Friday, October 07, 2005
I first saw Kronos live at Harvard University in 1989 or 90, at the annual Fromm Foundation concert. I still remember the program vividly (which is rarely the case fifteen years following a concert). It included a world premeire by Steve Mackey, John Zorn's Cat O' Nine Tails and Steve Reich's masterpiece Different Trains. I have not had the opportunity to hear the group live again since then, and now that they are on tap for the Music Hall's 2005-06 season, I can't wait to see/hear them again.
One of the most innovative ensembles in America, Kronos is a champion of new music, and is one of those rare gems that bridges the worlds of "pop" and "classical" without losing their integrity. Famous for their rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze which they once used regularly as their encore (I don't know that they still do), I also heard them play Hendrix's Foxy Lady at that concert 15 years ago - an arrangement by Mackey, who had his work premiered that night.
Kronos is a group who brings wonderful energy to the stage, takes the leap that many are afraid to take. Their recordings are vast and eclectic. From playing tangos with Astor Piazzolla, to George Crumb's apocalyptic Black Angels to the minimalist works of Reich, Terry Riley, and lesser known Kevin Volans.
While it was great to see Turtle Island here this past spring, Kronos brings a whole new level of gravitas to the stage. I will be putting together a group to go see this concert. Let me know if you want to come along for the ride - I'll arrange the tickets at a group rate. They'll be here Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 7:30 p.m. at the Music Hall.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I am particularly fond of the fall. It is the time of year when I find myself most productive, and in many ways content. There are a few major factors I attribute this to:
1) I live in New England, where fall is a beautiful season of changing colors. We harvest apples, go on nature hikes and feel invigorated by the cooler weather. I've always found being active in the cooler autumn is much more plesant than during the sticky, hot summer.
2) The academic year begins in September, hitting full stride around October 1st. After a summer break, I am ready to set new goals and find this to be an extremely productive time of year.
3) As strange as it may seem to many musicians, I enjoyed my marching experience in my youth. (many older musicians look down on this sort of activity, unfortunately) I was a band kid and fall was always marching season. The memories of friendships built around this activity make fall a positive time of reminiscence.
Now that fall is here, I find myself setting new goals for the 05-06 school year. I hope you will do the same. It is a great time to recommit to lofty aspirations, especially creative endeavors. Get that musical instrument back out of its case and make some music. Pull out those watercolors and paint an autumn landscape. Sit down with your pencil, pen, typewriter or PC and finish that novel, write that poem, or chronicle your life. It is in these passions of creativity that we find satisfaction in life. Take the changing of season as an opportunity to reunite with your creative side. I'll be right there with you.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
The PMAC faculty's biggest concern as we were developing the curriculum for our new Conservatory Program was the name. They are worried the "lofty" implications of the word conservatory will intimidate some students and their families, or lead them to believe that the program is not for them. In reality, we've designed the Conservatory Program to meet the needs of any student who has a sincere passion for music. We want the program to be inclusive, and any auditions that take place are for placement.
The concept is to offer an organized, well-rounded curriculum for students who have a desire to play in ensembles with others and who want to learn more about the music they play. There are three primary aspects to the curriculum:
Beginning October 22, 2005, students will be able to come to PMAC on Saturdays to play in ensembles and take music classes. This program goes beyond individual instruction, creating real life musical opportunities for young students. It promises to be a fun and exciting time for any aspiring young musician
Ensembles are the crux of the Conservatory Program. (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary assures me that one definition of crux is "a main or central feature.") While individual instruction is an important aspect of a student's music education, playing music with others should be a goal of every musician, student or otherwise. The Conservatory Program provides students with the opportunity to play in ensembles. Whether duos, trios, quartets or larger groups, ensembles give students valuble musical experiences that can not be achieved when playing alone. The faculty will tailor ensembles to the abilities, goals, and needs of each participating student. Ensembles will perform at PMAC, in the community and at appropriate competitions and festivals such as New Hampshire's Solo and Ensemble Festival in February 2006.
Another important aspect of the new Conservatory curriculum is Music Theory. Students will be placed in theory classes based on their knowlege and abilities. Theory topics range from beginning reading and the understanding of scales and key signatures to composition of chorales in the style of Bach and complex sight-singing and dictation. The highest level of theory will be an AP Course that will prepare students for the Music AP test for college entry. While sometimes challenging, learing the basic fundamentals of music theory brings new understanding and interpretive skill to any performing musician.
Finally, students will have a variety of elective classes to choose from. They may participate in a composition seminar in which they learn about the music of contemporary composers and can share their original compositions with others. They can even hear their own music played by others. They can take an accompanying class and learn how to accompany other musicians at the piano. They can also take a class on improvisation to stretch their musical performance skills. These are just a few of the classes we intend to offer in this program.
Any student who loves playing music is welcome to join the program. It is not only for those who wish to pursue music as a career, though the program offers a lot to those with professional aspirations. If you believe your child might be interested in this program, call me at PMAC or e-mail me. I can answer any questions you may have in more detail. Just know that this program is inclusive. We hope that you will consider enrolling your child.
Yes, I've been on "blog vacation" for a third of a year. It has been incredibly busy and I finally realized what my friend Steve meant when he said, "You do realize a blog takes a lot of effort to maintain." If you know Steve, you realize I'm paraphrasing, but it gets the point across. A blog is a cool idea for a website, but it takes a bit of effort - and I'm back and ready to put forth that effort. So don't be shy - leave a comment or two. Go ahead, egg me on. Let's get this show on the road.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
The city wide concert for the Portsmouth Public Schools is a honored tradition. The elementary band and beginner string ensemble show off their newly aquired skills, a chorus from one of Portsmouth's three elementary schools is invited to perform, the intermediate string ensemble is featured, as well as the many high school performing groups - the percussion ensemble, jazz band, chorus, and concert band. The sheer number of participants in each group (all were quite large) is a testament to the excellent work our public school music teachers are doing.
It is a tradition at these concerts to recognize career milestones for our teachers, especially retirement. And with Diane McGee retiring in the coming weeks, the kids from Dondero pulled out all stops to honor their teacher. Wendell Purrington, with the help of Dondero's fourth and fifth grade teachers and Little Harbour Elementary School's music teacher Gina Brannigan, put together a farewell number for Mrs. McGee - "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. Joining the chorus were many of Mrs. McGee's former students, who now sing with the Middle School and High School choruses. It was a touching send off - there were few dry eyes in the house by the time the kids finished. And it was an honor that Mrs. McGee deserved - for she dedicated thirty years to the Portsmouth Public Schools, and has been a community leader on issues of education. Bravo to the kids of Dondero, and thank you Diane. I hope to see you often around town, but know that the students of Dondero will miss your daily presence, mentorship, and teaching. Be well.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
On Thursday afternoon, the PMAC Rock and Blues Ensemble held their first performance. This young group was just finishing their first ten weeks of classes at PMAC with instructor Randy Browning, and their repertoire showcased all they were able to accomplish in that small amount of time, having only met for one hour each week. We look forward to seeing this group develop over time. Formal instruction is an unconventional way for kids to learn rock, but it does accelerate the process (as compared to garage jams) and provide them with valuable knowledge about equipment and teamwork.
And yesterday PMAC presented its first-ever guitar recital. Organized by Chris Weisman and Randy Browning, the students performed for family and friends alongside their teachers. Chris set the mood by bringing in lamps and turning off the flourescent lighting of our recital hall, and for the event Chris composed several pieces for his students to play as an ensemble. It was hugely successful and I can't wait to hear what he writes for the next one.
I was speaking to a guitar teacher at another school recently about these performances and I learned that these are unfortunately a rarity. At the school this other teacher teaches at, they've never had a guitar recital - in the fifteen years of the school's existence! In fact, he was surprised at the idea of a guitarist participating in a recital at all. I am very proud of the leadership our faculty shows when making such unconventional events a reality. It is a testament to their dedication and wonderful teaching skills. And yet another reason for guitarists of all ages to get involved with PMAC programs. Never have recitals been more fun!
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Being of the Star Wars generation, Katie and I went to see Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, on opening day. There is a lot of expectation surounding this film, as this is when George Lucas finally reveals how XXX finally becomes XXX. I guess I'll start with the visuals.
The computer animation folks at Industrial Light and Magic have once again raised the bar. I never knew YYY could look so realistic, quite beautiful. And XXX looked more alive than ever, especially when ZZZ. The ZZZ were more crowded than ever, and stunning in their detail. But there are problems. Like, I didn't follow how XXX could have ZZZ based on ZZZ and his relationship with XXX
UNNAMED ACTOR did a fabulous job as XXX. I was convinced of ZZZ. But ANOTHER UNNAMED ACTOR didn't come across as well on the screen. Unfortunate. But that is no reason to leave this installment out in the rain.
If you've seen the others, you know you must go see this last one. Trust me, when you see XXX at YYY with XXX during ZZZ, you might just be moved to tears.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
It is hard to believe that the New Horizons Band has only been in existence for two years. The group is close-knit and has learned to play together with wonderful precision. I'd have to say that last night's performance was our best yet. Bravo!
We have not performed often (I think this was our fourth truly public performance), but the players are gaining performance confidence just the same. And it was nice to perform on a stage, even if it was situated in a school caffeteria.
Congratulations to all of the performers. It was a rewarding experience, especially the opportunity to play two pieces in a large collaborative effort. It has me thinking about what is next. Maybe there's a community chorus out there that would like to do a combined concert. That would be fun.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
For Mother's Day I took Katie to the Verizon Wireless Arena to see Sting, who she had always wanted to see in concert, but never had the opportunity. As members of the elder end of Generation X, The Police were a mainstay of our teen years, and this show was essentially The Police minus Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland - and Sting rocked the house. If there was ever an argument for a reunion tour, this was it.
While this was Katie's first Sting show, it was my fifth (solo shows in 1985, two in 1988, and the final performance of The Police at the 1986 Amnesty International Concert at the Meadowlands - since then they have only played five tunes tunes together during two occaisions: Sting's 1992 wedding and their 2003 induction into the Rock 'n Roll hall of Fame). My first Sting concert was a stop on the Dream of the Blue Turtles Tour promoting his first solo album. Twenty years later, his concert featured more Police tunes - in fact, more than half the music he performed was written before that concert in '85.
He burst out of the gate with Message in a Bottle, followed immediately by Demolition Man, and Spirits in the Material World - three all-time greats by The Police. His pared down band of two guitars and drums, with Sting playing bass the whole night (like in his Police days) was the perfect vehicle to capture the raw energy and drive of The Police. Other classics of the evening included four tracks from 1983's Synchronicity, The Police's final album: King of Pain, Synchronicity II, Invisible Sun (one of my favorite songs), and Every Breath You Take, which was one of three encores to his 80 minute set. At one point he got the whole audience singing Voices Inside My Head while he simultaneously sang When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around. And his Police selections were rounded out by a personal favorite, Driven to Tears, a drawn out version of Roxanne (which regained some fame recently in the film Moulin Rouge), and the driving Next to You, dug from deep in the archives - it was the first song on The Police's debut album, Outlandos D'Amour.
Of course there were selections from his solo career as well. Much to my delight, he performed four song from Ten Summoner's Tales (in my opinion, his best solo album): Fields of Gold, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Heavy Cloud No Rain, and She's Too Good For Me. He answered the question of why, as an Englishman, he writes country songs (he apparently grew up watching Bonanza and Rawhide and playing cowboys and indians - He even played some of the Rawhide theme song for the audience on his bass) and sang two of his country tunes: I Hung My Head (which was recorded by Johnny Cash before his death) and Lithium Sunset, which was the final encore of the night and performed much more like a Police anthem than the country song, as it was originally recorded. Sting payed tribute to The Beatles with a thoughtful rendition of A Day in the Life, saying that if it wasn't for them, he wouldn't be where he is. Also included in the evening's fare was Why Should I Cry for You? and the lesser known End of the Game. Quite a set for the true Police and Sting fan, which we count ourselves among.
Even with the many great Police tunes featured on this concert, I was yearning for a dozen more. Remember, The Police only released five albums, but there are eight, yes EIGHT, Police Greatest Hits albums. That is how good they were. I can list many, many songs I missed hearing, and I do wish he played for at least another 30 minutes (make that 60), but that is for another time. For now, suffice to say, this concert was great.
Oh, and did I mention...We sat in the twelfth row, center!
Monday, May 02, 2005
There are many reasons for our twice yearly departmental workshops. The first few that come to mind are:
Students get the opportunity to work with faculty members other than their teachers and teachers get to meet and work with all of the students in their department.
A mid-semester break from weekly individual instruction to interact with other students who play your instrument is a very good thing.
Workshops are often a great opportunity to get feedback on a piece you are working on outside of giving an actual public performance - feedback from teachers and peers.
It is the perfect opportunity for a teacher to present a topic they specialize in to all of the students, such as Chris Weisman's Blues Worshop this week.
Students are often inspired by the performances of their peers and teachers. In departmental workshops, students can hear others play (including teachers) and then immediately discuss the performance.
The instructors work hard to make every workshop a powerful educational experience for the students. One of the primary goals of the workshops is to help students build communication skills. Musicians (of ALL ages) need to be able to talk about the music they listen to, play, and write. Great discussions have formed during Departmental Workshops, discussions that go deep into the inner workings of the music being discussed. The importance of these discussions cannot be discounted.
One concern of parents is often the discrepencies between students' ages and ability levels. We address this in several ways. With piano, we do offer a workshop specifically for 5 to 7 year olds that is shorter (only one hour) and geared toward their stage of development. For students with more experience, we offer specialized workshops (such as the Blues Workshop mentioned above) to challenge them in specific areas of study. The topics for specialized workshops will change and be taught by different instructors each semester. But even with these offerings, most workshops will have a wide range of students. I view this as an opportunity for all involved. An opportunity for younger students to be motivated by the skills of the more experienced students. And an opportunity for the more experienced students to develop leadership skills and provide insight and advice to students who are new to their instrument.
We do realize, however, that it is difficult to hit a home run every time with every student. But that does not change my opinion that these workshops are critical to providing PMAC's students with a balanced and comprehensive education. Rest assured that the goal of each workshop is to leave each and every student with a better understanding of their craft.
The bottom line is that the entire PMAC faculty believes in the importance of these workshops. We've worked together to make them a meaningful experience for all and hope that each student brings an open mind and positive attitude to their workshop.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
From Dizzy Gillespie to Dave Brubeck, Billie Holliday to John Coltrane, Charles Mingus to Paquito D'Rivera, the Turtle Island String Quartet treated this evening's Music Hall audience to a retrospective of jazz greats. Opening with Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia" the quartet displayed a remarkable synchronization of groove - the ablility to lock into the pulse with no rhythm section. Correction, TISQ is a rhythm section. Drumming the bodies of their fiddles, scratching syncopations with their bows to the strings on the bridge of their instruments, and creating orchestrations that number far more than their quartet. They are piano, bass, drums, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, auxiliary percussion, and string quartet simultaneously. A remarkable feat that looks effortless in their hands. They play together like a seasoned jazz quartet, smiling at their "inside jokes" and feeding off of each other's solos. You can see the delight in their faces when they are surprised by one another, continually reinventing the forms they play.
The entire evening was a series of highlights. Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" had fire and intensity reminiscent of Brubeck's quartet. Violist Mads Tolling played the role of Paul Desmond with gritty intensity. Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" was performed with the dignity and respect it deserved. And their arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima" was hauntingly beautiful.
Original works by TISQ performers included a movement from David Balakrishnan's "Garden of False Delights" titled "Snakes and Ladders," and Mark Summers solo cello work "Julie-O," which was beautifully delicate with the New Age leanings you would expect from a former Windham Hill artist (TISQ recorded for Windham Hill in their early years). Summers' virtuosity shined through each piece, but was of particular note in this loving caprice for his sister.
While they are a unified front, playing and blending together as if one magnificent instrument, each soloist is distinctive in his style, voice. The delicate subdued nature of Balakrishnan balances the intense Neo-Bop solos of violinist Evan Price (who often sounded as if posessed by Charlie Parker). The joyful exuberance of Summers balanced by the darker, driving force of Tolling, who was the most adventerous of all, weaving in and out of the changes.
Much of the fun in listening to these players solo is in hearing the creative ways they bring their classical roots into their adopted jazz repertoire. Quotations abound, including references to Prokofiev ("Peter and the Wolf") and Gershwin ("An American in Paris"). But the true connection to classical quartet playing is the repect they give to the music. TISQ has grown up. Once known for kicking over chairs and music stands while growling out Jimi Hendrix, they now aspire to the dignified nature of Duke Ellington. And it works.
The Music Hall rafters were haunted by the souls of jazz tonight. Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington - they were all there. And TISQ was yet another homerun in programming for the Music Hall, which in the past two years has included jazz greats Wynton Marsalis, Cedar Walton, James Walker, Regina Carter, Cassandra Wilson, Randy Brecker, James Moody, Howard Alden, Lewis Nash, and Peter Washington. Rumor has it, this trend will continue into next season - and hopefully for many seasons to come.
It is unfortunately a rare event when a group of community music students can sit down with a famous ensemble and discuss music. But the Music Hall and PMAC are working to make such events more common here in Portsmouth. Organized by the Music Hall's Therese Lagamme, the TISQ gave a one-hour clinic to a group of PMAC students on the Music Hall stage today at 11 a.m. (see pictures below) The quartet, led by violinist and founder David Balakrishnan, played several selections from their eclectic repertoire including Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" and the Tower of Power's "Who do you think we are?" Even a little Beethoven. They shared their insights regarding jazz on string instruments, swing and "classical" rhythms, improvisation, and told some stories from their 20 year history.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Monday, April 25, 2005
I've not been one to actively seek out dance performances to attend, yet every time I'm out to see a dance production, I leave thinking the same thing: I need to do this more often. In Portsmouth there is Drika Overton and her wonderful production company. I'm a fan of "Clara's Dream", which will unfortunately be on hiatus this coming holiday season. Another tap giant of the seacoast, Dean Diggins, will be receiving the prestigeous Tapestry lifetime acheivement award next month. But beyond these two local legends and the local ballet schools, I'm not quite sure what get out and see. There are always the traveling shows that come through the Music Hall, but who should I seek out in the local scene?
First, know that there is a background story to why I attended yesterday's Stop/Time Dance Theater production. A close friend going back to high school, who now lives in Connecticut, was the lighting designer for this production. We're currently visiting him and his family (our kids are on school vacation). We took the whole family to the show and the kids loved it. It is best described as a collection of "memories" set to dance. Memories of Catholic school predominated, along with a fixation on shoes and hair (a dancer thing?) and not fitting in with the "cool" or "rough" crowd. The dancers were excellent, the choreography varied and creative, and the production values top notch (although I admit to personal bias). Things I found strange: the insistance of the director to have the dancers lip synch to the music, and the presence of two numbers that were actually sung by dancers (while their voices are well trained, I don't envision any of them heading for Broadway on their singing talent). The dancers seemed slightly distracted by having to remember and synchronize each word. I would have much rather seen them go deeper into the dance without such worries. BUT THIS IS A MINOR COMPLAINT, REALLY. The show was fun and the kids danced their way back to the car.
The 19 music numbers they set were an eclectic mix of such pop favorites as "Goody Two Shoes," "Only the Good Die Young," "It's Raining on Prom Night," and "Bye bye Life" (Ben Vareen and Roy Scheider's rendition of the Everly Brother's "Bye bye Love" as it appeared in Bob Fosse's film "All That Jazz."). The program was the usual mix of ensemble numbers and solo or featured dancer pieces. Four talented young dancers stood out from the crowd: Tiana Mancuso (notably in "All Through the Night"), Tricia Raymond ("Bad Girls" was as bad - in the good way - as it needed to be!), Shari Lynn Boyaji (who kept her composure even though one of her shoe straps broke in the first 30 seconds of "In These Shoes" and effortlessly conveyed the seductivity of the song), and Tyler Knowlin (a talented young tap artist whose a capella performance was reminiscent of the work of Savion Glover). All four proved that community dance productions can be every bit as compelling, enthralling and entertaining as their professional cousins.
So now I wonder where my next dance adventure should be. The Portsmouth Percussive Dance Festival is coming up. That's a given. But what else is out there?
Check out their website: www.stoptimedance.com
Thursday, April 21, 2005
This is a great opportunity for music lovers to hear a unique ensemble that melds the worlds of classical, jazz, blues and pop. Additionally, PMAC students (and their families) who purchase tickets are eligible to attend a free clinic with the quartet on the Music Hall stage at 11 a.m. on the day of the concert. This is a great opportunity, so be sure to contact the PMAC office to reserve a spot in advance - seating is limited.
The TISQ has recorded on such prestigeous labels as Windham Hill and Koch. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma described them as “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground – authentic and passionate – a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.” Be sure to catch this group as they make a rare New England appearance.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Founder Terrie Harman, who is also the chorus’ accompanist, welcomed the audience and introduced us to Karl Compton, the man who inspired her to form the chorus. Melinda Kimball, the chorus’ first conductor, was on hand as well, performing on clarinet with the chorus for the opening piece, “How Can I Keep From Singing.” She was one of many instrumentalists enlisted to perform with the chorus by director Daryl Robertson. Others included bassist Sharon Demeritt (who I’ve performed with on occasion for more than twenty years and was the bassist on my first studio recording in 1985!), drummer Ken Clark (who played percussion along with Daryl Robertson for the premiere of my choral work “Celebrations and Remembrance” in 2000), oboist Laura Lammi, and a few young instrumentalists most likely recruited from the talented ranks at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where Daryl Robertson is the music teacher.
The program was an eclectic mix of favorites from the Chorus’ first five seasons, with two new works added to the mix. The first of the new works was composed by PMAC faculty member Catherine York Knowlton, a setting of former Portsmouth Poet Laureate John Perrault’s “Ripples First.” Commissioned by Terrie Harman and Tom McCarron, the chorus approached the piece with the serious air every premiere deserves. I applaud the group for commissioning a local composer, all too rare an occurrence with community music ensembles. I believe all community music groups should try to commission a new work by a local composer each and every season. This premiere was a success and I would like to hear others in the future.
In addition to Catherine’s piece, my other favorite on the program was excerpts from Randall Thompson’s “The Testament of Freedom”. My wife, Katie, preferred “The Beatles Review” commenting that we do not own enough Beatles albums in our CD collection. I also had fun trying to sing along to selections from “The Sound of Music,” though I found the range to be too high for my limited bass. And there was much laughter from the audience (which was encouraged) during the second premiere of the evening, an arrangement by Daryl Robertson titled "Five Years in About Five Minutes" that chronicled many favorites of the group's first five years in a jam-packed medley.
I came away from the evening with an appreciation for mission of the Portsmouth Men’s Chorus (“to foster community spirit through singing.”) The chorus numbered approximately 35 for this performance, though there were a few regulars regrettably unable to perform at this event. It is the perfect opportunity for men in the community who find joy in singing. I can think of at least three singers I’ll see this week that I’m going to encourage to join. And maybe that is the best message I can convey with this posting. Men of the seacoast, if you sing, join the Portsmouth Men’s Chorus. (No audition is required!) It is an opportunity well worth your time and I can tell you that they have fun with their repertoire. And it is one of the few opportunities you may have to sing from the bottom of your heart to an audience of hundreds at the historic Music Hall. Bravo!
Monday, March 28, 2005
You might be asking what is a blog? A blog is a "web log", a type of website devoted to the writings of an individual or group. In this age of technology, a blog gives the writer an opportunity to share his or her thoughts on a variety of subjects with others throughout the internet and the world. Blogs are very popular, covering nearly every conceivable topic. At their best they can be a great source of information and a way people can share ideas.
This blog is devoted to issues of music and art, typically but not limited to education. I hope to write on many topics here, sharing ideas and experiences and hopefully getting feedback from you, the reader. I hope you will visit here from time to time and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.