The Crisis in Education Today

Only one student in my theory class today recognized the song "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," and I had to sing it to jog his memory. There is no hope. UPDATE, 3.28.15: Sometimes I feel impelled to resolve to no longer attempt to make jokes in this space, but if I ever come to that point, there will truly be no hope indeed. I can provide more context for the above remark for people who might want it. My students often surprise me with what they know. I would be neither disappointed nor dismayed if they were unfamiliar with Oklahoma or The Music … [Read more...]

Feeling Played Out, but Also Played

In the next month I have five performances of my music coming up, three of them in New York City. On this coming Sunday, March 22, James Bagwell will conduct the Dessoff Choirs in three movements of my Transcendental Sonnets, 7 PM at Peter Norton at Symphony Space in New York. On Wednesday, April 8, students of Dawn Upshaw's will premiere my song cycle Your Staccato Ways (on poems of Karen Schoemer) at Bard College's Bito Auditorium, at 8 PM. That's a preview performance for the real premiere the following Sunday, April 12 at the Morgan … [Read more...]

There Are No Coincidences

My subject heading is from Jung. Today we went to our usual Saturday breakfast diner. Our favorite table by the window was being vacated, a young guy still sitting there. Nancy brought to my attention that the book in front of him was Music Downtown. This had never happened to me, and I couldn't resist: "Is that a good book?," I asked, ready to slink away quietly if he replied "Not really." "Yeah, it's really good!" "I wrote it," I replied. "Really?" He looked like I had to be joking. His breakfast partner, who turned out to be his uncle and a … [Read more...]

Thirteen, My Lucky Number

Unnameable ex-123

Below is the paper I delivered Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh's microtonality conference. I altered the title from the original "How the 13th Harmonic Saved my Sorry Ass." I think my approach to microtonality is rather unusual, and the conference offered little counter-evidence. I feel like most composers use microtones to add an extra layer of complexity, or just to create an exotic out-of-tuneness, and sometimes (especially Europeans) deploy the harmonic series as little more than a background structuring device. I'm looking for a … [Read more...]

Villain for a Day

I had my most fun day at school ever yesterday. The reason will be arcane to explain. As chair of the arts division, I am on the executive committee, and currently chairing that as well. Last week we made an administrative decision to restrict the divisional listserv for official announcements by the division chair, after a two-year experiment in having it unmoderated, which latter privilege had never been announced and was little used, as far as I know. Anyway, the first non-chair professor to attempt to use the divisional listserv raised a … [Read more...]

The Tough Discipline of the Vernacular


Students are inscrutable. I've taken over first-year theory again this semester, as a favor to a younger colleague. So far I've brought in, as examples for musical analysis, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"; Tom Lehrer's "Bright College Days"; two ragtimes by Scott Joplin; two barbershop quartet songs, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and "Lida Rose" from The Music Man; "Yesterday" by the Beatles (unrecognized by half my class); and the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." The other day a songwriting guitarist kid came to drop the class. His reason: "I'm … [Read more...]

Propelled into Action


My life has been sedentary and uneventful of late, but that's about to change. In the month two weeks beginning next week I give nine seven lectures in locations across the nation. First I head for the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where I've already had such happy times, to teach classes on the Concord Sonata, microtonality, and such. I will also give my lecture "Thoreau's Flute and Charles Ives's Concord Sonata" at the Kansas City Central Library, 14 West 10th Street, at 6:30 on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 19. Then I'll teach some … [Read more...]

Ezra Sims (1928-2015)


I was saddened this morning to hear from Mathew Rosenblum of the death, at age 87, of microtonal patriarch Ezra Sims. He was the pioneer of a 72edo (72 equal divisions of the octave) notation that spread among his younger colleagues in Boston and gave that city its own microtuning culture distinct from the rest of the nation. I only met him once, briefly at a Dinosaur Annex concert, but I respected his music from the first time I reviewed it in Fanfare, and we shared some jovial correspondence surrounding some liner notes I once wrote for him a … [Read more...]

Bronson or Louisa? The Alcotts Question


I'm snowed in, and statistically speaking, you probably are too. So let's blog some of my Ives book, and I'll give you my complete analysis of the Alcotts movement. I've already written about Ives's mysterious references to Lizzy Alcott's piano, and I won't repeat that section here. At issue is which parts of the movement were meant to bring to mind Louisa May Alcott and her famous novels for children, and which her fecklessly philosophical father, Bronson Alcott. You'll need to know a couple of things from earlier in the book to follow the … [Read more...]

We Condescend to the Past

This defense of contemporary music by visual artist Curt Barnes on Susan Scheid's Prufrock's Dilemma blog is so accurately stated that it jarred even me back into consciousness of things I tend to forget: [A]s citizens of the 21st century, now, we need to acknowledge the truism that the art (read: music) of the past is to some degree artifact. Its force as art has been softened with age, and unconsciously or not we condescend to its conventions, its narrower world, to fully enjoy it. It coddles us with the safe haven of its familiar forms. … [Read more...]

Minimalism Unbounded but Helsinki-Bound

All attend!: the Fifth International Conference on Minimalist Music, taking place at the University of Turku and the Sibelius Academy in Finland this September, has finally announced its call for papers. They will be focusing on "the relevance of the minimalist style in the 21st century," and are looking for papers on the core minimalist repertory but also postminimalism, Nordic minimalism, the migration of the style among genres, minimalism in popular culture, and so on. The keynote speakers will be scholars Robert Fink and Jelena Novak. This … [Read more...]

New Horizons in Microtonal Neoclassicism

I wrote some more of my Nursery Tunes for Demented Children that I recently mentioned here. They're silly little pieces, but they serve a serious purpose for me. I've been doing a lot of sketches for large works in what I call my 8x8 tuning, which contains potentialities that I need to explore and learn to hear before I can commit myself to basing entire pieces on them. In particular I've been trying out, in the second and fourth pieces here, more exotic triads a little higher in the harmonic series, such as 7:9:11, 10:13:15, and 8:11:13, which … [Read more...]