Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Teaching Styles and Methods

At a rough approximation, I think I have studied with approximately twenty or so different instrumental teachers in my time. This includes a few amateur guitarists in the very early days, then José Tomas in Alicante, Spain, Michael Strutt in Montréal, Léo Brouwer in Montréal and Toronto, Oscar Ghiglia in Banff, Alberta and Pepe Romero in Victoria, BC and Salzburg, Austria. Plus I have sat in on several master classes given by Abel Carlevaro and the occasional one by a pianist or singer.

Everyone has a different approach. I can hardly remember a thing that Tomas said in the many private lessons I had with him, but I remember his examples very well. One day I came to class with the John Duarte arrangement of the First Cello Suite by Bach. In this version, probably the most widely performed, the original in G major is transposed up a fifth to D major. Then the sixth string of the guitar is tuned down to D and bass lines are added. After I played, just the prelude, I think, Tomas picked up his eight-string guitar, dug around amongst his scores, and sight read the prelude from the original cello music in G major. It sounded so rich in comparison with the tinny sounding version up a fifth that I immediately gave up the idea of learning the Duarte arrangement. In the original key, it certainly did not need an added bass line. I was playing a six-string, not an eight-string guitar so Tomas suggested I try it in A major instead, which, years later, I did. After transposing and learning the whole suite I decided that it needed the third string to be in F# as well as the sixth in D, so I re-learned it. I also recorded the whole suite. Here is the prelude.

With Oscar Ghiglia, on the other hand, I hardly recall him playing anything in particular, but I remember what he said, very well. He loved to teach with metaphor. I remember him comparing the slow part of the prelude to the first lute suite by Bach to an opera plot. When the harmony got to a very dramatic V4/2 chord, he uttered in a deep voice: "revenge!" It seemed to perfectly capture the drama of the moment. Another time he might teach the same passage with an entirely different metaphor. I remember the devastating critique he gave of one woman's Bach: "you played that like you were going shopping!"

But I think all teachers give little demonstrations of how a phrase might go best, or how to balance a certain harmony.

Pepe Romero seemed to take a two-pronged approach: on the one hand he really focussed on technique. Uniquely among all the master classes I have seen, he would start each session with ten or fifteen minutes of technique with everyone playing together. He has some great exercises and I use them to this day to warm up and maintain my technique. One happy result of this was that nearly every guitarist had, by the end of the course, a much higher level of technical confidence. The importance of this cannot be over-rated. The other part of his approach was perhaps psychological. He talked about things like not playing from ego and about having a spiritual base. When it came to the music, he didn't say a lot. I think he has a very instinctive approach.

Oh, one other thing about José Tomas' approach: he had a scholarly side and also was an absolute master of fingerings. His editions of Bach or Scarlatti or Weiss were always the most practically and efficiently fingered.

Frankly, I don't remember a darn thing Leo Brouwer said either of the times I played for him--oh, apart from him asking about my odd sitting position the first time. I used to sit with the guitar positively wedged into my left thigh and tilting very forward.

One very funny thing I remember from Abel Carlevaro's master classes: he would say the same thing to every player: "you have two problems, the right hand and the left hand." True enough!

One more thing about Oscar Ghiglia: he had a sardonic side and seemed to really dislike everything about Argentina. I made the mistake of playing a piece by Máximo Diego Pujol, a guitarist-composer from Buenos Aires, for him once and all he did was tell a really disgusting joke about Argentinians. This was the piece.

One final thought about teaching: hardly any style or method gets to the really nitty-gritty core of what you need to play music. I think it boils down to concentration: if you have really good focus and concentration, then you can use your musicality and technical command at its best. If not, then the performance will come apart. So however you work, you need to develop your focus and concentration. I don't recall any teachers talking much about that...

Let's end with a fine performance by a young Canadian guitarist who seems to have this concentration thing down. This is Drew Henderson playing the Allegro from the Violin Sonata No. 2 BWV 1003 by J. S. Bach.




Monday, March 27, 2017

Monteverdi Madrigal Techniques

One somewhat unwarranted slur against the madrigal is the use of the term "madrigalism" for what today we would call "Mickey Mousing." I talked about this in this post. Sadly, "link-rot" has caused all my embedded clips to disappear, but I think the text will give you some idea. Mickey Mousing is the musical effect, often used in cartoons, of having the music directly imitate in some way what is happening onscreen. But the constant effort to set the texts of madrigals also sometimes resulted in some direct imitation of things like waves or wind or perhaps weeping or sexual tensions as I discuss in the earlier post.

Monteverdi, however, makes use of many techniques that are much more sophisticated and reflect the wit and brevity of the texts. Tomlinson calls this Monteverdi's "epigrammatic" style. Sometimes the bifurcate relationship between the poet and nature is reflected in the alternation of lively textures and slow-moving affective passages. An example is "La giovinetta pianta" from Book 3:


Monteverdi also makes use of "struck" dissonances, i.e. ones not prepared through suspension. Here is an example on "ch'io" from "Occhi, un tempo mia vita" also from Book 3:


In the second measure of the example, the alto voice leaps to a minor seventh dissonance, the kind of thing much-criticized at the time. The E flat makes the chord a minor minor seventh one, making it sound just a tiny bit jazzy to our modern ears.

Monteverdi finds musical analogues of rhetorical devices such as the "isocolon," where parts of the sentence are composed of grammatically identical phrases. The most terse example is Julius Caesar's "veni, vidi, vici." Monteverdi might set a text using isocolon by using the same bass line, transposed, in parallel sections.

Another interesting technique is that of the "evaporated cadence" where a four voice texture is slimmed down to two or even one as the cadence is reached:

Click to enlarge
Here, as we get to the G tonic, the four voice texture thins to three, then two and finally the two voices merge into one. The purpose of this is to lessen the finality of the cadence--the bass doesn't reach its G until the beginning of the next phrase. A lot of Monteverdi's skill is in calibrating most finely his musical techniques to the text.

In Book 4, he sought out more epigrammatic texts to suit his epigrammatic style. Here is an example:


And here is a performance:


How beautifully and succinctly the music reflects the two parts of the text: the opening exposition followed by the witty paradox: Oh, deadly beauty!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Musical Anhedonia

Yesterday I included in my Friday miscellanea a piece from The Atlantic on "musical anhedonia." I've been thinking about it and think it is worth a second look. Go read the whole thing, but here is a sample:
Despite coming from a tremendously musical family, Sheridan is part of the roughly 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population that has an apathy toward music. It’s what’s referred to as specific musical anhedonia—different from general anhedonia, which is the inability to feel any kind of pleasure and which is often associated with depression. In fact, there’s nothing inherently wrong with musical anhedonics; their indifference to music isn’t a source of depression or suffering of any kind, although Sheridan notes, “The only suffering is being mocked by other people, because they don’t understand it. Everybody loves music, right?”
Later on, the article describes someone at the other end of their spectrum: a music-lover:
“I hear music in my mind a lot, and I can get chills from this imagined music,” says Silvia, a psychology professor at the University of Carolina at Greensboro, who experiences chills in response to music several times a day. In fact, it was this response that got Silvia to begin studying chills almost a decade ago.
“Chills are fascinating,” says Silvia, because “there’s a difference between some song you like coming on the radio and emotions from music that are deep.” It’s that feeling of wanting to cry when you hear a particularly moving piece or feeling your heart soar as notes get larger and more grandiose. “It seems to be part of this whole cluster of feelings that people find very hard to have words for,” Silvia says.
 There is something really wrong with this whole approach. Let me cite two hypotheticals to show why: first of all, there are lots of people who really thrive on music. They have music playing in the background nearly all time and thanks to the Sony Walkman (going back a few years) and the iPod and iPhone, they can have it with them all the time. It is like a constant blanket of sonic stimulation. Then there are people who rarely listen to music and a surprising number of professional musicians fall into this category. There are probably lots of other kinds of listeners and non-listeners, but you would have to do a truly objective survey to discover them--something that social scientists seem not to do. Instead, they lay out some crude categories that tend to dominate all the subsequent findings:
As part of the study, 45 students from the University of Barcelona (where most of the study authors are based) were asked to fill out a questionnaire that helped determine their sensitivity to musical reward. Based on their responses, they were divided into groups of three—people who don’t care for music at all, those who have some interest in music, and those who essentially live and breathe music. The researchers then had them listen to music while measuring their brain activity with an fMRI machine.
I don't know about you, but whenever I try and fill out a psychological questionnaire, I find that I cannot answer at least half the questions because I believe the underlying assumptions and ideological stance to be mistaken.

In order to get at the problem here, let me back up a bit and introduce the notion of the "Overton Window." The Overton window (you can read about its origins in the Wikipedia article) is the range of ideas that are deemed acceptable in public discourse. Ideas falling anywhere outside the window are regarded as radical, unacceptable or evil. In political environments where only a few outlets tend to form public opinion the Overton window can be quite narrow. From my own experience, I would adjudge Canada to be one such. I can recall decades of both the Globe and Mail (the dominant newspaper) and the CBC (the dominant broadcaster) going hard at it to diminish public support of Israel and create public support for the Palestinians. Then, of course, the Globe and Mail does a poll of public opinion and discovers that it has shifted away from Israel and towards the Palestinians. No surprise there!

I think that if we dig into the assumptions of this research we will find an Overton window delimiting neurological research into music. The ideas excluded from their Overton window are things like the differing aesthetic quality of music and the subsequent different kinds of engagement with it. For these researchers there is the simple duality of "pleasure from music" and "lack of pleasure from music." One concept completely outside their Overton window is the idea that some people might like some music quite intensely and dislike other music equally intensely. But this is in fact perfectly normal!

There are certain words that always seem to prefix a reveal of an assumption. One of these is "despite" as in the first sentence of the first quote:
Despite coming from a tremendously musical family, Sheridan is part of the roughly 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population that has an apathy toward music.
One assumption underlying this is that the ability to enjoy music is partly genetic! This is interesting because in most social science contexts these days, the base assumption is that humans are a blank slate, not genetically predisposed towards musical talent or intelligence or other abilities. Let's look at another quote, this time from the music-lover:
“Chills are fascinating,” says Silvia, because “there’s a difference between some song you like coming on the radio and emotions from music that are deep.” It’s that feeling of wanting to cry when you hear a particularly moving piece or feeling your heart soar as notes get larger and more grandiose. “It seems to be part of this whole cluster of feelings that people find very hard to have words for,” Silvia says.
This is a bit like things I have said here a number of times: what music does, what music is, is a bit of a mystery and fundamentally difficult to put into words. But I also have said a number of times that the effect music has on us is unlike what we might call "garden-variety" emotions in that they, unlike music, have objects. We love someone, we hate something, we are angry about something, etc. Music does not have specific objects in the world like our regular emotions do. Music creates something else that is partly somatic (we have bodily reactions to rhythm especially), partly mood (music has an intense ability to create atmosphere and mood) and partly something else that I find it hard to find a word for: spiritual? intellectual? There is a lot of music that operates in a realm that is pretty far afield from our everyday lives, so we don't seem to be able to easily describe it. A good example would be a Bach fugue. How would you describe your response to this:


One assumption of the article is that any music-lover would, as a matter of course, experience "chills" when listening to music. I have to confess that while this happened fairly regularly when I was young, it is less common now. And it certainly is no indicator of my interest or engagement in the music. "Chills" are kind of a fusion of somatic and emotional reactions to music that may or may not occur when you listen and really don't have much to do with your engagement. I doubt very much that any serious performer experiences "chills" when they are playing, but they are more engaged than anyone else in the hall:


The researchers talk a lot about the pleasure and joy that people experience from music:
in the brains of hyper-hedonics—people on the other end of the musical spectrum—researchers saw the strongest transfer of information between the auditory and reward parts of the brain. “It shows that the experience that you have for music is linked to this type of neural response pattern—the more you have it, the more interaction there is between those two systems, the more you are likely to feel pleasure to music,” says Robert Zatorre, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal and one of the authors of the study. “These are people who say life would be unimaginable without music.”
Sure, some music is joyous and pleasurable, but other music is tragic and demanding. One of the fundamental problems with this kind of research is that there is no interest in or ability to distinguish between different kinds of musical experience. They have to categorize very sad music that might move some people to tears as being somehow "pleasurable."

A "neural response pattern" may be something that they can measure, but I really doubt that it tells us anything of any significance. People may have stronger or weaker response patterns, but I doubt we are measuring an aesthetic quality. At the end of the day, the response they are looking at is no different from the response people might have to taking cocaine or heroin. Not much to do with music, really.

Let's listen to a demanding, challenging piece for an envoi. This is the Piano Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev:


Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Sometimes you read a review and you just get the feeling that the reviewer is out of his depth. Let's read Andrew Clements' review of a recent Beethoven concert by Igor Levit:
Three years ago Levit chose to make his debut on disc with late Beethoven – performances of the last five sonatas, that made a bold artistic statement, and one that suggested he was already a fully mature and searching Beethoven interpreter. Here, however, his playing of the A major Op 101 and the B flat Op 106 was far less convincing. Unlike the recordings, these seemed like interpretations that were still to be finalised, or perhaps were being radically rethought.
That first CD of late Beethoven was followed by another of Bach Partitas and a third one, all of these double CDs, of variations by Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski. An artist as bold as that--who else would dare to record the late Beethoven sonatas as his debut disc?--is likely the kind of artist that would be always exploring the aesthetic possibilities. I am reminded of a story told me by a friend of mine who was a music reviewer. He attended a couple of concerts by Ivo Pogorelich with the Vancouver Symphony (back in the 80s when he was in his prime). After the first one the local reviewer wrote a review complaining that the performance was too...something. Honestly, I forget. But you know, too something! Obviously Pogorelich read the review because the next night he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 in exactly the opposite way to the way he had the night before. Just to mess with the reviewer. Someone at that level of artistry can do that. Reviewers sometimes forget that some of the people that they review are on rather a higher plane than they are.

* * *

I dunno, I just found the whole performance rather cold: Tim Linhart’s Amazing ‘ICEstrument’ Orchestra
In Lulea, Sweden, Linhart has made his own igloo concert hall where musicians perform with string and percussion instruments made of ice. One of the major problems with conducting an ice orchestra is that the instruments eventually fall out of tune due to body heat from the performers and audience. This has led Linhart to create a unique venting system in his ice theater that filters the body heat out of the igloo.
Here is a clip of the music:


Sure, the music is rather banal, but hey, it's "cool."

* * *

There is an article at The Atlantic about "musical anhedonics" who are people who just don't have any kind of reaction to music. One of them says that for her, “music sits in an odd spot halfway between boring and distracting.” Well, that's weird, because that is often my reaction too! Could I be a musical anhedonic? I suspect not. I find most music either boring or distracting because, well, it is. The people I find really incomprehensible are those who say "I like all kinds of music!" Jeez, how is that possible? According to the article, people who have a high interest in music seem to be into all sorts of music:
As part of his research, Silvia found that some people were more prone to get chills and experience goosebumps when listening to music, and those people also tended to be more open to new experiences. “People with high openness to experience are much more creative and imaginative, and they get these kinds of awe-style experiences so much more often,” Silvia says. “They’re much more likely to play an instrument, they go to concerts, they listen to a wider range of music, they listen to more uncommon music. They just get more out of music.”
Seems to me that they are just avoiding even mentioning that people with highly-developed musical tastes are going to hate a lot of music. They probably have an ideological reason for this that involves denying the existence of taste and even that of different levels of musical quality.

* * *

We should listen to the new and unfamiliar on a regular basis. Here is something from Alex Ross' blog: the Face the Music Quartet play "Death Valley Junction" by Missy Mazzoli:


* * *

The great blues harmonica player James Cotton also passed away this week. I heard him and his band in concert in the mid-80s. Great, high-altitude blues harp playing!


* * *

With the software available these days, it is pretty feasible to set up your own home recording studio. Here is an article on how one guy went about it.
Back in the early 2000s, I wrote a review of PC-based recording software, which I dubbed “Abbey Road in a Box.” In retrospect, that obviously hyperbolic phrase was slightly disingenuous. It’s true that the various flavors of Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) software are now so powerful, their ability to edit, process and manipulate sounds dwarfs what the Beatles and George Martin were capable of when they were recording Sgt. Pepper. However, that album still sounds timeless, because of the Beatles’ and Martin’s sheer talent, the material they were writing and performing, and not least because the rooms they were recorded inside EMI’s Abbey Road Studios sound so good. A DAW, a PC, the right audio interface and appropriate ancillary gear can take you far, but they really need a good-sounding room to get the most out of them.
* * *

I've been a lot more interested in opera since I saw a terrific production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron in Madrid last summer. The Wall Street Journal has a review by Heidi Waleson of three unusual productions in New York:
Benjamin Britten’s church parable “Curlew River” was inspired by a Japanese Noh play, and directors often take that theatrical style as their starting point, using black costumes and somber lighting. In the New York premiere of his production at BAM last week, Mark Morris took the opposite approach. He put everyone in white pajama-like outfits under bright light, and choreographed the movements of the all-male cast, taking both the suffering and the final miracle of this restrained work out of the shadows and making it a hypnotic and powerful ritual.
You know, I really don't know the Britten operas and he is one of the most successful 20th century opera composers.

* * *

Ageism in the orchestra? You bet! Slipped Disc has the story:
The Indianapolis music director Krzysztof Urbanski has been named in an unfair dismissal suit by former principal bassoon John Wetherill, who claims he was ousted from the orchestra on grounds of his age.
Wetherill, 62, says he was ‘duped and ambushed’ in 2012 by the 29 year-old music director.
He argues that ‘the [ISO] is economically benefited by moving out older musicians and bringing in younger musicians below the protected age of 40… A number of older musicians resigned during the period from late 2012 and thereafter, as a result of Urbanski’s ‘move out and replace’ plan and action.’
As always, the comments add a lot of perspective. I can recall labor disputes in a Canadian orchestra I knew quite well (I played a couple of concertos with them and some principles were my colleagues at the university). The principal french horn and principal trumpet had an awkward breakup and afterwards these two sections refused to tune together. Some time later, the conductor went on a crusade against the trumpet player and assembled a bunch of audio clips from concerts of cacks and mistunings (a "cack" is when instead of going "ta-dah" the trumpet just goes "cack"). Up until then, every orchestra performance had been recorded. Afterwards, the union specifically prohibited any recording by the management. Heh!

* * *

 For our envoi today, let's listen to the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, written for an early chromatic trumpet. The performers are Alison Balsom, trumpet and Xian Zhang, conductor:


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Short Takes

I've tagged this "miscellanea" because I don't know where else it might fit. I keep having these little one-liners running through my head and, since I don't have a comedy writing gig to soak them up, I decided to stick them in a post. Trigger warning: there might be the occasional one related to politics or economics. Like the first one:

  • If you hate the idea of having your economic choices influenced by Big Corporations, then you should move to Venezuela or Cuba where you can have them dictated to you by malignant dictators and enforced by the army.
  • No amount of hip costuming, stimulating staging, social media promotion or chatting to the audience can compensate for poor choice of repertoire, faulty technique and musical insensitivity. Isn't this perfectly obvious?
  • The founding of Canada as a union of French and English-speaking colonies of Great Britain right next door to the USA led to the fond hope that it would result in a happy blend of British government, American know-how and French culture. Sadly, the result often seems to be an unfortunate mix of French government, British know-how and American culture.
  • If you go to the bank to get a mortgage so that you can buy a house, do you know where that money comes from? Do you think it is money that was deposited in the bank? Oh no, not at all. The bank simply creates it out of thin air. It's called fractional reserve banking. Doesn't that make you just a tad nervous?
  • When I was an undergraduate at university I took an excellent introductory philosophy course. The professor, a young recent PhD, was brilliant and engaging. One day we were discussing the perception of time and he stated that while humans perceive time as a line going from past to future, that dolphins perceive time as an expanding spiral:

Many, many years later it occurred to me that we don't know how dolphins perceive time. Nobody does. How could you? I'm not even sure how I perceive time. In Book 11 of St. Augustine's Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not." The amazing thing is that, even in a class that was devoted to critical thinking, we simply accepted, uncritically, a quite surprising claim by the professor, without a shred of evidence.
  •  I was at a concert the other night that turned out to be all 19th century music and I found myself thinking: "19th century music is a rich flow of sonorities that goes on and on and is fundamentally pointless." Your milage may vary, of course...
  • One company in Connecticut uses an interesting set of questions to qualify potential employees. One question is "When was the last time you cried and why?" Ok, the last two times were, first, the last time I listened to Grigory Sokolov play "Les tendres plaintes" by Rameau: 
and the other time was the last time I watched the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season five, where she dies. What do you think, would I get hired?
  • This didn't wander into my brain all on its own, but was inspired by a blog emanating from a secure, undisclosed location, so I won't reveal the source. But one very well-known social scientist, when asked who was the most accomplished person who ever lived, answered "Aristotle" who invented logical thought with six treatises in the 4th century BC. The measure of how important this was is that no-one was able to come up with any improvements or additions to them until the late 19th century, twelve hundred years later! All of our 21st century information technology is based on fundamental logical principles whose codification we owe to Aristotle. Oh, and he also invented metaphysics, ethics, meteorology, psychology, poetics, botany and a few other things. Not all by himself, he was strongly influenced by a couple of predecessors who included Socrates and Plato.

Dude, It's Dance Music!

One entertaining theme here at the Music Salon is the wacky high jinks that ensue when well-meaning people try to make classical music "accessible" to people who mostly don't seem interested. Dude, with millions of clips of classical music available for free on YouTube 24 hours a day, how much more accessible could it be?

Anyway, Anne Midgette has a piece at the Washington Post that illustrates the hazards: Conductor plays ‘Rite of Spring’ at a club — and then berates the audience for acting like they’re at a club
“We have started a revolution in classical music,” the conductor James Blachly told the crowd. Behind him was a 70-piece orchestra. In front of him was a dance club. The venue was Dock 5, a nightclub at Union Market in the District, and the event was billed by Septime Webre’s Halcyon Stage as a “Stravinsky Rave: Rite of Spring Dance Party.”
All around the world, orchestras are eager to break out of their conventional trappings to reach new audiences. The Tonhalle orchestra in Zurich has a long-standing series called tonhalleLATE, with concerts starting at 10 p.m. followed by a dance party with DJs. Two years ago, the NSO played at Echostage, the District’s largest club. So why not offer a Stravinsky rave, let people dance, break out of the traditional classical music mold, and abolish the outmoded idea that people are supposed to listen to certain kinds of music in certain ways?
The only problem: Blachly’s “revolution” didn’t really allow for that kind of freedom.
That is, having gone to all the trouble of putting an orchestra (largely made up of New York-based music students and freelancers) in a club, and assembling a trendy-looking audience (largely, it seemed, people with some connection or other to the various presenting organizations), he didn’t actually want a rave atmosphere. 
The conductor kept berating the audience for talking, took them to task for their cellphones (“we’re here to dance, not to take pictures”) and, at one point, actually stopped the music to try to force people to be quiet. Some in the audience tried to help, with cries of “It’s classical music!” and “Show some respect!” — which seems the opposite message to the one sent by playing Stravinsky in a club in the first place.
Heh! Well, of course! Turns out, now who could have guessed it, that a dance club is a very poor venue for one of the most demanding scores of the 20th century. If you want people to listen closely to complex music then you really need a specially designed space with good acoustics and good sightlines. Something like, I dunno, a concert hall?

Sometimes I just get the feeling that we are regressing culturally.

Let's have a listen to Stravinsky while we are on the topic. The Rite of Spring played by the Netherlands' Radio Filharmonisch Orkest conducted by Jaap van Zweden:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Neo-Stoicism

Ann Althouse and I seem to be on the same page today. She quotes this fascinating passage from a Victor Davis Hanson piece in the National Review:
More and more Americans today are becoming Stoic dropouts. They are not illiberal, and certainly not reactionaries, racists, xenophobes, or homophobes. They’re simply exhausted by our frenzied culture.... Monastics are tuning out the media.... When everything is politicized, everything is monotonous; nothing is interesting... For millions of Americans, their music, their movies, their sports, and their media are not current fare. Instead, they have mentally moved to mountaintops or inaccessible valleys, where they can live in the past or dream of the future, but certainly not dwell in the here and now...."
Hey, that's where I went, incrementally, starting, oh, about forty years ago.

Let's listen to a musical metaphor for moving to an inaccessible valley. This is Bruckner, Symphony No. 7 conducted by Claudio Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.


UPDATE: I was in a big hurry this morning and never got to the end of that Hanson piece (he does go on). But sure enough, the best was at the end:
Today at 6 a.m. in the dark, I stopped at a gas station in the California coastal foothills. The car next to me had, I thought, way-too-loud booming rap music of the “kill the ho,” “bust up the pig” generic type. Why listen to all that before sunrise? I decided, in protest to the early-morning noise, to leave my own music louder than his as I filled the tank. The first song happened to be a short old folk rendition of Carl Sandburg’s lyrical “The Colorado Trail,” a sad homage to a 16-year-old girl who died on the way westward: "Laura was a laughin’ girl, joyful in the day. Laura was my darling girl. Now she’s gone away. Sixteen years she graced the Earth, and all of life was good. Now my life lies buried ’neath a cross of wood." I then switched tracks to Joan Baez’s folk version of the 18th-century “Plaisir d’amour.” As it ended with Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment? Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie, the young driver, his neck and wrists spotted with tattoos, got into his car (he had earlier turned down his stereo around “Now she’s gone away”) and drove up alongside me. What next? He grinned, “Hey, I liked your songs, okay?”