Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History Stars are Back!

Hey, remember my History Stars from last December? What, no? You purposefully forgot, huh? Oh. Well, I don't have time to create a more substantial blog post since I have stacks of exams to grade, but I do have a few more of the great composers giving advice to my students on the Survey of Musical Masterworks (a.k.a. "music appreciation") exam they took this morning. Here they are:

You can click on them to reveal their identities. Once again, here are some of their predecessors.

I'm sorry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine

Yes, it's been a slow ride here on the blog this Fall, but I do still churn out my share of words on Twitter, having just hit the 3500 "tweets" milestone. You can see all 3500 on one page here (warning: page may load slowly). Every now and then I get off a decent one-liner, like with this tweet.

And, every other now and then, the Twitter world inspires something over here on the blog. So it is that one @AndreiStrizek, having noticed my inability to resist a good mashup, sent out a good-natured challenge for a melding of two John Adams' works (Nixon in China and China Gates) into a Nixon in China Gates. Good idea, combining musical and verbal puns, kind of like with my The Rite of Appalachian Spring. But I don't really know my Adams all that well, and it's not like I've got all day to sit around doing this sort of thing. However, the music appreciation text I use does feature Adams' popular little curtainraiser Short Ride in a Fast Machine, so I've gotten to know it well enough - and once the post title above occurred to me, the following was beyond inevitable:

My poor family. My wife and oldest daughter just sort of sigh now when they hear these kinds of sounds emanating from my "man cave" - but, hey, I've been reporting to work all week while sick and coming home exhausted. If I choose to do this with my evening time instead of watching two hours of TV, who's to judge?

It's not the most sophisticated thing, but it did take some tempo tweaking to make things work out right, and the ending required a bit of manipulation. The rest is pretty much straightforward mashing, but I think it works - going on this Sleigh Ride seems downright boring now. As for the animations...well, I set myself a strict time limit, so nothing sophisticated there. Kind of in the same vein as Swan Loop, if you want to chart connections with my previous work, as future historians will no doubt be doing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trippin' with Chestnuts

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at MMmusing, with decorations overhead linking to past Christmas specials. I was hoping to come up with a new and brilliant multimedia creation for the season this year - but, you're getting this video instead. It is new.

It's been a mashup kind of year on the blog, highlighted by this bit of mischief, so I started thinking about good possibilities for blending Christmas songs. (I have, of course, been down that road before.) So, I thought, why not "THE Christmas Song"? I have to admit that I used to hate this song - it's so maudlin and  features some truly vapid lyrics, such as "...and every mother's child is gonna spy..."? As opposed to every father's child? Or every motherless child? And isn't "chestnuts" an awfully clunky word to be set so expansively? (Whoops, I'm starting to sound as grumpy as Stephen Sondheim deconstructing all the lyricists we used to think were good. Let's move on.)

The famous Johnny Mathis rendition was featured on one of the many Goodyear "Great Songs of Christmas" records that my siblings and I used to wear out every December. I remember thinking that song was about the worst waste of three minutes imaginable. But, the years go by, and gradually I've find myself feeling a vague nostalgia for this vaguely nostalgic old chestnut. (Whereas, I think I always appreciated the giddy delights of this Ray Conniff arrangement I like to call, "Hark, the Herald Angels Rumba." Seriously, check that video out [should link to the 2:44 mark], if only to watch Conniff bouncing along in his cardigan.) Let's face it, experiencing music is often as much about place and memory as it is about notes. At least, that's what I'm telling myself, having now spent more hours than I'd ever have expected with these 2-3 minutes.

The beauty of this song for mashup purposes is that it's already so soupy that it blends quite naturally, like Campbell's® in a casserole - and what better to blend it with than itself? Instead of "double the Johnny," I've enlisted Mr. Tony Bennett to man the other half of this duet, and as an added bonus, Tony's in a different key! Yet, because both arrangements are so schmaltzy and mellow, with their hazy rhythms and beds of sappy strings, the blend doesn't sound stridently dissonant - just blurry and, well...trippy. And, quite frankly, the Mathis version was pretty trippy already; I'm just helping it towards its logical conclusion. I actually used this new mashup as an example in class today during a discussion of polytonality - following on my tried-and-true Heart & Soul trick. (And then I threw in something by Stravinsky...)

To be specific, Mathis is in D-flat, and Bennett's a whole step up in E-flat - like some sort of global appoggiatura. As with my Callas-Fleming "Canon a 2 Tempi," I just set these guys off at the same time by synchronizing the "Chestnuts," and then let the individual phrases fall where they fell. Tony pulls ahead pretty early, but things settle into a satisfying, lazy back-and-forth for much of the rest of the song. My favorite happy coincidence is how Mathis finishes up (technically, his version is supposed to go over the bridge again, but I cut that) and then fades into the end of the Bennett playout, so we get an almost Coplandesque final cadence. Almost.

As for the visuals, I don't really know what to say. YouTube is the best place to post multimedia these days, and simply adding a few random still images seemed like a copout. So I took the "cottage in the snow" picture found on the Mathis video as an inspirational starting point for a dreamy (some might say "hallucinogenic") trip through some of those trite verbal images. And...scene!

[If you have a way to adjust the balance on your computer (or if you have headphones!), you should be able to isolate Bennett on the left and Mathis on the right, to get the blend that's just right for you.]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Musical Signatures

Via Stephen Hough's wonderful blog (which has the best regular commenting community I've seen on a music site), I came across a nice piano blog that is new to me, Rick Robertson's Under the Piano Stool. The post that caught my attention was Robertson's investigation of a musical motif found in many of Grieg's works, which got me to thinking about the subject of signature gestures associated with various composers. Robertson also mentions Poulenc, who has some very distinctive and oft-used signature ideas; I also think of Mendelssohn, who has a particular way of setting up an evaded cadence at the end of movement that is just SO Mendelssohn. (I hope to get to that in another post some day.)

Anyway, this morning I was driving Daughter of MMmusing to school. I mentioned last post that her violin teacher has had her working on some movements from Bach's Partita No. 1 in B Minor; well, now she's been assigned the final movement of the Sonata No. 3 in C Major, so, cool Dad that I am, I searched my iPod for a recording. (What pre-adolescent doesn't yearn to listen to Bach on the way to school?) Turned out all I had on hand were these curious performances that include Robert Schumann's piano accompaniments. (For the record, I have many complete CD solo versions at home, but my iPod is populated more with downloads than ripped CDs.) I find the Schumann accompaniments tend to be dismissed as well-intentioned but misguided (oh, those poor Romantics didn't understand Bach's genius!), but I've really enjoyed listening to them. They certainly work better in some cases than in others, but I think they provide a nice rhythmic framework for some of the dance movements. Go here and sample Track 11 on CD 1 or Track 15 of CD 2.

Now, for my tastes, the accompaniment wasn't adding so much to the last movement of Sonata #3 (its rhythmic profile is already quite clear and strong in the violin writing), but then, right before the double bar, there was what seemed to be a signature Schumann moment. I should add that, as a rule, these piano parts are very respectfully written and, if anything, are almost too deferential. Schumann was clearly not looking to put his stamp on this music so much as to find it a wider audience, and I don't think this passage is any sort of intentional fingerprinting - but the piano part just suddenly sounded like Schumann, although it's the simplest of gestures. Fortuitously, you can hear the bit I have in mind by going to this mp3 sample; it begins 17 bars in, at about the 24-second mark. It's nothing more than a simple little rising bass line (D-G-Bb-D), set against bouncing off-beat chords in the R.H., but Schumann's piano parts are full of such moments (see #11 of Kinderscenen, #8 of Davidsbündlertänze, #8 of Liederkreis, Op.39). Hearing this Schumanniana oddly placed in the Bach made me very happy.

Coincidentally, I then turned on the radio, landing in the middle of a piano piece that I knew sounded familiar, but which I couldn't quite place. Many of the musical elements kept saying "Schubert" to me, but I also had a voice in the back of my head saying, "No, it's from a Beethoven sonata - and aren't you embarrassed that you can't immediately recognize one of THE 32?" (I don't like that voice.) Anyway, as a half-familiar theme wound its way into a cadence, I suddenly remembered a cool little inner-voice trill that was about to happen - and, just as suddenly, I had a vivid memory of sitting in a master class in Clarksville, Arkansas more than two decades ago and hearing Beethoven's Sonata in F-sharp, Op. 78 for the first time. (I even remember the look of the stage, though I don't think I ever set foot in that space again, and I could tell you the name of the pianist!) The little trill that struck me so memorably back then can be heard just past the 1:00 mark on the video linked above. That's not so much a Beethoven signature, as it was a signature moment for me, hearing a piece for the first time and having it imprinted so clearly.

The point of all this is that musical brains are programmed to find these patterns and signatures intuitively - it's a significant part of what makes listening to music pleasurable. One might weave a nice story out of this idea that an inner-voice trill could suddenly awaken some latent memory in a character.

P.S. Circling back to Grieg, I'll mention again his marvelous "2nd piano accompaniments" to some Mozart piano sonatas, which I wrote about here.Those loving tributes to Mozart are remarkably non-deferential, and definitely worth hearing. More or less the opposite of what Schumann did with Bach.

P.P.S. I mentioned in my last post that I would be posting "duet" recordings of other "dances plus doubles" from Bach's Partita in B minor, but the others just sound too lousy with my synthesized violins. (The Courante + Double works better because the music is so straight-ahead in character; all of the other movements require more thoughtfully conceived breaking of chords, agogic accents, etc.) However, an altogether different sort of mash-up will be appearing here in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bach Doubled

So, in our last episode, I wondered about the ways in which we all take for granted that most major instrumental pieces are broken up into distinct (often self-sufficient) movements - distinct movements which, nevertheless, are generally expected to be performed in the context of the whole. In other words, the serious classical artist doesn't generally record or perform in recital just a single movement of a Beethoven sonata or Mozart symphony. I mentioned a few exceptions to that rule, but for better or for worse, the bias against excerpting movements is pretty strong. (It's always one of the chief complaints about the less high-minded classical radio stations that they dare to play unattached movements - I should know, having made this complaint many times!)

So, if pulling movements out on their own is frowned upon, I'd guess it would be even more controversial to re-order movements within a tidily assembled work or - horror! - to patch various movements into a new whole. But, quietly geeky radical that I am, I do find myself having such thoughts, three of which I'll share here - all of them, curiously, having to do with violin repertoire. (I can't really explain why that is, other than that I love the violin repertoire.) The first two "thought experiments" are pretty straightforward, and mainly noteworthy because I think they'd 1) work really well and 2) would probably never be seriously considered by anyone. The third one has spawned both the title of this post and something altogether more interesting.

Switcheroo #1: Back in September, I twittered about my idea that Brahms' amazingly wonderful third violin sonata might be just a tad more amazingly wonderful if the 2rd and 3rd of its four movements were swapped. Honestly, my reasoning is more intuitive than anything else (and, I know, who am I to put my intuition up against Brahms'?), but the song-like 2nd movement has such a radiantly tender, calm-before-storm quality that it feels right to me for it to precede the violently stormy finale. Meanwhile, the nervous hesitations of the scherzo seem to fit nicely after the weary ending of the passionate first movement. I'm perfectly content for others to disagree with me about this, and it's always hard to argue against the rightness of familiarity, but I think it would be a lovely idea to try this 1324 order out in performance - and yet, innocent and simple though the change would be, it feels like it would be some sort of violation. Here's a helpful playlist in which you can try out my version...if you dare!

Switcheroo #2: This is maybe even more radical, though no less innocently simple in concept, but the truth is I've never been completely in love with any of the Mozart violin concerti. Not that they need my love or anything, and sure, he was a young composer when he wrote them, etc., etc. I do think the 5th and final concerto is mostly ideal except it just doesn't have a great second movement. Or, let me put it more bluntly: it's second movement is not as perfect as the slow movement of the 3rd concerto. That slow movement is as divinely inspired as anything Mozart ever wrote. For whatever reason, the slow movement of Concerto #5 always sounds to me like a melody in search of...well, in search of that tune from the Concerto #3.

So, if I were somehow transformed into an internationally-acclaimed violin virtuoso asked to play a Mozart concerto for an upcoming gig, I would seriously want to propose my own little hybrid concerto. The key relationships work out just fine: A Major, D Major, A Major. (The "original" 2nd mvt of Concerto #5 is in E Major; up a 5th, down a 5th. Same difference.) You can try it out with this little playlist. It's not like I'm proposing first movement from Sibelius, second from Bruch, and third from Brahms. Just three Mozart movements which would complement each other beautifully. One of his piano sonatas (K. 533/494) is basically a hybrid as well, its third movement having been composed first and then added to two other movements at the request of a publisher. Maybe I'm not supposed to say this, but a lot of Mozart and Haydn movements are somewhat interchangeable - but we never get to play around with them. Pianists get to make their own multi-movement composite Scarlatti sets all the time (since his so-called sonatas are all single-movement works), but convention denies us that creative option with most other composers.

My last example is a bit different, as here it's more a problem of a work that has proportional issues. (By the way, if you think it's impudent of me to be challenging the final shape given to works by Brahms and Mozart, then imagine my trepidation at finding fault with Bach - and not just any Bach, but one of his revered works for unaccompanied violin.) Well, a few months ago, my violinist daughter was assigned her first-ever solo Bach - a deeply meaningful milestone to me. Curiously, her marvelously old-school Russian teacher decided to start with what to me is the most musically severe and uncompromising of these works, the Partita No. 1 in B Minor. It consists of eight binary-form dance movements, but it's really four dances, each of which is each then followed by a variation called a Double. Curious things, these Doubles. Each has the exact same formal and harmonic shape as the dance that precedes it, but the Doubles generally feature faster and more evenly flowing note values, meaning the dance character is sublimated a bit. All of the dances are in B minor (an austere key for Bach), and all are rather severe in shape and gesture - dances, yes, but not quite like listening to the Nutcracker Suite.

So my problem has always been that, as a listening experience, the eight movements back-to-back-to-back-etc. can be a bit too much. [...dodging lightning bolt...] What vexes me particularly is hearing each dance played with repeats and then hearing the Doubles traverse the same territory, with the same repeats. In fact, the first time I saw the score, I assumed the Doubles were intended as alternate ways to play the repeats, and I still think this could be an interesting approach. But, it seems the most common approach is to be a good soldier and play everything as written. If the violinist is good enough, the experience can be richly rewarding, as this is some of the most profound and centering music ever written...but still. I can't help but help wonder if Bach would ever have imagined hearing this music presented in recital in such a way. Again, if I could suddenly be a great violinist, I'd be tempted to perform the work either with no repeats or, better yet, with the Doubles acting as the repeats. I have heard of pianists interspersing works by Schoenberg amongst the movements of Bach sets as a way of opening ears to the cross-century connection*; I wish artists would be as open to re-imagining ways of presenting a single composer's works.

But my favorite discovery out all of this came from thinking of another way of dealing with those Doubles. It occurred to me that they could perhaps be played simultaneously with their dances as duets. A quick experiment with the opening Allemanda was somewhat disappointing as there was too much literal doubling between the two parts. However, the Courante and its Double proved to be a revelation. I imagine violinists must have tried this out on occasion - maybe with teacher and student in lessons - but my not-extensive Googling hasn't turned anything up in the way of recordings. So, I went to work with a couple of the virtual violinists residing in my computer and, voilà, a strikingly successful duet.** It's almost as if Bach intended these movements to be "mashed up," as they mostly move in contrary motion to each other, the slashing sixteenth notes of the Double parrying the more angular eighth-notes of the original Courante. My favorite piece of music in the whole world is probably Bach's Double Violin Concerto, known far and wide as "The Bach Double," but it's rather satisfying to have stumbled on this new "Bach Double" (a much bigger success than this bizarre "Bach Double" I created a while back.)

A couple of final points: I'm rather proud of the way the video above traces the two separate scores. In an ideal world, I'd have taken the time to format both movements nicely into duet form, but it's kind of fun trying to follow both scores at once. [Here's another Bach animation of mine that lets you do something similar.] It's a reminder that counterpoint is always a kind of "mash-up." One of the joys of counterpoint is the experience of experiencing multiple distinct strands simultaneously; mash-ups can often be engaging for the same reason. In these multi-tasking times, perhaps Bach's music is more timely than ever.

* Note that Andrew Rangell, the pianist who interspersed Bach with Schoenberg for a conference recital, is quoted as saying he'd never do that in a "real" concert. What a crazy world we live in!

** As it happens, another work my daughter is studying now is a Wieniawski Etude-Caprice, which comes with its own accompanying part for a second violinist. So, I guess I have had violin duets on the brain...

P.S. I'll be posting duet versions of the Sarabande and Bourree in the near future; they don't work as well as the Courantes, but they are worth hearing.

UPDATE: A Twitter colleague, the very knowledgeable JoseSPiano, mentioned hearing violinist Daniel Heifetz perform the Partita No. 2 in D Minor WITHOUT the concluding Chaconne. The 15-minute Chaconne is perhaps Bach's most monumental achievement, but it dwarfs the four much briefer dance movements that precede it. I've no doubt that the Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue make a wonderful set on their own, and this practice would allow them to be heard differently, much like what I said about movements by Schubert and Ives in my last post.

UPDATE #2: I mentioned above that I would be posting "duet" recordings of other "dances plus doubles" from Bach's Partita in B minor, but the others just sound too lousy with my synthesized violins. (The Courante + Double works better because the music is so straight-ahead in character; all of the other movements require more thoughtfully conceived breaking of chords, agogic accents, etc.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Should there be a "Free the Movements" Movement?

Among the many odd conventions classical musicians take for granted is the organization of large works into individual movements. The word movement itself is an odd one if you think about it, and the practice of withholding applause between movements always seems to come up as something that mystifies the uninitiated. There is a sort of an analogy to the way in which plays are divided into acts and novels into chapters, but most plays and novels have a more explicit narrative connection that makes these subsections more obviously interdependent than is generally the case with musical movements. Sure, a composer can connect various movements by means of key, motif, transitions, attacas, etc., but such connections tend to be notable as exceptions to the rule, and they still don't mean the movements in question can't stand alone. 

But, at least within the oh-so-serious classical music culture that has developed in the last hundred years, there's a pretty strong bias against presenting single movements as freestanding. Of course, there are plenty of special contexts (group recitals, examinations, auditions, competitions, Pops concerts, celebratory occasions, elevators, etc.) in which exceptions are made, but they kind of prove the rule. How often does a major orchestra or a Carnegie Hall recitalist feature a disconnected movement in a regular program? (Individual movements from suites or other more loosely connected sets of pieces don't count.) There may be plenty of good reasons for this self-consciously organic way of thinking, but it's certainly not that individual sonata/concerto/symphony movements can't stand on their own.

I thought of this while attending a piano student's senior recital on Sunday afternoon. This was a non-required recital, which meant there was considerably more programming freedom than the typical degree recital would allow. Included were three substantial movements from larger works, and I was surprised at how satisfying it was to hear them this way. Maybe I was surprised because I hear disconnected movements all the time in weekly performance classes, general student recitals, and the like - and such contexts can induce a kind of listening whiplash that accentuates the fragmenting. In this case, each movement was given a chance to make its own complete statement, partly because each fit nicely into a well-planned program, with the Intermission helping to frame the events.

I have to admit I was skeptical about the decision to end the first half of the recital with the "slow" 2nd movement of Schubert's E-flat Piano Trio, but this was the movement that the student and her chamber group had ready to play. I should mention that this trio is one of my all-time favorite pieces; I love the 1st and 4th movements, and I especially love the way the main theme of this 2nd movement returns in the 4th. Thus, I already had a bit of bias against playing just a single movement. Furthermore, "slow" movements are so often defined by the way in which they provide contrast to surrounding fast movements. Taking this out of context and using it to end a recital half (ending with something slow?) seemed like a compromise of necessity more than anything.

So, of course, it turned out that I loved it! It happens to be a very substantial "slow" movement, with a dramatic climax, and although I knew that, I'm not sure I'd ever thought about how "feature-length" it can feel. In the full trio, the weary, even devastating ending of the 2nd movement is quickly followed by a light-hearted country dance scherzo and then a long-ish finale - here, we got to walk quietly out into the Intermission with that heartrending cello theme still floating in the air. Let's face it, Schubert's "heavenly length" has its advantages and disadvantages, but I can genuinely say I found new things to love about this movement hearing it this way, even though I'd just coached the performers in it a few days before!

After intermission, our pianist came back out to play another "slow movement," the 3rd movement ("The Alcotts") of Charles Ives legendary "Concord" Sonata. This is actually the second time I've had a student learn this "work"; it's not easy, by any means, but it's not nearly as ferocious a challenge as the other three movements, especially movements 1 and 2. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever be up to the task of learning the entire sonata myself, though I like to dream, but "The Alcotts" is such special music and so unique that it would be a great shame to fence it off from pianists not ready to tackle "Emerson" and "Hawthorne." So, I already knew this piece can stand on its own; but hearing in on a late Autumn New England afternoon, with a picture-window view of woods and pond (we have a really lovely recital hall!) behind the pianist was...well, this is why we bother with music in the first place.It worked deeply and beautifully. And, yes, as with the Schubert, there are motives (the Beethoven 5th theme, especially) and ideas that connect "The Alcotts" to its sibling movements, but whereas one usually hears it as a kind of relief after the wildness of "Hawthorne," one could appreciate how wide-ranging, full-hearted, and complete these few pages are. Here's Ives himself playing:

Now I'm not saying that every movement of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc. needs to be set free in this way, but I think there's a lesson here about the value of hearing the familiar in a new context. There's also the reminder that musical narratives are, generally speaking, much more flexible than theatrical/literary narratives. Coincidentally, both the Schubert and Ives movements have found lives in some unusual pop culture contexts. Here's a Bruce Hornsby song that begins with a nod to the Ives and I only just encountered this highly unexpected use of the Schubert. Well then. (Oh, I guess the Schubert also made its way into Barry Lyndon.)

There are some notable examples of single movements which have taken on lives of their own. There's the whole elegy subcategory represented by Barber's Adagio (originally a movement from his String Quartet - note that the Adagio  partly was freed by the fact that the composer only orchestrated this movement, giving it a sort of "blessing"), Elgar's Nimrod, and Mahler's Adagietto. There's a scherzo by Litolff which is virtually all the poor composer is known for, although the practice of extracting it from its Concerto Symphonique No. 4 hearkens back to a day when the playing of excerpted movements was more common.

Mozart's Rondo alla turca and the 1st movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata are certainly much better-known than their siblings, but I doubt one would run across them alone on any sort of standard recital. The finale of Beethoven's 9th gets out on its own every now and then as well, and then there's that strange pair of Schubert movements that never got "finished" - of course, they are finished, as evidenced by the fact that they're played all the time, but would anyone have ever thought to perform them that way if they hadn't been orphaned?

My student's recital concluded with the grand first movement of Schumann's Piano Concerto. Here we have a work originally conceived as a single-movement Fantasy, so the fact that one would almost never hear it alone on a standard orchestra program isn't because Schumann wouldn't have imagined it that way - it's because his later decision to add two movements effectively put a "reverse blessing" on the practice. Honestly, as much as I adore this entire concerto, I've never felt the 2nd movement quite measured up, and the finale, while exhilarating, is also not quite as perfect as the 1st. So, another big success on what turned out to be a thoroughly effective and "complete" program. Perhaps some day we'll live in a world where movements can move freely about the earth, less constrained by the curatorial mindset that wants to insist always on complete sets. (Think of the creative programming potential!) Fragments are nice, too.

UPDATE: Just remembered (via overhearing a student conversation) Brahms' fabulous Scherzo from the quirky collaborative F-A-E Sonata. Because Brahms didn't write the other movements of that larger work, performers have generally felt free to play the Brahms as a freestanding piece - something that they would probably never do with a single movement from a Brahms sonata/trio/quartet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Così Reflections

I'm back from my whirlwind trip to NYC where I witnessed the opening night of "Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required," which I'll refer to as #nycosi from here on. It's quite appropriate that #nycosi has been so closely tied in with Twitter because, like Twitter itself, it's difficult to explain how an event like this works to someone who's not there. The uniqueness of Twitter is in how multiple conversational threads can be followed quite naturally, creating a web of widely varied but interrelated ideas and relationships; I don't think it's possible to grasp it without participating. Likewise, #nycosi developed in part out of musical/personal relationships that were formed on Twitter and Twitter also enables a communal running commentary as the talking, rehearsing, and performing is in progress; so there's a multi-layered interconnectedness that energizes the whole experience.

Of course, Twitter is just a networking interface; it can't perform an opera, so there's much more to #nycosi than just a bunch of typed words. In brief, the event is structured around discussing, rehearsing and performing Mozart's comic opera Così fan tutte over four evenings (Aug 17/18/20/22), with a rotating cast of highly professional singers singing the roles and an even more fluidly shifting group of highly skilled instrumentalists becoming the unrehearsed orchestra for each night. At the center of it all is conductor/coach Jennifer Peterson, who somehow managed to assemble all this talent from both her professional connections (coaches get to know a lot of singers) and her Twitter web. Thus, the sense of community is an integral aspect of the #nycosi experience; there's a palpable sense of how much all of these musicians enjoy collaborating in such an open and collegial environment. Although not everyone knows each other, there are probably rarely more than two degrees of separation among the participants. For me, it was also a very satisfying "tweet-up," as I met quite a few people I've only known in the virtual world before now. (Whew, they're not axe-murderers - or, at least, they're all very nice.)

As far as I could tell, most (all?) of the talent was participating on a volunteer basis, which could be seen as good or bad. It's certainly not a model for how to make money in the music world, but it's just as certainly evidence of how much musicians love to make music together, especially when the environment is supportive and empowering for all involved.* At one point, after there had been a good bit of back-and-forth among singers, orchestra members, and conductor about a tempo question, co-host Cori Ellison noted that one doesn't see that kind of open, democratic debate in a typical professional situation - and for good reason, by the way, but #nycosi is a reminder that the professional context isn't the only way to experience great music, even for professionals. There's a paradox in that we're trained to be focused on putting together finely polished performances for paying audiences, and that can be very satisfying, but the act of putting music together less formally and for its own sake can also be very satisfying. One of the things that #nycosi does is allow an audience to see that side of musicians.

Although it had turned out that my admittedly meager cello skills weren't required, I did get to take on the curious role of official twhistorian for the first night, which meant - well, I didn't really know what it meant, but I had a great seat just off to the left of where the singers stood. I was conveniently shielded from most of the audience by an enormous column (everything takes place in the comfy and very red lobby of the Gershwin Hotel) which made it not feel too strange to sit with laptop at the ready, sending out tweets whenever it seemed appropriate.

All the tweets include the #nycosi tag, which means that anyone interested in the event can follow along and add to the #nycosi stream as well, whether seated in the hotel or across the country. (You can read my archived "live-tweets" here or follow the still-ongoing live stream here.) As the evening progressed, there were contributions from a wide variety of Twitterers, including several members of the orchestra and even one of the hosts. Quite a few (no real idea how many) also seemed to be following from afar; it's fascinating to wonder what they were experiencing, since it wasn't the actual music. I think, as much as anything, it was participating in the sense of occasion. At any rate, I ended up churning out about 80-90 tweets that night, many of the "play-by-play" variety, some including live photos. 

The singing really was fabulous - the singers had rehearsed with Jennifer ahead of time and came knowing their parts quite well, although all held scores in hand. It was fun to watch them interacting, moving fluidly in and out of character, listening attentively and appreciatively (with scores still in hand) while others sang, etc. The orchestra mostly held together fine, although there were inevitably times when barlines didn't quite line up, understandable given the lack of rehearsal for them. Still, as much as I love playing piano reductions, you can't beat the thrill of supporting singers with a live, full orchestra (especially with Mozart's sublime orchestrations - listen to that viola line in the video below!) - when you consider how expensive it would normally be to assemble a band as talented as this (or even one much less talented), it was a remarkable luxury to have them there at all, and there were flashes of brilliant playing.

This idea of experiencing music in fragments (due to stopping, restarting, variable quality of execution, etc.) is fascinating. Sure, Mozart may have written this music to flow along continuously, but having the opportunity to stop and reflect can actually be energizing for an audience, especially since rehearing the same passage a few times can often make it all the more engaging. After all, I often find myself rewinding my iPod 15 or 30 seconds in order to hear something again. Musical analysis inevitably puts high value on experiencing music "in whole," but if we're honest, sometimes we just really look forward to "that part," which might even just be a little turn of phrase. I think there are ways in which an evening like this plays off of that less "big-picture" way of listening.

On the other hand, as much as #nycosi is an inviting way to present music, especially due to breaking down some of the formal barriers audiences often encounter, there is certainly an insider-y quality in an event like this. One of the hosts, director Ned Canty, tweeted at one point Wednesday night:
Singers doing a splendid job of telling this story with no props costumes or lights and a minimum of movement. #nycosi #losingjobsecurity
Now Canty has directed the opera six times and knows it intimately, so it stands to reason that he could easily follow the drama without all those extras, but the truth is that someone new to opera could hardly be expected to make much sense of things. In fact, at one point, after a fast-paced recitative scene had been run, Jennifer turned to the audience and asked optimistically, "you could all follow what was going on there, right?" She seemed a little surprised to see many heads shaking left to right, but this is the way music so often goes for us musicians. Once you're on the inside and know the works intimately, it's hard to imagine how they wouldn't make sense to anyone. 

Still, audiences members could hardly complain since ticket prices were rock-bottom low and they were all very close to the action, hearing glorious music being lovingly produced. No one would suggest that this is a model for how opera should generally be presented or how performers should try to make a living, but there's a lot to be said for seeing musicians in their element, and I suspect that these evenings will provide a real motivational boost to all the participants - it never hurts to be reminded why we love doing what we do, and Jennifer's operamission has accomplished that mission beautifully.

Again, it's really a "you have to be there" kind of thing, but here's one richly rewarding excerpt (shot with my blurry camera from my prime twhistorian location) from the run-thru that ended the first evening. This is the tender farewell quintet as Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to be heading off to war, to the distress of their girlfriends, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and to the amused delight of Don Alfonso, who's pulling all the strings.  

from left to right:

JAMES BOBICK - Guglielmo

* I mentioned to Jennifer as she was breaking down the set-up for the evening, moving her own harpsichord, etc, that it was notable that she'd found volunteers with the very specialized skills required to play all of the instrumental parts, but she hadn't bothered to find a volunteer stage manager - not only was it telling that she didn't mind doing the dirty work, but I suspect she knew that she was offering her musical volunteers a real privilege to be involved, even if they were giving back very generously. Not that stage-managing isn't a noble pursuit, but I think she figured she could handle that (and the conducting, and the continuo playing, and the coaching, and the assembling of talent), so why burden someone else?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Così Hero

In my last post, I mentioned that the blogosphere seems less energized than it was two to three years ago. As Elaine (a terrific blogger who hasn't slowed down) commented, some of the energy that once went into blogs has been rerouted onto Twitter and Facebook. The fact is, Twitter and Facebook are better when it comes to sharing links and keeping multi-threaded conversations going, while blogs are obviously better for more substantive content; but as blogs are used less and less for day-to-day contact and link-sharing, it stands to reason that the substantive content might get less attention.

Still, there are uniquely substantive experiences that can arise out of the Twitterverse (including operaplot, of course), and I'm particularly excited about one that will take place in the non-virtual world next week. That's right, real people, many of whom I've known exclusively through Twitter up to now, will be gathering in the Big Apple for a unique, multi-night, kind of hard-to-describe exploration/ performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte. The brainchild of NYC pianist/conductor/coach Jennifer Peterson, the event will feature professional singers and a true pick-up orchestra, with players picked up from far and wide at least in part via Peterson's Twitter connections. The two Acts of the opera will be split across four nights, with various singers taking on the roles each night and the orchestra showing up unrehearsed.

Naturally, this unrehearsed, "jam session" approach appeals to my Piano Hero instincts. This is not just because I'm lazy (although let's not completely discount that factor). No, I really like the way this kind of event embraces the joy of putting music together spontaneously. Of course, it's not completely spontaneous - Mozart did write down a lot of specific notes to be played, the singers will likely know their parts well, the musicians will be skilled. And, of course, there's nothing wrong with rehearsing a performance extensively and preparing it to be as good as possible, but I think we too often fool ourselves into thinking that great music can only be properly experienced in the idealized context of a fully prepared performance. This has a lot to do with the way we're trained and judged (we call our exams "juries!") and the way that critics tend to evaluate recitals and concerts.

But, oh yeah, sometimes the most exciting musical experiences occur in the fragmentary rehearsal stage. I know this because it's my experience all the time. Sometimes hearing just a fragment of a piece on the radio can be as moving and important as hearing it in full in a concert. Etc. So I'm really looking forward to seeing and hearing a bunch of talented musicians come together to tackle a great opera in a refreshingly informal, but sure-to-be deeply committed fashion.

I was going to bring my poor cello (poor because it only gets out of its case a few times a year) down to join in the fun, but it looks as if there are going to be plenty of real cellists on hand (though violinists are still needed!), so I think I'm just going to watch. This will also relieve me of the spontaneously improvisational experience of dragging a cello through the streets of New York. I'll only be able to get away for the first night, which will cover the Overture and the first half of Act I, but that's part of the fragmentary fun. The details are as follows:

operamission presents
Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required

Mozart's Perfect Italian Comedy, Presented in Four Parts

• Full orchestra, unrehearsed, assembled on the spot
• A sublime cast
• Four hosts - dramaturg Cori Ellison, conductor Jennifer Peterson, stage director Ned Canty, and Italian language master Marco Nisticò

• Hosts will examine Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Lorenzo da Ponte's handiwork
• Lab, jam session, cabaret...? be determined by audience interaction

Presented by operamission
and Neke Carson at New York's Gershwin Hotel

ACT I, PART 1 - Tuesday, August 17, 7:00 PM
ACT I, PART 2 - Wednesday, August 18, 7:00 PM
ACT II, PART 1 - Friday, August 20, 7:00 PM
ACT II, PART 2 - Sunday, August 22, 4:00 PM

$10 general admission ($5 per session if attending more than one)

CONTACT -, +1 917 520 3163

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'm back!

Perhaps faithful readers of this blog, if such there be, might wonder if my last post heading ("Paranormal Activity") was a subtle signal that I'd been abducted by aliens - that seems as good a reason as any for why I just stopped blogging for a couple of months, but I've never intended to quit blogging. (I won't confirm or deny whether or not I was actually abducted, although there is a pretty cool mashup culture emerging in the blogosphere of Sector 12 on Planet 23 in the...whoops, I've said enough.) Aside from the general resistance of inertia, I've also been struggling with how best to articulate the many thoughts I've had about classical music culture since some exchanges with Greg Sandow back in late May.

So, I've set myself a couple of goals, aside from just resuming normal blogging activity. I'm hoping to start spinning out a series of ideas about "classical music culture," its strengths, weaknesses, etc. I'm also hoping, at long last, to create something more like a website to house the many multimedia creations that have sprung up as part of my blogging. As I've mentioned many times before, a problem with the blog format is that it tends to focus all the attention on recent posts, whereas I think many blogs out there ought to be seen not just as ongoing journals but as archives of interesting material that deserves to be revisited.

I'm not sure what the future of blogs is anyway, given that many of my favorites have virtually ceased activity. The guys at the wonderful Dial M for Musicology have literally stopped blogging; the amazing Soho the Dog (Matthew Guerrieri) has also been virtually silent while working on a book project, and one never is sure when the great Jeremy Denk will materialize in blog form again. Those were probably my three favorite blogs back in the day, but it may be that the blogosphere doesn't sustain its lifeforms as well as was once thought - which is why I'm determined to continue blogging, but in a way that also becomes something like a big, ongoing, easily searchable book. We'll see.

However, today I've come not to promote my own multimedia creation, but to cite some outstanding work by some students from one of my summer classes. The class is called "Analytical Techniques" and it serves as a 3rd year theory class in our 3-summer Masters program for public school music teachers. Coming back to theory can be rather intimidating for some of these students, many of whom are teaching general music at the elementary level, where the subject of Augmented Sixth chords doesn't come up all that often. Thus, teaching the class has been a good exercise for me in thinking about the practical side of theory, and especially in thinking about how developing good listening/analytical skills can make our students better at communicating to their students about how music works, why it's worth paying attention to, etc.

The first project the students do is a fairly standard, comprehensive analytical graph of a long-form piece (hint: Excel spreadsheets are wonderful for creating such graphs), but the second project is designed to focus both on presentation skills (talking intelligibly and winsomely about theory stuff) and creative approaches to analysis. Each of the projects includes some sort of "creative" component that links ideas about how the music is composed with extra-musical accessories (visual, narrative, movement-based, etc.). My ideal is always that the "extra-musical" component serve as a catalyst for deeper listening - in other words, rather than have the music become background to something new that becomes an end in itself, the best project would serve to get us listening more attentively.

The video below is one of the best such projects I've seen. These students had the idea of presenting Charles Ives' famous "America" Variations as a B&W, silent-film style story about a conductor trying to get his charges to behave. Right off the bat, that concept jibes nicely with the idea of Ives tackling this sober and dignified tune with his peculiar brand of adolescent (literally, since he was 17) musical wise-cracking. Because the video has a low-budget vibe as well (using stills in stop-motion, etc.), it does a great job of getting us to think about what's going on in the music, while also being consistently entertaining. After watching it, I believe any student could easily have developed a better sense of how the music is structured and how it develops, which is really the goal.

I should add that the students also presented a more detailed analysis as part of their presentation, but as I've already remarked on Twitter, I like that this video wears that analysis lightly. We're reminded that music is fun, entertaining, diverting, etc. and though there may be all sorts of sophisticated reasons that Ives was successful in putting this music together, those details are not ends in themselves. One of the convictions I have about classical music culture as it now exists is that we tend to take ourselves much too seriously. There are all sorts of reasons for why this might be the case, and some of them are very good reasons. But, in a nutshell, it's important that the academic culture that's built up around music not distance us too much from why music exists in the first place. I think this video sums that up much better than all the words I've just multiplied:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Paranormal Activity

UPDATE: Looks like xtranormal went out of business and all user-created movies (except those uploaded to YouTube or other) are gone! Sorry. This post now makes much less sense. : (

A couple of times recently, I've run across these xtranormal movies, generated by online software that pretty much automatically converts text to awkward animations of humanoids (or othernoids) speaking and gesturing quasi-expressively. To say I love this sort of thing is a big understatement. In the case of the examples above and below, one might argue that part of my fascination lies in seeing/hearing these movies as "translations" of familiar texts, and we all know I'm a big fan of translations and transcriptions.

I also have been a big fan of synthesized speech, ever since I first discovered my otherwise horrible 1995 Mac Performa (my first real computer) could speak text. I used to like to entertain guests with this party trick, although I suspect I was mostly entertaining myself. If you've been following this blog for awhile, maybe you remember my Virtual Singers covering such classics as "Nessun dorma," "Hey, Jude," and "On Top of the World." I also once wrote (here & here) about an indie pop singer who, to me, sounds like a virtual singer. And, just a few weeks ago, I posted text2speech versions of a few of my #operaplots on Twitter (here & here), as well as someone else's #operaplot rap (here) and a full-scale Virtual Barry Manilow rendition of someone else's #operaplot (here). I'll wait while you sample all those irresistible goodies...

I think my fascination with virtual speech has a lot to do with an ongoing but mostly subconscious interest in the music of speech. I started thinking more consciously about this fascination in the past few months as I've started listening to podcasts of the This American Life radio show. (I'd never listened to the show much before because the one-hour radio documentary format doesn't really fit my lifestyle - but podcasts are perfect for commuting.) I could go on and on about ways in which I love This American Life and about ways in which it drives me crazy, but I'll save that for some other time.

For now, I'll just note that one of the first things to drive me crazy about TAL was the way in which so many of the hosts talk the same way - specifically, they tend to talk like Ira Glass, the founder and guiding voice. He has a distinctively quirky way of speaking that is sort of affectedly unaffected (or maybe unaffectedly affected) and the fact that others on his staff mimic his quirks can be grating. But, I had to admit to myself as I was noting this that I was listening to the podcasts eagerly - because I find them such compelling listening.

And here's the thing - I don't think the subject matter is always what drives the show. I think as much as anything, there's a truly musical quality to the way the shows are presented. Yes, actual music plays a big part in these talkfests, but the pacing and pitching of the speech is also quite well worked out - the fact that the various hosts use a lot of the same inflections and cadences allows for the same kind of stylistic consistency that music lovers learn to appreciate when hearing various works by the same composer. The one-hour shows always seem to fly by, and I think it's partly because they're music to my ears.

All of that is to say that I've started noticing speech patterns more and more, especially the way pitch and cadences are used, even among us supposedly unlyrical Americans. Having a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old walking around the house adds to this fascination, I suppose, as children are quite naturally sing-song in their delivery. So, when I listen to computer-generated voices, it's fascinating to hear what they get right and what doesn't work so well. Of course, a lot of the humor comes from what they don't get right. In the "Who's on First?" sketch above, the bit from 1:11 to 1:21 kills me every time because the Bud Abbott robot keeps saying "Who" on the same low pitch. Just about any human would naturally raise the pitch each time he gave the same answer in succession; the stubbornly monotone responses somehow make the straight man even funnier.

Here are a few other "transcriptions" I've particularly enjoyed. The last two (actually, the last four, including the two updates) are my own creations.

[UPDATE: Only after I'd created the Seinfeld re-enactment above did I discover that someone else had done that same dialogue (one of the more famous bits from the show, I suppose), although I think mine's a little better...]

UPDATE 2: One more from me...

[UPDATE 3: and another one from me...

Friday, May 14, 2010

140 * 2500 = 45,000

Looks like a week of intense grading is still ahead of me, but I do still find myself Twittering to keep myself sane as I read paper after paper after paper... As a matter of fact, I recently hit the 2500 post mark on Twitter. Perhaps Twitter is a fundamentally ephemeral medium, but I still like preserving things, at least as long as those things don't take up space in my basement. Twitter is set up in such a way that, even more than with blogs, old posts seem to disappear - they don't appear in Twitter searches after just a week or so and, as far as I can tell, the only way to view older ones is to open one's Twitter page and then continually click the "more" link at the bottom. (In other words, there's no easy way for me to go view my Twitter posts from June of 2009 except to click "more" again and again until I get there.)

So, I've made it a point to archive my "tweets" every now and then, and the 2500 mark seemed a good time to do that again. You can view them all in one page here. Of course, there are many bits of conversation that won't make much sense in retrospect, but all those "140 or fewer characters at a time" add up to about 45,000 words. It may take a little while for that page to load, but I think the "really long page" concept is greatly underappreciated on the web. I assume that long articles are often broken up across multiple pages so that sites can determine if readers are really clicking through to the end, but I'd always prefer to scroll and scroll. It's not like you're gonna run out of paper. This also makes it much easier to search an archive like what I've created. (As opposed to, say, the archive of #operaplot entries for 2010 which, sadly, are stretched across 12 pages - makes browsing that archive much less satisfying.)

If you should visit my Twitter archive, some of the fun terms to search (Ctrl-F on PC) would be: operaplot, composerfilms, palindrome, tomswifty, musicpickuplines, operacrostic, operagram, and, most fun of all, viola. Also, it you've never used Twitter, browsing the archive (and following some of the "in reply to" links) might be a useful way to get some idea of how it works. Though Twitter is still often derided as being nothing but obsession with minutiae, I think all of this really adds up to something.

Finally, here's a Wordle that I created from all of my Twittered text to date. I think it just, like, really doesn't make me look all that articulate, but the "just think like operaplot" and ''Thanks viola" groupings are nice:

Click the image to enlarge.

Wordle created at

Previous MMmusing Wordles

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Operaplot After-thoughts

The good news: All my #operaplot entries from this year will be eligible for re-entry next year! As for the bad news, well, I didn't really expect it was likely I'd emerge from the 900+ entries, so I wasn't too startled not to find myself on the list of winners for 2010. I am happy with my output, and as with last year, the most satisfying part of the whole experience is reading through the entries. I'd been informally keeping a short list of my favorites from the year (though I've hardly read through them all carefully as poor Jonas Kaufmann must've had to do), and was happy to see that two of my favorites (the Eugene Onegin and the Andrea Chénier) were among the five winners.

Here are others of my favorites from this year, although I'm sure I'm missing some that are equally deserving. (My 2009 favorites, many of which returned this year, may be found here.)

[NOTE: You can ID all the operas below by clicking on the plots. Clicking on the plotter names takes you to their original tweets.]

(I wonder if the long GILDAAA distracted people from the brilliance of the opening, which could be a perfect tagline for the opera - at least, perfect if the opera were a comedy. Perfectly executed plays on "hunch" and especially "daughter in the sack"; in far less than 140 characters, it actually summarizes the gist of the plot remarkably well. My favorite of 2010.)
(OK, this summarizes very little, but it makes me laugh every time I see or say it. It's especially satisfying because the opera itself is so long. I'm proud to say that I helped midwife this one into the competition; it arose from a discussion among two plotters, one of whom mentioned how much this opera reminds him of reality shows such as "America's Got Talent." The other responded with the line above, and I suggested that's all that was needed.)
(I don't even understand parts of this one, but it stands out for sheer kookiness, and it somehow fits Alberich perfectly. Was even converted into a LOLcat.)
(Maybe the best of the song parodies. Easy to hear Barry Manilow crooning this.)

(Hey, look at that; two rhyming Britten plots about creepy characters named Peter, back to back. Both very elegantly and efficiently done.)
(I actually found myself working at one point on something about the coincidence of Mimi stopping by - never got anywhere with it, but this Bogart homage captures it perfectly.)
(Note that the two above are not for the same opera. The "there's more to me than a homicidal clown" line is killer. I may need that for a bumpersticker.)
(nbrockmann has probably turned out more great operaplots than anyone, often featuring clever social commentary; too bad she didn't have enough characters to add "decadent Wagnerian chromaticism" to that grim list.)
(I like the bonus meta-layer provided here by using this operaplot to comment on the self-awareness of the plot.)
(Of course, I like the rhyming ones, of which there were many entered, but meter too often ends up suffering. This one flows along perfectly and integrates the required hashtag most cleverly.)
(It's likely I wouldn't have had the skillz to imagine how this should sound on my own, but fortunately its author supplied the breakout hit of Operaplot 2010: Listen here.)
Finally, I'd like to second Yvonne Frindle's suggestion that this one, which originally debuted in 2009, is probably the best #operaplot ever:

(It manages to do so many things. It reads first a bit like a scientific abstract, which turns out to be a lovely way of capturing the culture clash at the center of this story; it's clever and humorous; but, best of all, unlike just about any of the other operaplots I've seen, it genuinely captures the poignancy of the story. It's pretty easy to make fun of opera in all its silliness and excess, but this one actually reminds us that we care about the characters. It's actually sad.)
Remember, you can view all of my operaplots (from 2009 and 2010) here. I like some of them as well...

[UPDATE (5/9] I meant to include this one as well. It was on my list, but I forgot I to list it here:]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Trailer Mashups

[NOTE: I'm hoping I can pull in some of the tractor pull crowd with the catchy post title.]

Creating my little "Twitter Plot" Magic Flute trailer (featuring music not by Mozart) got me thinking about the humorous idea that Mozart's music, while wonderful, might not work so ideally in the movie trailer context.* Actually, it could and should, but this trailer for Kenneth Branagh's recent film version of The Magic Flute uses the music rather generically and unimaginatively.

Which made me think, if you're gonna use trailer music generically and unimaginatively, why not bring in the can't-miss big guns? And so, promising myself that I'd make very little effort other than just slapping the new soundtracks on and being sure the musical climax hits at the right time, I threw together two new versions of the Flute trailer. Here's my first effort, using the ubiquitous opening chorus from Orff's Carmina burana. It doesn't always synch up perfectly, but it does generate terrific momentum as the trailer goes along.

Still, I sensed that Orff's music might be a bit too grim for a relatively light-hearted story, and since Branagh also clearly plays up the heartwarming and uplifting elements of the plot, I realized that this was a job not for Orff and not for Mozart, but for...Randy Edelman. In my experience, this music of his (which I only recently learned was his theme from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) is THE quintessential trailer soundtrack. If my Wikipedia-based research is correct, it's been used in trailers for the likes of Forrest Gump and The Truman Show, and I'd already used a shorter version in my Twitter trailer (see previous post). Here's the Mozart/Branagh/Edelman outcome:

The music's not really my cup of tea, but it's so familiar in this context that it seems almost to guarantee a good time at the movies. I know I've heard it many, many times, though I only learned its identity after seeing it used brilliantly (at the 1:45 mark) in this wonderful "trailer for every Academy Award winning movie ever." It's also amazing to me how well it intersects with so many little moments in the Magic Flute scenes that fly by - again, the only connection that was planned was the matching of the musical climax with the movie title; everything else just kind of happens. This music is made to trail. If you're a regular reader of this blog, hopefully you'll be reminded of the kinds of meaningful random connections that can so easily happen when two unconnected entities are tossed together.

[UPDATE: If you don't feel like watching the whole thing, check out the last trailer mashup above at around the 0:48 mark. The score transition at 0:58 seems like it was made for what's happening with the visual clips. I wish I could take credit, but this was a total coincidence.]

I think this experiment may also have been influenced by this odd little video documenting the Boston Symphony Orchestra's recent fashion design contest,"Project Tchaikovsky." Though the contest was supposed to be about gowns that were inspired by the music of Tchaikovsky, the video featured on the BSO's own website uses the standard sort of Euro-beat music one might expect in any fashion show. It seems like a missed opportunity to try to make some real connections between these designs and the music, but maybe they also feared that, like Mozart, Tchaikovsky's not so great in the short-format background context.

(*By the way, this is a bit off-point, but one of the odder things I've ever heard done with Mozart's music is the a cappella version of a gorgeous woodwind Adagio that occurs in this trailer for the Keats bio-pic Bright Star.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Operaplot: The Movie!

Well, the midnight deadline has passed and all the 900+ (!) operaplot entries are in - of which I contributed 25: 12 newly created ones, and 13 reprised from last year. All of my new entries are contained in my most recent post, but if you'd like to read even more about them, I've added them all to my "operaplots explained" page from last year. It's probably a bad sign that all of the descriptions are longer than the operaplot entries themselves, but I suppose part of the point of explaining them is that the Twitter-imposed limit makes some of the plots rather cryptic. So, if some or all of my plots make no sense to you, take a look here.

One more bit of business as we await the announcement of winners, which will probably take a few days. I ended up designing one of my plots to read like the voice-over for a movie trailer. It's not that great (which is authentic, since those voice-overs are usually riddled with cliché), but I started thinking about how it might actually work in a real trailer, and so now there's this:

I should add that this is hardly the best multimedia version of an operaplot. For that, check out what this guy did.