So What Happened with Me and the Organ?

I’ve been an organist most of my life. I loved the organ (and perhaps I still do, but that’s a matter with which to be discussed later). There was a time in which I could not imagine myself not being an organist. For decades I was at most peace with myself, most focused, yet free when I would be alone for hours in a dark church or auditorium practising or — especially — improvising at the console. Improvising at the organ was often the inspiration for my composing. Not that I would remember much, if any, of the ideas which passed through my hands and feet; rather, I would come away with insights and the confidence to put musical thoughts on paper (and yes, I still compose with a pencil and several handy erasers). It was nice. The only person’s expectations of whom I was concerned were my own.

But, that’s changed now. A number of factors have occurred since I last played the organ, particularly regarding at the church I had been practising up until a year ago when the Diocese instituted a shut down of its churches. Since then (November 2020, apparently there has been some opening up of the church; notwithstanding the my last communication with the rector (July 2021) who informed me that for insurance reasons I still couldn’t come and practise the organ, even though I’ve seen numerous groups and individuals (outside of the rector and the church administrator) come and go.

Now, I’ve been here before, under different circumstances mind you; I’ve gone with “dry” periods of not having an instrument upon which to practise in the past; and it’s very frustrating. Just as I feel I’m regaining my technique, even progressing, some circumstance (too many to numerate here) comes along and I’m sans organ one more time; and the quest to find a decent instrument is renewed. But, this time it’s different. In this case I’ve decided that I’m fed up being at the mercy of duplicitous clergy. Concerning this last situation, since I haven’t received any communication from this clergyman, notwithstanding the obvious change from our last communication (e-mail), as if I’m blind and can’t see the comings and goings at the church, I’ve decided not bother. It’s pretty clear that my presence, no matter how careful, unobtrusive and deferential I’ve been, is simply no longer desired. At least that is my conclusion. I’ve pondered, a lot, as to whether I should ask one more time now. The issue is not that I’m afraid of what he’ll tell me. No, my concern is what I might say.

So, what does this have to do with my attitude to the organ? Well, I simply don’t like playing it much anymore. I’ve had the rug pulled out from beneath me too many times. And at my age I just don’t feel like starting over for ninth or tenth time. It’s a shame; because, I’m currently the interim at a church where the congregation (at least for now) truly appreciate my playing. The organ is much smaller than the one I used to play, and it’s decent for its size; but, at this point I’m totally uninspired and have no desire to learn anything new, much less work on another recital programme.

So, there it is. Unfortunately having had the instrument I have loved to play and has been so much of my inspiration for all the other aspects of my love of music taken away — again, has taken its toll on them and my whole thinking as to who I am.

I guess I should just stick to gardening.

Thoughts About Success v. Failure pt. 1

It’s been a  long time since I’ve written anything.  I hope that will change, since I’ve decided that these utterances are for me, primarily; thus, I’m giving myself a certain latitude toward self-indulgence in expressing my thoughts. 

The first issue, or course, has to do with music, that dismal lover who has broken my heart more times than I can quantify.  And yet, not unlike the proverbial drug addict, or perhaps more accurately, the abused spouse, I keep grovelling back in hopes that maybe, just maybe, things will improve.  But, of course they don’t.  

The music world, especially the world of classical music, exemplifies the fallacy of the bootstraps to success scenario that we all, Americans in particular, love.  The legend of the self-made successful person continues to give false hopes to thousands of young aspiring people, who actually believe that, by simply working diligently, and getting to be really, really good at what one does the world will eventually come knocking at your door.  Of course, it’s a myth.  Self-made successes rarely ever happen.  For every self-made successful person I can guarantee that there was another successful someone who happened to be at the right point in the novice’s life who opened the right door at the right time, usually by means of introduction, whether to another influential person, or group of people (often via academia), or a publisher.  In short, if you don’t have someone “going to bat” for you early in your career, you’re out of luck.  Of course meeting the right person is only part of it.  The other aspect is being at the right place at the right time; and yes, that is, more often than not, simple luck; i.e, again, a rarity.  

Then there is the matter of unfortunate decision making.  When a young person doesn’t have the good fortune of a mentor, or have academic standing one is left only to one’s devices; and that, often leads to unfortunate consequences at best.  When left to one’s own devices, without some sort of guidance, a person has no clear path to achievement, even if the person knows what that ultimate goal is.  Now, on the journey one may digress, or even diverge from the path; one will have setbacks, sometimes serious ones.  Nevertheless, the person who ultimately succeeds manages to get back on track because of the good fortune of having had that person or those persons earlier in life who supplied the necessary skills, and — more importantly — network of support to help right the ship, so to speak.  

Many (I dare say most) “self-made” people often do not realise, or are unwilling to recognise, that their success has been built on the foundation of knowing the right person or people, being at the place at the right time (nowadays for the artist it’s usually academia).  Frequently this is the result of misunderstanding what it means to be successful.  

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding the achievement of success is talent.  As we habitually see in our current popularity saturated cultural environment one does not require talent to become successful.  The concept of success has been construed as having achieved some pinnacle of recognition by one’s peers, even fame.  All one need’s to do is observe television shows such as “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent,” to see what passes for talent in our present culture.  That, of course doesn’t include the insurmountable amount of dreck that permeates the various social media platforms.

Howbeit, success doesn’t have to go that far.  Success comes in many layers.  It all depends on what goals one has set for oneself.  They can be the achievement of fame and acclaim by one’s peers in the profession of one’s choice; or, it could be something much more modest such as developing a fruitful music programme at a church, or seeing one’s students become proficient; or, having one’s ideas accepted and implemented and seeing the positive effects of those ideas. 

So, what about failure?  Now it becomes personal.

Christe or Movement 3, Who Cares?

I’m in a bit of a quandary. I’ve come up with the main idea for the “Christe” to my Mass in a and for the third movement to my Quintette in e for piano and strings. But, as I try to figure out how do develop these ideas, I think to myself: “Why bother? Why am I wasting my time composing? Nobody is interested in my music. In my lifetime only one other person has thought my music good enough to perform.”

I’m approaching the last few decades of my life (if I’m lucky) and nobody, NOBODY else has expressed enough interest — or considered me good enough — to give my music a hearing. Oh, I’ve had a few tell me how good my pieces are; but, they lie. Yes, lie. Because, for some inscrutable reason they just can’t find a way of actually performing my work. And God forbid that they find it worthy enough to pass on to a colleague or student or friend. And when I inquire, boy musicians are the best at excuses.


Then there are those who say how much they would like to see/hear a piece. Okay, I send it to them — crickets. Is it really that bad that it doesn’t deserve a response?

It’s not as if my music is inaccessible. I’ve given the website to it (https://mpropinc.wordpress.com) and the PDFs are easy to download, and it doesn’t cost anything. I’m literally giving my music away so that it simply can be heard.

So, why should I bother? AND PLEASE don’t give me that BS about the act of composing is its own reward, or that one composes because one “has” to do so. That may have worked forty years ago; but, there’s a point of diminishing returns with that crap, especially from those either don’t compose or have been successfully published and performed. The disingenuousness is just a little hollow. And that disingenuousness is why music friends — aren’t.

The Decline of Church Music, Pt. II

To go with Parts I & III

Mostly Music and Curmudgeonry

I realise that a number of my colleagues (at least those of certain social media groups) might have been a little upset with Part I of my little personal analysis of the dismal state of church music — particularly my opprobrium of of those large numbers people (“masses” if you will) who are more than willing to subjugate the rational to the simplistic answers or dogma of similarly predisposed religious leaders.    Maybe what I say here will help to clarify a few things. Some may have been reluctant to respond, because I’m sure a fair amount of them have perfectly fine working relationships with their bosses.

Notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear that the clergy bear most of the responsibility for the dismal state of music in the church: if for no other reason the clergy are the leadership in the church.  This includes the supposedly more democratic non-liturgical denominations (Presbyterian, Methodists, Baptists, United…

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The Decline of Church Music Pt.I

To go with Part III

Mostly Music and Curmudgeonry

It’s fairly common knowledge that mainstream Christianity is in decline, at least in western civilisation. Now, by mainstream I mean churches that aren’t the simplistic, backward, literalistic, entertainment oriented, fundamentalist churches which engage in a heavy handed proselytising form of evangelism; rather, mainstream churches take the lessons from the Old & New Testaments and try to have them make sense in our world: that the precepts in the Bible are metaphorically applicable (as opposed to literally) to today’s exigencies, is one of the distinguishing features from its more gratuitously superficial, excessively emotional, reptilian, counterpart.  It’s not unlike comparing the literary talents of Snooki (remember her?) to Iris Murdoch.

Similarly, the more cerebral, spiritual and metaphysically challenging mainstream church can’t compete with the superfluous emotionalism of the  fundamentalists.  Those institutions/enterprises which appeal to the baser aspects of human beings will always have a certain cache among the largely ignorant and emotionally…

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The Decline of Church Music Pt III

Okay, so we know that pop culture, and the clergy who have succumbed to its siren call, have had a substantial influence on the decline of church music.  We can only marginally blame congregations.  After all, who can blame the majority of the people for the choices they make.  When someone is inundated with virtually nothing but mind numbing, purely commercial trivia most of their lives, without reciprocal access to something better, how can than they be expected to make an intelligent decision about anything, much less the music they use for worship?  Moreover, it’s the church leadership who are supposed to give the “flock” what they need, not necessarily what they think they want (let’s face it, most people today don’t really know what they want; it’s much easier to have an authority figure tell you what you want than actually make a decision).

Yet, there’s still one more person whose influence in this matter is crucial:  the music director has much more influence than most are willing to admit; and that unfortunately, leads us to the serious dichotomy of church musicians who adopt the use of this lowest common denominator, not-even-good-pop, music:  They have either succumbed to the coercion of their clergy or the lay leaders; or they’ve gradually lowered their standards and descended to that nether world of existential relativity where Avery-Marsh ends up being “not so bad.”  Often, dare I say usually, the latter is a result of the former.  Church musicians, not unlike other highly specialised employees, are frequently susceptible to bosses who know little if anything about their craft, and who are more than likely unwilling to learn from the specialist as that would detract from their delusional sense of self-importance.  As a result church musicians, being the ever pliant beings that they are, adapt.   

Church musicians have the added disadvantage of dealing with the profligate practises of publishers who, through their diffusion of this form of church music, have aided in the metastasising of this cancer.  Every era has its mediocrity; however, mediocrity is a relative term.  Moreover, it’s an era’s mediocrity which gives us the yardstick by which we judge the overall quality of a society’s cultural intelligence and sense of direction. I realise that I’m treading onto much broader subject matter; but, it doesn’t take a lot see how the “mediocrity” of Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods compares to what is mediocrity today.  I mean, really, is there any comparison to John Amner, Francesco Veracini, Johan Albrechtsberger, Theodor Kullak to Marty Haugen? Less and less does the serious church musician have a choice in the matter.  It’s not that there isn’t high quality music being written for the church: Gerald Custer immediately comes to mind.  It’s just that it’s become harder and harder to find it amid the volumes of dreck cluttering a church musician’s mailbox — traditional or electronic.  If one is fortunate enough to find something new that is serious and well written then comes the quandary:  are the clergy, choir or congregation willing to accept this “high art?”  After all, this “highfalutin” stuff requires actual listening!

Curiously enough, we find out that it’s not the young who are interested in the kind of shallow entertainment that pervades the church nowadays; rather, it’s their predecessors, those who are now the leadership in the church, who seem so hellbent to make church “more fun.”  In a survey of over 13,000 people of different age groups done for a report for the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music for the research division of Church Pension Group (CPG) on the possible revision of the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church (don’t you just love bureaucracy?), the majority of people under 30 and over 57 (italics mine) are against revising the hymnal for fear of it being popularised. One of the respondents, a 22 year old, put it quite succinctly:

“I think there is a huge assumption made that the younger generation wants guitar- and piano-based praise and worship music. …What we want to hear in a Sunday Eucharist are the classic hymns played on organ. And occasionally we want to chant. Church is the one place where our musical taste is not based upon fad, but instead links us with a much more important, more elegant tradition. If I wanted to listen to acoustic guitar and piano, I’d pick up Dave Matthews or Ben Folds. If I wanted rap, I’d listen to Lil Wayne. …For  worship, I want music that connects to me a world outside of the in and out of my daily life.” †

This brings up an interesting issue, there is approximately a generation and a half who have a problem with ageing.  Granted this started with the baby boomers (of whom admittedly I am one); nevertheless, the concern for “relevancy” (the buzz word of the 60’s and 70’s) then had more to do with what the church was doing concerning the Vietnam War and civil rights than whether music in the church “rocked.”  Of course, the Roman Catholic Church, in its infinitely myopic approach to almost anything regarding its laity’s proclivities, as part of post-Vatican II thought that coming up with a “Folk Mass,” right at the time the folk music “craze” of the early 60’s had atrophied, would be a way of attracting younger people to the church.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Somehow, somewhere, somebody in the church hierarchy got the impression that this low grade form pop music which they had determined would attract hordes of new, young congregants, actually believed it worked.  Moreover, this delusion spread to the protestant denominations.  For some, particularly, though by no means exclusively, the southern branches, of Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Pentecostal and an infinite number of fundamentalist denominations, it didn’t take much, since that kind of simple-minded music fits in rather snuggly with the their equally simplistic theology. 

                 Of course, a large part of it was financial.  For the Catholic Church it was: why spend money on trained musicians when you could have nuns and guitars lead in the singing for nothing?   With protestants it was any amateur with an electric guitar and a set of drums whose primary motivation was to have fun — under the guise of worship.  Nevertheless, it has turned out to be an abject failure. Churches that have resorted to this and the faux-broadway ballade style of hymnody haven’t experienced any growth.  On the contrary, the church continues to lose membership.  Bad pop music has not turned out to be the panacea that the church leadership had hoped it to be.  But, like so many other simplistically minded, ultra-conservative organisations or people, their minds are made up and can’t be be bothered with the facts. 

Unfortunately, there’s only so much church musicians can do in light of the odds against them.  But, at the very least, they could try not to become part of the problem.  Church musicians, not unlike the general public, are their own worst enemies:  as a church musician myself, I’m ashamed to say there are a number in the profession who, rather than merely acquiescing to the pressures from the clergy and lay leadership, actually embrace this degenerate form of worship.  They really like this stuff; i.e., their standards and taste are so corrupted, so vitiated, that they reify the Wyndham Lewis axiom:        

“Name anything where taste is at stake –– it will provide an example of the systematic forcing down of civilised standards.”§ 

Notwithstanding these encumbrances, it behooves the serious church musician to strive to bring to the congregation the kind of music which will give the listener a truly contemplative, mystical, transcendent experience that places one closer to God.  That means eschewing the musically, emotionally facile, and theologically jejune drivel that has come to dominate (as in most contemporary art forms) church music.  Good taste is taught.  It’s recognising that not all music and the arts are acceptable — that there are standards to be met, principles to be learnt.  I find it sad, and not a little pathetic, that church musicians who spent good money (either their’s or other’s) to go to a school and learn counterpoint, harmony, music history and perfect their performance skills are so willing, not just to compromise, but quash all of that scholarship for the sake of preserving what is usually a low paying, generally unappreciated job.  Yet, it is the church musician who has the expertise and dedication to music and its significance to the liturgy, who understands the power of great music, who has the obligation not only to exercise that influence, but to teach, teach, teach — preach the “Gospel of Great Sacred Music” as it were — to their congregations if they are to experience an authentic numinous or metaphysical propinquity with God, and have any hope of any rebirth of the Church as a spiritual and world saving entity.                                                                                                                                                                                    

† Church Pension Group (CPG), “A Report to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music”  pg.57                                          

§ Lewis, Wyndham: “Apes of God,” ©1981 by the estate of Mrs. G. A. Wyndham Lewis, printed 1984 by Black Sparrow Press.

R.I.P. WCC. Sorry, But That’s How I See It

I wish I could apologise for my sentiments, but I can’t because in the long run it doesn’t matter what any of us think or feel. As I look at the numerous postings of concerts and performances by the various WCC choirs, and seeing how lovely and heart rendering they are; all I can think of is: lets’s face it folks, Westminster Choir College as we know it (or at all) is dead meat — road kill. All the lovely postings, heartfelt protests, and — at this point — litigation isn’t going to change the inevitable. In maybe five years (or sooner) saying you graduated from Westminster Choir College will be not much more than saying you graduated from Trenton State College or Trump University; i. e., it will have little or no meaning.

I realise this is not something students or alumni want to hear; but, unfortunately that doesn’t preclude the ineluctable, occluding some last minute angel coming in and buying the school simply to save it. I hate to say this, but it ain’t gonna happen. Rider will sell the property and WCC will simply cease to exist. I want desperately to be proven wrong, unless there is a buyer, the WCC Foundation, or anybody with a serious interest in the future of sacred music or music education can find, or comes forward with the money to buy WCC, within a few years you can kiss the substance of your degree good bye.

Simply, the money is out there, but it has to be found; because it’s a minute before midnight. Happy New Year.

Why Americans Elect Mediocre to Reprehensible Presidents.

Sorry about the inactivity.  I simply have been struggling with what I wish to write.  I generally prefer to write about my art form; but, the past two years have left me in such a funk I can’t think of anything else but the disaster that is occurring within our federal government and our society as a whole.  

My concern is that the United States, constitutionally and culturally is dying.  The fact that after two years approximately 40% of the American electorate, which consists of millions — MILLIONS — of people still think of Donald J. Trump as, not only their preferred president, but actually love this racist, misogynist, narcissistic sociopath.  Ergo, this puts me into an existential dilemma.  You see, Trump with his immorality, pathological lying, pre-pubescent and generally disgusting behaviour, is not the problem:  it’s the gratuitous stupidity and wanton ignorance of the American public.  I know it’s convenient for news commentators on shows like “Morning Joe” to pontificate that “the American people aren’t stupid.  They know what’s going on.  They’ll get it in time, etc. etc., blah, blah blah…  Unfortunately, such is not the case.  The American public, for the most part (that includes those who didn’t vote for Trump), ARE stupid.  And (yes, this does sound conspiratorial, but then again, conspiracies do exist), it cannot be fully dismissed that those who would be most threatened by an highly educated electorate would have a lot to lose. It’s simply a matter that when people are educated sufficiently to think critically they will choose people who have their best interests in mind; i. e., they will vote for those, who like themselves, believe that public office actually means working for the public good.  

Needless to say that has been not been the case for a long time.  Witness the latest Senatorial elections in Mississippi and Florida, and the Georgia governors race. The GOP and those even further to the right (the so-called alt-right, i. e., nut jobs, racists (admitted or otherwise), the fascists (admitted or otherwise), religious fundamentalists (now under the problematic and overly inclusive blanket of “evangelicals”), and all other so-called conservatives,  have had this problem with the public good.  Oh sure, they love to prattle on about how free enterprise and the open, competitive, market, i.e. capitalism,  is supposed to solve the issues of public health, transportation, shelter, insurance, and just about anything else that appertain to those essential aspects of living in a truly civilised society; i. e., as being good for the general public; yet, they know full well that the only people who genuinely benefit from these policies are those who own or have vested interests in the profit margins of these highly monopolised industries — not the public whose interest they are supposed to avail.

The reason and solution to all of this is quite simple, albeit initially expensive, but is what I see to be the only true remedy for a true democracy:  education.  I mean education on a scale never conceived before in this society.  And it’s not just the math and science courses that have simplistically been espoused.  I mean an expansive, heuristic education which teaches children to think critically; which encourages them to read and reach rational conclusions that will better their immediate circumstances and those to follow.  

The current United States system of public education, by virtue of its Federalist beginnings, has become this terrible mish-mash of locally mandated curricula dependent upon the political bent of that local school board.  The end result is, of course those who are in most need of a well developed, intensive, broad education get almost nothing; whereas, others, usually the more affluent, get the benefit of the latest information and learning techniques.  This is why we have the miserable political situation we have.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why a prevaricating misogynistic, sociopath can be elected president of the United States; and then proceed to completely counterman virtually everything and anything that even remotely pertains to constitutional government.  When you have a populous that easily manipulated by virtue of the fact they don’t know how reason, distinguishing between the actual truth and what they are told by those invested with keeping them stupid as true, it comes as no surprise. Such is silage upon which the uneducated feed.

Simply put, you cannot have a truly successful democracy without, at the very least, a well educated electorate.


Watch Your Back Orpheus

Boston has had a conductorless chamber orchestra since 2007 who, at this point, are easily a serious rival to the more famous (hopefully for not too long) Orpheus Ensemble.  They are known as A Far Cry.  They’re primarily a string ensemble of 18 members (who refer to themselves as “Criers”) who call upon other instrumentalists as required by the chosen repertoire. More can be learnt at http://afarcry.org.  Saturday night’s (8/IX/2018) season opener at Calderwood Hall inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of  Art proved my point beyond a doubt in a resplendently played programme of, let’s say, interesting repertoire partially unknown or of otherwise borderline recognition.

Unfortunately, before the concert the audience had to forbear the blather of music curator George Steele, who not only chose to prattle on duplicately about what was already in the programme notes for over five minutes; but, chose to wait ten minutes after the concert was supposed to start.  ISGM already has had problems with concerts starting on time; this simply made things worse.  If Mr. Steele can’t resist the compulsion to palaver redundant information I suggest he do it BEFORE the appointed concert time.  Notwithstanding, the concert proceeded generally quite nicely after his departure.

The first such piece was the slow movement “Agathon” from Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin solo, strings, harp & percussion with the prodigiously gifted Tai Murray as soloist.  Starting the programme off with this was a stroke of genius. It gave the strings (as led this time by Jesse Irons) a golden opportunity to show off not only their lovely tone, but the breadth of their dynamics.  We all know that strings have considerable dynamic range; however, the tightness of ensemble control, the ability to “sing” as one, especially in extremely soft passages is what separates the children from the adults; and adults they are.  As a result Ms. Murray was able give us a singularly perceptual and sensitive performance of one of Bernstein’s finest works.  I would love to hear the whole Serenade with Ms. Murray and A Far Cry sometime.  Let’s hope.

I love the idea of rotating “leaders” in what is essentially a conductorless ensemble because each leader still manages to put his or her individual stamp on the piece performed.  Robyn Bollinger gave a justly aggressive approach to the one highly recognisable work on the programme: Mussorgsky’s ubiquitous Pictures at an Exhibition. The difference, this time was a arrangement by British composer Jacques Cohen for string orchestra.  I must say, I am generally very tired of this piece: orchestras and classical radio stations constantly overplay the Ravel orchestration; moreover, it’s a miserable piano solo piece which obviously cries out to be orchestrated.  So, yes it was the piece that made me think twice about coming to this concert.  Notwithstanding, Mr. Cohen’s string orchestra version is not only ingenious, but actually surprisingly effective.  The secret, I believe, is not only the discriminating implementation of various string “effects,” but, ironically, the homogeneity of sound of a string ensemble avoids the tempering of dissonances that you get with and orchestra.  As a result you get even more of the “crunch” of the original piano version but heightened by the sustained tones of the strings: not unlike the organ, which, by the way, was a most effective causatum for the “The Great Gate of Kiev.”  Cohen’s arrangement uses the whole gamut of string techniques (sul ponticello, harmonics, snap pizzicato, etc.) to inspired coruscating effect.  Moreover, I especially like the highlighting of the violas, who, as with the entire ensemble, played like angels throughout the whole work.  

As with most concerts of this nature there always seems to be the compulsory, specially commissioned “world premier.”  And this was concert was no exception.  And, as in countless other “premiers” the audience was privileged to endure yet another one of the countless unremarkable pieces which fall into the category of ho-hum contemporary banality.  Such was Jessica Meyer’s meandering excessively ernest Grasping for Light.  Unfortunately, Ms. Meyers felt compelled (or was compelled) to tell us all about her inspiration; essentially repeating what was already in the programme notes.  Where do I begin?  First, having the composer come out ahead of time to tell us about the piece is the equivalent of the usually inane “Artist’s Statement” associated with gratuitously inferior works in galleries.  A musical composition should need no explanation; it either communicates to the listener or it doesn’t.  Let’s just say Ms Meyer’s depression laden exegesis was not only redundant to the programme notes, but completely useless in determining the quality of the piece.  Jae Cosmos Lee was offered the unfortunate opportunity of leading this time.  At first I was heartened by the lyrical opening viola solo; but then, it quickly descended into a mass of special effects by the larger group.  From there it was downhill.  The composer’s ardour for description simply resulted in commonplace, directionless, aleatoric sounding piles of notes crescendoing to unison violins over rambling lower strings. The piece finally diminished to a single pianissimo high note conclusion on Mr. Lee’s violin.  All in all, I’ve heard this piece countless times; i.e., it’s cliché.  This is the type of writing that became all the rage in the 50’s through the 70’s; and, unfortunately, so many composers (customarily academics) today still consider as their ticket to immortality.  The one saving grace Grasping for Light gave us was that it was only about five minutes long.  I’m certain that the ensemble played it masterfully as they did with the rest of the programme; but, who knows and who cares?

Fortunately, the audience was cleansed by the beauty of Ottorino Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano.  This isn’t the Respighi of the Roman Trilogy in which huge resources and often frenzied demands are called upon the orchestra.  This work is more in line with Ancient Airs and Dances or Church Windows. It’s an elegant work of sublime transparent textures and clear melodic polyphony reminiscent of the period which inspired the music.  The piece calls for an expansion of the group with solo winds, harp, celeste, piano and percussion.  It was Annie Rabbat’s good fortune to lead this time; and, not unlike her other colleagues, did a superb job.  The one aspect of this performance was  what can only be described as perfect balance.  It could have been so easy for each of the solo instruments especially the trumpet, keyboards and percussion to overpower during full ensemble; however, everyone got it!  From Bob Schulz’s extremely light touch with the triangle, trumpeter Michael Dobrinski’s exquisite dynamic control, to Hazel Dean Davis’ remarkable breath control in which she is required to play long, very quiet, sustained pedal tones beneath the ongoing counterpoint among the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and strings.  The subtlety of playing by everyone stood only to heighten what a masterful orchestrator Respighi was.  Quite simply put, an extraordinary performance by the entire group.

No less can be said about the the deliciously sublime Mother and Child of William Grant Still under the admirable leadership of Megumi Lewis.  Still is at last, finally, being recognised for more than just his Afro-American Symphony.  A master at combining spirituals, jazz, blues melodies and harmonies and blending them with late 19th Century-early 20th Century textures and harmony, Still’s larger output has been long overdue for hearing.  Mother and Child is quintessentially WGS.  The melodic writing is graceful, the harmonies absolutely sumptuous.  All I can add is the playing was equally sumptuous and so touching in the delicacy of each line. To get eighteen strings to sound like Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra strings is the highest compliment I can give. Absolutely gorgeous.

 

I Don’t Get It (well, actually I do)

What is wrong with America?  My Lord, it’s as if the earth had tilted in a unique way and most of the right-wing screwballs rolled over and ended up here.  I see the polls (God knows where and with whom they take these things) and they continually show Donald Trump (I refuse to call I’m President) at an approximately 40% approval rating.  I have a questions: who are these people who have deluded themselves into believing that this man cares one iota about them?