Thursday, January 29, 2015

Daily Log: January 28, 2015

Today I assisted a student during my TA office hours for 302!  Hooray!  However, that means I did not practice my German.

I read some LaRue, but didn't get far.

We studied Haydn's Symphony 45 (the Farewell Symphony) in 604 and we listened to compositions in 20th-Century Counterpoint.  Dr. Asplund described my piece, Boomerang, as "violent."

I also read a little bit of LaRue.  But not much.

Today was definitely below par.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Music In Practice: "Boomerang" and my Journey through Pointillism

So if you keep up with my Daily Log posts (odds are you don't; they're quite boring) (no joke, they are), you'll know that my first composition that I wrote for my 20th-Century Counterpoint class ended up crashing and burning.  Not because the concept wasn't excellent (Dr. Asplund said it was great), but because I didn't have firm understanding of the Webern inversion canon and did not successfully follow all of the directions of the prompt.

Fortunately, the next piece we were required to write was much more open-ended.  We simply had to write a pointillistic piece.  Pointillism, as we had defined it, meant that there could be no audible melody or counterpoint.  The texture had to be thin and spread between several different instrumental timbres (in the case of this assignment, there had to be at least five instruments) in small two-to-three-note "points" of sound.  Dynamics and articulation also had to be heavily regulated as well.

It was implied that we could create a rule or serial sequence if we desired, but our procedure could also be intuitive, without much pattern or organizational concept.  While I was thankful that there was no arbitrary rule I had to follow, I found myself a little confused as to how to go about writing a purely intuitive piece that would have no melody, no harmony, and no counterpoint.  I can't hear any of it in my head before I write it down.  The only thing I could be very sure about was which timbres I wanted at certain times.

So I began writing my piece simply by throwing dots onto empty staff paper.  I didn't think about clefs, instrumentation, or even rhythm.  I just focused on pitch groups that seemed to "go" together visually on the page.  I then stuck those notes into a notation document on my computer and started playing around with different rhythms.  I hoped that the piece would turn out a bit disjoint, like you couldn't hear where the downbeats were, so I included triplets, sixteenth notes, and various durations to keep the listener guessing and free it from any sense of pattern.

One pattern, however, does arise.  The piece is almost entirely palindromic.  The first nine measures are played backwards (with some edits for articulation and attack) in the following nine measures. However, while interval relationships and rhythm remain an exact retrograde version of what was played initially, the pitches in the second half of the piece are raised by two semitones. Thus, when a G was originally played, now an A is played instead. The only instance in which the palindrome is not exact is at the very end of the piece, which includes a bar of rest followed by two chords, one fff and one pp.  This acts as a coda to the piece, existing outside of the rest of the piece's formal structure.

As I put the piece together, I considered some of the conceptual implications to such a design.  Immediately, I realized that this sporadic, pointillistic, palindromic piece seemed to mimic the movements of a boomerang.  If you don't know much about the physics of the device, throwing a boomerang seems like a pretty miraculous feat.  It travels in a somewhat skiwampus arch, made up of spinning circles that seem disjoint, but it still ends up returning to the point from whence it came.   Thus, in this piece, I begin by throwing the boomerang, which sails in its unpredictable trajectory for nine measures, and then returns.  It is then "caught" in the last two measures, with a satisfying fff catch followed by a quick breath of relief (ppp).

The raising of pitches by whole step invites a deeper layer of conceptual thinking, this time touching on the inevitability of change.  Other things in our lives return to us like boomerangs, but something we come to realize as we gain experience is that while things do return, they most likely never return exactly as you first left them.  While the trajectory of the boomerang in the second half of its journey is generally in the same direction, its return path is surely not identical to its initial course.

Daily Log: January 27, 2015

Much of today was spent writing a pointillistic piece, which is due tomorrow in 20th-Century Counterpoint.

I finished one hour of German translation of Goethe poetry.

I also found some time to study Pauline Oliveros's book Deep Listening. We performed on of her meditation exercises in GEM yesterday, and it was actually quite stirring.

We discussed Mozart's piano sonata and versatile style in 302 yesterday, as well.
I am tutoring a friend of mine to help her prepare for the Graduate Entrance Exam.  I spent an hour with her on score identification today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Daily Log: January 26, 2015

Marginal success today.  I completed my Haydn paper bibliography over the weekend, as well as read up on early symphony (Sammartini, Stamitz, CPE Bach, etc.) over the weekend.  We discussed those in 604 today.

I also read an excellent article from Perspectives of New Music about John Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra.  (Pritchett, James.  "From Choice to Change: John Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano."  Perspectives of New Music 26 (Winter, 1988): 50-81.) I listened to two works by Feldman as well as Cage's concerto.  We discussed those works in class today.

Further reading was done in Von Gunden's book.  I'm now considering writing a short paper for 20th-century Counterpoint on Oliveros's early works.  But perhaps new textural habits will come to be seen as I continue in the book.

Translated German for 1 hour. Goethe poetry.

Read part of the chapter on the Growth Process in LaRue's Guidelines. 

Finally, I spent some time composing a piece I'm going to call Boomerang.  It's just a pointillistic piece.  Not serial at all, but it will have some symmetry in it if I can get the patterns down the way I want them to sound.  Writing "melodies" in this kind of music is pretty much impossible (as was discussed in class today), so I need to sort of come to conclusions by trial and error.  I'll probably write a post about the experience once it's finished.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Daily Log: January 23, 2015

It's funny how the days you feel most like a failure end up also being the days when you get the most stuff done?  I accomplished pretty much everything on my list of things to do today, and I think part of the reason why was because I ended up getting some pretty negative feedback on my Webern piece (not that it was a bad piece; I just didn't follow directions accurately, which is just embarrassing).

I read some stuff written by Stockhausen this morning.  There were some assigned readings from the book Stockhausen on Music: Lectures and Interviews (London: Boyars, 1991).  We also had to listen to Kreuzspiel and Kontra-Punkte, as well as Messaien's Modes de Valeurs et d'intensities.  It would take a very, very long time to take these pieces apart; I probably shouldn't spend my time on them just now, since there are other pressing matters, but it's definitely something to look into.

I've been assigned to simply write a pointillistic piece, no need for serialism.  Hopefully I can at least do that successfully.

We discussed Piccini and Gluck today in 604.  I felt underprepared for this discussion as well, although I know plenty about Gluck's Orfeo.  I guess I was supposed to read more of the Oxford History on the subject than I actually did.

So yeah, it was a pretty pathetic morning, but as I said, my failures caused me to throw myself into my work this afternoon.  I spent most of it up in Dr. Johnson's office.  I translated three Goethe poems (including Heidenröslein, which would end up in one of Schubert's most famous lieder) and studied Pauline Oliveros's Variations for Sextet.  This was one of her earlier pieces, but it was the first that really epitomized some of her core compositional values.

I was informed today that I get the opportunity to write yet ANOTHER paper this semester, this one on the textural/contrapuntal style of any 20th-century composer.  I'm thinking I might do Oliveros.  It would make for great preparation for my thesis.  As long as Dr. Asplund will let me.

Finally, I acquired several great sources for my Haydn paper.  Our bibliographies (which, as Dr. Harker stated, are very much a work in progress until the end of the paper-writing process) are due on Monday, and we need at least 20 sources.  Today I broke ten official ones; I think I'm closer to fifteen.  But before I went home I went and checked out a bunch of other books about Haydn, Masonic music, and Mozart's The Magic Flute that I think would be helpful.  I'm sure I'll be fine for Monday.  20 pages is a breeze compared to the 60/100 sources I needed to acquire last semester.

Here's to the freaking weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Daily Log: January 22, 2015

Today I read LaRue's chapter on Rhythm in Guidelines for Style Analysis.  He begins the chapter by stating how complicated rhythm is; obviously he was right, because I hardly understood anything he said from then on.  I did understand one thing that I thought was pretty useful.  It had to do with the terminology we use in describing emphasis we give to certain notes in a rhythmic passage.

LaRue suggests that the following terms be used only in these contexts:
Stress -- describes large-scale rhythmic emphasis (as in meter)
Emphasis -- describes middle-scale emphasis
Accent -- describes small-scale emphasis

I translated Goethe's poems for an hour today.  Some of the lines I translated read exactly as Appelbaum says they should be translated.  That makes me happy.

No sources today.  I know I'll get enough to turn in a bibliography by Monday, but I worry that they won't be the BEST sources.  I have some work to do over the weekend if I want my bibliography to be the best it can be.

Studied Haydn's 88th Symphony today, first, third, and fourth movements.  The second was too formally complicated, so Dr. Johnson skipped it.

I also read a bit about Picinni and the development of more relaxed opera seria styles in Taruskin's Oxford History.

I also finished my Webern piece -- both score and recording -- for good today.  I feel very confident about sharing it tomorrow.

I also took a stab at a phrase/text analysis of a song written by a friend of mine.  We had discussed how to write "good" melodies earlier that day, and I figured why not see how his process worked?

Here's my initial "chicken-scratch" analysis.  The colors in the text correspond with the lines that appear in the phrase arcs.  Beside the arcs are primary vowels that are used within the rhyme schemes of that specific stanza.  I prefer phonic symbols over IPA, probably because it's less to memorize. This would be a good place to present my findings once I've finished analyzing and "cleaned up" my visuals.

Here's a link to the bandcamp site for my friend's band Quiet House.  The song is called "Rolling Waters."  I really like looking deeply at music written by people I know.  Knowing the stories and people behind a song always makes you appreciate it a little more.

I also picked up a very important book pertaining to my thesis:

Oliveros, Pauline. Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice. Lincoln, Nebraska: Deep Listening Publications, 2005.

In GEM today, we explored opposites and then performed a short "opera" based off of a poem by Sun Ra.  It was slightly terrifying to put all of my trust into the man I was vocalizing with (he was the only one with access to the text), but I feel like the outcome was pleasant.

I was also challenged today to write poetry.  Hmmmm....

Tomorrow I pledge to find and cite at least 10 more sources for my bibliography.

Daily Log: January 20 and 21, 2015

After a three-day weekend, it's hard to jump back into the swing of things.  Thus, a delayed post.  I didn't do much during the actual weekend, although I had some great conversations with friends and I've been inspired to do more creative work as well as written work during my time here as a Graduate Student.

I gotta tell you, these are the best years of my life.

Tuesday was spent primarily doing some writing and recording work for my Webern piece.  I have a whole post about it.

It should have been presented on Wednesday morning, but we ran out of time, so it will be shown first thing on Friday.  This gives me a little time to re-record some of my vocals.

We also discussed Haydn's "Joke" String Quartet in 302.

Wednesday was a lot more productive; I found around 10 sources for my Haydn paper (I need at least 20) and translated some poems by Goethe.  I will admit, the poetry is a bit easier to translate than Faust.

In 604 we discussed Pergolesi and the intermezzo (deja vu... we discussed the same thing in 302 last week).

I also acquired Pauline Oliveros's Three Songs, the earliest work she ever got published.  I'm excited to explore those in more detail... possibly even perform them?

Music in Practice: "The Urge You Feel...", Mammoth Words and the World of Webern

I firmly believe that musicologists can and should also be composers, at least to a minimum degree.  Part of what allows us to understand the compositional process -- and thus make assumptions about it and write about it in detail -- is to experience the process yourself.  One of my favorite professors, Dr. Christian Asplund, also believes strongly in this.  Thus, for his classes he requires all students to compose as well as study the works of great composers.  This is a daunting task for me; I usually don't adhere the word "composer" to my list of identity aspects.  But, as a musicologist who wishes to understand the nature of the composer's mind as he/she writes, I must rise to the occasion.  Not only must I write, but I must also feel comfortable sharing what I have created.

Thus, I present this recurring segment, entitled Music in Practice, in which I share compositions that I have written that are related to my career and current areas of research.

My respect for Webern is great, but my affection toward his music has always been rather low. I only study his works when I am told to for a class.  It's not that I don't like atonality.  It doesn't make me uncomfortable.  Webern's music isn't even that boring to me.  It just doesn't stir me like, say, Berg's Wozzeck (written by another scholar of Schönberg alongside Webern) does.  That being said, my appreciation for Webern has significantly grown after writing in his style.  Along with analyzing his works, I've also had to write some serialist works as exercises, and I was never really pleased with the outcome.  Somehow Webern is able to catch a great row pattern or pitch class that I just don't have much of an ear for.  I'm too trapped in tonality to be a good serialist composer.

 A new opportunity to achieve Webern's heights was placed before me last week. Dr. Asplund's first composition exercise that he assigned to us for 20th-Century Counterpoint was to write a piece in the style of Webern. The directive was to create a pointillistic inversion canon with an additional voice outside of the canon.  All content needed to be in serial rows, and only thirteen pitches could be used.

Although I kept true to the directions given to me, I breached Webern's style in several small ways.  I chose to keep things very simple and to use more sustained tones, which you could say stepped out of Webern's wheelhouse.  I also chose to use a text.  However, I feel like I captured some of Webern's conceptual spirit by presenting a very short piece that hopefully encapsulates an idea more fully than any other rendering might.

I chose to use a text that is essentially a very long compound word, modeled after the German idea of Mammutwörter.  This term exactly translates into "mammoth words": long strings of words that are melded together to create a new word with its own unique meaning (the word Mammutwörter itself is a simple example of a mammoth word).  A good example of a mammoth word is the word given to Wagner's idea of the "total art work": Gesamtkunstwerk.  It literally is the three words smooshed together, but there a new, more complex meaning is implied when they are juxtaposed in this way.
English-speakers do this too. We have compound words like marketplace and inchworm and takeout.  As with German compound words, there are rules that are usually followed in creating these new terms (here's a link to the Wikipedia article about this).  But we often break our own rules when the need arises, sometimes stepping into the realm of ridiculousness.  The hashtag (#) phenomenon requires us to see more complex, multi-word ideas as just one unit (example: #throwbackthursday is essentially a compound word that contains a compound word, thus upping the complexity level). Sometimes this compounding of words is done to an extreme degree for the sake of humor. In the internet sensation A Very Potter Musical, Harry Potter (played by the affable Darren Criss, see this link) calls his beloved Cho Chang supermegafoxyawesomehot.  This new, preposterously long word has begun to engrain itself into the everyday vocabulary of young people (at least in my circle of friends, anyway).

I extrapolated on the compounding process to a similarly extreme level.  I took a very specific idea idea (more like a situation, I guess) that I felt could be better described simply by a long string of words.  There's this urge I feel sometimes to stroke a man's beard when it would be the most inappropriate time to do so.  It is especially annoying when I feel the impulse with a professional colleague, especially as we are sitting across from each other at a table during a meeting.

So I made up a long word that describes this sensation:
(Ex: I always get awkwardbusinesscoffeearmfacehairjoyfeelies when I go out to conferences with Dr. Matheson.  It's terribly distracting.)

This word can be broken apart into three additional mammoth word combinations:

Awkwardcoffeejoy -- a coffee-shop romance between strangers
(Ex: I think there's some awkwardcoffeejoy going on between the guy behind the counter and that blonde girl over there by the fireplace. They're always smiling at each other.)

Businessface -- possession of deep focus and determination as one endeavors to complete a career-oriented project
(Ex: Sheila really had some businessface as she presented at today's conference. I bet she really wants that promotion.)

Armhairfeelies -- The sensation you feel when your long hair touches the back of your upper arms.
(Ex: I hate armhairfeelies, so I always wear long-sleeved shirts.)  

I could use these words-within-the-word to create a pointillistic effect in the music.  Three different voices sing these three smaller words in a hocketted fashion, so when you hear them sing it together, the larger word forms.

You can see this best with the score.

Click on the image for a closer look.

My choices for rows were pretty arbitrary.  Both were taken from Webern's works themselves, and one of them (the one designated to the inversion canon) begins with the oft-used BACH motif (notes that spell out Bach's name: Bb-A-C-B, seen as B-A-C-H in German notation).  I mainly chose these specific rows for their potential use of major and minor sevenths (a very "Webernian" practice, according to Pousseur*) and for their "singability."

Composing serial pieces for voice presents a number of challenges.  I, myself, needed some pitch prompts from the piano as I quickly recorded this piece for class.  However, when it comes to atonal works, I would argue that it is far easier for singers to keep track of a few fragments of the row at a time than it is for them to try and sing all twelve pitches in succession.  Fortunately, awkwardbusinesscoffeefacearmhairjoyfeelies is twelve syllables long, so each syllable can have its own pitch.  Thus, each vocal part is in charge of only a fraction of the entire row.  By the end of the piece, the entire row has only been sung by the singers one time.

All of this occurs over an inversion canon of the BACH row, which can played by piano and baritone ukulele (or guitar, if you haven't a uke on you).  This instrumentation was mainly chosen out of necessity; I can't play much else.

Of course, the word groups I used for text are probably far too long and abstract to be used in  real-life sentences.  I don't quite have the gift for words that allows me to create a new vocabulary that really fits the current linguistic context of English. But for the sake of a musical text, they serve their purpose well.  Instead of taking several long sentences or more to describe these detailed and complicated sensations and situations to you, I can just tag in this word string instead, and you get the idea without excess explanation.

To emphasize this, I presented the "definitions" of these word clusters as the title, which should take more time to digest than the musical work itself:

The Urge you Feel to Reach across the Table to Touch the Beard of your Professional Colleague during a Lunchtime One-on-One Business Conference over Coffee
The Sensation of Long Hair Brushing the Back of your Forearms
A Coffee-Shop Romance between Strangers
The Demeanor of One who is Incredibly Focused on a Career-Oriented Goal

Webern's brief, twenty-second-long pieces exhibit this same idea; why use a million notes when only a string of twenty-four-or-so very aptly placed notes would do?  According to Schönberg, Webern's well-crafted pieces, though brief, speak for themselves and require no additional justification.  They probably get the job done better than any full-blown, Beethoven-sized symphony written in the same serialist style could.  So while it doesn't sound quite as true to Webern as it does to say, Boulez's Les Marteau sans Maître (a later total-serialist work that has a sung text), I consider The Urge You Feel... to be written with the spirit of Webern in mind, using some of his best-known techniques such as pointillistic texture, twelve-tone rows, the inversion canon, and rapidly-changing dynamics.

*All sources included in this essay are either hyperlinked or provided in the source list given in this earlier post.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Daily Log: January 16, 2015

Quite productive in some ways, but I keep leaving my Haydn studies until last minute, and that could end up hurting me in the long run.

I studied the first Italian Intermezzos in the Oxford History, in preparation for 604.  Nine pages in that book fly by.

I also explored some 12-tone rows for 20th-century counterpoint.  This assignment worries me; I spent far too much time just thinking about it and dreading it, that I didn't really do much actual composing.  I can save more of this work for Monday (MLK Day).

I translated a page of Goethe -- this one was more difficult than past times.  I also received a book of shorter Goethe poems from my friend Ingrid.  I'm excited to explore this language; I'm thinking of finding the German version of Harry Potter, along with an audiobook in German.  Ingrid also suggested that I watch some German films with German subtitles.  I received some other tips and tricks for learning a language from her that I'd like to lay out in another post.

I read LaRue's chapter about Melody.  It was really interesting.  Melody is such a hard thing to describe and quantify, but I think LaRue does a really good job.

I also studied the final song of Oliveros's Three Songs, "Song Number Six," with text by Charles Olson.  That was a quick song to analyze; it's only four measures long.

While I did not really look at any new sources for my Creation  paper, I did acquire a few, including Sither's History of the Oratorio.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Daily Log: January 15, 2015

Not much got done today.

But I DID ready/listen to the entirety of Haydn's The Creation.  There were some points that really moved me -- particularly in the first part.

I didn't get to any German today, but I consider all of the German that I saw in The Creation to be good exposure.

I also began some more preliminary research on Haydn and The Creation.  My first source is Bruce C. MacIntyre's Haydn: The Creation (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998).  I also have Nicholas Temperley's book of the same title (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

In 302 we discussed the origins of the symphony: Sammartini and Stamitz.

We also did some interesting follow-the-leader exercises in GEM.  It's inspired me to get started on my choreography score piece.  I also plan on doing a solfege exercise similar to what we did there in my sight-singing class.  

Speaking of composing, I hope to work on my Webern-style composition today.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Daily Log: January 14, 2015

Today was VERY productive!

Before class, I studied Webern's String Quartet op. 22 and the first movement to his String Quartet op. 28.  Determining rows is really fun if I know what it is I'm looking for.  My scores are nice and colorful.

I didn't quite complete them; that will be a project for another time.

We discussed those pieces in class, and Dr. Asplund then asked us to spend the weekend composing a piece that uses Webern's serialism, canonic techniques, and pointillistic texture.  It's been a while since I sat down and composed a piece.  This may take a while.

In 304 we discussed JS Bach's Sonata, one of the first known "Sonata-form" pieces in a definitive sense.

I read up on HARMONY in LaRue's Guidelines and took creative notes.  Harmony is easily the most "analyzable" aspect of music, but it's also one that is difficult for me, especially in romantic orchestral scores.  Fortunately, I'm currently in Webern and early Classical lands, and they're easier to digest.  Work your way up, right?

I had a short discussion with Dr. Johnson yesterday, and he told me that the best way to be better at analyzing is to read how other people come to their analytical conclusions.  The more I expose myself to good analytical thinking from others, the more their thoughts become my thoughts.

I studied the second song in Pauline Oliveros's Three Songs.  This one was about a spider.  I anxiously await the whole score so that I can REALLY look at it and maybe even find an opportunity to perform it.

I also spent about an hour (less, actually) translating a page from Goethe.  This was my easiest one yet.  Yeah, I'm still looking up words, but it looks like I'm overcoming the grammar.  I'm comparing my translation work to another English translation, and I'm coming up with pretty much the same content, albeit often using different words.

I checked out more books about Haydn today.  Once I'm finished with this post, I'm going to sit back with my Urtext copy of The Creation and watch/listen to a performance of The Creation that I found on YouTube.  Great way to end a day.

Possible Paper Angles on The Creation: 

Haydn and Enlightenment ideals
Haydn and his connections with Freemasonry
Use of dark and light imagery in The Creation. 
Censorship and The Creation

Goals for tomorrow:  Make some headway on Haydn sources.  Start my Webern piece.  Get through Oliveros's final movement of her Three Songs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Daily Log: January 13, 2015

GREAT news!  I got 98 percent on my Mussorgsky paper!  Dr. Johnson told me I need to work on my passive voice, but he loved my organization and he says I show great potential in the field.

Today was very productive.  We discussed Gluck in 302, and we did some improv in GEM (Group for Experimental Music).

Reading Update:  I read the chapter in LaRue on Sound, took some creative notes.

I spent some time studying Pauline Oliveros's early vocal works.  I ordered scores through Interlibrary Loan.

I also spent an hour on German.  I seriously think I'm already getting better at it.

Paper:  I read the first chapter of MacIntyre's book on The Creation.  Just some introductory material.  I think I need to listen to the piece tomorrow.

Also read some material for 304.  Johann Christian Bach and the accompanied keyboard sonata.

I sort of love my life right now.  I feel like such a musicologist today.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Daily Log: January 12, 2015

Spent more time with Webern's Symphonie op. 21 and Piano Variations op. 27.   Both discussed in 20th-Century Counterpoint today.

Discussed C.P.E. Bach's Fantasia in C minor in Classical Seminar, as well as the Empfindsamerstil.  I didn't read today's readings.  Fortunately, we are a day behind, so there was no penalty.  I feel very good about this class.

Paper Update: I shall begin a book on The Creation tomorrow.
German Update: I spent about two hours translating one page of Faust.  It is not impossible.  I'm feeling the grammar better.
Thesis Update: Spent some time researching some of Oliveros's earlier pieces.  Turns out she has ties to Charles Amirkhanian; I have ties to him, and he might make a nice resource.
Reading Update: No LaRue, but some of the von Gunden.

I guess you could call today a "bad" day.  I didn't get much done.  It rained.  I felt fatigued during class.  My pen broke in my purse and I got ink all over my face.  But considering the setbacks, I managed to stay productive until about 6 o'clock tonight.

I'm thinking I should separate things into hourly blocks:

1 hour LaRue/SHMRF
1 hour Oliveros study
1 hour German
2 + hours Creation Paper
Other homework shouldn't take more than 3 hours.

Then I can spend about 30 minutes reading a chapter of Dostoevsky, 15 minutes on my journal, and about 10 minutes on these entries... And that, my friends, is about 9 hours of work outside of class.  That sounds both doable and impressive.  Time management.  Patience.  Work.  These are things I still have to master if I want to be a good musicologist.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Daily Log: January 9, 2015

-- Discussion of Webern in 20th-Century Counterpoint (see January 8 for specific readings). None of my questions were answered; Dr. Asplund couldn't explain the symmetry in his String Quartet either.  I guess stuff like Webern should be saved for more mathematical minds.  I spent a little more time on it, but then moved on to other things.

Like Pauline Oliveros. While I didn't read any more of von Gunden's book, I explored her piece Pathways to Grandmothers.  I could only find one recording of it, but it's a solid one.  Not much information is out there for this drone piece.  I collected what I could.

I also pursued her Sonic Meditations.  I found the text instructions for about half of them, but the rest are absent from accessible websites I explored.  I've inquired Dr. Asplund about where I could obtain a copy of the entire "score" for these pieces.

Reading Update:  I finished the first chapter of LaRue's Guidelines for Style Analysis.  I'm considering not starting my SHMRF-a-day until I finish this book.  It takes too long to both read and SHMRF on the same day.  (Some of you are asking "What the heck is SHMRF?" I promise I will tell you in a later post.  It's gold.)

Paper Update:  No significant progress, but Dr. Harker gave me the ultimate go-ahead today.  I'm thinking I'll listen to the whole oratorio over the weekend and find some parts I may want to research.  I also found two books that are solely about The Creation.  These will probably really help me in finding an angle.

German Update: :(  I'll do six pages tomorrow.  It's Saturday tomorrow.

Tools for Research: What All the President's Men has to do with Musicology

Dr. Harker's first assignment to his 604 students was interesting.  We had to acquire and watch the 1976 film All The President's Men.  This is not a film about music (although Vivaldi's Concerto in C for Two Trumpets does appear at a particularly climactic moment). It's about Watergate. Inspired by true events, the movie is about two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played brilliantly by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), who follow a hunch to ultimately discover what is arguably the biggest scandal in American history.

My first question was why watch this movie as an introduction to a graduate-level music history seminar?  A journalism class might find it useful, maybe, but musicologists?

 "Well, would you rather read another book instead?" was Dr. Harker's snarky reply.  Of course my answer was no.  I have plenty of reading material, thank you very much.

Turns out you can learn a lot about research -- any kind of research -- from this movie.

The characters of Woodward and Bernstein began their journey to international notoriety with a question: WHY?  WHY did the third-rate burglary of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters happen?  This simple WHY question led to more WHY questions. WHY were certain people involved?  WHY would no one answer their questions?  WHY would CREEP lie about its funds?  WHY? WHY? WHY?

And those WHY questions then led to a lot of HOW questions.  The biggest being "HOW are we going to prove our theory?"

These two kinds questions -- HOW and WHY -- are the kinds of questions music historians must also ask if they ever want to perform valuable research.  Often, music students get stumped on finding a topic for a paper or thesis.  "Everything's been said!" they complain, "What kind of argument can I make?" Perhaps their frustration is stemmed on the fact that they are not asking enough WHY questions: WHY did madrigals become popular in England? WHY did opera appear in the in the late 1500s? WHY would Schubert put a fugal passage in the first movement of his Unifinished Symphony?  WHY would John Cage write a completely silent piece?  WHY are there not many notable female composers?  WHY did Whites mimic Black jazz music styles in the early-twentieth century? WHY did Wagner value the Leitmotif?  WHY should we care about Pergolesi's La Serva Padronna? WHY WHY WHY WHY?

Or maybe there are some HOW questions you could ask? HOW does Beethoven reveal his emotional state in his Eroica symphony?  HOW is Mussorgsky a realistic composer? HOW do we know Schubert was gay?  HOW did Terry Reilly apply minimalistic looping to his works?  HOW did the Beatles change in style over time?  HOW often does Brahms use hemeola in his work (and WHY does this matter)?  HOW did Mozart influence the following generations of composers?  HOW is classical "art" music viewed in today's society?  HOW HOW HOW HOW?

And, just as with Woodward and Bernstein, our most important question should be: HOW can I find the answer to my question? HOW can I prove my theory is true?

That's where the long, complex, and oh, SO satisfying task of research appears.  Woodward and Bernstein learned quickly that a mere hunch was not enough to get published. They needed sources.  Multiple sources.   They needed proof, evidence.  Their fact could not be a fact until they proved it.  That's how facts work.  They're not eternal. We must recognize the inherent limitations of what we call facts.  Facts do not become facts until they are recognized by others as such, until a voice of authority deems it so, or until it is proven in an experiment.  And even then, as scholars, it is important that we always continue to question what is known as fact.  Everyone thought the earth was the center of the universe until someone had the nerve to say it wasn't.  

 So to prove your argument, you need evidence.  Finding this evidence can take time.  Even with the magic of the internet, discovering answers to a question can take a long time.  Just as Woodward had to pour through phone books, so must we pour through scores, secondary sources, websites, interviews, etc. to find information we need to answer our questions.  Who knows where the research journey will take us.  The process is not a set-in-stone formula we follow. Every research journey takes on its own unique shape. Forget your preconceived notions about five-paragraph essays, Grove dictionaries, and source limits.  That won't be enough for some of the more difficult questions that exist in the field. One source won't always cut it. Five paragraphs may not be enough. In order to conduct a thorough investigation you may need to approach a topic from many angles and viewpoints.  Sometimes you're going to have to make tough phone calls, spend some money, or perhaps even admit that there is no more you can do at the present time.  And after thousands of hours of work, your argument may end up getting dis-proven by another scholar. The research process takes sacrifice.

We learn from Woodward and Bernstein to keep track of our sources, take thorough notes (oh, I LOVED the note-taking sequences in that film! It validates my choice to take handwritten notes in class), and to work efficiently.  We learn to be bold when we ask questions, to take risks, and admit when we are wrong.  We learn how to work and collaborate with different writers, who may have opposing viewpoints and styles.  We learn how to keep going, even when stakes are high.

Above all, we learn about attaching your research to a higher purpose. Every field has its own "mission statement" -- a purpose.  The job of the press, for instance, is to relay relevant, important facts to their constituents.  Woodward and Bernstein, as members of the press, had a role -- a responsibility, a duty -- to find the truth and to deliver that truth to the public.  They were public servants, performing a public service.  And they took their jobs very seriously, despite their youth in the field.

Musicologists serve a different role than the news press, to be sure, but the main goal is still the same: A musicologist's job is to find truth and communicate it to his/her audience.  It, like news journalism, is a public service. Many assume that musicology is another form of self-expressive art, alongside music performance or composition.  This is a myth.  The writing, analysis, and lectures of a musicologist are not so much artistic as they are practical -- almost scientific.  Yes there is room for creativity, but the musicologist must always first consider the effect his/her creative decision will have on the audience. A scholarly paper can have some resemblance to poetry and prose at times, but its purpose is not to create abstract poetic symbols, but to relay concrete information. The ultimate goal is to be explicitly understood.  To communicate facts efficiently, effectively, and exactly. If you insist on writing in an "artistic" language that no one can understand, you have failed as a musicologist.  You can have infinite data in your head, but in the end, that won't matter if you cannot effectively broadcast it to an audience.  If it stays in your brain, it means nothing to anyone else. You can have the widest vocabulary, a photographic memory, stellar handwriting, perhaps even shocking evidence. But if you fail in your rhetoric, if you miss a step in the research, if you fail to communicate -- in short, if your work does not successfully contribute to the conversation -- it is not useful. It is worthless.  In musicology, function must always -- always --  come before form.

I don't know about other people, but knowing what my purpose is as a musicologist provides lots of motivation. Dr. Johnson says that in order to succeed in this business, you have to possess a true love of research. At the start of my program, I worried if I had what it took. Was I cut out for a lifetime of research? But it didn't take long for me to realize just how well I fit the research-loving mold.  When I'm bogged down by deadlines, difficult sources, foreign languages, and the constant comparing of myself to my peers, all I have to do is remind myself of the valuable service I am performing, and my energy is restored.  My viewpoints are unique, and while they are sometimes flawed, they are always valued, provided that I keep my purpose at the forefront of my work.

I get the feeling that even if Watergate didn't make national headline news -- even if their track led them nowhere -- Woodward and Bernstein would have rejoiced at the fact that they discovered the truth.  When the fruits of their labors manifested themselves, they knew the whole process was completely worth it.  Every now and again, I come across a reminder that the search is not in vain.  It may come as a piece of the puzzle, a tiny epiphany, a perfect source, or perhaps just another listen to a wonderful piece of music.  I remember these moments with every page I turn, every word I write, and every moment I spend in the research process.  I love my job.  I want to do it forever.

Daily Log: January 8, 2015

Yes, I'm posting this January 9th...

-- A lot of time was spent yesterday studying Webern for 20th-Century Counterpoint.  I read several excerpts and articles:

Moldenhauer, Hans, comp. "Introduction: A Decade Later." In Anton von Webern: Perspectives, edited by Demar Irvine.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967: xix-xxvii.   [Interview with Igor Stravinsky about Webern.]
Pousseur, Henri. "Webern's Organic Chromaticism."  Die Reihe 2 (1958): 51-60.  [In-depth look at use of chromatic intervals in the first of Webern's Six Bagatelles for String Quartet.]
Schönberg, Arnold. "Foreword to Anton Webern's 'Six Bagatelles for String Quartet Op. 6'." Die Reihe 2 (1958): 8.  [Short, powerful homage statement to Webern and his Six Bagatelles.]
Stockhausen, Karlheinz. "Structure and Experiential Time." Die Reihe 2 (1958): 64-74.  [In-depth look at time sensations in Webern's String Quartet, Op. 28.]
Stravinsky, Igor.  "Foreword." Die Reihe 2 (1958): vii.  [Short foreword: ..."the day of... Webern's death... should be a day of mourning for any receptive musician."]
Wolff, Christian.  "Movement."  Die Reihe 2 (1958): 61-63. [Discusses the dual forces of controlled linear movement and free spacial relation in the works of Webern.]
-- I attended the Oscarson Lecture by Dr. Daniel Henderson.  I entered with low expectations.  The title of the lecture was something like "Jazz for Kids," which was VERY misleading.  I thought it was going to be some kind of jazz education lecture. Instead, it was an amazing overview of the children's music written by Billy May.  Turns out he was using jazz techniques before jazz musicians were even using them.  I took lots of notes, and I'm interested in looking at some of the Capitol Records scores we have here at the Harold B. Lee Library.  What a blessing it is to have these sources!
Important Lesson Learned:  Title your lectures well.

--Instead of SHMRFing, I just decided to analyze Webern's Piano Variations, Op. 27, 2nd movement.  This involved hand-transcription, determining of rows, and some additional research on the use of mirror symmetry and canon within the work.  Wolff's article discusses this piece's use of space and linearity.  I also did some heavy work with his String Quartet, Op. 28, which is discussed in great detail by Stockhausen.  There are still a few puzzles I don't quite understand about these two works, mostly in the assigned readings about them.  They'll have to wait another day to be answered.

--302 was about Pergolesi and Hasse today.  We discussed the differences between opera seria and opera comique.

--First GEM rehearsal.  We performed variations of Pauline Oliveros's Sonic Meditations, as well as a couple of original ideas from class members. I'm now interested in accessing all of Oliveros's Meditations and studying them. (Thesis?)

Paper Progress Report:  Found about ten sources on Haydn for my Creation paper.
Reading Progress Report: Read "Beginnings" in von Gunden's book on Oliveros.  Read some LaRue; almost done with the first chapter.
German Progress Report: No Goethe today, but some texts by Webern, which were much easier to translate.
Thesis Report:  Recorded source material from the von Gunden chapter.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Daily Log: January 7, 2015

-- I translated the Dedication of Göthe's Faust yesterday.  It took a lot longer than I expected; the language is very flowery and metaphorical.  However, I learned a few words and made a few deductive leaps that were pretty accurate.  With time and practice, I'm sure I'll get better.
Words I absolutely will not forget: Wahn, Leid, jeder, Harfe, Tränen

-- I SHMRFed (more about SHMRF later) Wilhelm Friedemann Bach's Sonata for Keyboard Number 9 (Falck 6a), first movement, first part.  It also took longer than expected, mainly because I wanted to break down each measure harmonically and do a detailed phrase analysis.  But in that process, I learned that sometimes it's okay to summarize.  It doesn't matter as much HOW he goes from G major to A minor.  All that matters is that he gets there.  It was not wasted time, though.  We will be discussing this piece in depth in 604 on Friday.
-- I also read the Preface to the Second Edition of Jan LaRue's Guidelines for Style Analysis.  That's where SHMRF comes from.  I'll dedicate an entire post to LaRue's style analysis in a later post; it's a very important and useful method for objectively analyzing music.

-- I read the Introduction to Heidi von Gunden's The Music of Pauline Oliveros.  I'm thinking I'm going to do something about her for my thesis; this is VERY preliminary research.  Just learning some basic facts about her and some of her big-name pieces.  It's hard, because it's like you can't decide what to write about until you've done a TON of research... but then, after you've picked your angle, you have to do even MORE research.  But what if you decide you have nothing more to add to the subject?  All that research would then be a waste of time.  It's a risky part of the process.

-- We discussed James Tenney in 20th-Century Counterpoint today.  I think I should look into his Postal Pieces.

-- We discussed All the President's Men and its ties to research in 604, as well as the "historiographical black hole" that appears between Handel/Bach and Haydn/Mozart as far as stylistic progress.  Bach's sons and Italian opera provide a very important link in this chain, but were neglected in 19th-Century historiography.  We also did some impromptu formal analysis of Bach's French Suite V, Allemande.  I don't do well with analysis on the fly.

Paper Progress Report:  I identified 6 books to look for in the library tomorrow that have to do with Haydn and The Creation.  I hope to finish my bibliography fairly early this semester.  I only need 20 sources.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Daily Log: January 6, 2015

Alright... first daily post.  I'm not sure how I'd like to format these, so today I'll just try the all-purpose list.

- Today I watched the movie "All the President's Men" as part of an assignment for Classical Seminar (304 with Dr. Brian Harker).  Dr. Harker wants me to use Woodward and Bernstein as models for the research process.  A post on this subject should come out after our class discussion of the film.

- I also attended Dr. Steven Johnson's 302 class as a Teaching Assistant.  I was particularly impressed by his organized lecturing style.  He uses PowerPoint very well, and includes score excerpts in his presentations.  At the beginning of his lecture, Dr. Johnson said, "With such a broad topic as music history, a professor must make some sacrifices about what he will or will not teach in the semester.  For me, I have decided that since you are all musicians, we should focus more on the music, rather than little details about the lives of composers."  I appreciate that sentiment.

- I'm reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as a reaction to my paper that I wrote about Mussorgsky last semester.  The book was published just a couple of years before the first edition of Boris Godunov, and both works discuss similar themes of class conflict in Russia, and the true source for moral truths.

- I also read a few pages in the chapter about comic opera in Taruskin's Oxford History of Music, volume 2 (17th and 18th centuries) as part of my reading for 304.  The focus of today's reading was about Bach's sons, particularly Wilhelm Friedrich Bach and his use of the galant style in F for harpsichord.  I await my own copy of this volume, so I had to go to the library and read from the reference edition; my notes, then, were taken electronically.  I'd much rather be able to highlight passages and mark up score excerpts in the book itself.  But this will do for now.

- Finally, I learned brief definitions for the following 20th-century musical styles:  spectral music, pulse-based minimalism, heterophony, micropolyphony.  We may be discussing these in my 20th-century counterpoint class (taught by Christian Asplund).

Tuesdays are going to be interesting days for me, since I only have to attend Dr. Johnson's 302 class as a TA.  The movie took up a lot of my reading time, but hopefully on future Tuesdays, I'll have lots of time to read.

Paper Progress Report:  My topic for The Creation was approved, though Dr. Johnson encouraged me to perhaps explore some lesser-known masses by Haydn.  My goal for tomorrow is to identify five sources (more general in nature) for my bibliography.
Reading Progress Report:  No work done in either my LaRue or Oliveros books.  This takes precedence tomorrow morning.
German Progress Report:  I learned one word (Buben = lads), but other than that, nothing for today.  I plan to start the long road to translating Goethe's Faust tomorrow, doing two pages a day.  Perhaps more as I get faster at it.
SHMRF Progress Report: I figure I should finish LaRue's book before I really start SHMRFing pieces.

Welcome to the Blog!

Welcome to (what might be) the first musicology blog you've come across!

Pleasure to meet you!  I'm Hannah. 

Some stuff about me.  I'm 24 years old.  Single.  Living in Provo, Utah.  I got my Bachelor's Degree in Music Education at Brigham Young University.  Upon my graduation, I immediately jumped back into BYU to get my Master of Arts in Musicology.  I finished my first semester last Fall (2013), and I intend to graduate Winter of 2017.  I have hopes of getting a PhD somewhere awesome.  Don't know where that is, yet, but I've got some time to figure that out.

In the meantime, I'm currently just taking seminar classes, learning German, and trying to find a good Master's Thesis topic.  I'm interested in modern music, particularly avant-garde and multi-media works. Since I have some history in choral education and extended vocal technique, odds are that my emphasis will be in vocal music.  But who knows?  That's part of what this blog journey is about.

What is a musicologist?  

To put it simply, musicology is a fancy word for music history.  Musicologists primarily fill the role of music historians.  They are interested in music's place in the course of mainly Western history.  Some major topics covered in research done by musicologists include:
-- biographies and works of composers, performers, and librettists
-- historical trends in style and compositional approach
-- motivations, meanings, and interpretations of musical works
-- musical technology, including innovations in musical instruments, music printing, etc.
-- music's place in the world of society and culture (class conflict, LGBT and gender studies, political movements, current philosophies, etc.)

Musicology works intimately with other branches of musical study, including:
-- Music theory: This is a more technical approach to music, focusing mostly on the "nuts and bolts" of how music is put together.  Theorists love to analyze music not as a historical artifact, but as simply a series of sonic patterns and organizations that can be analyzed without any historical context.
-- Ethnomusicology: The study of music's role in culture, primarily focusing on non-Western musics.
-- Musical performance, composition, and production: Of course, the field of musicology would come to naught if it weren't for the music makers, which not only create new music, but also continue to interpret and re-interpret music that has been around for a long time.
-- Musical Criticism: Critics of music provide value judgements for performances, recordings, and compositions, and thus give historians a glimpse of what audiences from both past and present valued in a musical work.

Why this blog? 

I've written personal blogs before, but I'm feeling the need for a space that is strictly professional, dealing with subjects I encounter as I pursue professorship.  As much as I would enjoy benefiting readers' lives through this account, I also feel like keeping consistent track of my progress will benefit me.

Perhaps I should break things down into two categories:  What this blog WILL be, and what this blog will NOT be:

This blog WILL be: 

1. A daily log of my activities in the field of musicology.  This will include progress reports on papers I'm writing, books I'm reading, research I am performing, and interactions I have with other members of my field and similar fields.  I know some people are interested in what a day in the life of a musicologist looks like.  Here's where you can find out.
2. An opportunity to share information about some of the subjects I am studying in polished prose.  Every so often, you come across a gem -- a quote, a theory, a research technique, or just an epiphany.  I want to share those gems.
3. A springboard for advocacy.  Some of you may not know much about what musicology is.  Let me tell you now, it is AWESOME.  One of my supreme goals in this career is to plant an interest in music history into the hearts of young people, particularly young musicians.  Maybe someday I'll tell you about how I got to musicology as my life's path, but for now, I'll simply say that I would not be where I am today if it weren't for inspiring people.

This blog will NOT be: 

1.  A review site.  I'm not interested in giving my opinions about performances, lectures, or media.  I have other blogs for that (namely, my personal blog, Thinking in Color).  I am not a critic.  I am also not a professional musician.  My realm of expertise is in discovering truth through music, not judging its quality.
2.  A note dump.  I do not intend on presenting every factoid I come across on this site.  As amazing as it is to learn that Pergolesi died when he was only 26 years old, I don't think that merits a blog post.  I'll try to use discretion with information I find and only put up the aforementioned gems -- things that actually involve some personal insight on my part.
3.  A personal diary.  Hopefully you won't find much information about my personal life on this blog.  Of course it's hard to completely separate the personal from the professional.  Especially when your professional dealings are in such an emotionally-charged and personally-connective medium as music.  But I will do my best.  You will not find anything on this site about food I've eaten, vacations I've taken, boys I've dated, poetry I've written, novels I've read, etc.  You won't even find anything on music I listen to for fun while I'm running or cleaning the house.

So you made it through the first post.  Happy musicking!!