered his massive family of eleven in cold blood (it was so grisly, one website considers the house where the mass murder occurred haunted).

So, all things considered, staying home and watching horror movies isn’t all that bad (perhaps even a tad apropos).  Still, it isn’t all that Easter-y.

To remedy that sensation, let’s look at a charming little piece from The Epoch Times about some rather unique—and extremely valuable—Easter surprises.

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Lazy Sunday XLVIII: Culture

A paradox of blogging is that the more I write, the more difficult (at least some weeks) it is to think up a good theme for Lazy Sunday.  Part of the problem is that the earliest editions often featured very broad categories; thus, the proliferation of “Part II” posts throughout.

Of course, that’s probably a problem for me, the writer.  You’re just looking to scan through a list of hyperlinks while enjoying your pre-church coffee (or—given my tardiness posting of late—your post-church nap).  Such is the nature of the relationship between creator and consumer—thirty minutes put into crafting a blog post equates to about thirty seconds of skimming.  But it’s worth it to have your eyeballs (eww…) for those thirty seconds!

On that note, I’m dedicating this week’s Lazy Sunday to matters of culture.  In compiling this short list of recent pieces, I came to realize that I way overuse the “culture” tag on my blog posts.  In my defense, I do so because I see most issues as cultural (or, even more deeply, theological and philosophical), rather than merely political or economical, in nature.  The major political battles we’re fighting in the West today are, at heart, about culture.

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Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

It’s been an artistically fulfilling weekend.  First there was the play (I’m sure readers are tired of reading about it) in which I performed.  After three successful performances, my girlfriend and I took in the South Carolina Philharmonic‘s Sunday matinee performance of their popular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert.  Classical music is even more enjoyable when you get to wear jeans.

The SC Philharmonic’s energetic conductor, Morihiko Nakahara (a show in himself), didn’t pull any punches with this year’s B&BJ program.  It was, essentially, “Beethoven’s Greatest Hits,” as I remarked to my girlfriend.  Morihiko always tosses in one piece of weird modern classical music, but after enduring young composer Jessie Montgomery‘s 2016 tone poem “Records from a Vanishing City,” it was straight into the classics:  Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, the so-called Pastoral, rounded out the first half of the concert.  Then it was into the thundering “DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUH, DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH” of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor after the break.

Everyone loves the Fifth Symphony, with its iconic opening theme (the first in symphonic music to make a rhythmic idea the theme, not a melodic one).  But for my money, the bucolic beauty of the Sixth takes the cake.

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