TBT: Hand it to Handel

We’re back in the Baroque Period in my Pre-AP Music Appreciation course this year, though based on the timing of this post, we’re just a few days behind this year.  We’ve watched the excellent BBC documentary on Handel linked below, and just got into his works this week (we also recently viewed, in snippets, Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, which is really great—and, at just under an hour, perfect for classroom viewing).

Regardless, it’s good to see that my pacing from one year to the next is mostly on track.  It’s one of those things that teachers like to see, especially when it’s only the second time running a course.  I guess I am just more long-winded this year.

What’s not long-winded—I hope!—is this post on Handel’s music.

With that, here is 10 November 2021’s “Hand it to Handel“:

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TBT: Music Among the Stars

It’s been a musical week here at The Portly Politico, so I figured, “why stop now?”

I’ve dedicated more and more space on the blog to musical and cultural matters, especially in the last year.  Among the posts I most enjoy writing—and of which I am most proud—are those I write about music.

This week’s TBT feature, “Music Among the Stars,” is one I really enjoy, and I think (humbly) it’s one of my better posts.  It’s about the golden records aboard the Voyager I space probe, and about the true purpose of music—to worship God.

I’ll let the essay speak for itself.  Here is 8 September 2021’s “Music Among the Stars“:

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

The new year school year is back into full swing, with this week being the first full week of classes.  Needless to say, yours portly is tired, but very much enjoying the academic year so far.

I’m teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation again this year, so I’m excited to dive back into some of the works we discussed last year—and some new ones!  Of course, we’ve kicked the year off with a listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a favorite for introducing orchestral instruments.

My Pre-AP Music class this year is quite small—just five students—which makes for a more relaxed classroom environment.  We’re able to explore tangents as they arise (and, based on my frequent use of em dashes and parentheses, you can imagine I go off on them frequently), and generally take the time to enjoy the music, which the students seem to be doing.

I don’t have much more to add that I didn’t write a year ago.  Britten ingeniously weaves a whopping thirteen variations on a Henry Purcell theme, featuring nearly every instrument in the orchestra—including the percussion section!—in solo or soli.  Even the neglected double basses get some love with a melody of their own.

With that, here is 31 August 2020’s “Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’“:

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The Joy of Romantic Music

This semester started with two weeks of online learning (of which today is the last day before students and teachers return to campus after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), so it’s been an unusually slow start to the already sleepy January term.  However, that hasn’t stopped my music classes from listening to great music; indeed, we’re now covering what is perhaps my favorite period in the history of Western music:  the Romantic Era.

While I adore Baroque and classical composers and their works, Romantic music builds upon the forms established in those eras, stretching and expanding upon them to reach new heights of emotional intensity and musical expressiveness.  The music of the Romantic composers delights with its musical exploration of the supernatural, the mysterious, the Gothic, and the nationalistic.

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Lazy Sunday LXXXIX: 100 Week Review

Today marks the 700th consecutive day of posts here at The Portly Politico.  That’s 100 weeks of daily posts, which sounds like a prison sentence for a first-time criminal offender.  Writing the blog daily has occasionally felt like serving a self-imposed prison sentence, but it’s overwhelmingly been a source of joy.  I’ve made a number of great friends, and have accumulated a respectable daily readership, as well as eight faithful subscribers.

According to my WordPress stats, I’ve written 516,512 since 2018.  Those haven’t all been consecutive, but looking at just 2019-2020, it’s still a respectable 459,252 words.  Granted, there are a lot of TBT posts in there, so that pads the stats a bit, but I imagine I’m still safely in the half-million-word mark.

To observe the occasion and still maintain the spirit of Lazy Sunday, here are the Top Three Posts (based on views) since 2018:

  • Tom Steyer’s Belt” – By now it’s predictable, but this single post brought more traffic to my blog than the next seventeen posts combined.  At the time of this writing, it’s had 2997 views—2560 more than the second most popular post.  Most of that traffic is purely organic, meaning I didn’t encourage people to read it beyond my usual sharing to Facebook and on Telegram.  Basically, the post became popular because Tom Steyer blew a ton of cash airing obnoxious television and Internet ads, and mine was one of the few sources to cover his colorful belt.
  • Napoleonic Christmas” – This post—with 437 hits—explored an interesting revisionist take on Napoleon from a PragerU video, as well as the idea that not all non-democratic or non-republican forms of government are bad.  There were, objectively, monarchies and dictatorships that were better off—materially, spiritually, culturally, etc.—than democratic republics, contemporary and present.  That doesn’t mean I endorse those forms of government as somehow preferable to a liberty-loving republic, but I can appreciate the argument that Napoleon was a reform-minded figure, not merely an ingenious brute.
  • Milo on Romantic Music” – One of many things I appreciate about Internet provocateur and author Milo Yiannopoulos is that he is exceptionally erudite.  He might act frivolous and catty—and I suspect he genuinely is—but he’s also deep and interesting.  This post—with 279 views, thanks in large part to Milo sharing it on Telegram—looks at an exchange between Milo and another figure about Romantic music versus Baroque music.  Milo clearly prefers Romantic music overall, (while acknowledging Bach’s essential nature), arguing that it’s “the only proper soundtrack to the trad life.”  Great point!

Well, that’s it—100 weeks!  Thank you again for all of your support.  Keep reading, leaving comments, and subscribing.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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The Joy of Music

One of the greatest joys in life is music.  Regular readers will know that I love musicplaying it, writing it, singing it, arranging it, analyzing it, launching it into space, etc.  As an art form, I believe music is uniquely suited to communicating ideas and beauty across time, space, and cultures.  It can be intensely nationalistic, yet still universal.

We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day.  As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes.  Those classes will share about their composers today.

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Friday Morning Reading: The Story of One Hundred Great Composers

Today my school is doing its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal days.  These are days for us to test out remote learning in the event The Virus necessitates returning to distance learning full-timeLast time teachers tuned in from home while teachers were on-campus.  This time, both teachers and students are able to work from home, so I’ve been enjoying a more leisurely morning.

Indeed, I just wrapped up my first morning class of the day, a section of Middle School Music.  The students in that section wrote brief, rough draft biographies of renowned composers, and after giving them feedback in-class yesterday, they presented on their composers this morning.  It was a good lesson for digital learning, as it required their active participation for the bulk of the class, and they all did quite well.

I’ve assigned composer biographies in music courses for years, but what inspired the assignment this time around was the rediscovery of a charming little book I keep on a small end table in my den:  Helen L. Kaufmann’s The Story of One Hundred Great Composers.  Published in 1943, the book is a tiny, pocket-sized digest of two-to-three-page entries—arranged chronologically—of composers from the sixteenth century forward.

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The Joy of Hymnals II: The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal

This week I’ve been teaching and learning a great deal about George Frideric Handel, the great German composer who became, over his long life, a great British one.  In discussing Handel and other Baroque composers with my students, we also veered into the world of hymns.

Hymns were and are important in Protestant congregations as simple, memorable tunes with theologically rich texts.  Hymn melodies are often based on folk tunes or popular compositions.  In some cases, such as the lovely Christmas carolSilent Night,” the text is written first, then set to music (indeed, most hymns, being based on Scripture, evolved this way).  Sometimes the tune is written, then an enterprising poet sets the text.  Such was the case with Isaac Watts, who set his text for “Joy to the World” to a Handel melody.  And, of course, there are hymns written and composed by the same person.

In talking about hymns, I brought to my students a slender little hymnal in my small collection of them, The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal.  From what I can gather, my copy was published in or after 1966, when the copyright from 1938 was renewed.  There is a stamp on the inside front cover stating that the hymn book once belonged to Carteret Street Methodist Church, which I thought was in Charleston, but appears to be in Beaufort, South Carolina.  The hymnal includes 296 hymns, with fifty responsive readings—a good collection, but slim by the standards of a pewback hymnal.

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Hand it to Handel

One nugget of wisdom I’ve heard before is “if you want to learn something, teach it.”  As a private school educator who taught pretty much every course in the standard high school social studies curriculum and a plethora of music courses, I can attest to the Truth of this statement.  I essentially taught myself, for example, the highlights of Western philosophy from teaching a Philosophy course for many years (a course I very much wish the school would revive).

I’m shifting increasingly towards teaching music exclusively (though I’m still teaching a couple of American History survey courses), and teaching a Pre-AP Music Appreciation class has been one of the great joys of that transition.  Years ago I created and taught a course called “History of American Popular Music,” which covered the early Tin Pan Alley tunes all the way through blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and beyond.  This Pre-AP course is focused on the great works of Western music, going back to the medieval period.

Currently, we’re wrapping up a big unit on Baroque music.  The Baroque style—as epitomized by greats like Bach, Monteverde, Corelli, Handel, and others—delights in contrasts.  Just as Baroque paintings highlight stark contrasts between light and dark, Baroque music revels in sudden contrasts in dynamics.  It also loves to play around with complexity, as any Bach fugue will quickly demonstrate.

The last composer in our unit is George Frideric Handel.  Handel, a German-born composer, made a major splash upon his arrival in England in the 1710s, where he sought to introduce Italian opera to sophisticated London crowds.  What was meant to be a temporary visit turned into over four decades, and Handel is interred at Westminster Abbey—a huge honor.  It’s one of those delightful twists of history that Handel the German became one of the most English composers in history—and one of the greatest composers of all time.

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