TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

I’ve been on a major classical and Romantic music kick lately, dedicating the last three Fridays specifically to the music of the Romantic Period (here, here, and here).

As such, I thought it would be apropos to look back at a piece I wrote last January about Beethoven and his masterful Sixth Symphony.  The occasion for that piece was the South Carolina Philharmonic‘s Sunday matinee performance of their popular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert—back in The Before Times when we still had live music.  The program, as I wrote at the time, was “‘Beethoven’s Greatest Hits,'” featuring Beethy’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor and Symphony No. 6 in F Major.

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“:

Read More »

The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”

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.

I’m a real sucker for program music—music that tells a story or depicts an idea or place—and the Romantic period was full of it.  There was perhaps no greater champion—if not practitioner; Camille Saint-Saëns likely holds that title—of the form than French composer Hector Berlioz.

Read More »

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.

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 »

TBT: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting

Christmas is looming large—a mere eight days away—and I have been enjoying an unexpectedly quiet exam week.  After returning from Orlando Monday evening, I’ve enjoyed some sleepily productive time at home, writing Christmas postcards and letters, watching movies, and enjoying the warm glow of my Christmas tree.  I’ll be spending next week with family, and all the hustle and bustle of my niece and nephews, so this quiet time at home has been a welcome calm before the joyous storm.

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.

Indeed, during the height of distance learning in the spring, I fully anticipated I’d be churning out new hits, maybe even finalizing a long-delayed follow-up to my piano-and-vocals debut, Contest Winner – EP.  Instead, I squandered my newfound time (well, “squandered” is a strong word—I quite enjoyed taking that time to work on the blog, to travel, and to do the other things I’m usually unable to do).  Without a deadline pushing me to create, I didn’t get anything done!

Or maybe that’s just my excuse.  Regardless, I imagine it’s something many songwriters can relate to, and it’s certainly the story behind “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

With that, here is December 2020’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:

Read More »

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Last December I dedicated several posts to reviewing and analyzing some of my favorite Christmas carols.  It’s the season for playing and singing them, and the more I dive into their histories, the more I appreciate them.

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!

Read More »

Memorable Monday: Away in a Manger

Yesterday marked the first December church service of the year, so I was finally able to whip out some Christmas carols for morning service.  My pastor’s personal favorite carol is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” so that was our first congregational singing.  But he requested an interesting pick for the second singing:  “Away in a Manger.”

“Away in a Manger” is not always top-of-mind for me when it comes to Christmas carols, but it possesses the same sweet simplicity (and triple feel) of “Silent Night.”  It’s also very easy to play, which makes it nice to crack open when practice time is short (“Hark!,” by contrast, is a bit more complicated, especially with its profusion of secondary dominants and moving to minor in the last couple of phrases).  The melody is very sweet, and easily harmonized in thirds.

I’ll be writing about more Christmas carols this season.  I hit most of the high-profile ones last year, so it’s going to be fun to dig into some of the more obscure carols over the coming weeks.  But to ease into Monday, I figured I’d look back to last year’s post on “Away in a Manger” [note:  I’ve cut out the lengthy preamble about the pending impeachment at the beginning of the original post, so as to focus exclusively on the hymn itself]:

Read More »

Singing Christmas Carols with Kids

Today is Bandcamp Friday, which means if you purchase my music on Bandcamp, Bandcamp doesn’t take their usual 15% commission.  You can pick up my entire discography for $15.75—seven total releases, including the popular Contest Winner – EP.  If you want to enjoy some good tunes and support an independent musician, today is a great day to do so.  You can also support me directly with a tip.

It’s that time of year when Christmas music dominates the airwaves and our collective consciousness.  It’s always a tad irksome to me how folks will complain about Christmas music during the Christmas season.  Of course you’re going to hear Mariah Carey every fifteen minutes—it comes with the territory.  Naturally, let’s at least get through Halloween (and, preferably, Thanksgiving Day), but at least make an attempt at getting into the Christmas spirit.

Last year I wrote extensively about Christmas carols.  Indeed, one of my many unfinished projects is to compile a small book containing the stories of some of our most cherished carols (I want to write a similar book about hymns, too).  I play and sing a lot of carols this time of year:  I’m a music teacher.  Perennial favorites—and the selections my classes are currently playing—are “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night.”

Read More »

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.

Read More »