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Posts Tagged ‘composer’

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Photo: VAN

How’s your Latin? It might help in appreciating this post about 16th century classical music. Then again, you don’t need Latin to understand that a black classical composer from that long ago should not be forgotten. Garrett Schumann reports the story at an online magazine called VAN.

” ‘Only then can his creative genius begin redounding, as it should, to the glory of Black music history,’ writes the musicologist Robert Stevenson in his 1982 article, ‘The First Black Published Composer.’

“Stevenson’s subject was Vicente Lusitano (ca. 1520-ca. 1561), an African-Portuguese priest and musician who enjoyed an international career. Stevenson heralds works like the motet ‘Heu me domine”’ (1551), which exemplifies the composer’s unusual embrace of chromatic counterpoint. …

“Of Lusitano’s compositions, ‘Heu me domine’ has received the most attention from modern scholars and performers, but it is not the only example of his remarkable creativity. In a 1962 essay, Stevenson reproduces a passage from Lusitano’s motet ‘Regina coeli’ to highlight its adventurous chromatic writing, and notes that other works in Lusitano’s 1551 motet collection feature extremely uncommon combinations of accidentals. Musicologist Philippe Canguilheim, in a 2011 essay regarding Lusitano’s unpublished counterpoint treatise, writes that Lusitano is ‘particularly tolerant’ of dissonance, a practice he justifies in the text by citing Pythagoras and Boethius.

“The alluring counterpoint and voice leading of ‘Heu me domine’ connect to improvisation techniques which Lusitano outlines in his counterpoint studies. As Canguilheim notes, these works make pioneering arguments regarding canons and the productive interplay between composition, free improvisation, and structured improvisation.

“ ‘Heu me domine’ is one of just two pieces in Lusitano’s output that 20th-century scholars have transcribed into modern notation — until last month, it was the only piece of his to be recorded. The other work, a 1562 madrigal called ‘All’hor ch’ignuda,’ was recently arranged for woodwind trio and recorded by multi-instrumentalist Misty Theisen. …

“Ironically, Lusitano’s obscurity originates in the most famous episode of his career. In 1551, while in Rome, Lusitano was drawn into an aesthetic dispute by fellow composer Nicola Vicentino (1511-ca.1576), an argument which gained so much attention that a Vatican tribunal convened to issue a verdict. Lusitano won, and Vicentino paid a fine, but, for years afterward, Vicentino published egregiously disingenuous descriptions of the proceedings with the aim of damaging Lusitano’s reputation.

“A 17th-century source in Rome attests that Lusitano’s name was scratched off copies of the widely-published introduction to his counterpoint treatise, and it is plausible he faced other reprisals that went undocumented. These developments likely led to Lusitano’s relocation to Germany sometime after 1553,  where he converted to Protestantism, married, and continued his career until his death. …

“Lusitano’s obscurity also shows the influence of collective action on a composer’s legacy. Vicentino worked hard to distort and erase Lusitano’s achievements, but these efforts only retained their impact because other scholars and artists have — perhaps out of convenience or ignorance — uncritically reproduced Vicentino’s version of the facts.

“Whether any of these developments are related to racial bias is difficult to prove. Nevertheless, composers with historically excluded identities, like Lusitano, have been extraordinarily underserved by institutions of classical music performance and scholarship. Reports from Bachtrack.com analyzing programming from more than 160,000 classical performances around the world between 2014 and 2019 show a population of just 15 white men constitute the 10 most-programmed composers in each of those five performance seasons. Recent research by Philip Ewell exploring the intersection of music theory and critical race theory also compellingly asserts that institutionalized music scholarship is structured in a way that ignores the achievements of women and people of color.”

It’s a long article, but interesting. Read it here.

Hat Tip: Arts Journal.

Douglas Lawrence leads the Australian Chamber Choir at St Martin-in-the-Fields in “Heu me domine” (1551), by Vicente Lusitano, the first published Black classical composer.

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Musician Diane Moser says, “Six of my bird song compositions [were] originally created back in 2008 during a 5-week residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.”

The more we lose from nature, the more we’re stunned to discover what we’ve lost. As National Public Radio (NPR) reported recently, “Over the past half-century, North America has lost more than a quarter of its entire bird population, or around 3 billion birds. … Researchers estimate that the population of North American shorebirds alone has fallen by more than a third since 1970.”

Maybe it’s not too late to do something. People are waking up. And artists, as usual, are at the forefront of raising consciousness. In this story, a composer is bringing the music of birds to the attention of concert audiences.

Diane Moser writes at New Music USA, “For the past 11 years, I have been working on incorporating bird songs into my music. When I say ‘my music,’ I am talking about my improvisations, because all of the music I compose starts with improvisation, which I then sculpt into compositions. To me, this is a more ‘natural’ way to go. … Six of my bird song compositions that are currently in my repertoire were originally created back in 2008 during a 5-week residency at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. …

“I was completely seduced by the bird songs around my studio and decided to play around with them for just one afternoon, then get back to work. One afternoon turned into the entire residency; I just had to play with those birds! When would I ever get another chance like this, to have a piano in the middle of the woods, and to play freely? …

“My designated studio was Delta Omicron, and inside was a beautiful Mason and Hamlin grand piano. I had a digital recorder and was able to put the microphone in a small window, covering it with a curtain to have a little separation from the piano, which enabled me to hear the birds clearly through my headphones. In this way I was able to adjust the volume I played on the piano so that the birds and I were balanced. I never saw them, so I was never sure who was singing what.

Every day for five weeks, I improvised with songbirds and any other creatures that made their voices heard, and recorded each session. My goal was to become a member of their band. …

“We had a standing jam session time at around 10 a.m. each morning until lunch. Then they would retreat, and I would do some reading and listen to our recordings. They would come back out to sing with me around 4 p.m. until I left them for a swim in the local pond. …

“The first bird I began improvising with was the American Robin. In fact, the most well known song, Cheerily, Cheerily, seemed to creep into all of my improvisations. I slowed down the song just a bit, and lengthened the motif, and played around with it in Garage Band. …

“Just before sunrise, the first bird I heard singing was the Hermit Thrush. The landscapers at MacDowell referred to the hermit thrush as a deep woods singer, and told me it was the first one singing at the break of day, and first one back into the woods just before sunset. Commonly known as the Nightingale of the Americas, this bird has an amazing set of songs and calls. It’s no wonder that Amy Beach composed two piano pieces based on these songs. …

“The bird I had the most fun with was the chipping sparrow. His dry trill and constant singing at regular intervals of time provided tempo and an ostinato for my improvisations. I used the age old technique of a repetitive note as an imitation of the chipping sparrows dry trill, and that became a “thread” for the composition, tying it together. …

“One of the benefits of being a performer-composer are the ensembles that I lead, and other people’s ensembles that I perform with, where I can arrange the music I compose for any combination of instruments. … Thankfully, the musicians I performed with had a wide range of musical experiences and could untether themselves from the standard go-to licks, as we say in the jazz world.”

More at New Music USA, here. Listen to the birds and the compositions there.

Photo: Dennis Connors
Mark Dresser (bass) and Diane Moser (piano) perform Moser compositions that incorporate birdsong.

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Photo: Diego Rinaldi/Casa di riposo per musicisti, Fondazione Giuseppe Verdi
The exterior of Casa Verdi, founded by famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in the late 1890s.

Facebook has decided I like stories about kind people because I linger over some with spooling captions. It keeps showing me items that are “Similar to Posts You’ve Interacted With.” It may be that I like such stories, but I never click on Facebook’s suggested links because I definitely don’t want Facebook knowing anything about what I like. (OK, I admit that’s a lost cause.) If the site weren’t the best way for me to connect with Carole, who I have known since nursery school and who has Parkinson’s now, I don’t think I’d be there at all.

The following post on the kindness of Giuseppe Verdi didn’t come from Facebook. It came from a site that gives me loads of other ideas for blog posts, ArtsJournal.com.

It’s where I learned about Rebecca Rosman’s National Public Radio [NPR] report on “Casa Verdi, a retirement home for opera singers and musicians founded by the famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi more than 100 years ago.

“Soprano Lina Vasta spent her career performing in Italian operas around the world. Twenty years ago, she settled at Casa Verdi. The tiny singer, who uses a cane to get around, won’t reveal her age (through a translator she admits to being ‘over 65’), but she still enjoys singing bits of The Barber of Seville around the home.

“Vasta came to Casa Verdi with her husband when they both retired from singing. Since he died, this is all she has. But with ‘a beautiful house, a piano, a very nice garden, nothing is missing here — it’s perfect. Grazie, Verdi,’ she says. …

” ‘In Italy, Verdi isn’t considered only a composer, only a musician, but kind of a national hero,’ [Biancamaria Longoni, the assistant director of Casa Verdi], says. ‘He used his operas to give voice to people — to humble people, to modest people, to poor people.’

“Many of Verdi’s own former colleagues found themselves living in poverty toward the end of their lives. At that time, there were no pensions for musicians in Italy. …

“Using his own fortune, Verdi built the retirement home for opera singers and musicians, a neo-Gothic structure that opened in 1899. The composer died less than two years later, but he made sure the profits from his music copyrights kept the home running until the early 1960s, when they expired. Today guests pay a portion of their monthly pension to cover basic costs – food and lodging — while the rest comes from donations. …

“Casa Verdi has an extra 20 rooms set aside for conservatory students aged 18 to 24. … Armando Ariostini, a baritone in his early 60s, comes to Casa Verdi every Wednesday to visit the guests, some of whom are his former colleagues. And while Ariostini himself is still several years away from retirement, he says he knows exactly where he’ll be hanging up his hat once he leaves the opera stage for good.”

More at NPR, here.

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Although black history is not a one-month-a-year-thing, having a dedicated month does seem to turn up stories that might not otherwise be heard. I got this one from the BBC television show Our Classical Century, “a celebration of the most memorable musical moments from 1918 – 2018,” which focused on broadening the audience for classical music.

In this episode, Sir Lenny Henry expressed admiration for forgotten black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

“I have been enthralled and captivated by the story of a man from Croydon in south London who died more than 100 years ago and who wrote one of the biggest musical hits of the 20th century. He was a total genius – a bit like Prince, but for late 19th-century London rather than 1980s California – and his name was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. …

“Young Samuel was brought up by his mother and her extended family in Croydon. He never met his doctor father, Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was originally from Sierra Leone and had come here to study medicine in London. …

“The family clubbed together to pay Samuel’s fees at the Royal College of Music, which he entered at 15 as a violin scholar. But the violin was set to one side and composition took centre stage and he was taken under the wing of the composer and conductor Charles Villiers Stanford. … For two years running, Coleridge-Taylor won the RCM’s Lesley Alexander composition prize and was championed by Edward Elgar, who recommended the talented young composer for a major commission – an orchestral work for the Three Choirs festival, his Ballade in A Minor, opus 33.

“The thing I like about Coleridge-Taylor is that he fought adversity to reach the top. He suffered racial abuse at school – apparently he even had his hair set on fire – but remained dignified. His compositions are dynamic, bold, incredibly melodic and immediately accessible. I was blown away. And I wasn’t the only one. He was known as the ‘African Mahler’ and his success stretched far and wide.

“In the US, he was a household name in his lifetime, and travelled there by invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC in 1904, and again in 1906 and 1910. The US marines band were engaged for his first performance and 2,700 people were in the audience, two-thirds of whom were black. He went on to compose Twenty Four Negro Melodies and Five Choral Ballads after that visit. He became interested in interpreting African American melodies, writing: ‘What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.’ When success hit, he used it to tell stories about his racial origins in a musical way that might uplift others.

“His best known work, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, part of the cantata trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ premiered in 1898 to huge acclaim, and went on to play, with the other two parts in a semi-staged version, at the Royal Albert Hall for a fortnight in June every year for almost 30 years in the interwar years. …

“But Coleridge-Taylor never got to enjoy his success – he died tragically young, aged 37, of pneumonia in 1912 – illness said to have been brought on by overwork. Nor did his family enjoy the financial fruits of Hiawatha’s success – the composer had sold the publishing rights to it to Ivor Novello’s company for a low flat fee.

“[My family] never went to a concert hall, and I didn’t see any black musicians. When I finally heard a live orchestra as an adult, it hit me like lightning. … Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a fresh look at classical music and put aside the stereotypes. … This is our music – it’s music for everyone.”

More here.

Photo: Hulton/Getty
The multitalented 19th-century British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was best known for “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.”

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Photo: Serena McKinney
Ludwig Göransson, composer to the
Black Panther music score, spent a month in Africa, returning home with “a totally different idea of music.”

I’m looking forward to seeing Black Panther when we can get it on DVD. In the meantime, I’m reading a lot about it. This story by Jon Burligame in Variety is on the development of the movie’s musical score.

“Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish-born composer who was charged with scoring Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ movie and has worked with director Ryan Coogler on all of his films, didn’t just visit a university library or look at YouTube videos: He spent a month in Africa.

“The result was life-changing, he tells Variety: ‘I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?’ …

“Nearly all of the unusual sounds in the ‘Black Panther’ score were recorded in the West African nation of Senegal, where Göransson spent two and a half weeks accompanying singer-guitarist Baaba Maal on tour. Maal introduced Göransson to other Senegalese musicians, and many performed on the soundtrack.

“The music that pairs with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), monarch of the film’s fictional African kingdom Wakanda, is led by six ‘talking drums,’ which Göransson explains as ‘a small drum you put on your shoulder, one that does what no other percussion instrument does — it breathes.’ The drummer squeezes, then loosens it to change the pitch. …

“For the theme associated with usurper Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the composer used another West African instrument, the Fula flute: ‘It sounded sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive,’ he says, and with the flutist speaking and even screaming into the flute, ‘it really resonated with the character.’ …

“Having recorded hours of music in Senegal, the composer flew to South Africa, where he spent a week studying at the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown. There he sought out recordings from across the continent and played dozens of instruments.

“At the same time, says Coogler, the score had to work as a superhero movie … ‘Ludwig is so well versed in orchestral composition, he could find a way to merge the two, and know when to go with one or the other.

“After months of writing, Göransson recorded more than two hours of music with a 92-piece London orchestra and a 40-voice choir in October and December, augmenting the African recordings and even using the orchestra to echo the multiple layers of rhythms in some of the complex drumming he first heard in Senegal. The choir sang in Xhosa, a South African language. …

“Says Coogler: ‘Ludwig really set the table for the emotion that we were trying to get across, whether it was excitement or reflection or sadness.’ ” More at Variety, here.

Have you seen Black Panther? If you are knowledgeable about African music, I’d love to hear what you thought of the music. Even if you aren’t that knowledgeable.

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In this story from radio show Studio 360, we learn that music is intriguing to animals, at the very least arousing their curiosity and perhaps stimulating and soothing them.

“Laurel Braitman is a historian of science and the author of ‘Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves.’ She’s particularly interested in the mental health of animals in captivity.

“ ‘If their minds aren’t stimulated, they can end up with all sorts of disturbing behaviors,’ she says. Braitman wondered if music — so often soothing to people, but usually foisted on animals without their permission — could help counter their symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“That led Braitman to arrange a series of concerts for all-animal audiences: gorillas in a Boston zoo and a small herd of bison in Golden Gate Park. Recently, the bluegrass band Black Prairie played for the residents of Wolf Haven wolf sanctuary in Tenino, Washington. …

“Can we say that they liked it?

“Researchers are trying to answer this question in controlled experiments where they observe whether animals move toward or away from speakers, depending on the music.

“Dr. Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin collaborates with a composer, David Teie, who writes music tailored for certain species. They base their compositions on sonic frequencies the animals use in nature. Their music for domestic cats features tempos of purring or suckling kittens; small monkeys called cotton-top tamarins, on the other hand, got music that sounds remarkably like nails on a blackboard. ‘It is pretty godawful if you ask me,’ Snowdon says. ‘But the tamarins dig it.’ ”

More here.

Music for Wolves: Black Prairie from Aubree Bernier-Clarke on Vimeo.

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At WBUR’s The Artery, Andrea Shea has a story about a composer with a penchant for unusual texts: the package blurbs practically everyone reads at breakfast when the newspaper hasn’t arrived.

“Musicians are always searching for inspiration,” writes Shea, “and sometimes they find it in some unlikely places.

“Take Brian Friedland, a prolific Boston composer and jazz pianist who’s discovered a creative goldmine in his cupboards. He takes words on packaging for products such as granola, mouthwash and tea, then sets them to some pretty sophisticated music. Friedland calls the funny-but-serious project ‘Household Items’ and he has a new CD. …

“Friedland is not a singer, but he sees amusing, absurdist potential in labels featuring characters, quests or ‘extreme’ wording. He started foraging for inspiration about eight years ago and had an epiphany when he read a can of carpet cleaner after his cat missed the litter box.

“It read, ‘Do not. Do not puncture. Do not freeze. Do not incinerate. Do not expose to heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not inhale.’ He made them into a percussive, vocally complex work where the singer repeats, ‘Do not! Do not! Do not puncture,’ with urgency.”

Percussionist and singer Laura Grill “performed a few songs, including one about a fragrant skin moisturizer.

“ ‘There’s one benefit of having these sort of accessible lyrics,’Grill said, ‘because people are like, “Oh right — Avon Peach Hand Lotion — I can connect with that.” ’

“Grill, also an [New England Conservatory] alum, says Friedland has found a unique solution to an age-old problem.

“ ‘As someone who enjoys composing and arranging, one of the hardest things is trying to write lyrics,’ she said, ‘so Brian finds them on his coffee packages and appliances.’ ”

Listen to Friedland’s SleepyTime tea music with lyrics taken straight from the box at WBUR, here.

Photo: Andrea Shea/WBUR
Brian Friedland, a composer who puts text from product packaging to music.

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Here’s an idea: music made with a bicycle.

Mario Aguilar writes at Gizmodo, “Riding a bike is a musical experience in more than a metaphorical way: Brakes squeal, spokes click, derailleurs clang. Composer Johnnyrandom sampled himself ‘playing’ his bicycle and the results are positively gorgeous. …

“It’s hard to believe that all of [the] sounds are made by a bicycle. Some of them are strictly the byproduct of the bike’s mechanical operation, like the sound it makes when you release a brake lever. Others are created when you play different parts of the bike with a musical accessory.

“For example, Johnnyrandom records the low-pitched flutter of a pick scratching on a spinning wheel, and tunes the bicycle’s spokes so he could play them with a bow like a string instrument. After capturing the sounds with a portable recorder, the different sounds were arranged and sequenced using software. This two-minute mix gives you a feel for the wide sonic that he was able to create.”

In typical bloggy fashion, I got this from Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Gizmodo (which also has a kinoscope of Frank Zappa, on the old Steve Allen tv show playing a bicycle, and a video of how Johnny Random works), who got it from This Is Colossal. Where will this message in a bottle land next?

(Be sure to check my post on composer Kenneth Kirschner, here, for more contemporary music using unusual instruments.)

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Gaelic McTigue, at All Things Bright and Beautiful in Waitsfield, Vermont, fills orders from around the world to create painted wooden ornaments. Here she is in her shop. Below is a bear ornament that she signed for two of our grandkids. (We got a Swedish elf ornament for our Swedish-American grandson’s tree.)

I’ve included a couple other seasonal photos: the Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, tree at Macy’s, the brass band starting to warm up at the craft market.

For a nice Advent carol, check out composer Jeff Fuhrer’s “What Are We Waiting For?” on http://www.soundcloud.com. I tried to upload the MP3 he sent but couldn’t figure out how. Catchy tune.

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Suzanne is in Denmark at the moment and sent me a website for something unusual she saw there: a modern Stonehenge.

“The idea of creating The DODECALITH arose in 2006 when the composer Gunner M. Pedersen saw sculptor Thomas Kadziola’s land art project Anemarken (Ancestors’ field) … on the island of Lolland.

“The composer suggested that he and the sculptor create a Stonehenge on Lolland, consisting of a circle of twelve huge menhirs with heads in the open countryside.”

The creators write, “On a hill overlooking the sea, we are creating a singing monument … that will give everyone from near and far an experience of greatness, closeness and beauty, of time’s migrations and settlements. It will express pride and humbleness, times gone by, the present, and, importantly, time coming. …

“The stone figures will stand on invisible foundations and they will sing!
Under a circle of natural sitting stones, a 12 channel sound system will be installed. This system will allow spatial electro acoustic song and music specially created for The DODECALITH to sound inside the circle at intervals every day, all year round. …

“The ancestors [came] from afar, from the land to the south where the waters rose 7,500 years ago and sent the Lolers on their long journey. … Along the coast from Ravnsholt to Ravnsby alone, over 70 burial mounds have survived, several of which are passage graves. … There are now only four mounds … It is here we are re-erecting the Ring of the Lolers, The DODECALITH, to let the new Lolers ancestors sing.” More.

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John’s son has a friend at the beach, a three-year-old musician whose dad is the contemporary composer Kenneth Kirschner.

5against4 has a word on Kirschner’s work, here: “Ken Kirschner’s second longest release to date is a hypnotic exploration of what we might call ‘mobile stasis’. The complex texture, comprising vibes, electronic tones & strings intermingle in ever-changing permutations. Certainly one of Kirschner’s most ambitious texture works &, for those open to its unique type of language, an immersive, rewarding listening experience.” They link to a free download.

Last.fm has more, here: “Composer Kenneth Kirschner was born in 1970 and lives in New York City. He is known for his open source approach to music, his experiments with software-based indeterminate composition, and his interest in adapting the insights and aesthetics of 20th century composers such as Morton Feldman and John Cage to the context of contemporary digital music.

“His work has been released on CDs from record labels such as 12k, Sub Rosa, Sirr, and/OAR and Leerraum, as well as online through a wide variety of netlabels and other sources. A large selection of Kirschner’s music is freely available for download from his website.” See http://www.kennethkirschner.com.

You can also find remixes of Kirschner’s work at Soundcloud.com, but it doesn’t look like he puts his compositions there himself.

Photo: Last.fm. Uploaded by uf_on.

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As I mentioned the other day in the post about the Latin newscast on Finnish radio, I am interested in endangered languages.

Now a composer who is also interested has melded voices of  threatened languages with his music.

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes at the NY Times that the “Vanishing Languages” project by Kevin James, “a New York-based trombonist and composer, is a rare hybrid of conservation effort and memorial, new music and ancient languages.

“Prodded by Unesco statistics that predict that by the end of the century half of the world’s 6,000 languages will be extinct, Mr. James spent months in the field tracking down and recording the last remaining speakers of four critically endangered tongues: Hokkaido Ainu, an aboriginal language from northern Japan, the American Indian Quileute from western Washington, and Dalabon and Jawoyn, aboriginal languages from Arnhem Land in Australia.”

Reviewing a concert James gave at a New York venue, da Fonseca-Wollheim says, “ ‘Counting in Quileute,’ which opens with bells struck and bowed and swung in the air and ends with the ring of a Buddhist prayer bowl, had a strong ritualistic feel to it.

“The often puzzling actions of the players — flutists whispering into mouthpieces, a cellist tapping with both hands on the fingerboard as if playing a recorder — appeared like a secret choreography designed to bring forth the voices of the dead filtered through the crackle of old phonographs.

“The imperfections of these old recordings, which Mr. James used alongside those he made recently in the field, show how heavily smudged the window is that we have on these vanishing cultures. And yet at times it seemed as if it were these voices who were willing the performance into existence.” (Isn’t da Fonseca-Wollheim a lovely writer?) More.

For a couple other blog discussions of endangered language, click here or here.

Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Leah Scholes of Speak Percussion using a double bass bow to play a bowl as part of “Vanishing Languages.”

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I liked this National Public Radio story on a Jewish South American composer creating a St. Mark’s Passion that uses many ethnic styles and has enthusiastic urban kids in the chorus.

Anastasia Tsioulcas writes, “Salsa rhythms, Brazilian martial arts and a Jewish prayer of mourning: It’s not exactly what you would expect from a classical composer’s setting of the Gospel according to St. Mark. But that’s exactly what Argentine Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov, a MacArthur ‘genius,’ did when he was asked to write a choral work based on one of the gospels, in a hugely acclaimed piece that’s been presented around the globe …

” ‘I never expected a Passion to have this funk and Spanish and everything inside it. I never thought I would be able to sing them,’ says Andrew Farella, a 16-year-old bass in the chorus. He and his friend Jerry Ortiz, another 16-year-old bass, say they’re thrilled to hear all these different kinds of music within Golijov’s work — ones they know well from their own lives.

” ‘I’m actually very excited to do this piece, me being from the Latin culture,’ says Ortiz, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican. ‘Everything that’s in here is based on my culture, my background. So I can feel the music when we sing it. I was kind of surprised to hear African and also Indian stuff. But he talked about how in Latin America we come from three places. There’s our white side, our Native American side and there’s our African side. And that’s basically what La Pasión is — coming from those three to combine into one, the Holy Trinity.’ ”

Follow this link to read more and hear the music.

Something different for Easter.

Photo: Chris Lee/Carnegie Hall
A coach and high school students work on Osvaldo Golijov’s Passion According to St. Mark with the composer (right) in November 2012.

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We are going to the opera tonight, and I’m remembering the last opera we saw, by MIT Media Lab innovator Tod Machover.

It was called Death and the Powers, and it was about a genius who wanted to live forever and figured out how to convert himself into a sort of computer after death. Given that it had lyrics by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, I thought it would be great, but it was nowhere near as good as Machover’s Resurrection, a Tolstoy story adapted by MIT’s Laura Harrington. (The robots in Death and the Powers were cute anyway.)

Machover is a tremendously interesting and prolific musician. Here he talks about how music can bring back memories, not unlike Proust’s petit madeleine.

Below he explains how his “hyper instruments” have drawn people of all types, including the elementary school classes he visits, into the joy of music making.

 

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Did you catch the story today about the young boy whose composition was performed by the New York Philharmonic?

At the National Public Radio site, Jeff Lunden writes: “What would it be like if you were 10 years old and composed a piece of music that was played by the New York Philharmonic? For a few New York City school kids, including one fifth-grader, it’s a dream come true, thanks to the orchestra’s Very Young Composers program.

“Composer Jon Deak, who played bass with the New York Philharmonic for more than 40 years, says the idea for Very Young Composers came when he and conductor Marin Alsop visited an elementary school in Brooklyn several years ago.”

Now every year, “72 lucky kids in six New York area schools participate in this free after-school program. …

” ‘The kids are not chosen for being musical geniuses,’ [the Philharmonic’s director of education, Theodore] Wiprud says. ‘The guidelines we give the schools, in trying to identify some fourth- and fifth-graders for the program, is that they be kids for whom this could make a difference. Whether or not they study an instrument is not necessarily a good predictor of whether they’re going to do something creative in music.’ …

” ‘Some of these kids have trouble locating middle C on a piano,’ Deak says. ‘Does that mean they can’t compose music of depth? No. What do they have to do? They have to hum it for us, sing, whistle, tap the rhythms — even if they can’t notate them — and we get their piece.’

“As [teaching artist and composer Daniel] Felsenfeld puts it, ‘The most important thing about this class is that you never, ever, ever write their music for them — not even a little.’ ”

I’m hearing a refrain from yesterday’s post: all children have music in them and you should just let it flower.

Read more and listen to the performance of young Milo Poniewozik’s composition at NPR.

Photograph of student Milo Poniewozik and the New York Philharmonic: Michael DiVito

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