Later this month I’m hosting another front porch concert, following the success of my Spooktacular event in October. I’m quite excited to do another front porch concert, and I’m interested to see how the May date will stack up compared to Halloween. I’ve also ordered some great t-shirts, which I will have available on my Bandcamp merch page soon.
In preparing for the concert, I thought it might be a good time to look back at a post I wrote one year ago today, about the Tom Jones song “Delilah.” The first time I truly heard the song was when I heard Bruce Dickinson’s version. The Iron Maiden singer nailed the performance, and I immediately set about learning the song.
The latest target of the woke elites and their braying mobs is—that great symbol of imperialism and Western dominance—sheet music.
Apparently, some Oxford dons are considering removing sheet music and the ability to read traditional notation from its curriculum. One quotation from The Telegraph article notes that “The Oxford academics went on to pronounce that teaching the piano or conducting orchestras could cause ‘students of colour great distress’ as the skills involved are closely tied to ‘white European music’.”
This latest crusade is the musical equivalent of the effort in English departments across the country to downplay the teaching of grammar. Sure, one can make plenty of excellent music without knowing how to read notation, but why limit one’s self to tabs or lead sheets? I can certainly communicate certain ideas without adverbs, adjectives, or even pesky commas, but doing so severely limits the range of expression.
Every spring my school sponsors a big fine arts festival, a weekend dedicated to celebrating and showcasing our talented students. The weekend includes two nights of our drama students performing whatever play or musical they’re presenting that season, as well as an exhibit of student artwork.
The first night, however, is the big Spring Concert. After the dance students share some pieces, my student-musicians take the stage for their one big night of the semester.
The Spring Concert is like the Super Bowl for these kids: it’s the biggest stage most of them will take during the academic year (though several of my students gig with bands and ensembles outside of school), and the one time they really get to soak up the spotlight. The goal of my music classes is to put on good performances, not to seek fame, but the kids deserve some accolades and kudos. Besides, a big part of music is being able to share it with other people.
With the Spring Concert about six weeks away, my students and I sat down this week to begin programming the concert. Programming a concert is part science, but also an art; it requires a certain “feel” for the pieces, and how those disparate pieces link together to create a cohesive, exciting whole.
The Sixth, often called the “Pastoral,” is one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for programmatic music, and there are programmatic elements embedded in the titles of each of the symphony’s movements, but the music sounds like the countryside.
But I covered all of this a year ago, so why repeat myself (except that I’m doing that below… hmm…)? Here is January 2020’s “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:
To take us into the last weekend in January, I thought it would be nice to do at least one more entry in my unplanned Friday miniseries on “The Joy of Romantic Music” (read the second installment here). I very much enjoy the music of the Romantic composers, and have discovered some new favorites as I’ve been covering them in my Pre-AP Music Appreciation class.
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.
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.
Despite the lack of serious deadlines (other than waiting for final exams to roll in so I can grade them), I’ve managed to get quite a bit done, and I hope to get a bit ahead on the blog. I enjoy writing daily posts, but it’s nice knowing I have a few posts squared away some days in advance, as it relieves some of the pressure to produce. I’ll be doing more throwback posts and the like as Christmas approaches, as it’s the time of year when we’re all scaling back our efforts and taking a bit of a break.
That all goes to the point of this TBT post, “O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting.” The story behind the sweetly iconic carol is one of last-minute inspiration and hasty songwriting. There is something about the intense pressure of a time-crunch that turns the coal of writer’s block into glistening diamonds. Not every songwriter works this way, but I know for myself that a hard deadline does wonders for motivating this songwriter’s pen.
One carol that escaped my notice last year was “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s one of my favorites, so I’m surprised I didn’t write about it (although it did enjoy the spotlight in my Christmas Day post).
Apparently, my pastor noticed—not that I didn’t write about it on this blog, which I’m certain he doesn’t know exists, but that I didn’t play it at church. In one of his sermons, he said, “One of my favorite carols is ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ I didn’t hear it this Christmas season. I don’t know why they didn’t play it, but…” and then he went on to make whatever point he wanted to make. Of course, all he had to do was ask, and I would have played it!