Supporting Friends Friday: Grover Windham

I’ve been featuring quite a few writers lately on Support Friends Friday, but the series featured a lot of musicians early in its run.  As such, it seemed like a good time to get back to some musician buddies.

Today’s SFF feature is a real yeoman singer-songwriter, churning out song after blues-drenched song.  His name is Grover Windham, and he’s one heckuva musician.

Read More »

Supporting Friends Friday: The Music of Frederick Ingram

Last Friday’s very first Supporting Friends Friday, which featured the release of Jeremy Miles‘s (read his blog) latest book of poetryHindsight: Poetry in 2020, was quite fun, and at the very least brought delight to Jeremy, and at the most hopefully helped sell a couple of copies of his book.

In that spirit, I wanted to dedicate this second installment to the music of my musician buddy Frederick Ingram.  Frederick is a gifted and skilled guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, and we have played together or on the same bill on a number of occasions.  Frederick also recently made a surprise appearance to the inaugural TJC Spring Jam, and treated us to a three-song set.

Recently, Frederick released the “Funky Margarita Mix” of his ode to open mic nights, “Fish Bowl.”  Frederik wrote “Fish Bowl” some years ago, inspired by a (I believe) now-defunct open mic night once hosted at a groovy little joint in Columbia, South Carolina.  The story, as I recall, is that the venue’s stage had an aquarium as a backdrop, which surely made for any intriguing performance experience.

Read More »

Gig Day V: TJC Spring Jam

After seven long months, it’s time for another front porch concert!  Following the success of Spooktacular II, I decided I should try the format twice a year:  the classic Halloween event, and a springtime one.  Thus, the TJC Spring Jam is born!

Halloween is easy, because it comes packaged with all sorts of fun activities:  Halloween songs, costume contests, spooky décor, etc.  A generic springtime theme is a bit more vague, and with it already feeling like summer here in South Carolina, the theme presented some initial problems.

Read More »

Stop Amending the Classics, Bring Back Melody

This time of year, this blog focuses big time on Christmas carolstheir histories, the theory behind them, their compositions, etc.  One of the great joys in my life is playing and singing these carols.  They are sweet but powerful musical retellings of the Birth of Jesus.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that churches have taken these classics and, in an attempt to check the “contemporary Christian music” box, added unnecessary and musically-boring codas to them.  This past Sunday, my parents’ church’s praise team was leading the congregation in a stirring singing of “O Come, All Ye Faithful“—and then tacked on a needless extra chorus written in a modern style.  The additional chorus was okay, but it paled in comparison to the majesty and tunefulness of the carol it amended.  The church went from a lusty chorus of socially-distanced congregants to a few people mumbling along to the tuneless new chorus.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

TBT: The Bull on the Roof

It’s been a cheery, musical mood here at The Portly Politico.  I’ve been tearing through popular Christmas carols, offering up some histories of these beloved tunes, as well as a little musical analysis.  Thanks to Milo sharing my piece “Milo on Romantic Music,” I enjoyed a large surge in traffic that has now settled into a nice daily trickle (nothing huge, but it’s helped).

University of Chicago medievalist Rachel Fulton Brown also linked to the post in a piece on her blog, Fencing Bear at Prayer.  The success of that piece, plus the beauty of Christmas music and the general cheeriness of the season, has inspired me to write more about music.

This week, then, I’ve cast back to this summer, when I wrote a little piece about a whimsical piece of modern classical music, “The Bull on the Roof.”  As I recall, I wrote the piece on my phone—never ideal—while playing with my little niece.  I’d heard the tune on public radio on the drive to my parents’ house, and was so taken with its charm—and lacking any other suitable topic, or the proper conditions to write about them—I jotted out this short piece.

“The Bull on the Roof” is a marvelous example of modern classical music.  And for all I rail against cosmopolitanism, it’s a fine example of the ideal of cosmopolitanism:  a French composer celebrating the vibrant, lively traditions of Brazilian folk music.  That’s the “salt in the stew,” as John Derbyshire calls it—the pinch of cultural diversity that makes the broth more delicious.

Yesterday was spent teaching History of Conservative Thought, painting a classroom floor, and rushing around the Pee Dee region teaching four music lessons, before finally heading out of town for a few days. Needless to say, there wasn’t any time to get a post ready for this morning.

The news has also been light. The first round of Democratic presidential primary debates is tonight, but who cares other than the candidates?

There was a bit of a diplomatic imbroglio with Iran last week, but did anyone really think war was going to break out? Trump handled it Trumpishly; that is effectively, letting the mullahs sweat it out a bit before giving them an out (and signalling to Iranians that he cares more about their lives than the Ayatollah).

That’s why I’ve been sticking to the history and culture posts lately. There just hasn’t been much to say on politics, because there’s so much good happening. Illegal immigration is still a major problem, but otherwise the only “bad” news is that the economy is still growing, just not as quickly as a year ago.

So, brace yourself for another self-indulgent post (this publication is a blog, after all). While driving last night, I hit a classic rock and talk radio dead zone, so I resorted to public radio. I was pleasantly surprised.

The program featured a concert recording of the Greenville (SC) Symphony performing French composer Darius Milhaud’s delightful “Le Bœf sur le toit,” or “The Bull on the Roof.”

Fans of Civilization VI who have played as Brazil will hear some similar themes and styles, as the composition quotes dozens of Brazilian folk songs. The tune is full of Latin-inspired motifs, and it is a charming, fun piece.

Milhaud wrote the piece in 1920 for a silent Charlie Chaplin film that was never made, though the ballet has apparently been staged. I particularly enjoy these kinds of jaunty, popular modern classical pieces (I adore Gustav Holsts’s The Planets because they are pleasing and interesting, but never pretentious). If I’m going to listen to something for nearly twenty minutes, don’t make it a Philip Glassian nightmare experiment in purposeful atonality.

If you have twenty minutes, I highly recommend listening to this piece. It will be a more enjoyable use of your time than watching the Democratic debates.

The Joy of Christmas Carols

Christmas puts me in a musical mood. For one, I’m somewhat contractually-obligated to put on a Christmas concert, which will consume most of my free time this week, so I’d better embrace the Christmas spirit—or else. But it’s not hard to get excited about the iconic music of the season.

(Also, Milo Yiannopoulos—the actual Milo—shared my post about his views on Romantic music, which helped make it the most trafficked post of the year so far. That was incredibly gracious of him to do, and it’s further boosted my excitement for playing and writing about music.)

As I wrote in an earlier blog post on hymnals, I’ve gradually taken over piano playing at my little Free Will Baptist church. We sing many of the traditional hymns that were written and popularized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as some earlier selections. Shape-note hymns are often hard to play, with big intervalic leaps in the melodies and surprisingly complex harmonies.

Take that melodic variety and harmonic complexity and multiply it by a factor of ten, and you’ve got Christmas carols.

Read More »

Corporate Grind II: The Return of Corporate History International

It’s been a golden week for reblogging, as some of my blogosphere buddies continue to generate some amazing content.  It looks like I may have to do another Dissident Write feature soon (here are I and II).  Armistice Day always brings out the best material, too.

As we head into the weekend—mercifully free of professional obligations—I’m pleased to note the revival of my buddy fridrix’s blog, Corporate History International.

Read More »

Halloween Week!

It’s the week of Halloween!  I love Halloween—it’s second only to Christmas and maybe Thanksgiving for my favorite holiday.  Poor Halloween suffers—as countless others have already noted in casual conversations all month—due to Commercial Christmas’s imperialism, so it doesn’t really get its proper due anymore, but it’s a fun event worth celebrating.

As is typical for Halloween in South Carolina, the crisp, autumnal weather is gone; in its place is uncomfortably warm, sticky mugginess.  As a child, I always dreamed of the spooky, chilly Halloween nights I would read about in books, the kind of night where you really could believe ghosts are tickling your spine, witches are abroad, and skeletons are playing their rib cages as xylophones.

Instead, Halloween in South Carolina is always hot and wet.  As a plump child with glasses, I could never wear a mask for long, as my chubby breathing in the swampy air would fog up my thick glasses, my costume quickly becoming a burdensome chore (mostly for my parents) instead of a joyfully freeing disguise.  It looks like I’ll be treated to lots of back sweat and foggy lenses again this year.

Read More »