TBT^2: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

One of the many benefits of teaching music is (re)discovering beloved favorite works.  During last week’s round of distance learning, I had to pull out some of the classics.  If we’re going to sit on a Google Meet call, let’s listen to some music, not just talk about it.

I really love programmatic music—instrumental music that tells a story, often accompanied by program notes explaining (usually very briefly) what the listener is supposed to hear in the musical “story.”  Students often like to imagine their own stories when listening to instrumental music, which is great, but I find that programmatic works give students (and myself!) some guideposts to follow.

Fortunately, Ludwig von Beethoven provided some handy ones for us in his Sixth Symphony, quite possibly my favorite symphony, and certainly my favorite of Beethoven’s.  It’s the so-called “Pastoral” symphony, as it depicts a pleasant trip to the country (besides the roiling thunderstorm in the fourth movement).

It’s also unusual in two respects:  instead of the standard four movements of the classical symphony (a fast opening movement, a slow second movement, a dancelike third movement, and a fast fourth movement), Beethoven includes five; and the third, fourth, and fifth movements all flow seamlessly into one another, without the customary pause between each.

It is also long, especially by the standards of the classical symphony (the Romantics, however, would have easily matched Beethoven for runtime), clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (the typical classical symphony averages around twenty-five-to-thirty minutes, but forty-five would have been the upper limit for the time).  But that length is in service to Beethoven’s vision, and he fully explores every theme in this symphony.

Here is a particularly excellent performance—the one I showed, in part, to my classes last week—by the Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Bernard Haitnik:

With that, here is 4 February 2021’s “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:

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TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau”

In “The Worst of 2021” post, there was a much-neglected gem amid all the filler:  this January 2021 post about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau.  My good friend and former colleague H. L. Liptak—herself a noted writer and a recent subscriber, *hint, hint*—praised it in her a comment on “The Worst.”

That got me thinking about this post, and that it deserved a comeback.  Thus, here is January 2022’s “The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’“:

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TBT: Supporting Friends Friday: Audre Myers

A little Welsh birdie told me that today our dear Audre Myers is turning twenty-nine for the forty-first time.  Therefore, in lieu of my originally planned TBT—which will appear next Thursday—I’ve done what any decent blogger would do and hastily and have revived this classic post about Audre, one of the most popular posts of 2021.

As far as I can tell, this will be the first edition of Supporting Friends Friday to enjoy the TBT treatment.  Who more fitting to receive such a dubious honor than Audre?  Audre’s been a constant source of encouragement, amusement, and inspiration, and is one of those folks who keeps me writing.

So, before I get overly mushy, here is 27 August 2021’s “Supporting Friends Friday: Audre Myers“:

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TBT: The Worst of 2020

2021 has been a far more enjoyable year than 2020, although 2020 wasn’t nearly as apocalyptic in retrospect as it seemed at the time.  Regardless, I’ve written a lot of stuff over the past three years.  A great deal of it, whether good or bad, hasn’t been read by many people (with some notable exceptions).

2021 was the year that I stopped having posts with single-digit (or even just single!) views, but I know I’ve got some that flew under the radar—and probably for the better!

But we’ll look back at those posts tomorrow.  Today, it’s time for the fifty-five (!) posts of “The Worst of 2020“:

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TBT^2: Christmas Eve

Well, it’s not exactly Christmas Eve—more like Christmas Eve Eve, which probably has some liturgical significance that my Southern-fried Protestantism doesn’t know or appreciate—but given the way Christmas is falling this year, as well as my own laziness, I thought it’d be worth looking back at this classic Christmas Eve post, with my timeless “Christmas and Its Symbols” post for Flashback Friday tomorrow.

That scheduling also lets me do my beloved “^2” addendum with the titles, adding another layer of Talmudic-esque commentary onto my past scribblings:  the ultimate in authorial self-indulgence.

Of course, the season isn’t about my half-baked musings about Christmas, Christmas Eve, or the rest.  It’s about the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As I wrote last year, Christmas Eve seems to perfectly capture the spirit of mystery of that night, “a night full of magic, mysticism, and wonder.”  Christmas Day is a flurry of activity:  opening presents, yelling at parents to wake up, cleaning up piles of wrapping paper.  Christmas Eve, especially Christmas Eve night, has always seemed more mystical, more reflective—the true celebration of Christ’s Birth.

It was also the night my Aunt Cheryl—the best one-eyed piano player in Aiken County—used to throw her big, bodacious Christmas Eve bash, featuring her incredible lasagna.  So maybe that’s why it fills my heart with a warm, fuzzy feeling (these days, it’d be a welcome dose of heartburn—totally worth it for a thick section of her lasagna).

This year, I think I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with my niece and nephews, waking up at their house Christmas morning for the second year in a row.  That’s always a fun way to spend the season.  Here’s hoping there’s some Christmas Eve Chinese food thrown into the mix.  God Bless General Tso—he was a bloodthirsty dictator, but his chicken is delectable.

With that, here is “TBT: Christmas Eve“:

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TBT^2: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting

It’s Exam Week again, and I’ve managed to stay on top of grading as of the time of this writing.  My school only requires teachers to be on campus this week for exams we’re proctoring, so it’s been much quieter and more relaxed than the two weeks preceding this one.

It’s interesting looking back at this post in its prior permutations, though they both explore the same idea:  the genius that arises from pressure.

I don’t work well under pressure, but if I have to twenty-three-skidoo together a song in twenty-four hours, I’m far more likely to get it done than if I have an amorphous, open-ended deadline.  I’ve been approached on a small number of occasions to compose music for certain purposes, and I usually fall down on the job.  I find that while I can write a song fairly quickly, I do not compose instrumental music terribly well under pressure.  That requires a great deal of thought, especially if the music is programmatic in nature.

That said, I’ve been listening to more of my buddy Frederick Ingram’s work, and even some of my old EP.  It’s pretty remarkable listening back to some of the songs that I wrote, a few of them nearly ten years ago!  I also realize that I actually wrote some pretty good songs—and I’ve been trying to figure out where that inspiration and lyrical subtlety went.

For example, I’ve long written off one of my songs, “Funeral Pyre,” as kind of a throwaway tune.  I wrote it the morning I was supposed to begin recording the record (but that session was rescheduled due to a snowstorm).  It was based on an interesting line that popped into my head one night before bed:  “That crackling fire/was the funeral pyre/for the flame that I held out/for you.”

The song was intended to be a Meat Loafian ballad about unrequited love and romantic mistakes that, despite the pain, bring with them growth.  But it’s never been a fan favorite, and I gradually stopped playing it at live shows except only occasionally.

In listening back to it now, I’m actually pretty darn impressed with some of the poetic imagery I managed to evoke (I was probably twenty-nine at the time I wrote it, if I have my dates right).  It is very much inspired by Jim Steinman’s writing for Meat Loaf, and the piece is actually quite vocally demanding (though not nearly as impressive as Loaf himself).  It doesn’t have the toe-tapping, singalong quality of “Hipster Girl Next Door” or the iconic hooks of “Greek Fair,” but I find that I am finding depth in my own song that I didn’t realize was there!

Well, anyway, that’s enough navel-gazing.  I promise I’m not trying to brag about how brilliant younger me was, but it’s pretty cool revisiting my older works.  To be sure, listening back to some of those tracks now almost sounds like karaoke, with my voice over pianos that are mixed—why am I only noticing this years later?—a little too loud, giving the sensation of a karaoke track.

With that, here is “TBT: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:

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TBT: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

My school’s big Christmas concert is tomorrow—the first once since December 2019, the infamous “Corporate Christmas” concert—and my Middle School Music class is playing and singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  It’s one of my favorite carols, and is apparently my pastor’s favorite.

We’re doing the iconic first verse, as well as the third verse, which echoes the themes of the first.  There’s a great line—“ris’n with healing in His wings”—that just sounds epic.  It’s such a regal tune, perfect for The King of Kings arriving on Earth to save His fallen Creation.

Fortunately, my Middle School students seem to agree, and I am proud of their rendition.

With that, here is 8 December 2020’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“:

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TBT: Singing Christmas Carols with Kids

December is here, and that means it’s time for Christmas music!  My students and I are prepping for our annual Christmas concert—back after The Age of The Virus—and have been playing and singing quite a bit of Christmas music.

Indeed, my Music Club—a club designed to get students involved in playing and performing music who, for whatever reason, could not get a music class fit into their schedules—met Tuesday to sing some carols, with the idea being that we will spend lunch and break periods next week caroling for the student body.

As their voices came together in sparkling purity, it reminded me of this post from last year.  We started our short rehearsal with “Silent Night,” one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, and the sweetness and fullness of it with eight or so singers really swelled my heart.  We also sang “Joy to the World,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and one or two others that escape me.

I once heard that singing is good for you, both physically and mentally.  Christmas carols—songs about the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ—surely are good for you spiritually, too.  Sing some today.

With that, here is 4 December 2020’s “Singing Christmas Carols with Kids“:

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Lazy Sunday CXLI: Thanksgiving Stuff(ing)

Another glorious Thanksgiving Break has come and gone, so yours portly will have to struggle through another three weeks of work before enjoying another ridiculously generous break at Christmastime.

In keeping with the spirit of doing a lot of “rerun” posts this past week, here’s a Lazy Sunday dedicated to various Thanksgiving posts from yesteryear:

Apparently, I write a lot of posts about Thanksgiving, and I recycle almost all of them every year.  I think a good bit of that is because I am usually worn out by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, and rather than tax my weary brain with fresh material, I just reuse the treacly tripe I wrote in prior years.  Also, pageviews are way down during the week, chiefly because people are enjoying time with their friends and family, rather than wasting time at work reading the angry screeds of a portly man.

Regardless, Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments: