TBT: The Joy of Hymnals

It being October, I tend to focus on the spookiness of the season.  I love Halloween, ghost stories, and scary movies, but it’s important not to get too bogged down in the chills.

So as I was going through posts from October 2019, I stumbled upon one of my old favorites:  “The Joy of Hymnals.”  My small church roped me into playing piano for Sunday morning services maybe two years ago, and it quickly rekindled an old love of hymns and hymnals.

Hymnals are my favorite items to find in old second-hand shops and antique stores (the latter of which often selling them at an egregious markup).  It’s fun to see which hymns do—and, more importantly, don’t—show up in any given hymnal.  I particularly like slender volumes, the kind that were meant for carrying from service to service or camp meeting to camp meeting, and which tend to possess hymns from the canon, if such a thing exists, of hymnody.

I even recorded and released a very lo-fi EP, The Lo-Fi Hymnal, which consists of crude recordings of my Sunday morning playing.  That short collection also includes a PDF version of today’s TBT feature.

Here is “The Joy of Hymnals“:

Read More »

Rock in Peace, Eddie Van Halen

It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to the Mozart of our time, Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen passed away after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer.  He is survived by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band as its bassist in 2006.

Van Halen was truly one of the guitar greats of the twentieth century, the second half of which witnessed the rise of many guitar heroes to the pinnacles of superstardom, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Van Halen’s licks didn’t stop with memorable riffs.  He could play neoclassical passages with ease, weaving them into songs about partying and and lusting after one’s teacher.  Learning his signature solo, “Eruption,” became a rite of passage for budding guitarists in the 1980s and beyond.  Van Halen also dominated on the keyboards—much to the chagrin of perennial showman David Lee Roth—as is clear from the entire album 1984, one of the best albums of all time.  Who can resist jumping when hearing the opening strains of “Jump“?

Read More »

Lazy Sunday LXXXVI: Education, Part II

The school year is roaring on, and we’re already coming up on the end of our first quarter (an unusually truncated first quarter, as we’ll only have been in school seven weeks by this Friday, plus two days).  I’ve been writing a bit more about education lately, as is common during the school year.  In The Age of The Virus, it makes for slightly more interesting writing than the usual complaints about overstuffed classrooms and understuffed paychecks.

I also haven’t featured education since “Lazy Sunday XXIV: Education,” so it seemed like a good time to revisit the topic that consumes most of my daily life.  Here are some recent posts on that all-consuming topic:

  • Progress Report: Teaching in The Age of The Virus” – I wrote this post just a few weeks ago, when interim/progress reports were coming out at my school.  It was a good opportunity, after nearly a month of teaching, to reflect on the additional challenges and burdens of teaching live to students face-to-face and online simultaneously, and of recording (often with buggy apps) for international students to watch later.  The workload has since taken on a more familiar pattern and rhythm, but those first few weeks consumed huge amounts of time and energy.
  • Teaching in The Age of The Virus: Live Remote Learning Rehearsal Day” – I wrote this post just two days ago, and it was a bit of an update on my “Progress Report.”  This post reviewed our “Live Remote Learning Rehearsal Day,” in which all students stayed home and livestreamed classes via Google Meet, while teachers taught from their respective classrooms.  I was surprised by how challenging it was to maintain the rapport of a classroom setting while having students sitting at home.  Very odd.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music, Part II” – When I wrote this post yesterday, I had forgotten I’d written another SubscribeStar Saturday post of the same name in May!  That was bound to happen eventually, so I hastily added the “Part II” to this one.  Yesterday’s post was a bit of a counterpoint to the frustration and pessimism of Friday’s review of the live remote rehearsal day:  it was a celebration of music education, and the joy of watching student-musicians forming bands, writing lyrics, singing songs, and all that.  Indeed, it’s a reminder why teachers teach—and why music teachers have it the best, even if they work hard.

That’s it for another Lazy Sunday.  Here’s hoping you enjoyed a restful weekend.  It’s finally October, and the weather in South Carolina has been sublime:  warm enough to enjoy a walk in the afternoon, but cold enough to kill most of the bugs.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

fatness

Donate to The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

5.00 $

SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music, Part II

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

This school year I began transitioning from teaching a blend of history and music classes towards focusing almost entirely on music.  While I still teach a couple of sections of American History, my teaching duties these days consist primarily music classes.

One of the real joys of teaching music—besides the fact that it’s just plain fun—is to see students inspired to create their own music.  I have been blessed over the years to witness the musical development of many students, and to hear some of their creations.

During our remote learning rehearsal day earlier this week, I pulled out some old concert footage to show my HS Music Ensemble class, a course that is entirely performance based.  That class does not port well to a fully online format, especially to a livestreamed one, as latency is so intense that it makes ensemble performance impossible.  Indeed, if that class goes to a fully online format, we’ll have to focus more on solo work and and music theory, which is what we did during distance learning earlier in the spring.

In watching that old concert footage, I was reminded of some wonderful moments in my school’s unorthodox music program’s history.  It also reminded me of the power of teaching music to inspire the creation of new works.

To hear my own musical works, visit https://tjcookmusic.bandcamp.com/ or www.tjcookmusic.com.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Donate to The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

5.00 $

What is Civilization?

This morning while getting ready for work I listened to a fascinating discussion between Milo Yiannopoulos and “groypers” Steven Franssen and Vincent James.  I don’t know much about Franssen and James, other than that they are fairly prominent figures on the Dissident Right, but the discussion (which is available at Censored.TV to subscribers—I highly recommend forking over the $10 a month for a subscription) covered a broad range of topics, from 9/11 to the future of America and traditionalism.

Out of that far-ranging discussion came a brief debate between Milo and his guests near the end of the exchange.  The gist of it boiled down to the question “what is civilization?”  Milo’s contention—an interesting one—is that by abandoning our cities, we are, essentially, abandoning our greatest cultural products:  our art, our architecture, our institutions.  These cultural artifacts took the blood, sweat, toil, and ingenuity of the American people to build, so we’re capitulating to the Leftist mobs when we flee our cities instead of fighting for them.

In true Milo fashion, it’s a compellingly contrarian argument:  why surrender what we fought so hard to build?  I am a big advocate of normal, decent folks abandoning the cities in search of a better life in the country (to the point I think we should consider subsidizing families in rural areas), but makes a strong case.  If we want to preserve our heritage, we shouldn’t hand it over to looters.

Read More »

Lazy Sunday LXXXIII: Space, Part II

Since the dawn of this blog, space exploration has been a perennial theme.  But it’s been awhile since I’ve featured space-based posts for Lazy Sunday.  The last one was way back with “Lazy Sunday XII: Space,” which I wrote in May 2019.

With that, and after writing “Music Among the Stars,” it seemed like an intergalactically good time to revisit some more recent posts about the vastness of space:

  • Touring the Solar System in Rural Maine” – This blog post is probably one of my favorites of all time.  It’s about the The Maine Solar System Model, a scale model of the Solar System along a 95-mile stretch of Highway 1 in Maine.  Ever since finding out about it, I’ve wanted to drive that route and document it for the blog (and for fun).  A few more SubscribeStar subscribers and I might be able to afford it!
  • Galaxy Quest” & “Galaxy Quest II: Cox Blogged” – These twin posts from November 2019 deal with the sheer vastness of the Universe—of God’s Creation.  The second post links to and quotes from a couple of pieces, “Other” and “Heaven and Space, shared interest,” from my blogger and IRL friend Bette Cox, a prolific writer.  Bette gives a wonderful sense of the overwhelming magnitude of words like infinity and eternity.
  • World Space Weeks Starts Today” – I learned last fall that the first full week in October is World Space Week.  This post explores that week-long celebration, as well Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” movement from The Planets.
  • Music Among the Stars“- This post is about the golden records aboard Voyager 1, but it’s mostly about singing praises to God, the Creator of the Universe.  It’s apparently a much-beloved post, so check it out!

That’s it for another Lazy Sunday.  Here’s hoping yours is out of this world!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Donate to The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

$5.00

Music Among the Stars

Back in 1977, NASA launched Voyager I, which is some 14 million miles from Earth.  The super nerds behind the mission stowed two golden records on board.  Those golden records included various selections to represent life on Earth, from “Johnny B. Goode” to nature sounds to classical music.

Over the Labor Day weekend a colleague e-mailed me Classical Archivesweekend newsletter, which includes some musings about why humans developed the ability to create—and their interest in—music.  The newsletter features the blog posts “Can E.T. Carry a Tune?” and “Music for Extraterrestrials… Sampling the Music Selected for NASA’s Voyager I.”

The former explores the possible deep origins of humanity’s music-making abilities.  It posits several theories developed from evolutionary biology.  As  a Christian, I find these explanations ultimately wanting, though they each make interesting points (the second proposed theory, for example, suggests “that music arose because it was a social glue that helped our ancestors bond with one another and with a group”).  Music serves many purposes, even if those purposes are not strictly utilitarian (and even then music can serve that function, such as coordinating workers’ movements via work songs).

Chiefly, though, music is intended to praise God.  Like the other arts, music is God’s grant of a small sliver of His Creative potential to His Creation—Tolkien’s “sub-creation” of Middle Earth serving as a prime literary example.  The highest form of musical expression, then, lifts up songs of praise to God.

Read More »

Phone it in Friday XIV: TPP Self-Promotion Bonanza

It’s been another busy week for yours portly, and Labor Day Weekend has arrived just in time.  When I’m falling asleep at 8:30 PM after a day of non-stop teaching, it’s time to recuperate.

Also, when I went to check out my school’s football field sound system, the powered amplifier went up in smoke!  I spent all of my planning periods (and most of my lunch) jury-rigging a sound system from an ancient amplifier I found in a back closet.  It’ll get us through the first home game tonight, but it isn’t ideal.

As such, I figured I’d take today to give some blog updates, and to do a bit of shameless self-promotion.  Readers will know that the blog now has the new, spiffy, convenient URL, theportlypolitico.com.  That seems to have helped with traffic and search engine visibility, as I’ve been getting more hits since forking over $52 to WordPress.  On Wednesday evening—for no apparent reason!—I had a massive traffic spike:

2 September 2020 Stats Spike

I’m still planning on doing some “Five-Dollar Friday” posts for $5 and higher subs to my Subscribe Star page.  Those posts will include exclusive election season commentary.  As the 2020 election gets closer, be on the lookout for those posts.  Of course, I’ll continue with $1/month content on Saturdays.

On the music front, today is the first Friday of the month, so Bandcamp is once again waiving their commission on sales.  In other words, if you purchase any of my tunes TODAY (Friday, 4 September 2020), I get the full value of the purchase (minus PayPal’s transaction) fee.

Speaking of PayPal, WordPress has a nifty new PayPal block:

Donate to The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

$10.00

You can also send donations here, or you can subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.  If you send me a donation, I’ll e-mail you a bunch of my SubscribeStar posts in a PDF (just don’t forget to include an e-mail in the transaction process).

As for the blog, it’s been a blast to maintain lately.  The biggest thing you can do to support it is to share my posts far and wide.  If you read something and like it, please pass it along to someone else.

That’s all for this Friday.  I’ve got to head home, shower off the filth of sound guy troubleshooting, and get ready for tonight’s game.  Be praying for a running clock, as kickoff is at 8 PM (!).

Happy Friday!

—TPP

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

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.