Monday, April 28, 2014

Performance Diary

This past Saturday saw the "soft launch" of two groups I'm hoping to establish. The occasion  was a walking tour of Gordonsville put on by the Dolley Madison Garden Club.

From 11:00 a.m. until noon the "Kenwood Players Brass Choir" played with Tom May on the pipe organ in Christ Episcopal Church. We had a trumpet, a flugelhorn, a French horn, a euphonium and two E flat tubas. We did a number of hymns, usually with the trumpet on soprano, flugelhorn on alto, horn and euphonium on tenor and tubas on the bass the first time through. Then second time through the trumpet went up to a descant, the flugelhorn went to soprano and the horn to alto. Third time through was organ only, then fourth time was brass and organ together again. On tunes without a descant, the second time the flugelhorn and the tubas together played the melody with the organ as accompaniment. 

The one long piece we did was the R. V. Williams setting of "Old One Hundreth" he did for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth back in the fifties. There are brass flourishes at the beginning, then a number of variations on the tune, a trumpet descant, then ending with more brass flourishes.

We'd been expecting people to come and go throughout the performance, but in the event a number of people came early for good seats and stayed the entire time, with a few people coming and going in the back of the church. We were very well received, with strong applause after each tune - and Ben Armistead, the choir director, who announced each tune, led the singing if people wanted to join in, and many did.

I find the sound of brass and pipe organ to be viscerally moving, and a lot of the audience seemed have that experience. A number of people in the front pews had expressions of reverie on their faces the entire time. I think part of that comes from the fact that hearing a live brass ensemble is a fairly rare event, especially out here in this rural area. 

My favorite comment came from a lady that came up afterwards with an expression of fatigued wonderment, who said she'd been ill with bad allergies all week and unable to even speak, but that she was able to sing with the brass and organ. Another comment that gets across the feeling was the trumpet player saying that with all that sound and support he felt his range and endurance was expanded for the duration of the performance.

I've put together brass groups before, but this instrumentation gave by far the best results and I hope to keep the group going, with secular as well as church performances. 

Then from 2:00 until 4:00 what I'm calling the "Kenwood Players Chamber Group" played on Main Street, which had been closed to traffic. For the Handel Water Music/Music for the Royal Fireworks we were recorder (soprano/sopranino), flute, alto flute, clarinet, cello, and percussion. For the pop and movie tunes from the 60's I switched from alto flute to guitar or banjo.

This group also went over very well. What most pleased me was seeing people being drawn in to the Handel. I'm convinced that music is very infectious and appealing - but that most people aren't at all familiar with it, or live chamber music of any sort. With the banjo/guitar music we had people dancing. 

I'm hoping to keep this group going as well, and maybe add a second clarinet. The limiting factor is that our cello is Dr. Andy, who has to come down from Harpers Ferry to play with us, which pretty much means weekends only.

I have the hope that when people are exposed to live music like this, that's not normally heard around here, they'll like it and want more of it. Maybe the novelty of loud DJ music will wane and people will enjoy returning to live music in more of the classical/acoustic tradition.

UPDATE - for photos and a little more info, go here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Music Via Gesture

Here's a glimpse of one of the futures of music making. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Categorizing Emotions

Manfred Clynes - who invented the CAT scan and who spent quality time with both Yehudi Menuhin and Pablo Casals - categorized the range emotions as:

no-emotion, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence.

In his book Sentics he describes the button-like device he had people manipulate to emulate these emotions. Being Australian, he was able to do this with Aboriginal people as well as descendants of the European settlers, and found these emotions manifested with very similar physical parameters for both groups.

In these two recent articles talking about the same research looking at emotions conveyed by facial expressions, the categories they use are:

happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised and disgusted

There's some, but not complete, overlap between the two. In both cases, though, the connection between emotions and physical gestures is made. My idea is that emotions are encoded in music via the physical gestures making the music, along with the analog of physical gestures in the phrasing and articulation.

I think that music "touches" us, in part, due to the gestural qualities embedded in it. Evolution has given us a very finely tuned ability to read gestures of those around us, and music taps into that. 

To my mind, that's the simplest explanation as to why live performance is so much more effective than a recording - our visual input amplifies what we're hearing.