January thaw

January 18, 2009

Alright: I’m lying. There is no thaw in LA, but Martin Luther King Jr. weekend allows us mortals to slow down. For some unfair reason, school reconvened way too early this year and it has been insanely busy for me on all levels. Here is an extended diary entry that I need to put down before I forget it all.

My big new world music theory class is going well. I find that adding singing and harmonizing at 9 am is doing wonders for their temperaments as well as making their ears develop. This week we whistled “Dixie” [sic], I had three of our Spanish speaking students lead us in singing “Guantanamera” and five of our voice majors stand up and sing the “Red River Valley” while the class hums using I, IV, and V. Great fun. We then harmonize simple melodies in four parts using Bach-ian harmony voice-leading rules, using only I, IV, and V chords.

I introduced the vi chord this week. I went through “Heart and Soul” as the ur-50’s chord progression: I – vi – IV – V and a perfect chord progression for us, as these are all the chords we “know” in the class so far. I played the chord progression and asked whether student could think of songs that use this chord progression. Over the next five minutes the class threw songs at me: I’d say “Sing it” they would, and I’d fake the chords at the piano while they sang enough for us to recognize the song. I was proud of them for being able to take this chord series and do a search in their memories for instances of its occurrence. That is a marvelous thing to witness for an old theory teacher.

The image above is a screenshot of a graph of the number of views logged daily by readers who use a Feed browser. This image is from April 2007 to today, January 2009. One trend I see is that my readership flags in mid-September and then slowly climbs back up as the winter approaches. My guess is that these are my academic readers, students and teachers, who are overwhelmed by having to face returning to school, and all the busyness that that time of year entails. Or is it that people don’t like to read my mid-September vacationing posts? I continue to enjoy the therapeutic and entertainment value of blogging, and thank you, my readers, for your interest.

My husband Daniel returned to Los Angeles after his amazing success launching the new Palm Pre and its webOS, only to come down with a nasty flu that kept him in bed all week. So, when I haven’t been Chair or Prof Bourland at UCLA, I’ve been Nurse Roger at home. He’s been going full steam for over a year; the flu was a nuisance but worked wonders in just getting him to STOP.

On Wednesday, Iris Levine, the director of Vox Femina, the best women’s chorus in the world, asked me to write another piece for their group, to which I agreed without hesitation. We’ll meet later this week and she’ll fill me in on the details.

I emailed a PDF of a movement of my new piano piece to Lana Chai, and when I saw her in person, she covered me with hugs and kisses. I took that as a good sign that she likes what I’ve composed so far.

I’ve been commissioned to re-orchestrate John Hall’s and my FLASHPOINT/STONEWALL by the end of March for the (St Louis) GATEWAY MEN’S CHORUS. Originally scored for four synthesizers, bass, drums, soloists and a huge men’s chorus, it now has to be scaled down for piano, bass, drums and two or three acoustic instruments. I haven’t decided which acoustic instruments they are, but I’ll figure it out before too long. As it is now, the piece is dead in the water as none of the synthesizers are made any longer.

Speaking of gay choruses, Daniel and I went to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles Christmas concert last month. It was the best Christmas concert I’ve been to in years: entertainment, beautiful and spirited singing; terrific arrangements and rarely heard originals. There is hope for Christmas music — and gay choruses.

My brother, Andy, is in a hospice near his home in Andover, MA. He is mostly at peace with his decline, and shows the signs common to all who are slowly approaching their death. His doctors have said it was his sheer, steely will and fight that have kept him alive this long. In times like this, we see how mind and attitude can control how long we live.

Mitchell and I went to hear Kaija Saariaho‘s LA PASSION DE SIMONE. The Philharmonic and the Master Chorale were excellent. The audience was large and largely appreciative. The landscape of the composition reminded me of driving in Iowa. Things happen slowly. Foreground seemed rare. What might “normally” be considered middle-ground was foreground here. And, as I mentioned to Del after the show, that’s why is was so disruptive when people got up and left. The sound of opening and closing doors became foreground in a Cage-ian sense. Kaija is my age, exactly. Our musics are really very different. I’m a song and dance man; she a post-abstract impressionist in sound.

To finish the week, I wore my photographer had and took some pictures of a combined group of faculty and students for a publicity poster. Such a handsome group!

Previous post:

Next post: