Up To The Challenge

Hats off and many thanks to Mr. Rifftides. I asked for the whole story about punishing high-school kids by making them listen to Sinatra records and Mr. R has delivered, posting it here on his blog.

At the end he wonders whether Sinatra might have known about this and what he might have said or felt. I know one or two folks who knew Ol’ Blue Eyes fairly well so I am going to ask. (Had this been a few years ago I might have persuaded Joe Williams to call Frank directly and ask him for me.) I probably won’t get much of a respose, but we’ll see. One never knows, do one?

Music, War, Human Nature…

In response to my mention of the Army’s PsyOps division having used music as a weapon, Mr.Rifftides sent this message:

I remember that a few years ago there was quite a ruckus about the high school principal who punished his misbehaving inner-city students by making them listen to Frank Sinatra recordings. It may have been Chicago. If I turn up details, I’ll let you know.

I hope he does turn up the details; thats a story I’d like to hear.

In yesterday’s The New York Times there was an article (Harmony Across a Divide) by Alan Riding.

IT was an immensely appealing experiment, both in its idealism and in its simplicity: Let young Israeli and Arab musicians play together in an orchestra to show that communication and cooperation were possible between peoples who had long fought each other.

Conceived by Argentine-born Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, the project began in 1999 as an annual event, and despite even the more recent outbreaks of violence, the orchestra is still performing.

Still, with the orchestra touring 13 cities in Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Turkey, Mr. Barenboim believes that this latest crisis merely underlines the venture’s importance.

“From the beginning it took a lot of courage to participate in this project, but all the more so this year, while this war is going on, and the friends and relatives of some are being hurt by the friends and relatives of others.” Mr. Barenboim said in an interview the day after starting the tour with the first classical concert ever in Seville’s historic bullring. “In that sense this is a very small reply to the terrible horrors of war.”

I have begun to collect similar stories of music used in service of diplomacy and/or as a humanizing force. Colonel Gabriel once told me a story of taking a German town by force in 1944 as an infantryman, and returning years later as Commander of the US Air Force Band, capturing that same town with music. In 1944 he left with their flag, and later they gave him their key. Another story is that of the joint concert performed by our National Symphony and the Iraq National Symphony, described by The Lehrer Newshour as “an attempt at literal harmony out of the confusion and sometimes violent aftermath of the Iraq war.”

If anyone knows of any such stories, please share them with me.

Soul Music

Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. — Victor Hugo

Music has the power of producing a certain effect on the moral character of the soul, and if it has the power to do this, it is clear that the young must be directed to music and must be educated in it. — Aristotle

Music is an outburst of the soul. — Frederick Deluis

Music is the vernacular of the human soul. — Geoffrey Latham

Education in music is most soverign, because more than anything else, rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace, if one is rightly trained. — Plato

Mathematics is music for the mind; music is matematics for the soul. — Anon

Today’s Discoveries

No doubt you’ve noticed that bloggers like to post the occasional quotations – given Internet access there is no shortage of pithy sayings that we can share with you. I will admit that, to some degree, the act of trolling for quotes is sometimes a combination of laziness and procrastination, but there is also a delight in finding an admirable turn of phrase, encountering a new metaphor, or discovering that a thought was put forth by someone you would not have imagined. Also fun, of course, is the juxtaposition of two or more quotes, be they compatible or antithetical. But what I like best about quotations and the power of the Internet is that I come across people heretofore unknown to me, and within a few keystrokes I can find out who they are or were, what they do or have done, and serendipitously broaden my horizons. Take these quotes for example:

“He who sings, scares away his woes” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

“Music is the medicine of the mind” – John A. Logan

Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass? – Michael Torke

I had jotted down these quotes some time ago. I knew who Cervantes was (the Spanish author), but until I did a little research I did not know that the quotation in question comes from chapter 22 of Don Quixote of la Mancha (translated by John Ormsby). I also found that the wording is sometimes given as “He who sings frightens away his ills.”

As for the other two men quoted, I had no idea at all who they were. Turns out that Logan was a politician who lived in the 1800s. He was a congressman, a brigadier general during the Civil War, later a senator, and Memorial Day was presumably his idea. (To read the congressional bio blurb go here.) Who would expect a switch-hitting politician (first a Democrat, later a Republican) and a lawyer to boot, to say that about music?

The third quote turns out to be from a music man, a composer. BrainyEnclopedia says he writes “accessible music influenced by jazz and minimalism” and that he is “sometimes described as a post-minimalist.” Not knowing what that means, I went to his website to listen to some clips. I don’t consider myself qualified to review or critique symphonic music, but I can tell you that it was pleasing to my ears. A cursory look at the critical acclaim he has received from those in the know supports my appreciation, but part of my enjoyment might also be due to the sound being a welcome change of pace from the music that I have been listening lately – not better or worse, just different. The only symphonic music to reach my ears in recent months is Luther Henderson’s Classic Ellington, recorded in England with Sir Simon Rattle conducting The City of Birmingham Symphony. The orchestrations are wonderful, but the experience of listening to orchestrations of songs with which I am very familiar is vastly different than listening to an original work for the first time, the latter allowing for a mental release that is not possible when the mind is filled with specific expectations. I never thought about this before today, and therein lies yet another benefit of cruising the Internet and letting one’s mind wander a bit. It seems that generating new ideas first requires letting go.

ps – for those of you who know there to be a psychotherapist in my family, let me go on record saying that while music may soothe today, it is no match for the long-term benefits of analysis.

I’ve Got Mail: Music and/on Film

You never know when posting an off-hand reaction will lead to a really interesting discovery or recommendation. A friend writes:

Interesting, DevraDoWrite, about “driving your own music.” I feel old, too. But let those folks do their thing — push the envelope — and let’s see what comes of it. In the meantime, there are people like the guy who did Music from the Inside Out. In the meantime, there are people like us. Let us not discount us.

Music from the Inside Out? If I still lived in Greenwich Village (where it ran exclusively at New York’s Cinema Village), or if I still read The Hollywood Reporter (wherein I would have seen the September 29, 2005 review) I might have known about this documentary. But today, on this subject, I was not in-the-know. Thank goodness for Google, which led me here, to the Education section of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s web site where I learned that it is a documentary film, apparently a very good one having been recently nominated for the International Documentary Association’s Distinguished Feature Award. This sounds like a must-see:

Filmed over a period of five years on three continents, MUSIC FROM THE INSIDE OUT is groundbreaking in style and approach: the main character of this film is “Music” itself. Incorporating a blend of well-loved musical works—including classical, jazz, bluegrass, salsa, and world music – the film features one of the most eclectic soundtracks of any recent documentary.

It played for one week at one theatre in Seattle (got a good review), albeit brief, and it has now made it to Los Angeles where it will be playing in one theatre: Laemmle’s Music Hall on Wilshire. For how long I know not. I guess it will depend on how many of “us” go to see it.

For more info, including cities/dates and lovely streaming audio, visit the film’s web site.

I Just Don’t Get It

I just read a scary article online: Without a Song: Just how much music can a nonmusician make? Here’s a snippet:

Their goal is more ambitious than helping novices become better listeners: they want to catapult people with little or no training into the ranks of composers and performers.

“It’s a shame that people have to sit in an audience and be passive,” says Elaine Chew, an accomplished pianist and assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California. Chew has performed in venues ranging from Singapore to Slovenia, and has accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma. More recently, she’s been focusing her energies on enabling nonmusicians to experience the thrill of performance.

Why? And is listening to music a passive experience? (Is any activity really passive?). Does she really mean to imply that listeners feel no thrill?

Maybe I’m just too old and stodgy to appreciate this, but I cannot imagine that I would find it thrilling to drive music.

Chew has yoked a steering-wheel console to a computer system that lets a user “drive” a piece of music, manipulating the tempo with an accelerator and brake pad. The visual display is like a race track whose curves prompt the driver to slow down or speed up, shifting the musical pace along with the car’s movement through space.

I just don’t get it. Do you?

Influential People

I spent several hours yesterday pouring over archival records at The Juilliard School of Music. Among the papers from the 1937-38 academic year I found a flyer announcing a series of six lectures by Mlle. Nadia Boulanger. The price to attend all six 3 PM lectures (February 9, 16, 23, March 9, 23 and 30) was $15, or $7.50 for students.

Is it a coincidence of that I recently received an email from my friend Phil mentioning Mlle. B? The proud father wrote:

So, until this evening, I didn’t know that Nadia Boulanger taught Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones…courtesy of a PowerPoint report that Robin is organizing for her 6th Grade class.

Now that’s an interesting legacy. Makes me wonder how you and John will be credited as teachers and/or influences when Robin’s children write their 6th Grade reports.


John gets letters now and then mentioning the day he said this or did that and how they never forgot it, whatever it was. Back then, Mlle. Boulanger probably didn’t know just how influential she was. You never know what effect your words and actions may have on someone else, whether at the time or much later.

Serendipity, Connections, and Trends

Into my emailbox poped a message from a guy who wrote “Dear…I don’t even know your name…but I do know Luther Henderson.” My correspondent stumbled across my blog postings about Luther and wrote to say that his dad and Luther were friends and worked together back in the 1940s. Needless to tell you, I got in touch right away — to talk with someone who had “been there” is invaluable to a researcher. We had a lovely chat this morning and he has put me in touch with one of Luther’s colleagues, a man now living in Canada, Gene Di Novi, who I believe became Lena Horne’s musical director immediately following Luther in the early 1950s.

Di Novi? That sounds so recently familiar. Of course! “Gene Di Novi: A Life In Music” is the show at The Jazz Bakery right here in Los Angeles for one-day only…this coming Monday. Gene is right here in town, right now, and my correspondent has given me his telephone number. Serendipity? Connections? Someone is looking out for me? All of the above. So I placed the call, left a message, wrote a note of thanks to my correspondent, and decided to check out a few blogs before plunging back into my own to-do list.

Visiting On An Overgrown Path, I was introduced to contemporary classical music composer Eric Whitacre. (Just a few days ago I ‘discovered’ classical violinist Christian Tetzlaff, and classical music critic Jeremy Eichler — classical is on the brain.) Pliable mentions that Whitacre graduated from the Juilliard School of Music (as did Luther Henderson, but back then it was called the Insitute of Musical Art). The clip I heard online from Whitacre’s Hyperion recording, Cloudburst is beautiful and the choral works listed piqued my curiosity and lead me to wonder if a new trend is afoot. I haven’t researched this yet, but I suspect that it is not a new trend at all, rather one that is newly come into focus on my personal radar screen and/or one that comes and goes over time. The trend (if it is that) to which I refer is the blending and cross-pollenation of poetry and music. Here are the tracks on Whitacre’s CD as listed on Hyperion’s site:

i thank You God for most this amazing day 1999 E E Cummings
I hide myself 1991 Emily Dickinson
Sleep 2000 Charles Anthony Silvestri
i will wade out 1999 E E Cummings
Go, lovely Rose 1991 Edmund Waller
When David heard 1999 II Samuel 18:33
hope, faith, life, love 1999 E E Cummings
Cloudburst * 1993 Octavio Paz
With a lily in your hand 1991 Federico García Lorca
This Marriage 2004 Jalal al-Din Rumi
Water Night 1995 Octavio Paz
A Boy and a Girl 2002 Octavio Paz
Her sacred spirit soars 2002 Charles Anthony Silvestri
Lux aurumque 2000 Edward Esch / Charles Anthony Silvestri

This brings to mind Maria Schneider, about whom I recently wrote. If you have checked out her Concert in the Garden recording, you may have noticed that the title track is inspired by and named after the poem by Octavio Paz. Also recently in my thoughts has been pianist Fred Hersch. He is appearing at the Village Vanguard in New York next week (February 28 – March 05) and I have been intrigued by his Leaves of Grass recording, “a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry for two voices and an instrumental octet.”

I don’t have time to really research this poetry-music connection right now, but I did do a quick google search which led me to a course (Poetry, Music, Performance) taught at CUNY Buffalo which led me to one of the professor’s blogs, which on February 17th mentioned Sara Fishko (the fantastic radio interviewer who produced a really outstanding piece about John) for NPR, and there I think I must stop…for now…but it odd that Sara is already on my list of calls to make during my next trip to New York. Now I will make a note to ask her about poetry and music as it sounds to be a topic that might be on her radar screen already.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Keeping Up

With too little time and too much info to process, we create ways to filter the input. When it comes to the newspaper, some read headlines, some check out only certain sections. I do not like the feel of newsprint, or the dirty fingertips it leaves me with. I also don’t like the size of the page, although I do remember how my grandfather taught me to fold the paper in vertical quarters and then in horizontal half, making it possible to handle and turn pages without creating a total mess. My solution is to peruse The New York Times online, top three headlines in Top Stories, National, and Business, plus all headlines in Arts.

Today a headline caught my eye Violinist With an Air of Vulnerability — I clicked and at the top was a photo with this caption: “Christian Tetzlaff’s playing emphasizes subtlety over pyrotechnics and volume.” Christian who? If I had been paying attention to the classical music world, I might have known that Christian Tetzlaff was named “Instrumentalist of the Year” by Musical America in 2005, and is “internationally recognized as one of the most important violinists of his generation”

I never heard of him, but DevraDoWrite followers will correctly assume that the photo caption (specifically the words “subtlety over pyrotechnics and volume”) was more than enough to intrigue me.

Reading the article was a double surprise discovery – first of a wonderful violinist new to my ears, and second, the writing of Jeremy Eichler, a word artist. Here’s the opening graf:

Christian Tetzlaff’s recital with Lars Vogt here in October could have been just another pleasant night of violin and piano at the Kimmel Center. But when Mr. Tetzlaff eased into the autumnal first movement of Brahms’s G major Sonata, the hall shrunk by half. Building up from a stage whisper, he spun one long sinuous line after another, perfectly distilling the wistfulness at the heart of this music, its careful blending of honey and rue.

With the first sentence arousing a nibble of curiosity (if it wasn’t just another pleasant night, what was it?), the second sentence drawing me in (what does he mean by “the hall shrunk by half?), by the end of the third sentence I was hooked by Eichler’s own sinuous line of carefully blended words. Here’s one more taste of Eichler’s homage to Tetzlaff:

… his playing possesses qualities that are rarer and more radical: a poignant sense of inner life and emotional authenticity, a technique of exquisite subtlety and an interpretive freedom that is grounded in the score yet at the same time wildly imaginative. He may not have the stomach or the swagger to become a high-wattage star in today’s image-conscious classical music world, but his playing is a bracing example of substance over packaging, and a humble reminder of the richness that a simple unadorned recital can still deliver.

Clearly Tetzlaff deserves a listen, and my reading list will include Eichler’s articles from now on.


Terry Teachout posted a great quote today that is particularly relevant to recent postings (here and here) and to Just Muttering‘s addendum here.

Not only do I love the quote, but because of it my musical world has expanded to include George Enescu, a Roumanian composer and violinist with whom I was not familiar, at least not by name. These chance discoveries are what I love about blogs! Thanks TT.