Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 23 (Round II) "In the trenches" (movin'-on edition)

Week Six. Things rolling pretty well. Had the first Celtic Ensemble meeting for the new "hard" program . Fall semester, after the inaugural concerts, is always the "learning" semester: the September shows get the new players up to speed with our procedures, as well as accomplishing all the enhanced-visibility-upon-new-academic-year tasks, and also buy us the time to work on the "hard" repertoires in the Celtic complex that are less familiar. CE programs are thematic, but not just generically thematic: because the ensemble has a pedagogical focus--as it should--part of our work has to include learning unfamiliar repertoires, languages, instruments, techniques, etc.

Typically spring semester is full of public performances (May Day, Reading Marathon, little regional festivals, etc) and so we try to work up repertoires that are both very accessible and also admit of tutti involvement on nearly all pieces: English, Irish, Scottish (Spring 2009 repertoire will probably be Anglo-Appalachian--border ballads and fiddle tunes that crossed the Water). Conversely, fall semester is the learning semester, not just for the newbie players who may not some jump-start time for our procedures and idiom, but also for the returning veterans to learn the less-familiar repertoires which are part of our pedagogical obligation. So fall semesters are less familiar, more esoteric, and require all of us (me, too) that we accommodate a fairly steep learning curve: Breton, Galician, Welsh this year. In turn, we make sure that the performance obligations in the fall semester are quite light, so we're not staring down the barrel of performance deadlines. This year, the only fall semester obligation is the Celtic Christmas, seventh iteration of our annual fundraiser, for which over the past few years CE has been the core band. That's also good pedagogy, as it teaches the kids about staging, pacing, outreach, audience education, and so forth. But, because it draws on a range of ensembles and soloists, the total duration of music that have to prepare for that December show is relatively brief; it allows them both to "field-test" the first few pieces of the "hard" (Welsh) repertoire in December, in advance of a full concert of that same material in January, and it buys them a long-enough span of time--around 9 weeks--to dig into learning this unfamiliar repertoire. Makes for a good overall bio-rhythm to the year.

Quite a challenge for me, too: I've been playing English, Scottish and (especially) Irish music ever since 1974, but I don't have anything like the same level of familiarity with Cornish, Welsh, Breton, Galician, and other related-Celtoid repertoires. Which means that I myself also have a lot of homework, preparation, familiarization, etc to do. Which I tell the kiddos: I'm very out-front about saying that I'm learning those "hard" latter repertoires right along with them. I don't think it's a bad thing for them to know that there's a ton of stuff that falls under our rubric that I myself also have to learn. Kind of like the areas in my current graduate world-music class which are new topics in this iteration: notably South Asia and the Pacific Rim, about which I know (comparatively) little: certainly not enough to be able to lecture off-the-cuff as I am able to do with topic areas I know better and have taught before.

I like being forced--or forcing myself--to learn new skills, repertoires, or topic areas as a teacher: keeps the pipes clear and tends to cut down on the hubris, of which I still possess an "ample sufficiency", as they say. So I've been chasing Welsh folk-dances for the last two weeks (ain't NO Border morris teachers on the South Plains) but I think I've got a few specimens we're going to be able to work with.

Just got out of Monday-morning iteration of the Fall Freshman "Intro to Research and Style Analysis" class, whose students have their third Listening Quiz coming up Friday. In preparation for that, we imply that we plan to do a collection and spot-check of their "SHMRG envelopes", in which they keep separate worksheets with their own critical-listening observations regarding each of the pieces for which they are responsible.

Of course we won't actually collect the SHMRG envelopes 48 hours before a quiz for which they are needed as study material--but scaring them into thinking we might collect them Wednesday is a good way to get them starting reviewing now--rather than the night before the quiz. It's all mind games, really--like anticipating how a puppy you're training will think so that you can anticipate, in turn, how to make him/her think the way you want.

Below: the list of pieces for which, since the beginning of the semester, they are responsible for supplying a complete, detailed, thoughtful, SHMRG worksheet.

  • Shakti, "La Danse du Bonheur" (Indo-jazz fusion from John McLaughlin, L. Shankar, and Zakir Hussain; scary-brilliant playing which is the first music they hear in their college music history classes)
  • Aaron Copland, "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo (which they all know from either high-school band or, as West Texas ranch kids, the "Beef, it's what's for dinner" commercials)
  • Fiddlin' Bill Steep, "Bonaparte's Retreat" (field recording and direct source--as in, Copland copied it slavishly,--for the above)
  • Unknown Tuvan musician, "Borbangnadur with stream water" (magnificent overtone singing from the Smithsonian Folkways disc)
  • Duke Ellington, "Daybreak Express" (1930; 3-minute tone poem which captures both the virtuosity and unique sound of the great late-'20s Ellington band, and lets us talk about programmaticism, nationalism, and the African-American experience)
  • NRBQ, "12-bar Blues" (whose chorus is "1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10...11...12..."; once they learn to sing that chorus on the fundamentals of the chors, they never forget the metric/harmonic structure of the blues again)
  • Ivo Papasov, "Song for Baba Nadeyla" (great example of timbral and metric variety, and another scary-brilliant video performance)
  • Charlie Parker, "Now's the Time" (King Curtis, "The Hucklebuck"; reiterates the formal structure of the blues while contrasting rhythmic & timbral treatments)
  • David del Tredeci, "Speak Roughly, Speak Gently" from The Alice Symphony (great example of experimental/avant-garde/"difficult" textures as an outgrowth of programmatic experimentation; encourages them to open their ears and listen to new-music techniques as sound rather than "eewww...that's unfamiliar")
  • Public Enemy, "Don't Believe the Hype" (programmaticism; sound as form; quotation and allusion as essential building blocks of program music)
  • Charles Ives, "The Unanswered Question" (more on experimentation as driven by programmatic concerns; team assignments in which they work collaboratively to come up with a thesis statement summarizing the work's programmatic intentions)
  • Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, "Le the" from "The Nutcracker" (programmaticism; introduces exoticism's binary model of "Self-versus-Other"
  • Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, "Le Cafe" from "The Nutcracker" (same as above, but "Arabian" exoticism instead of "Chinese")
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony #3, II movement "Marche funebre" (programmaticism, autobiography, incipient Romanticism, intentionally alluding to or confounding expectations)
  • Hector Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique, IV movement "March to the scaffold" (same as above, more on experimentation as driven by programmatic individualism)
  • William Byrd, "Sing Joyfully Unto God" (space as dictating texture and other SHMRG elements; idea of "reconstructing" older music; introduces idea of "historical performance")
  • Anonymous, "Epitaph of Seikilos" (more on reconstruction; text-priorities; influence upon early church music; primacy of rhetoric and music which reinforces text)
  • Igor Stravinsky, "The Rite of Spring" (programmaticism, exoticism; experimentation as driven by these; intentional confounding of stylistic expectations: visual, sonic, choreographic; context impacting content and vice versa; incredible video available on YouTube of the Joffrey reconstruction of Nijinsky's original choreography)
  • Anonymous Kenyan musician, "Thum Nyatiti Luo" (polyphonic and polymetric solo textures, hearing African and African-American thumbprints in ensemble conception)
  • Scott Joplin, "Maple Leaf Rag" (link to above in terms of stratified texture and polyrhythmic; next, introduce--especially enlightening to the band kids--relationship between ragtime form and texture and that of the band march: next up is Sousa's "King Cotton")
Is it any wonder I love my job?

Below the jump: Early-Fall ('round here, late September is "early-fall") sunset on the South Plains.

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