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.
Today my school is doing its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal days. These are days for us to test out remote learning in the event The Virus necessitates returning to distance learning full-time. Last time teachers tuned in from home while teachers were on-campus. This time, both teachers and students are able to work from home, so I’ve been enjoying a more leisurely morning.
Indeed, I just wrapped up my first morning class of the day, a section of Middle School Music. The students in that section wrote brief, rough draft biographies of renowned composers, and after giving them feedback in-class yesterday, they presented on their composers this morning. It was a good lesson for digital learning, as it required their active participation for the bulk of the class, and they all did quite well.
I’ve assigned composer biographies in music courses for years, but what inspired the assignment this time around was the rediscovery of a charming little book I keep on a small end table in my den: Helen L. Kaufmann’s The Story of One Hundred Great Composers. Published in 1943, the book is a tiny, pocket-sized digest of two-to-three-page entries—arranged chronologically—of composers from the sixteenth century forward.
This week I’ve been teaching and learning a great deal about George Frideric Handel, the great German composer who became, over his long life, a great British one. In discussing Handel and other Baroque composers with my students, we also veered into the world of hymns.
Hymns were and are important in Protestant congregations as simple, memorable tunes with theologically rich texts. Hymn melodies are often based on folk tunes or popular compositions. In some cases, such as the lovely Christmas carol “Silent Night,” the text is written first, then set to music (indeed, most hymns, being based on Scripture, evolved this way). Sometimes the tune is written, then an enterprising poet sets the text. Such was the case with Isaac Watts, who set his text for “Joy to the World” to a Handel melody. And, of course, there are hymns written and composed by the same person.
In talking about hymns, I brought to my students a slender little hymnal in my small collection of them, The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal. From what I can gather, my copy was published in or after 1966, when the copyright from 1938 was renewed. There is a stamp on the inside front cover stating that the hymn book once belonged to Carteret Street Methodist Church, which I thought was in Charleston, but appears to be in Beaufort, South Carolina. The hymnal includes 296 hymns, with fifty responsive readings—a good collection, but slim by the standards of a pewback hymnal.
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“?
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.
A paradox of blogging is that the more I write, the more difficult (at least some weeks) it is to think up a good theme for Lazy Sunday. Part of the problem is that the earliest editions often featured very broad categories; thus, the proliferation of “Part II” posts throughout.
Of course, that’s probably a problem for me, the writer. You’re just looking to scan through a list of hyperlinks while enjoying your pre-church coffee (or—given my tardiness posting of late—your post-church nap). Such is the nature of the relationship between creator and consumer—thirty minutes put into crafting a blog post equates to about thirty seconds of skimming. But it’s worth it to have your eyeballs (eww…) for those thirty seconds!
On that note, I’m dedicating this week’s Lazy Sunday to matters of culture. In compiling this short list of recent pieces, I came to realize that I way overuse the “culture” tag on my blog posts. In my defense, I do so because I see most issues as cultural (or, even more deeply, theological and philosophical), rather than merely political or economical, in nature. The major political battles we’re fighting in the West today are, at heart, about culture.
It’s been an artistically fulfilling weekend. First there was the play (I’m sure readers are tired of reading about it) in which I performed. After three successful performances, my girlfriend and I took in the South Carolina Philharmonic‘s Sunday matinee performance of their popular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert. Classical music is even more enjoyable when you get to wear jeans.
The SC Philharmonic’s energetic conductor, Morihiko Nakahara (a show in himself), didn’t pull any punches with this year’s B&BJ program. It was, essentially, “Beethoven’s Greatest Hits,” as I remarked to my girlfriend. Morihiko always tosses in one piece of weird modern classical music, but after enduring young composer Jessie Montgomery‘s 2016 tone poem “Records from a Vanishing City,” it was straight into the classics: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, the so-called Pastoral, rounded out the first half of the concert. Then it was into the thundering “DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUH, DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH” of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minorafter the break.
Everyone loves the Fifth Symphony, with its iconic opening theme (the first in symphonic music to make a rhythmic idea the theme, not a melodic one). But for my money, the bucolic beauty of the Sixth takes the cake.
I wrote a great deal about music in the last quarter of 2019, and I’m kicking off 2020 focused intensely on the performing arts: I’m going to be in a play this weekend. That personal detail is somewhat important for the blog, as after today my focus (other than work during the day) will be almost entirely on that production. As such, posts may be shorter than usual, or a bit delayed in getting up.
Regardless, in keeping with the fine arts, I thought I’d feature three recent pieces I wrote about music. Enjoy!
“Milo on Romantic Music” – Readers are probably exhausted of reading about this post, but Milo’s analysis of Romantic music, while certainly contentious, is fascinating. He might play the role of a melodramatic, catty queen online, but he possesses deep erudition on a variety of topics. This post was one of “2019’s Top Five Posts” thanks to Milo’s sharing of it.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting” – This morning I’ll finally be back to my little Free Will Baptist Church to play piano. I’m also struggling to remember a huge amount of naturalistic dialogue for the aforementioned play. The juxtaposition of returning to church piano playing and the pressure of conjuring up untold mental energies in a short span of time made this post a logical choice. The music for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was composed in great haste, and completed mere hours before it was performed. My instincts (and experience) tell me that the play will, much to the director’s chagrin, unfold the same way—incompetence giving way to brilliance the night of the show.
Well, there you have it! Happy New Year to one and all. Back to work!
2019 is winding down, and with this being the last Sunday of the year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to look back at the most popular posts of 2019.
These posts aren’t necessarily the best posts—although that’s an entirely subjective measure—just the ones that received the most hits.
When looking through the most popular posts, there were a few surprises. One thing I’ve learned from blogging is that posts I pour my heart and soul into may walk away with five views (and, oftentimes, only one!). Then other posts that I dash off in a hurry to make my self-imposed daily goal take off like Rossini rockets, garnering dozens of hits.
Some of that is timing and promotion. I find that the posts I have ready to launch at 6:30 AM do better on average. But some generous linkbacks from WhatFinger.com really created some surprises here at the end of the year, surpassing even the exposure I received from Milo Yiannopoulos. Writing posts about hot, current news items, the dropping links about said items in the comment sections of prominent news sites, also helps drive traffic, but I often lack the time required to do such “planting” (and it is a practice that can come across as spammy if not done with finesse).
Some posts take on a life of their own; I see consistent daily traffic from one of the posts on this list, “Tom Steyer’s Belt.” Apparently, a bunch of people are as mystified as I am with Steyer’s goofy, virtue-signalling belt.
Well, it’s certainly been an adventure. And while it may be premature—there are still two days left in the year!—here are the Top Five Posts of 2019: