Playing Catch-up: TPP Update

Apologies to my regular readers for the very delayed post today.  Now that I have a large contingent of British readers, I really like to hit the 6:30 AM EST posting time, which I imagine is around lunchtime for them, so they have something to read over their tea and crumpets while my American readers have something to read over their grits and coffee.

As I’ve alluded to in other posts, the past two weeks or so have been absolutely insane for yours portly.  As my school’s music teacher, I’m also the audio-visual wizard on campus.  With Homecoming Week last week, it was my responsibility to make sure the sound system at the football field was working properly, and to assist with setup for some of the Homecoming games.  I also set up another ad hoc sound system for my High School Music Ensemble to play a couple of songs at a pep rally Friday morning.  When most of your musicians play guitar and piano, the logistics of plugging everything in become more daunting when taken outdoors.

Needless to say, all of my planning time was consumed with these activities, and I spent most of my Music classes using student labor to move equipment to and from the football field.  That meant more time in the evenings and early mornings working on school-related stuff, and less time to focus on the blog.

In the midst of all of the Homecoming Week wackiness, I’m also running for reelection to Lamar Town Council and practicing and preparing for the 2021 Spooktacular.  Tonight I have a candidates forum for the former, and last night my buddy John and I practiced for the latter.

Add to all of that a whopping dollop of after-school music lessons, and you can tell I’ve had precious little time for much else.  I had a fun-filled day with my girlfriend on Saturday, then turned around Sunday and immediately set to work finalizing first quarter report card grades.

I’m not complaining—I like being busy—but I hope readers will extend some graciousness and excuse some occasionally late posts.  My poor dog has been getting the short end of the bully stick, too, though we both collapsed into a snoring heap on the couch last night after John departed.

Such are the rhythms of life.  Here’s hoping things return to a more stately tempo after the frenetic rhythm of the last few weeks.  Again, I don’t want to be bored, but having a little more time to focus on writing would be great.

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Mahler’s Composing Shack

While teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation last school year, I stumbled upon an excellent YouTube channel, Inside the Score, which features videos explaining and analyzing some of classical and Romantic music’s greatest works and composers.  It’s a wonderful resource for exploring famous works in greater depth, and has greatly enhanced my own appreciation for music.

At some point, I ended up on Inside the Score‘s mailing list, and I receive little e-mail newsletters from the site periodically.  These are like delicious, bite-sized treats compared to the longer videos (which themselves are by no means daunting, coming it at around twenty minutes a pop).

Recently, one of these morsels found its way into my inbox:  a look at Gustav Mahler‘s daily routine.  Mahler wrote incredibly long symphonies—to this day, the single longest piece of music I have ever sat and listened to live is Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which clocks in at an impressive seventy-five minutes—and did so while touring the world as a conductor.  According to Inside the Score, Mahler had summers off to compose at a little shack on the Attersee in Austria, and stuck to a fairly consistent schedule.

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National Night Out in Lamar

Last night the Lamar Neighborhood Watch organized an observation of National Night Out, an evening dedicated to supporting law enforcement and encouraging strong community building.  Most communities observe National Night Out in August, but Texas and other States observe it on the first Tuesday in October, when the weather is a good bit cooler.  August in the South is rarely a good time to host outdoor events.

My walking buddy neighbor helped organize the event, but he took a unique approach to it:  rather than having one person or a committee coordinating all of the participants, he invited residents to host whatever bit of entertainment and fun they could muster.  The result was a small but truly grassroots street festival.

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October Bandcamp Friday

It’s the first day of the best month of the year!   My annual Halloween Spooktacular is tantalizingly close—just twenty-nine days away!—and my interest in horror movies now takes on a seasonally appropriate veneer, instead of just the odd obsession of a potentially deranged individual.

It’s also another Bandcamp Friday, which means it’s the best possible time to purchase my music.  Indeed, my entire discography (seven albums!) is just $19.98, a whopping 35% discount (just £14.76 as of 28 September 2021, according to Bing, for my newfound British readers).  That’s $2.85 (£2.10) per release, the kind of deal you only get on cassette tapes at the gas station (or from yours portly!).

What better time to spin my classic hit “Ghostly,” a spookily unhinged ballad in creepy 3/4 time, or the electronic opus “Zombie Unicorn,” featuring irregular multi-meter insanity and shades of Saint-Saëns?  They’re on Contest Winner EP and The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse, respectively.

Not in the mood for spookiness?  Then enjoy the boppy, poppy fun of perennial fan favorite “Hipster Girl Next Door“—or the pleading piano-pop balladry of “Greek Fair.”

Are your tastes inclined in a more heavenly direction?  Then check out The Lo-Fi Hymnal, a love letter to hymn singing and playing recorded on over a tiny phone microphone.  Trust me—it’s better than it sounds!

In short, ’tis the season for merriment and fun—and for forking over your hard-earned cash to support the blogger, musician, and teacher you love:  me!

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TBT^2: The Joy of Autumn

Well, the first day of autumn was yesterday, although my Middle School Music students came into class Tuesday saying that their Geography teacher told them 21 September, rather than 22 September, was the first day of this glorious holiday.

I have little idea when the seasons calendrically begin, other than it’s always in the low-twenties of the month:  Spring in March, Summer in June, Autumn in September, and Winter in December.  As I’ve noted before on this site, in South Carolina it’s all pretty much one big season—summer—with some intermittent sprinklings of the actual season throughout the year.  That can even mean a cold front in the summer (Thy Will Be Done) or an unseasonably warm “Indian Summer” in mid-January.  I’ve sweated on New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving many times, and it’s always muggy on Halloween.

But I digress.  The discussion about when autumn really begins (some Bing!ing revealed it is 22 September this year, not 21 September) led to an impromptu crash course in songwriting.  We began listing all of the qualities of the fall, and the qualities of the then-soon-to-be-departing summer.  The students then crafted those into verses (about all the fun summertime stuff that was disappearing), with the chorus being all about how great the autumn is:  pumpkins, scarecrows, falling leaves, etc.

The kids ate it up.  I made up some cheesy crooner melody to go with it as a placeholder, but a precocious seventh grader began experimenting with an unusual C-Db-Eb chord sequence, which completely changed the melody.  I broke the students into groups to begin writing new verses, and another student took it upon herself to compile the lyrics into a master Google Doc.  Another student—a visual artist trapped in Music class—supplied the artwork for our soon-to-be-hit single, featuring a scarecrow and some other creature dancing around a flaming pumpkin (it’s pretty awesome).  Our little scribe-compiler mentioned that we needed a bridge, so we’ll have to get hopping on that.

It was completely unplanned—one student even suggested, snarkily, that I hadn’t planned a lesson that day, so I created this one out of thin air.  It’s only half true:  I did have a lesson planned—we were going to write, clap, and count rhythm lines—but the discussion of autumn sparked the idea for a much more engaging lesson about writing songs (which is, essentially, writing poetry, but better—there’s music attached!).

Anyway, here’s to autumnal weather to come—and good, middle school-penned songs to go with it.

With that, here is “TBT: The Joy of Autumn” (thanks to Pontiac Dreamer for today’s picture!):

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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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TBT: Music Among the Stars

It’s been a musical week here at The Portly Politico, so I figured, “why stop now?”

I’ve dedicated more and more space on the blog to musical and cultural matters, especially in the last year.  Among the posts I most enjoy writing—and of which I am most proud—are those I write about music.

This week’s TBT feature, “Music Among the Stars,” is one I really enjoy, and I think (humbly) it’s one of my better posts.  It’s about the golden records aboard the Voyager I space probe, and about the true purpose of music—to worship God.

I’ll let the essay speak for itself.  Here is 8 September 2021’s “Music Among the Stars“:

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The Frisson of the Night

Yesterday I wrote about the joy—the thrill!—of live music.  I’m excited to see it making a comeback after the long, weary months of The Age of The Virus, and hope we will witness a renaissance of live entertainment.

Live music is most at home, I think, at night.  Sure, there are plenty of fine performances that take place during the day, and a talented classical guitarist plucking out Bach’s Bourrée in E Minor adds a bit of classiness to a tony Sunday brunch, but music lives at night.  After all, Mozart composed Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”), not Ein Kleiner Tagmusik.

There is palpable excitement to the night—a delectable frisson, the promise of things to come.  The night is when things happen.  Granted, they aren’t always good things, but they night promises to be eventful.

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The Joy of Live Music

Along with our civil liberties, a casualty of The Age of The Virus has been live music.  I’ve written about the strains the lockdowns placed on musicians frequently (including my many Bandcamp Friday posts), and have even hosted two front porch concerts to get around venue closures (and, it seems, the increasing number of venues that simply haven’t restored live music to their operations).

Fortunately, South Carolina is a free State, and live music is making a real comeback.  Indeed, I had the opportunity to hear my buddy, poet Jeremy Miles, play a gig with his new band, Jeremy and the Blissters, at a hopping coffee shop Friday evening.

The experience was electric—and not just because of the piping hot sound system and stacks of amplifiers.  The band—which, in addition to Jeremy, consists of good friends from the local music scene, two of whom have opened my front porch concerts—was stunning and powerful, offering up an eclectic mix of New Wave, punk, pop, acid rock, and more.

Beyond their impressive musical prowess and sweeping repertoire, Jeremy’s group reminded me of how fun live music can be—and how desperately we need more of it to return.

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