The global pandemic of coronavirus has forced so many musicians out of the concert halls and into our homes. It's been a challenging week, with the prospect of many more to come. In an effort to keep the music playing and stay connected to listeners, I've started releasing a musical selection for each day of the week. I hope it gives you some respite in these challenging times. All music is original except where noted. This week included a Bach Prelude and Fugue, three pieces for piano and a new song podcast premiere!
Apple podcasts link
3.1: "Skip" - Baroque / ragtime prelude
3.2: Chorale Toccata
3.3 Meditation #3: Seeking a Higher Power
3.4 Bach Prelude and Fugue in D major
3.5 "Social Distancing:" a song inspired by our new social reality
Last year I wrote 25 piano pieces!
-Five pieces for the Left Hand Alone
-Schumannia (five pieces)
-Syncopated Suite (six pieces)
-Two new pieces on the "Mary Had a Little Lamb" theme
-Two waltzes ("Ghostly" + "Wheels on the Bus")
-Prelude and Fugue in B-flat minor
-A musical parody of a Very Bad Piece
See the ones I ended up playing in this playlist here:
The "Ghostly" Waltz and #1 for the Left Hand were 1st and 2nd place winners in this competition where the participants select the winners, and the Chorale Toccata and Ragtime Toccata were finalists to boot!
Note: all musical examples in this post can be played back by opening the page here.
Motivation: Rhythm gets short shrift!
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about rhythm! In a traditional study of music theory, one learns a ton about harmony but very little about rhythm beyond some very basics. Similarly, in studying music history, there's an overemphasis on the harmonic trajectory of Western music, but almost no attention to its rhythmic evolution. And yet often the most salient difference between musical styles is rhythmic. Especially when one considers folk and popular music of the past century, there's a surprising continuity of harmony! Rhythm, however, is another matter.
The point: Math is useful (and fun!) for building on intuition about rhythm and syncopation
This post and the next approach rhythm from a mathematical standpoint, starting with an example of a piece I wrote recently in comparison to one of Bach. In using variations of the main rhythmic theme, I realized most of them were syncopated; this post explains some of the math that backs up that intuitive realization, compares the theme to its obvious Bach counterpart, and motivates further exploration of the topic.
Here's the new piece:
Here's the main theme at the beginning (ex. 1):
Here's the fifth of the recently-completed six-movement "Syncopated Suite"! It starts out like a Gavotte from a Bach suite, but the rhythmic style again evolves into something different! More about this suite coming soon!
It's another "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Don't be fooled by the opening; the piece evolves gradually (and I hope seamlessly) in rhythmic style as it progresses, adding more and more syncopation.
Starts with ragtime-style rhythms but turns into something else entirely. Much of the piece is based on conflicting (between the hands), and ever-changing rhythmic cycles that create not only syncopations but other similarly unpredictable rhythmic accents. The whole piece coming soon...
If you look a few posts below, you'll see a long, grumpy rant about the politics and aesethetics of contemporary music. In the piece below I've distilled the essence of that rant into music!
Oscar Bettison is a Guggenheim award winner and professor of composition at one of the top conservatories in the country, and one time I attended a concert with this piece on the program:
Did you listen to the whole thing? Or give up after like 30 seconds? Rather than continue to tell you what in detail what I think of the piece, I wrote this revised and condensed parody instead!
Another new piece, with a mix of swing rhythm, blues harmonies (to start), but Bach influence too, of course! And it ends with a comic, (really, kind of ridiculous) waltz. A rough 1st take phone recording
This summer, I've been blessed with the time and the inspiration to write more piano music than ever. I've started sharing most of these new pieces in snippets on my public facebook page, but for those who (including me) think facebook might be evil, I'm putting them here too! Here is one of the first of the summer, my second piece on the simple tune "Mary Had a Little Lamb." (Here's the first, from 2016)
The Music Post
The Music Post is a blog / podcast for reflecting on all things musical, informed by years of writing, playing, and teaching music.