The Joy of Renaissance Music: Palestrina’s “Pope Marcellus” Mass

It’s another school year, which means another year going through the history of Western music in Pre-AP Music Appreciation.  This week we’re diving into Renaissance music, after spending last week covering the music of the Middle Ages.

Contrary to popular belief, the Middle Ages were not a period of depressing darkness, but rather a lively age.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a peasant pushing an ox cart full of dung, but that peasant knew his place in the universe, in the sense that he knew he was part of an ordered cosmos with God at both its head and its center.

More on that another time, but I mention it to note that the Renaissance would not have been possible without that long age of faith in the Middle Ages.  Still, the Renaissance Period—variably dated, but starting roughly sometime in the fifteenth century, and extending to the seventeenth century—was a period of increased interest in the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the human realism depicted in the art of those great civilizations, both a continuation of and a departure from the Middle Ages.

It also saw the declining influence of the Catholic Church in Europe, especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.  As Protestantism and other social forces broke the Church’s monopoly on education and its dominance over art and music, Catholicism mounted a Counter-Reformation, aimed at both reducing the influence of Protestantism and reforming real abuses within the Roman Church.

That effort, naturally, involved revisions to music.  Catholic priests denounced the increasingly theatrical nature of church music, decrying it as distracting from the simple message of the Gospel and the sacred Latin text, instead serving as gaudy entertainment for Mass goers.  Much like the megachurch arena rock concerts of today, services had become garish and maudlin, a reflection of the corruption within the Church.

It was in this context that Giovanni Pieluigi da Palestrina composed his greatest works.  According to Roger Kamien in Music: An Appreciation (the eighth brief edition, which I use with my students), Palestrina composed some 104 masses and 450 other sacred works, and his music became, essentially, the gold standard of church music until modern times (“masses” in the musical context are works built around five sung prayers, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, not to be confused with the Catholic service).

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Lazy Sunday CXXIX: Friends, Part I

Back in June, I started a new feature on non-Bandcamp FridaysSupporting Friends Friday.  It’s a small way to highlight and support the works and talents of my various friends, of both the IRL and online variety.

Now that I’ve written several of these posts, it seemed like a good time to look back at them.  The three this week are all good friends I know personally—indeed, they all live within forty-five minutes of me—and we have a musical connection.  The first friend featured is a poet, but we met at local open mic nights.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

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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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Back to School 2021

Well, after starting back to work Monday a week ago, we’re finally back at school today.  We’re one of the latest schools to start back in our area—my county’s school district started back classes last Monday, and Florence County schools resumed on 2 August 2021—but it still seems too soon.  The Florence start date seems insanely early as far as I am concerned, but they’re transitioning to a semi-year-round model, in which the students will get a week off in October and February, as well as some other juicy breaks.

Of course, any time off is never quite enough, is it?  I often find myself thinking, “if I only had one more weekend to finish this up” or “I really need another week of break so I can work on writing.”  That said, during the peak of The Age of The Virus in 2020, when I had virtually limitless free time, I didn’t complete any of the big projects I had set aside for myself.  That puts to the lie the idea that more time necessarily means getting more done.

Indeed, I often find that I am more productive when working against a deadline.  As I’ve gotten older and more experienced—albeit not much wiser—I’ve learned to plan ahead, and to churn out a great deal of work in long stretches of focus, in order to save me some time later.  That’s a necessity with my crazy schedule, and helps keep me from getting caught flat-footed by some unanticipated deadline or task too often.

Regardless, school is starting back today, and things are (mostly) back to normal—no more remote learning, no students tuning in from their cars or bedrooms to class, no more mandatory masks (again, mostly) [update:  we have received word that we are starting the year with masks—nooooo!].  I’m hoping it’s going to be a normal-ish academic year.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Schedule Roulette

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With school starting back in just a few days, I’ve been hammering away at schedules of all sorts.  The school schedule itself seems to be in flux, with an ebb of last-minute changes and adjustments to the all-powerful Master Schedule.  Surprise personnel changes and a surge in enrollment have seen quite a bit of shuffling taking place, though it doesn’t seem quite as chaotic as it has been in past years.

The new academic year also means that I’m scheduling students for private music lessons.  In a normal year, it can be  a little difficult to put together a consistent weekly schedule.  This year, I have so many students, it’s been a Sisyphean task, although I think I nearly have the boulder pushed to the top of the hill.

Or, like Sisyphus, I’m only fooling myself, and the boulder is about to roll backwards, flattening me in the process.

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Lazy Sunday CXIX: Summer Camps

Well, my two summer camps for the season are all wrapped up, so the rest of summer vacation is a combination of private music lessons, blogging, gardening, and loafing around the house.  I’ll also get in some family time, and will help schlep my girlfriend’s stuff to Athens.  I hope to get a little fiction writing done in there, too.

With my camps done for the summer, I thought I’d dedicate this Sunday to looking back at some posts about my various summertime endeavors:

That’s it for this Lazy Sunday!  Take a moment to leave a comment about your favorite summer camp.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

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Supporting Friends Friday: The Cinematic Compositions of Mason Sandifer

The first two editions of Supporting Friends Friday (highlighting the poetry of Jeremy Miles and the music of Frederick Ingram) have been well-received, particularly by the friends being supported, and it gives me a great deal of joy to showcase their works, albeit from the humble platform of this blog (read by dozens a day!).  As I have written many, manymany times over the last year, making a living through creative work, like writing books and playing music, is difficult, especially in The Age of The VirusBuilding up a community of artists who celebrate one another’s works is an important part of the indie music and publishing business.

It’s also just fun, much like the music of Robert Mason Sandifer, the young composer I’m highlighting today.  Mason, as I call him, is a private student of mine, so this post is perhaps tad self-serving, but even if he weren’t my student, I would adore his music.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp Review

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This past week I hosted the first of two summer camps I’m putting on in June.  Next week is the ubiquitous, ever-popular Minecraft Camp, but this week saw the first inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp at my little school.

I’m not sure why I didn’t conceive of this idea sooner.  It’s not an original one, as rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camps have been around for awhile.  I’m not Ted Nugent teaching middle-aged yuppies how to play “Stranglehold” in the woods, but porting that concept to rockin’ out with kids is not difficult to do.

But last summer my headmaster kept forwarding me e-mails from a local country club, which was itself hosting a summer rock camp.  He did not include any commentary or suggestions along the lines of “you should do this camp,” but I got the message.  So when it came time to put together our summer camp catalogue, I tossed Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp into the mix.

My headmaster’s implied suggestion was a good one:  the camp was really wonderful.  Indeed, it exceeded my expectations, in large part because of the small but talented group of campers who attended.  We only had three kids sign up this year, but I’ve had semester-long ensemble classes with that few students, so I knew we could make some musical magic even with a small group.  Indeed, we had the perfect number for a classic garage rock band:  four (including myself).

Here’s some of the details about the camp—how long it lasted, a breakdown of our days, and the songs we played.  Hopefully it will provide a useful blueprint for other music educators looking to host their own camps.

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Summertime Schedule Begins

After a long school year and a whirlwind trip to Universal Studios, I am finally settling into my summertime schedule.  My History of Conservative Thought course did not “make” this summer, as I only had one student enroll (the course really needs a minimum of three students to work well), but my dance card is full enough with lessons and other obligations and engagements.

Next week I’ll be running my first ever “Rock and Roll Camp” at my little school.  It will essentially be a condensed version of the Music Ensemble class I run throughout the school year, squeezed into four three-hour days.  The plan is to end the final day with a short concert.  I’m waiting to hear back on who is enrolled and what kind of instrumentation we have, as that will determine the song selections, but I think it will should be a fun camp.

After that it’s the return of Minecraft Camp, a perennial favorite.  At last count I have either ten or eleven campers signed up for that camp, which is quite good.  Minecraft Camp is the most lucrative camp of the summer, and accounts for a good chunk of my supplemental income this time of year.  I missed out on it last year, as I was very sick, so here’s hoping I’m good to go this summer.

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