What’s playing at Tonal Diversions – December 2015

I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday. I had a wonderful time visiting family in Ohio. The trip felt too short, but it was great to see everyone.

(Time for the disclaimer: I don’t have any affiliation with these artists. I checked the albums out from my library and want to chat about them)

“That Would Be Me” by Harry Connick, Jr.


I’ve been a fan of Harry’s for a long time. I’ll admit I haven’t followed his career quite as closely in recent years, but when I found out he had a new album I had to listen to it. I really enjoyed it. It’s not the big band jazz of albums past, but I wouldn’t fully call it pop, either, despite it being classified that way on a few sites. There are elements of funk and jazz, and he makes good use of brass and strings. I think my favorite song of the album is the first one: “(I Like It When You) Smile,” followed by “(I Think I) Love You A Little Bit.” I just realized that Target has an exclusive edition with bonus tracks. Since I wanted to buy the album anyway, I think I’ll just have to mosey on to Target to get my copy.

“Come Fly With Me” by Herb Alpert


I’ll admit, I had no idea Herb was still out and about. I, and probably most people, only remember him from his Tijuana Brass days (“Spanish Flea”, anyone? 😀 ) But the 80-year-old has had a comeback in the last few years – good for him! Overall I liked the new album, though sometimes the accompaniments end up sounding rather like the presets on a keyboard. The strength of this album lies in his re-imagining of tunes we know, such as “Take the A Train” with a Latin beat. I like the cover of the Beatles’ “Something,” and he pairs “Blue Skies” with a style I wasn’t expecting.

“Departures” by the United States Air Force Band


This came across my desk at the library, naturally I had to check it out, being the band geek that I am. It’s a nice mix of classics and newer works. I was happy to see “Danzon No. 2” on here, as I recently played it in community band and loved it. The “Ender’s Game” suite is not the recent movie score, but rather a piece by Christopher Caliendo based on Card’s book, similar to the “Lord of the Rings Symphony” by de Meij that I’ve discussed on the blog. I do recommend this album and I’m looking forward to listening more to the new-to-me pieces on it.

So that’s what I’ve been listening to lately. Happy New Year to all! I do want to say thank you to those who have subscribed to my blog – I truly appreciate it. I hope 2015 closes on a high note for everyone, and I’ll see you in 2016!

Loving classical music – unabashedly

I love classical music.

Unabashedly.

I’ve loved classical my whole life. My aunt used to tell a story about my four- or five-year-old self: We were in a store once,  listening to some music boxes. The sales clerk made some comment about whether a kid would know the music being played, to which I promptly (and correctly) replied, “It’s the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’.”

I don’t know most rock or pop singers/bands, except in passing and knowing that there are a few things out there I like. My MP3 player is filled with classical, showtunes, some jazz, and a tiny bit of rock. I know I’m an oddball in that sense compared to my peers, but I don’t care.

One of my favorite quotes is by Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project): “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” I like performing, listening to, and composing/arranging classical music*. No apologies made or necessary.

(*Yes, I use the term “classical music” in the broad sense of the term, not just limited to music written between 1750-1820. To the more pedantic readers out there – deal with it.)

I stumbled across an article from The Guardian by Armando Iannucci that resonated with me, and touches on why I write this blog. This quote from the article sums it up nicely:

“Classical music has been, for me, the single most inspiring, most moving, most magical thread running though my whole cultural experience. It’s the art form in whose presence I feel most comfortable, most myself.”

Lori at a piano lesson, ca. 1983

Me at a young, impressionable age. I’d been taking piano for a year or two at that point.

 

I began piano lessons in either kindergarten or first grade. My older sister started flute the next year or so and, given that she had dreams of being a teacher, decided that she needed to teach me to play flute as well. At least that’s how I remember it– she might remember another version!

Behold, the clarinet

I went along to hear her play at a solo and ensemble contest, and that’s where I saw it: a clarinet. I was immediately smitten, and knew that was the instrument I wanted to play when I started band.

I had a brief fling with oboe in seventh and eighth grade due to boredom (and extreme band geekiness), but returned to my true love in ninth grade.

In college, I finally got to play bass clarinet and a bit of contra, cementing my allegiance to the “dark side” (the low clarinets). While I still love to play the noodling-doodling lines in regular clarinet, there’s something about the power of the low beasts that’s quite satisfying.

Don’t dis my love

Because of my love for music, it does pain me when people dismiss classical out of hand. Yes, it can be pretentious. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it can be difficult to know where to start. No one will love every single piece of music. But there’s so much out there that to not give any of it a shot because of the couple of “boring songs” you heard makes me sad.

“I’m aware that it’s easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one’s experience of classical music, but that shouldn’t stop us trying. We don’t talk about music enough. As someone who’s never felt he’s had the technical language at his fingertips, I feel all I can do is talk about it in whatever English I have at my command. I want to emote about how I feel.”

This is another quote that spoke to me, and it goes the heart of why I do this blog. I try to talk about pieces in a way that anyone can get, even someone who has never had any formal training in music. I just want people to hear the awesome sounds that happen in classical music and maybe nudge someone to explore more of the genre. I want to share my love for music with anyone who’s willing to listen. I don’t care that you don’t know a clarinet from a trombone, just that you have an interest in music.

You don’t have to know the name of something in order to like it.

Sorry, Mozart

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I find I can’t listen to Mozart. I don’t dislike him, I’m just unmoved by him. I realise I’m in a minority and I’m intrigued as to why this is.”

Brahms is my homeboy

Brahms is my homeboy – visit Wacketees on Cafe Press for more!

*looks around furtively* I’m not big on Mozart, either. Similar to Iannucci, it’s not that I don’t like him, there are just other composers that do more for me. Bring on Brahms, Ives, Arnold, Copland, Bernstein! I’m sure someone out there would love to revoke my Classical Musician Card™ due to my apathy toward Mozart. Oh well. Let them try. Like I said earlier, there’s so much out there – we don’t all have to like the same thing or agree on everything.

I once looked at one of the many Facebook groups for classical music. They made no bones about being elitist and had a list of Good and Bad composers. While I could understand quite a few of their choices, the fact that they had such a hard and fast list completely turned me off to wanting to join the group (and the fact that they seemed perfectly willing to ridicule anyone who disagreed with their list). Unfortunately, I believe those types of attitudes are what most non-musicians think of when they hear the term “classical music,” and further cause people not even to try listening to classical.
I'm sure someone ... would love to revoke my Classical Musician Card™ due to my apathy toward Mozart Click To Tweet

The TL;DR version would be “give classical a shot.” Ask me questions, even if you’re afraid they’re “stupid.” I’ll answer to the best of my ability. Check out local concerts by community groups. Even if we are not perfect in our performance, we’re excited about what we do. Maybe we can excite you as well. Encourage your kids to take up an instrument or singing. Swing by the classical CDs on your next trip to the library or look for a classical genre on your preferred streaming service. Just give it a chance!

(I couldn’t leave without linking to some piece of music, so here’s a recent performance by me on bass clarinet. Enjoy!)

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

What’s playing at Tonal Diversions – May 2015

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been listening to recently while I decide which piece to discuss next here on the blog. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of these albums as well, and I’m happy to spread the word about them!

(Time for the disclaimer: I don’t have any affiliation with these artists or CD Baby. I purchased these albums on my own and just want to chat about them)

Fight the Team by Jon Lampley


I found out about this one via one of my OSU alumni magazines (I think one of the College of the Arts and Sciences issues) and finally got around to buying it. John Lampley is an OSU alum who majored in jazz studies and seems to have kept rather busy since graduation. While this album would be of most interest to my fellow Buckeyes, Lampley’s jazzy arrangements of our beloved songs have appeal for those not of the scarlet and gray persuasion. I especially like his two variations on “Buckeye Battle Cry.” Listen for the quotes of various tunes, notably by the tuba, in “Fight the Team.” My only criticism of the album is that it’s too short. I want to hear more!

Electric Woods by Vienna Clarinet Connection


This one was an impulse buy as I was trying to take advantage of cheap shipping from CD Baby. But man, has it turned out to be a fun album! Kinda jazzy, kinda funky, with a touch of Klezmer thrown in (and a couple visits from aliens?) And where else do you find jazz basset horn?

Sway by Michael Lowenstern


Speaking of Michael Lowenstern, I have his latest album, Sway. Any bass clarinet players out there should immediately subscribe to his YouTube channel – he has some fantastic instructional videos (B-flat players may want to subscribe, too 😉 )

Mr. Lowenstern had put up a preview of the track “Little Bit” when he was taking pre-orders for the album. The tune just made me happy – I knew I needed to order the album! While this is the first album of his I’ve purchased, it certainly won’t be the last. Jazzy and funky, with a detour through India for “Spinning” and Ireland for “Wellington,” this album has quickly become one of my favorites.

Today’s post was a bit different than usual, but I hope you’ll take some time to either explore these artists or search out something new for yourself. You just might find your new favorite artist!

Music Appreciation: At the Gala by Daniel Ingram

Can you believe it’s April already? We’re already a quarter of the way through 2015. Where does the time go?

I thought I’d do something a little different for this post. I’d like to discuss “At the Gala” by Daniel Ingram (music), Amy Keating Rogers (lyrics) and Steffan Andrews (orchestration). This piece is from the episode “The Best Night Ever” (season 1, episode 26) from the show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. As you listen, see if you can identify which musical they pay homage to here. Bonus points if you can name specifically which song from that musical.

 

 

After Spike expresses his admiration for his pony friends, we get a magical-sounding intro from the strings and chimes, accentuated by trumpets (and fireworks!). Twilight Sparkle’s line says it all – they’ve been anticipating this night so much it’s sure to be the Best! Night! Ever!

Fluttershy starts the first verse, singing about all the wonderful new animal friends she’ll meet (0:22). This is a pony who has befriended a manticore and cowed a cockatrice, so she’s certain she’ll love (and be loved by) all the animals. The melody here is engaging, with two halves of five lines each. The ending of each is a bit different from the other, as one leads into the second half and the other finishes out the verse on a strong note. We have a Greek chorus in the background, offering commentary on what the main character is saying.

The Mane Six

The Mane Six

Next up is Applejack (0:45), who hopes to sell her baked goods in order to raise money for her family. Already, the songwriters have changed things up a little. Instead of two sections of lines like Fluttershy, she has one six-line verse. The melody is mostly the same as before, just condensed a bit. The chorus plays a bigger role here, commenting after most of Applejack’s lines. After her verse, the chorus has a longer interlude (0:58) to usher in our next pony.

Ah, the ever elegant Rarity (1:08), who longs to meet a prince. The structure here goes back closer to Fluttershy’s verse, but the key and overall feeling have changed. Rarity’s verse is more subdued, which fits the sophistication of her scene. The accompaniment has more of a feeling of a string quartet than the previous verses’ fuller backgrounds.

The chorus has another interlude at 1:25, followed by a fanfare by the trumpets at 1:35. This takes us in an entirely new direction for Rainbow Dash’s verse (1:41). Rainbow isn’t into that showtune stuff, and she certainly doesn’t care about the hoity-toity types at the party. Her verse reflects that, changing into a rock feel. The drums are more prevalent here with a groovin’ beat underneath. Notice, though, that there’s still a high string line flying around. It adds to feeling of the Wonderbolts zooming around the stands, showing off their amazing flying skills. The chorus enters at 1:58, bringing us back for a bit to the original feel of the song.

We only stay in the original style for the interlude. The next verse takes things in a different direction because, well, it’s Pinkie Pie and she marches to the beat of her own drummer (2:08).  Pinkie lives for parties, so being at the Gala is a huge deal for her. I love the chord progression from 2:16 to 2:20; it’s different enough from what we’ve heard previously to catch your ear. The chorus pipes up with a short statement at 2:25 to usher in our last pony.

At 2:29, we hint back at the magical intro as we go into the final verse of the piece. Twilight Sparkle’s verse also goes back to the beginning, sounding more like Fluttershy and Applejack with her melody and line structure (2:33). There is a small alteration to the tune that I think works very well here and is one of my favorite little snippets of the song (2:37). She is looking forward to spending time with Princess Celestia, her mentor. The chorus is back with commentary for this verse.

The chorus has its moment beginning at 2:50, the coda (closing section) of the piece. If you’ve listened to their lyrics throughout the song, you’ll notice that it’s not just the Mane Six who have high hopes for the evening. The chorus lets us know that they’re also looking forward to a wonderful night. At 3:02, the Mane Six reiterate their goals for the evening, in order of their verses. If you haven’t yet figured out which musical they’re honoring, this bit should give you a huge clue. Then the chorus joins back in with one last finishing statement (and more fireworks!)

[Can I just say that I’m totally jealous of the folks who got to be in the chorus for this? I’d love to be a singing voice for a cartoon!]

So did you figure out that this song is an homage to Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods? In particular, the song “Ever After” (which was sadly omitted in the recent movie). So you’ll have to go to the original Broadway cast for the song. While “At the Gala” has the characters talking about what they wish for, “Ever After” deals with the characters having just gotten all their wishes. But both the episode and Into the Woods deal with not only wishing for something, but the consequence of the wish.

Curious as to whether the ponies really do have the Best Night Ever? Let Pinkie Pie tell you all about it (I find the Rarity and Fluttershy parts particularly amusing).

While I had caught a few episodes before first seeing this, this episode cemented my love for the show. Any cartoon that pays homage to Stephen Sondheim (especially Into the Woods) is a winner in my book. I loved MLP growing up (I was in the target audience when they first came on the scene in the 1980s), and I feel they’ve done a great job rebooting the franchise with the quality of the cartoon. It’s not just for kids.

Oh, and watch out as you surf the internet today. The web can be a crazy place on April Fool’s Day!

Save

Interlude: It’s marching band season!

Welcome to my new segment, “Interlude.” This is for the times where I just want to touch on something instead of doing an in-depth analysis of a piece. I’ve done this a few times before, but I’d like to make it an official section of the blog.

I have to begin with my alma mater, The Ohio State University (O-H!). While I was never in the marching band (or TBDBITL, as we Buckeyes like to call it), I have always loved watching them perform. OSUMB is all brass and percussion, meaning no clarinets, flutes, or saxes are involved. It’s been that way since 1934. When I was in my early years of college (early 1990s), there were still a handful of old woodwind players who participated in the alumni band weekends – it was neat to think that they’d been in the band prior to ’34.

In the past few years, OSUMB has really ramped up their performances. They’ve always been fun to watch, but recently they’ve done some amazing work. I’m going to the game this weekend and am looking forward to see what they have planned!

I binge-watched a bunch of their shows from this year, and I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a tribute to The Wizard of Oz. Those who keep up with college football rivalries will guess which school the Wicked Witch attends, and those with good ears might recognize a little something that gets added to the music at that point. It certainly gave me a chuckle!

 

Thanks to reader Jim, who alerted me to another fantastic college group out there – the Jacksonville State University Marching Southerners. I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s program, which includes one of my favorite pieces, “Salvation Is Created.” Regular readers of the blog will remember I posted about that piece a while back. This band is huge! Check out the number of xylophones!

 

I leave you with another OSU show, just in case there are people out there who didn’t see their spectacular video game tribute. It made the national news, so there’s a good chance you at least heard about it. You really do need to see this one!

 

See you next time!