Epiphany, 2010

Panzera, Charles - grainy voice of

Don't miss a great article from the Texas Tech University Music Theory blog: "The grain of Josh Groban's voice."

Grain is a great word to apply to vocal quality. There is a focus in a fine voice, a germ, a yeast kernel, a mustard seed. Something that grows -- on you, and then in you.

I've heard this in the singing of Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau, but I haven't even heard the other name in the article: Charles Panzera.

What does he sound like, I wonder?

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Herbert, George - "The Windows"

The BBC's weekly broadcast of Evensong (from Lincoln Cathedral this week) includes, among other things, the first broadcast of "The Windows" by Tarik O'Regan.

It's neat poem that uses stained glass as a metaphor for preaching.

"The Windows" by George Herbert.

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Anglo-Catholics - a hymn tribute to has received the following in an email forward:

A Tribute to Anglo-Catholics
(tune: Aurelia: The Church's One Foundation)

Our church is mighty spikey with smells and bells and chants,
And Palestrina masses that vex the Protestants.
O happy ones and holy who fall upon their knees
For solemn Benediction and mid-week Rosaries.

Though with a scornful wonder men see our clergy, dressed
In rich brocaded vestments as slowly they process;
Yet saints their watch are keeping lest souls be set alight
Not by the Holy Spirit, but incense taking flight.

Now we on earth have uni on with Lambeth, not with Rome,
Although the wags and cynics may question our true home;
But folk masses and bingo can't possibly depose
The works of Byrd and Tallis, or Cranmer's stately prose.

(Here shall the organist modulate)

So let the organ thunder, sound fanfares "en chamade";
Rejoice, for we are treading where many saints have trod;
Let peals ring from the spire, sing descants to high C,
Just don't let your elation disrupt the liturgy.

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Portland, Oregon - smallness of

Yesterday, I received an email (from a secret society that wants me to be a member) that contained the following:

In major metropolitan areas in the US (Boston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) . . .

That's an interesting list. And it's not a "such as" list. That's the society's list of "major" metropolitan areas in the United States.

Immediately I noticed the lack of Houston (motto: "We're the fourth largest city in the country"), my home town, which happens to be the fourth largest city in the country.

Now, I can understand leaving out Pheonix, whose size (fifth largest) is really just a fluke of nature. It's a lot of old people who live in the desert. The lack of humidity keeps them pretty well preserved, but as soon as the big drought hits, that won't matter. They'll all die, and then it will be the largest ghost town in the world.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia (sixth largest) is pretty "major", both in size and historical importance. I mean, probably half the people who live here can trace their lineage back to Ben Franklin, so probably my secret society should at least show an interest in them.

San Antonio (seventh largest) has to make the list just for their hardcore river walk and Mexican food alone.

Discussion Question: Of the top ten largest U.S. cities, three start with the word "San". Can you name them? Why or why not?

Dallas (ninth largest) on the other hand has lost its usefulness ever since Walker: Texas Ranger stopped production.

There are some other notable omissions as well, especially when one stops to consider Portland (motto: "We might be small, but we are better than you, and we know it"). Portland is a small city. In fact, Portland is only the 31st largest city in the U.S.

Here is just a handful of the cities that my secret society should have mentioned before getting to Portland:

Living in a big country really is fun. All these different states and cities to learn about and visit. Life just wouldn't be the same in Greece.

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Gothique - Suite

Why does Boellman's Suite Gothique have its own Wikipedia entry?


orchestras - laptop

Getting some attention lately: laptop orchestras. Geeky.

I got to this via Jason Kottke who has been a little bit more classical music oriented since his interview with Alex Ross last month.

Today, Jason also points us to news about Tim Page, music critic of the Washington Post. If you read the email in question, it sounds like he's just being critical of something that's not classical music.

What, that's not allowed?

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Lee, Jeffrey - hymn-loving new bishop

Jeffrey D. Lee was elected the 12th Bishop of Chicago on Saturday. Lee wrote a letter to his parish in Medina, Washington which included the following:

The first verse of one of my favorite hymns goes like this:

All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance he guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
Calls my heart to be his own. (The Hymnal 1982, 665)

A hymn-loving bishop! And a Howellsian-hymn-loving bishop at that!

This can only bode well for Chicago.


iPod - put hymns on your

Finally, a pretty good illustration/prop for a talk I gave a while ago entitled "Put hymns on your iPod"

Hymn Book leather cover for iPod (via Patrick Moberg of the recent fame.)


Scott, John - fussiness of
When Dallas built the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, nothing would do but equipping it with the best pipe organ money could buy. Now we're lucky to hear the big C.B. Fisk organ in a solo recital once a year.

Cantrell, Scott. "Fussiness dampens organist John Scott's power". Dallas Morning News, 1 Nov 2007.

An interesting remark, but one that doesn't really surprise me. Texas tends to be all about the show and all about the money. One might say it's a "show me the money" kind of state. The Meyerson Fisk certainly displays a great deal of money donated by the Lay's potato chip family. And don't get me wrong -- it's a great organ, but one that is better seen than heard. Texans aren't really interested in "hearing the money" after all.

I'm picking on Texas here because it's fun. Really, this is the kind of thing I imagine happens everywhere. Having an organ in a concert hall is a great idea, one grounded in the past and the future, but not the present. Concert halls have historically had nice organs in them, so concert hall designers naturally want an organ in their hall. If they don't put an organ in, they reason, they'll wish they had later when the conductor wants to sell out a concert with the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony, but lacks an instrument.

And certainly those concert halls built with organs do use them from time to time; mostly in big, showy "organ & orchestra" pieces like the Saint-Saens and a handful of others.

But as far as the concert hall organ as a recital instrument? This is a harder sell. Dallas is living through the Meyerson organ's first decade, and Scott Cantrell, the reviewer, is among those who are unhappy with how often the instrument is heard in a solo capacity (or maybe even with orchestra?). I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons why the organ isn't heard all that often, chief among them being hall availability/expense and the organ's unpopularity as a solo instrument. These two factors in combination set the stage for the reality of "a solo recital once a year" if we're lucky.

As if on cue, hot-shot Julliard organ professor Paul Jacobs sounds off to the Morning Call: "I've always believed that if watching people hit a golf ball around can be embraced by the public and have such a large following, surely the organ, played in an exulting manner, should be able to attract an equal audience in terms of size".

As orchestras more carefully market their programming to their audiences, they also manipulate organ programming. The organ, rather than an instrument of artistic merit, is used as another avenue to bring people into the concert hall (where they can then be sold on the halls beauty, and the affordability of other concerts held there). One such ploy, as I see it, is the accompanying of silent movies around Halloween time. There's nothing wrong with this, per se, but (hypothetically) given that the organ in the concert hall is not a theater organ, and given that this is the only time the organ is heard by itself, then yes, this is gimmicky. An improvised film accompaniment, even when done well, lacks the variety and artistry of a varied program of organ repertoire.

But then there's John Scott, who Dallas brought in to play the back 9 on the Meyerson. So, how does John Scott fair in his Dallas recital? Is he as exciting as Tiger Woods?

Mr. Scott's virtuoso technique was everywhere in evidence, and there certainly wasn't a dull moment. . . He got a standing ovation.

Good -- but is that good enough?

Stylistically, though, this was baroque playing of a kind that came and went in the United States two decades ago.

. . . [I]n the 1970s and early '80s some organists tried to outdo one another in breaking up lines with fussy articulations and clipped pedal notes.

Scholarly players have long since moved beyond this kind of point-making, but not, it seems, Mr. Scott.

More freely written passages . . . were turned into extravagant taffy pulls.

This was a burlesque of historically informed performance practices, artifice choking art.

Wow. And this choked art gets a standing ovation?

. . . yes, a treatment of Standing Ovation Syndrome (SOS) is long overdue . . .

Even if organists can't all play up to Paul Jacobs's standards (and who can?) somehow I think that concert hall committees will continue to build organs.

But they'll be fussy about it. It's always fussiness when it comes to the organ.

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Sibelius - influence on Coltrane, Bernstein?

While we were gone:

Sibelius and Coltrane on the town (Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise)


Williams, Rowan - Tokens of Trust

In my ongoing ability to ignore books by prominent theologians whom I admire and respect, I have so far overlooked the publication of Rowan Williams's Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, published in March.

Williams, as you may know, is the Archbishop of Canterbury -- the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion.

In reading the Publishers Weekly review, it becomes immediately clear that Williams is an "Anglican" rather than an "Episcopalian":

"At the heart of the desperate suffering there is in the world," writes Williams, "suffering we can do nothing to resolve or remove for good, there is an indestructible energy making for love."

Had this been written by an "Episcopalian" the last bit would have read ". . . an indestructible energy for making love."

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