Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The life of faith: A 2-1 suspension.

As we live our mortal existence, we sigh away with St. Paul.  The good things we want to do, we do not do, and end up doing the very things we don’t want to do.  It is true with how we treat others, how we do our jobs, how we love our families, how we discipline our children.  It affects our stewardship.  It affects how we look at the gifts we have been given.  We selfishly and slavishly look after our own needs to the detriment of others.

It is because of our lack of goodness.  It has been so since the first human beings disobeyed God in the garden so long ago.  As we proceed on life’s way, we acutely feel these axiomatic negations of our character.  Are we really good?  Is who we are what we really desire to be?  In most cases, we distract our selves from knowing the true self.  It is just too painful to truly know and plumb the depths of our mortality.

And so much of life is living in this tension.  Yet, tension is not such a bad thing, is it?

Tension looks for a resolution.  To those of you music theorists, a V chord wants naturally to resolve to I.  A leading tone MUST lead to I or it feels incomplete.  A 2-1 suspension, wants to leave the 2 and become 1 in unision.  The tritone wants to leave the 4th and come to the 5th.  Music is, in many ways, ordered tensions with great resolutions.  Each master cadence gives us the feeling of being whole, like eating so many beans.

Hilse’ s “Meditation” has a tremendous chain of 2-1 suspensions toward the end of the piece that lingers and makes itself unavoidable as the centerpiece of the moment.  Yet, it peacefully resolves as the melodies underneath it remind you of what came before and the passing tones out of the suspension lead to I and hang out on the pedal point.  This piece is a metaphor for my life.  I hear echoes and reminders of what came before, good and bad, while living in a suspension that wishes to resolve to 1.  It cannot resolve to 1 until the 3-in-1 takes me and moves me from incompletely mortal to completely resurrected.

But the beauty of the tension of a suspension is that is is both past and now, waiting for tomorrow, which it is also part of.  Three notes sound at once and the middle dissonance is removed.  The past and future are in harmony and all is well.  The note that doesn’t belong is what makes the third so beautiful when it resolves.

Our dissonant mortality will be harmonized with our resurrected future.  We live that reality now, but it is still in tension with the past, struggling with our original man inside of us who seeks to pull us down unto death.  Yet, another kind of suspension: the second adam on the tree has made the once and future resolution possible.  This is the most beautul tension of them all!  Washed in water and hearing the words of life, the old man becomes dissonant, yet is made more beautiful when he is finally resolved and dissolved into the new.

Heard: Durufle’s Prelude sur l’introit de l’epiphanie

This week I was especially surprised in chapel.  As we were exiting, completely out of left field, I got to hear Maurice Durufle’s “Prelude sur l’introit de l’epiphanie.”  I know this piece so well, that it took me about 30 seconds to notice it was actually playing–this time, not in my mind.

The way the piece starts out is so bold and unapologetic; Durufle wastes no time getting to the theme of the piece.  Where I work, we have a very nice Cassavant Freres organ, with great sounding principal; while it was designed mainly to handle Germanic baroque music, it has some very French mixtures and reeds, and some horizontal trumpets.  The organist interpreted Durufle very well and made my grey January day a much happier one.

Two awesome pieces that blow my mind

Meditation by Walter Hilse is fantastic.  Todd Wilson renders it perfectly on the Aeolian Skinner in Atlanta.  He starts kind of slowly, a bit straightforward, light on the string stops, closed swell boxes.  Then he opens up a little more, slowly, slowly, with some ascending tonal harmony with a few good passing tones and suspensions, then he goes modal and sounds more dreamy on these great reeds.  The pedal point sets in and it reminds me of parts of Holst’s “Planets” in terms of how the tension is built, but then it gently fades away with a beautiful descending line in the principal pipes held over the strings.

But wait, it gets better!  Leo Sowerby’s “Sonatina for Organ – Very Slowly” is fast becoming my favorite piece right now.  And that’s saying something, because French, he is not.  It starts out so dissonantly, almost like Mussorgsky.  A great Klarine giving a modal line, then in fades the half-opened swell box on some salicional or gentle reeds, then comes this Langalais-like blockflute.  The melody is so haunting and beautiful, almost aqua green.  There’s a small repeated line in the strings, and he takes it into three new keys, very blusey, very jazzy, and enters the principle.  Oh Lord, at about 3 minutes into the piece, the beautiful line makes me melt.  There’s this  F – G flat – A flat -B flat -E flat – A – A flat- F line;encapsulating a ridiculously, deliciously emphasized tritone, all floating in a principle flute over the swelled string stop.  It just doesn’t get any better, or does it?

Chromaticism and accidentals all over the place, he lets the air out of the piece, almost like the sun going down, yet still playing with a few tritones, returning to the early modal dissonance of the piece, while the swell reminds you of the earlier three note themes.  Sowerby keeps the attention by messing with you, is he going to return back to where he came?  How will he end it?  Floating flute line, then a clarinet, almost like a swan singing in the distance, and a few sweet chords in the swell end it gently.

Call me crazy, but this piece is so awesome.

Nostalgia

This time of year I tend to get nostalgic about my fall semester in Osaka, back in 1997.  It’s been over ten years now and I still remember the crisp fall days as the summer heat and humidity dropped off into the night.

I used to smoke Mild Seven cigarettes and walk from the small two-story home I was staying at to the bus stop at Korigaoka Go-chome.  It was on the Keihan line that would take you all the way to Hirakata station.  I lived not too far from Hirakata park, but never really wanted to go to the amusement park.  I tended to like going to Kyobashi when I had free time.

Every time the weather gets like it is now, I reach for my outmoded MD player and pull out a disc of Marie-Claire Alain’s renditions of Bach’s most famous chorales.  I used to listen to these just about every day on my way down to the station.  In fact, I am listening to them right now!  Pure sunlight and sharp days are so well complemented by MC Alain’s renditions of these amazing pieces.  As a good Shiraz to a sharp cheese, so does this music match the fall days.

The think I enjoyed most about my Aiwa MD player is the fact that it always produced such excellent bass response; it was almost as warm as an analog recording.  When I attempt to enjoy these pieces of my iPod, something is lacking sorely.  These pieces, like the weather and smoke they accompany in my mind, meet up perfectly with the MD of the late 1990’s.  It is no mistake then, that when I put these chorales to my ears, all the memories come flooding back.

I never thought I’d be writing about these things on an old Dell running Ubuntu!

Dupre

A few months ago I was in the upswing of my cyclical obsession with Dupre’s Prelude and Fugue in g minor.  That passed as I was discovering the joys of Mint Royale and Verve remixes on iTunes, punctuated with Portishead’s odd intervals.

Now I am dreaming Dupre’s Prelude and Fugue in f minor all night long.  Mostly the fugue.  Over and over.  Specifically, the opening 4 phrases of Todd Wilson’s interpretation of the piece on disc 2 from the Delos release of “In A Quiet Cathedral”

I can’t say enough about this awesome album.  Wilson’s selection along with quiet, peaceful rendition is simply outstanding.  Add that to Delos’ phenomenal recording techniques and you have something special.  (And 2 discs at $19.99 isn’t bad either! Although I got my copy 9 years ago in Tower Records’ annex for clearing out overstock in St. Mark’s Place, NYC.  Sadly, it’s gone now.)

I love how the prelude has the same gentle arpeggios all throuought the movement, and then gives way to a sentinel principal expressing the theme, with the string stops breathing underneath and then taking the theme again, dueling with the principal pipes.  The Aeolian-Skinner does not disappoint as the artist makes great use of the swell and great.

I bought another interpretation of this piece on iTunes,  from Naxos’ Organ Encyclopedia series.  While Janette Fishell plays well, (Props to anyone who can play Dupre!) she does not have the same fluidity and softness that Wilson achieves.  What’s more, she closes the swell too much at times, and it squeezes the sound.  Other times, she loses momentum and it feels like the fugue is almost lost.

The piece ends gently, with the same ending chord progression, almost exactly like the fugue in g minor.

While the prelude and fugue in g minor are evocative of a rainy day, riding on a train, this piece is more evocative of a botanical garden on spring night, where the clouds are purple and the sun is illuminating the horizon in that honeysuckle orange, pouring through tht trees.

What a fantastic message

I got up this morning with Harold Melvin’s “Wake Up Everybody” in my head.

There was a PSA when I was growing up in NYC the ’80s encouraging people to become teachers and mentors to others that used the first few verses of this song. It made an impression and stuck in my head all these years.

But I never heard the whole song until I found it on youtube and iTunes this morning.

I was struck about the excellent message and honest entreatment to live a life of love and service. It was like an exhortation from a musical pulpit to live a Christ-like life. After the first few verses and choruses, the song goes into a kind of “Hey you, in X vocation, do a good job!” type of challenge.

My favorite lines are “You preachers: Stop preaching what you teach! Teach the TRUTH! Wake up preachers” and “Politicians: Stop lying! Why don’t somebody help the poor people?” and finally, “You businessman: Stop cheating, stop cheating, stop cheating, cheating!”

“It don’t matter, what race, creed, or color, everybody, we need each other.”

Winter

I tend to say that I hate winter…it’s just so cold and dead.

But I do have SOME good things to say about it – yes, even outside of Christmas. I like the color of the sky as the sun sinks down; midnight blue meets its persimmon complement as the dark hands of the leafless trees reach up in praise to the King of the frozen sky.

Right now, I am listening to Richard Souther’s “Dream Suite” off of his 1985 debut album, “Heirborne.”

Typical of many of the trips we took, I remember listening to this cassette on my Sanyo (Fast-forward only!) walkman in the back of the family 1982 Impala station wagon, staring at the blueish shadows on the purple snow at 11PM as the stars twinkled at us. The broken down corn stalks and golden uncut grass showed an undulating silver wash as we sped on by at 55 MPH. This was on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas break. I was eight at the time. Dad was listening to cassettes of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but at that age, I wanted to drink this music in as much as I can. This was the first time I had ever experienced nine chords, and rich, fat synthesizer pads.

Years later, I would find the Meadowlark collection released on CD’s for about $7 a piece in a Borders near Roosevelt Field mall in Long Island, and would buy everything they had. Meadowlark was Sparrow records’ answer to New Age, godless music. It was “New Age” in its style, but was done by and on Christian themes. Richard had 4 albums in this series, 2 as Richard Souther, 2 solo piano albums, released under his middle names, “Douglas Trowbridge.” How cool is that, I loved all these albums and had no idea they were the same guy. Check him out at http://www.richardsouther.com.

Sometimes, I long to sit in the back of that Impala again, on the way to Warsaw, NY. Through the cold night, warm inside the car with my family, on the way to see more dear people who I still love and miss very much.

My life tends to imitate itself. Years later-it was 1999, when I was done with college-we still were making that same trip over the Christmas break. This time, we stopped in Rochester, at a Borders again, and there I bought Ken Ishii’s “Jellytones” album. There is a piece on that disc called “Endless Season,” which I listened to over and over again, in the back of Dad’s minivan, this time on a Sony Discman. It has a great portamento lead and shiny pads that also signifies winter to me, but this time it’s when the sunset sky is all pink and purple, making the snow seem like a faded blanket of made of fuzzy peach skins. Fat flakes come plopping down on your windshield and everything outside seems so silent and still. Wait a second, I’ll go cue it up in iTunes.

Ken Ishii soon became my subway ride buddy. Still I can close my eyes and see that snowy road…

Yes, I do actually have a few good things to say about winter.

Connected

I was recently listening to Ji-Yoen Choi’s solo organ recording, where she plays the Reddel Organ at Valparaiso’s Chapel of the Resurrection.   I have really enjoyed Jean Langlais over the years, and Choi’s rendition of the Fete for Organ is just so lyrical.  At 16 seconds in, I closed my eyes, and was transported back in space and time.  The small, brassy mixture she uses, which is so typical of Langlais, flooded my heart with so many memories.

Not only is this very similar to John Cook’s Fanfare in terms of the sound of the mixture, but so many Christmas pieces we sang in the chapel lent themselves to this type of registration.

As the years pass, I find myself longing to return to the Chapel of the Resurrection – it is my most favorite place on earth.  It is where the scriptures were opened to me like never before. It is where in word and song, I learned the truth of God’s unstoppable grace – I am not held accountable for my sins – and that God has forgiven my sins only because of the work of Jesus Christ.  What pure Gospel this is!  Romans 7 and 8 came alive for me as part of the text for Bach’s motet, “Jesu Meine Freude.”  Life changed for me because of that place and time.

The Advent-Christmas vespers was such a warm time amid a cold, wet, flat campus.  Life happened indoors as it slowed down out of doors.  The soft lighting, the bright sounds, the joyful praise we raised to our Christ, is so remarkable.  It is a glimmer of things to come.  It was a time of discovery, a purer time, where there was more simple knowledge-spiritual milk-to learn and digest.  Now, I must grapple with the heavier stuff, the knowledge of self, the understanding of the bondage of the will, original sin’s grip on us, our lot that is thrown in with Adam, the human misery – the fact that I am surrounded by death.

Is it a wonder that naturally, I want to be there?  Again and again.

There is where the light would stream, vaulting and barreling through the 5 storeys of glass.  There is where I received the body and blood in the bread and wine, in the most dazzling setting.   I could not but admit God’s unsearchable greatness; I could come with no merit of my own, to receive the great gift of Christ’s living presence, at a time when I knew practically nothing.  I just enjoyed God and what he had done for me.

So the sights and sounds of that place fill my heart, and are readily called to the fore of my mind with small triggers.  (How I thank God for the art and music that has been used to draw me to him!)

And such it is, that I am drawn to that place.

And not just that Physical place, but the Spiritual place that was uncluttered by years of trials and doubt.

It took me many years to realize that God creates  new experiences and new ways to enjoy Him and his presence.  You can never go back, but you can truly appreciate where you have come from, and take that with you on your journey.  Our journey that leads heavenward will end in a place that is even better than my favorite place on earth.  If what I had at VU is but a fraction, a mere dot on the head of a pin, of the joy and splendor of heaven, I can barely wait to get THERE. To that place. To a glimpse of that SPIRITUAL place, better, because I will have known all the sorrows of this life, while truly knowing an unending joy.

That is my home, my Furusato of the eschaton.

So, as the year draws to a close, and I enter into my 10th year since I graduated and left THAT place, I, very Janus like, look back and smile, but look forward and long for that day when our joy is made complete by Him.

VU Organ

Good summary of Durufle albums

I just read this at Ultrasonic Scattershot, a blog about uncommon music by Bill Stachour. This guy’s comments are spot on! Please read to learn more about great Durufle Recordings.

http://ultrasonicscattershot.blogspot.com/2007/09/three-recordings-of-maurice-durufls.html