Tag Archives: MusicMonday

Music Monday: A Time to Feel

Current Track: Underoath Album Cover

It’s been a week, no?

I just learned that a friend of a friend has passed away, a man with a brilliant mind in a broken body. I’d met him only a few times, but my friend could barely speak of the disease that had chewed through his friend’s life before the man had even reached 35.

There are no glib comments that can counteract the pain of death, of losing someone in their prime of life.

This is tender ground for many people, and well-meaning folks rush to make themselves feel better about grief and sorrow by pasting a platitude atop the pain:  “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Well, maybe he’s in a better place now.”

At these moments, in the silence, we must stare into this void and face the deepest questions of our existence. Religious or agnostic, brave or terrified, we humans cannot escape the truth that our lives are short and uncertain.

A time to die – and a time to feel

I love the “time” poem in Ecclesiastes 3, made so famous by the Byrds in one of the most earworm tunes of the 20th century.  There’s a time for everything under the sun. Figuring out what’s appropriate to when is an outgrowth of wisdom.  The Preacher goes on to say that God makes everything beautiful (or fitting, appropriate) in its time.

I appreciate Ecclesiastes more in middle age for its brutal honesty. The speaker brings up problem after problem of life: it’s unfair; rich people get all the perks by stomping on poor people; rich people still die and someone else gets all their hard-earned wealth (which bugged him, since he was pretty rich).  He wonders about the point of life, since we’re all just dead at the end. If this is how the whole thing turns out, what makes life better for me than for a baby who died stillborn? At least the baby didn’t have to deal with all the shit of this life.

Ecclesiastes is so bleak at times that most Christians are highly uncomfortable with the book. They act like God must’ve made an oversight by letting it into the canon. Surely it’s here just to show us how “worldly” people think, right?

Faith is no excuse for thoughtlessness or cowardice. This life throws questions at us that we cannot hope to answer. Why do good people die young? Why do evil men prosper? Why don’t some people give a shit that life is so bad for other people?

Music as a channel for what we cannot say

Look, I know this isn’t rocket surgery insight here: when I can’t put words to the badness or to the beauty or to the sadness or to the fear, I can feel it through music.  I can play it out with my fingers on the keys of a piano. I can click Play on the tracks below, close my eyes, and let the sounds wash over me.

There have often been times I could not even understand the emotions or name them. I just knew that I felt, and it was a place to begin.

I composed about 6 different posts for this blog over the course of last week’s media circus around the Kavanaugh hearings. I’m angry. I’m tired.

I need a place where my soul can rest and find respite before heading back into the mess.

After a while, it’s tempting to shut off the spigot. I mean, I’m writing this right now instead of doing the project I really need to work on, because I decided it was more important to mourn the loss of a person than to plow through my day as if nothing had happened. I made a conscious choice to feel instead of turning off that sense of loss for my friend who grieves.

There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to feel.

Feel with me today

If you’d like to channel a few feelings with me today, whatever you’re feeling, here are a few of my favorites:

Chanticleer sings Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” with the US Naval Academy men’s glee chorus. You’ll have to crank the sound, but it’s worth it. I cried from the sheer beauty of this when I first heard it sung live by Chanticleer in performance at Clemson University:

Another from Chanticleer, but it’s easier to find this one on Apple Music or Spotify.  I adore about half of the tracks on Chanticleer’s album Wondrous Love (listen on Apple Music, Amazon). Put everything aside, find a pair of headphones, and listen to them sing the old Scots tune “Loch Lomond.”  Don’t miss the last 6 chords–I don’t care if the building is burning down around you.

The Fire Tonight album coverNext up is a track you’ll have to find on one of the streaming services – I’ll provide links below – because it’s not on YouTube. The band is composed of friends of mine, and I think this is possibly the best song they wrote. The entire album is fantastic (IMO) but this song in particular.

Le Cote Sombre, by The Fire Tonight.
Listen on Apple, Amazon, Bandcamp

And finally, a word about the track I led with for this post. For personal reasons, this song is deeply associated with grief over the loss of a young person.  Underoath is a hardcore band (read: yes, there’s some screaming) who used to matter about 15 years ago. (Sorry, Underoath, if you’re still out there.)  Their music isn’t amazing to me, but this song is burned into my emotional circuits for its lyrics and for the way it builds to a MOMENT of intense emotion. The singer continues with lyrics about faith and grace and mercy while the screamer yells JESUS I’M READY TO COME HOME (if this were a dubstep track, it would be the “drop” moment).  Truly, there are days when I’m just ready to come Home.

Oh sweet angel of mercy
With your grace like the morning
Wrap your loving arms around me
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey ungraceful I will teach you To forgive one another
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey unloving I will love you
And will love you

Jesus I’m ready to come home …

Unfaithful
Ungraceful
And unloving
I will love you

(Listen: Amazon or Apple Music)

 

Music Monday: Tunes for the week

Man, it’s been forever since I laid down a Music Monday post!  Must remedy immediately!

Music continues to hold a large space in my life, though it’s been diminished significantly over the past few years. Being away from a large body of students has cut off my access to the latest/newest bits of pop culture. I can skim media feeds but it’s not the same as being hooked into the stream directly. I do miss that.

Is it just me, or is pop radio TERRIBLE this year? I’m hardly in the car anymore, now that I work from home, but I’m counting it a blessing given the bland grey dull tunes that hit me anytime I turn on the radio. A friend of mine described the entire pop ecosystem right now as “f***n mumble rap* and I think she’s got a point.  (For the record, she listens to plenty of rap – the good stuff that never makes it to mainstream radio.)  The rock stations aren’t much better; I feel like I’ve heard the Standard White People Catalog of 70s Rock, 80s Hits, 90s Grunge and 00s Alt Rock way too many times now.

So I’ve leaned into Apple Music to discover new sounds and review some old ones.  Nothing here is particularly “new,” just new to me – and recommended.

For today’s Music Monday:   3 albums and 1 Apple Music playlist that should be in your feed for this week. Listen happy, friends!

Andra Day: Cheers to the Fall

So many things to love about this album. Day’s voice reminds me of the greatest Motown enhanced by everything ’90s R&B has to offer. The tracks move through a soundscape reminiscent of the ’60s, walking through your ears like a woman in a sleek dress in a Bond movie – the Sean Connery series, or the first Daniel Craig one.  Take track #2, “Only Love.”  I hear crisp martinis and red lipstick in these grooves, and it’s hard to have a bad day when Andra Day is laying down the soundtrack.  Get it on Amazon or listen on Apple Music.

London Grammar: Truth is a Beautiful Thing

The lead single off this album, “Rooting for You,” has gotten airplay in various places. It’s lush and mournful, dreamy and beautiful. Play this whole album as background to a dinner outside on your patio under the evening twilight, or sit outside yourself tonight and sip a frosty beverage as the sun goes down.  Get it on Amazon or Apple Music 

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

 I’m in love with this album. It’s spicy and saucy and a little….dirty. lol   Every track sizzles with slick beats and sultry vocals. If you have time, treat yourself to watching the 45-minute “Emotion Picture” version of the album: a sci-fi story about assimilation vs love. I can’t list a particular favorite track because I’d have to list the entire album. Not an exaggeration.   Dirty Computer on Amazon. Or on Apple Music

PLAYLIST: The Rocket 100 (curated by Elton John) – Apple Music

This will cure my pop radio blues! Only Elton John could put together a playlist of music so varied and interesting yet so ….pop. I’m a rock girl most of the time, but sometimes I want the lighter, happy tunes that pop should provide. The summer of 2018 hasn’t dished out many singles that I’ve loved, but I can always turn on Sir Elton’s playlist and instantly improve my day!  Skip anything you don’t enjoy — there’s over SIX hours of music here if you listen to the whole thing!  In fact, I wish every retail establishment would throw out their tired background music and replace it with this.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/elton-johns-playlist/pl.9192e00c1da741719f7b4816d164031e?app=music&at=1000lNKc

Bonus Track: North Carolina hardcore band Hopesfall broke up like a decade ago, but they’re back with a single and now a whole album (via Apple or Amazon)!  It’s solid, and I’m glad to see them back!  Why do I care? Apparently the music we grow up with sticks with us.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/album/arbiter/1370595882?app=music&at=1000lNKc

Music Monday: Rap is art

Some of you will hate this video, but you should watch it anyway.

I do need to point out that hip hop and rap usually contain references to violence and strong language. I’m not condoning the content of the lyrics. But the artistry of the words — that’s impossible to deny, especially when it’s presented this clearly.

I’ve said for a long time that if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be hanging out with street artists and rappers, because they handle language the way Shakespeare did, with an incredible understanding of the beats in the syllables and their effect on the ear. (And let’s be honest—Shakespeare’s content is pretty bawdy in places. I don’t think these albums would make him blush.)

Seriously, tho. Watch this. 

 

Music Monday: Beyonce made more than Lemonade

They say true love’s the greatest weapon
To win the war caused by pain, pain
But every diamond has imperfections
But my love’s too pure to watch it chip away
Oh nothing real can be threatened
True love breathes salvation back into me
With every tear came redemption
And my torturer became a remedy

~”All Night Long,” Lemonade, Beyonce

I didn’t expect to be absolutely floored by Beyonce’s album Lemonade…. but I was.

More precisely, by the film, which was the first way I encountered the music. You’ll have to search the dark underbelly of the internet to find a free stream; legitimately, sign up for a free 1-month trial of Tidal and make sure you cancel in time.

beyonce_Lemonade_1024_1024

Beyonce created an album I’ll be listening to for years. Why?

Because ultimately this album isn’t about infidelity. It’s about forgiveness. Restoration.

I don’t really care so much about the swirling cloud of questions – did Jay-Z cheat on Bey? is this a breakup album? is it just a story? – because nobody has those answers. Story truth is sometimes more real than the actual truth, to reference Tim O’Brien, and in this case, the arc of anger and betrayal in the album melts into a sober-faced reconciliation.

Along the way, Beyonce explores what it means to be a black woman in the USA. I’m not a black woman, so I watched and learned. The mothers of slain black boys hold photos of their sons. The lyrics take us sometimes into the workaday life of a woman trying to hold everything together, or a little girl scarred by the hardness of her father.

How can I watch Lemonade? Did Jay Z cheat on Beyoncé? Who is ‘Becky with the good hair’? Are Jay Z and Beyoncé even married? It’s not too late to catch up

Source: Beyoncé’s Lemonade album explained, from beginner to ‘Beyhive’ | Music | The Guardian

Musically, the album is interesting, fostered by collaborations with a huge variety of artists (ranging as far as Jack White) and plenty of cool samples (including Led Zeppelin’s “The Levee’s Gonna Break”). It would help if you’re a fan of hip hop, or at least capable of appreciation.

But even if you aren’t, find a way to donate an hour toward the film. It’s rough at parts, cutting at parts, raw most of the time, but also honest and beautiful and worth your time.

Music Mondays: hxc blue

I dunno what the rest of y’all will think of this post. Here we go…..

I don’t know why it feels juvenile to admit that sometimes I just want music to be melancholy.  Songs that would emit shades of grey rather than shimmering color; songs that taste sour with a bitter tang.  I’m not often in a “bad mood,” though I move through seasons of irritability and dissatisfaction.

But surely we all have those days when nothing quite fits, when the wrongness of the world rubs up against the brokenness inside my heart, and I’m drawn toward introspection and a dark acknowledgement that we live as broken people in a broken world.

A lot of people mock hardcore and emo music for being immature, overly dramatic, and too dark. Those criticisms are warranted. But when I am looking for a playlist for a less than perfect day, I end up here, with a mix of music from several genres but mostly hardcore.

So here. If your day is crappy, and you need to commiserate instead of pretending to be happy, here are songs to make you un-merry:

“Sowing Season,” Brand New
This is my go-to song for when I feel like nothing I’m doing is making a difference. Yeah, anyone who works with people knows what that feels like.  Sometimes this mood drives me to write poetry, but it’s easier just to pop in this album, The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, and let my thoughts follow their words.

Is it in you now,
To watch the things you gave your life to broken?
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools. (lyrics)

(if you’d prefer to watch a great LineRider video while listening, here ya go)

“How to save a life,” The Fray
I don’t consider The Fray to be hxc or emo at all, but this song fits this list, at least for me. I don’t know how to save a life, but I’m wired to “care”: a paradox which often leaves me melancholic and disappointed that I can pour love into someone else but it doesn’t mean they’re going to care or get better.  “Where did I go wrong / I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness / And I would have stayed up with you all night / Had I known how to save a life.” (Wiki)

And as a close runner up, I really appreciate their song “You Found Me,” which is a pretty honest look at the problem of evil as we encounter it in our daily lives. (Wiki)

anything by From Autumn to Ashes
I mean, the band’s entire catalogue is downright depressing. Some great guitar work. Check out The Fiction We Live or Too Bad You’re Beautiful for several greatly depressing songs.
Also, the guitar opening on “Sugar Wolf” remains one of my all-time favs. Oh, and their drummer sings while he plays as a second vocalist. WHAT?!

“The Leaving Song,” AFI
One of the first “emo” bands I ever encountered, AFI is a granddaddy in the genre. This entire album (Sing the Sorrow) remains in my top playlist. I often listen to it en toto when doing design work, because the tunes are familiar and therefore comforting, despite the fact that the lead vocalists is kind of whiny (if we’re being honest) and this is a slightly embarrassing music selection to admit to my adult reading audience. lol

“In the End,” Linkin Park
I sometimes find their songs like this one or “Breaking the Habit” to help me let off steam when I don’t want “chill” music. Old Linkin Park is da bomb for exploring a crappy day in a crappy week in a crappy month. “In the end / It doesn’t even matter.” Yeah, some days are like that.

“War all the time,” Thursday
War sucks, whether it’s the real thing or a metaphor for the battles we face. This world is a messed up place, and this song captures that (for me). And Thursday is a good example of hardcore without much screaming.  Musically, I like the drum + bass lines in this song, and the simple but effective guitar work. And it’s a good example of musical responses to 9/11 that aren’t country music.

“9 Crimes,” Damien Rice
And now for a genre entirely different….I mostly just like the song itself, apart from the lyrics…. But for our purposes here, it’s not cheery and the slow quiet melody seems to sap energy rather than giving it.  Love lost makes for good melancholy. And disembodied heads are weird, so this video pushes all the right buttons…. lol

“Hurt,” Johnny Cash
I think Cash’s cover of Trent Reznor’s song (written originally for a Nine Inch Nails album) is stunning. When I first saw it as a music video, I literally stopped and stared at the screen. The piano pounds its way through my soul in the second and final choruses, while my emotions feel the weight of the lines: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.”  “You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” I see it as an honest statement of failure more than of intent, but I think we twisted humans swirl them both together as we batter our way through relationships.

This video got a lot more attention since it was released not long after Cash lost his wife, and I’ve always associated the imagery of the video with the deep sadness he must have felt. “Everyone I know goes away in the end.” He died a few months after this was filmed.

 

Most of us aren’t too open about our melancholy days. I’d love to hear about where you turn for musical commiseration.  Comment with song recommendations if you’d like. 🙂

Maybe we need to do “classical music” differently?

I’m concerned. 

This world of popular “classical music” performance is dying.

Despite the awesomeness of performance, of MSUIC, that I wrote about last week — I don’t think it matters how many scholarships we give to kids to hear the symphony play, or how many piano performance students graduate from the local liberal arts college, the market for classical music performances is aging.

I’d say ⅔ or more of the audience at my chorale’s performance last Friday were grey-headed retirees. Sure, they brought some grandchildren with them. Some middle-aged business owners showed up to enjoy the fruits of their sponsorship or watch their spouses sing or play.

But I’ve learned something about marketing (in the general sense) in the past couple years, and if classical music walked up and asked to be one of my clients, I’d whistle low under my breath.

I think the classical music “scene” — the civic chorale or orchestra along with its revenue model based on individual and corporate sponsors and government money — is evaporating.

Does it matter that the market for classical music is greying?

One could argue that this situation is not as bad as it looks. In fact, perhaps the audience demographic on Friday was exactly what we should expect: as people get older, they recognize the value of the cultural arts and buy in, usually through attendance at theater and concerts, and perhaps patronage or sponsorships. Maybe so. Maybe classical music is now primarily the music of old people.

But the world has changed. Music is so much more accessible now. If someone is lucky enough to get music education in school (all but destroyed by the testing culture now), he or she might crave the raw experience of seeing “masterworks” played before a live studio audience instead of satisfying that urge via the sterile perfection of a CD recording or high-fidelity .mp3.

Perhaps.

But I’m afraid that classical music as an industry is in trouble.

What’s wrong with the current model?

Where do we start? With the greying audience? or financial challenges of supporting an expensive performance culture (where all 50-100 orchestra members plus the conductor plus the soloists are getting paid for every performance)? and how that drives up the price of tickets so that a classical music performance costs more than live theater? and how that keeps working class people out of concert halls?

And I’m not the only one to notice. Just this past weekend, the New York Times ran a piece on the challenges facing the New York Philharmonic, including renovations to their building and shrinking capital resources, shifts in audience preferences and habits, and the pressure of a digital music industry.

As it grapples with its transformation, the Philharmonic is facing many of the same financial stresses and changing audience behavior that have challenged other American performing arts organizations — from the venerable Philadelphia Orchestra, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, to the Metropolitan Opera, which is cutting costs after running a $22 million deficit last year. The Philharmonic has had deficits every year for more than a decade; its shortfall dropped to $2.1 million last year from $6.1 million the year before partly because it spent more of its endowment. And, like other institutions, it must learn to adapt as younger generations shun the multiconcert subscriptions that were long the bedrock of sales.

from New York Philharmonic’s Challenges Go Beyond the Music

And I’m no expert, but I think we’ve got another problem: classical concerts just aren’t much fun for the audience members. 

Wait, am I saying classical music is boring?

Well, no.

While the culture of popular music has undergone seismic shifts in the past 100 years, classical music culture – the “liturgy” of experiencing what we collectively label the “masterworks” of “serious music – hasn’t.

What’s it like to attend the delightful performance of Bernstein, Brahms, and Beethoven that GAMAC provided last weekend? First, you had to buy a ticket, so this demands at least a little fore planning (a lost art in the age of cellphones and Facebook event “maybe’s”).  Second, you had to dress up, because even if there isn’t a dress code, everyone who’s attending is going to dress like there is.

Next, you can expect to sit perfectly still and perfectly silent for 90 minutes (save 15 minutes to rush to the bathroom or stretch your legs). That’s still and silent.

And there are rules. In addition to being silent (so don’t even think about pointing out that lovely alto line to your neighbor), you have to know when to clap. And especially when NOT to clap — not between movements of the same piece, not between pieces that are part of the same song cycle, and not before the conductor drops his hands unless the music is just rip-roaring good. (The crowd on Friday were on their feet before the last notes of Beethoven stopped ringing. It was a good second half.)

Contrast this with, say, a rock concert.  Is the virtuosity any less? I’d say no. A great violin solo or a great guitar riff – I enjoy both just as much.  Is there less enthusiasm among aficionados? Again, I’d suggest not. I think the old man bobbing his head along to the choral fugue in the Beethoven’s 9th was having a ball, just like the big kid who stood next to me at the most recent prog-metal concert I attended and danced (badly) with reckless joy and abandon. But wait….

See the difference? 

My fellow metal heads (or fans of John Fogerty or Mumford and Sons or Rhianna or whoever gets you in line at the ticket booth) know what it’s like to move to the music, to dance with all four limbs, to let the energy explode into kinesthetic appreciation.

I think we’re losing our next generation of classical music fans because we’re too caught up in the idea that Classical Music Is Serious Business. So stop wiggling, stop tapping, stop engaging. Just listen.

I don’t think Gen Z or whatever we’re going to call them are going to stick with classical music for the 50 years necessary to get old enough that sitting still for 90 minutes sounds like a blast.

A few suggestions (since all whining and no solutions makes for a bad blog post):

  • Commit to subsidizing art / music / theater / dance / etc both as a public good (i.e.: with public money) and as a significant private investment (i.e.: something businesses, foundations, and individuals should be incentivized to support). We need to invest in what would be individually very expensive (those ticket prices!) so that collectively more of us can afford it.
  • Extend that commitment into free public art events for kids as much as possible. Give kids tickets to symphony performances and theater and dance and everything else. Get them hungry for the beauty and power of the Masterworks.
  • Bring classical music into the streets. Get musicians out on street corners and at festivals to play and sing. Let the public hear more and more music live so it gets into their ears. This means some musicians should volunteer their talent for free, or at least be willing to consider it.
  • Break the traditions on purpose. Do concerts in radically different spaces. Let people listen and [*gasp*] even talk quietly or move around. Not all performances should be dead quiet. It’s ok to win people over with the power of the music, even though it irritates us musicians when we aren’t the center of people’s attention.
  • Bring back the Lyceums. In 1800s America, educated people in the cities recognized that most Americans were pretty culturally ignorant. So they hosted learning experiences for people in their community. They taught folks to sing, taught them about famous classical works, read literature aloud, discussed art. They made a concerted effort to educate the general public for the general good.  This “school for culture” in each town was called a Lyceum.
  • For the love of all that’s holy, threaten to burn things down if our state government cuts any more funding from the arts in schools. The kids need truth, goodness, and beauty or their souls will shrivel into little hard lumps. We can do this. America has the resources.

I want classical music to thrive. I really do. I want Bach to resound through a concert hall followed by something by Pink Floyd and capped off with Mahler.

We can do this, people.

The music is in the making

On Friday, I had the privilege of doing one of my favorite things. I stood on a stage with about 100 other singers plus a full orchestra and sang like everything.

It was the spring GAMAC Masterworks concert, “Brought to you by the letter B”: Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms; Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, and Beethoven’s 9th (the final movement).

Brought to you by B Now, this might surprise some of you, but I really love this stuff. Not so much just listening to it, though I have days when it’s time to set aside the Led Zeppelin or the prog metal or the Bon Iver and really soak in the genius of Rachmaninoff or Bach.

Mostly, though, I prefer to be a participant in the process of making music, and preferably for others to enjoy. I’m glad the audience folks get to enjoy the cool tunes. But I think I get the better end of the deal – a deep acquaintance with brilliant writing, an insider’s view of the process, an ingrained familiarity that comes only through repeated exposure.

Take, for example, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of this piece before Don announced it would be on the spring concert slate. I didn’t go listen to it either; I figured the read-through would be it’s own cool experience. So I just showed up, started sight-reading…. and 20 minutes later collected the scattered bits of my psyche from the floor.  What stunning music this was!

Four months later, Bernstein has taken up residence in my brain. I can’t concentrate during meetings because the 7/4 rhythm of Psalm 100 is beating away in the back of my mind. As I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear the solo from Psalm 23 or the final haunting notes of Psalm 131.  I mutter to myself as I walk around at work, reproducing the turbulent tenor/bass lines of Psalm 2 “Why do the nations rage?”  churning below the soaring, lovely melody in the women’s parts as we sang the rest of Psalm 23, “Thou preparedst a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

It’s this insider knowledge, this intimate awareness of the interlocking choral fugue of Beethoven’s 9th or the stunning sense of key and tonality woven throughout the Brahms, that keeps me coming back year after year to sacrifice three hours every Monday night to the dull work of banging out notes, learning parts, repeating difficult sections again and again and again until I’m sick of them. Getting bored with the parts I already know, getting bored with other sections that I might just find boring.

Knowing that a powerful alchemy is at work: the emergent reality that will arise from the union of the conductor’s baton, the energy of an expectant audience, the tense pause in the chorale before we hear opening notes. Making music.  On the spot. In the flesh.

I confess. I had a better time at that concert than you could have. I really did.