Monday, 13 July 2015

John Cage - Controversial as Ever

"Silence" by John Cage - this is the book cover

As a young music student decades ago, John Cage's writings and compositions were required course materials. Agree or disagree, John Cage constantly and continuously confronted and challenged every sense of the word music as well as every perceived parameter of music, sound and silence as art in any form or absence of form.

Cage stated in one of his writings, "Formerly silence was the time lapse between sounds, useful to a variety of ends."

In disagreement I challenge the implication of 'formerly' in that its meaning implies 'no longer' and this compels me to question, "Has silence changed any since the beginning of time?"

Or has silence changed in any manner since John Cage has attempted to redefine silence in music?

Silence remains a time lapse between sounds regardless of what sounds silence is a lapse between. 
I thought his ideas mostly nonsense and his compositions noise, until...

John Cage's work 4'33" was, in his mind his most important work. Sad and brilliant are my only conclusions. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of a musician or musicians doing nothing is no more a musical composition than arguing that not reading a blank manuscript is a literary work of art.

Any fool can sit or stand in silence upon a stage or podium.

Surprisingly, the Cage composition in question is still performed as the attached YouTube link reveals.

Is the greater fool the audience who waits expectantly?

Perhaps this is the irony...

Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum was an American showman and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes... erroneously credited with coining the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute" (Wikipedia)

My opinion of John Cage's musical output has not changed but as I re-read his writings, I can better understand his ideas in a new light.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Love Song for an Angel

Forever From That Day

Heartache was no stranger
lonely without end.
Then one day I saw you
Sunlight entered in.

Standing on the pathway
Smiling at the rain.
You were like an angel
And became my friend.

Two hearts bound together
Forever from that day.
I will always love you
for eternity.
Stepping in the ocean
Timeless as the waves.
Nights with you beloved,
Love alone we know.

Does not really matter
what you think of me
If you walk away now
I will understand.

Our hearts bound together
Forever from that day.
I will always love you
for eternity.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Music Composition

I Love Music... at least that's what the label says.

Last weekend I began writing another music composition for choir and piano. The text is from Psalm 117. Similar to the brevity of this particular Psalm, the part I have completed is only 19 measures. The work could probably stand alone as a very short piece but my wish is to expand it. In doing so, my desire is to write something truly joyous rather than simply compose dreary solemn sounds in a major key.

Last evening, I had the unique opportunity to listen to a new composition by Dr. Stanlas Man. Immediately I was very impressed by the quality of the computer produced orchestral sounds. I asked Kie to play the piece again and then a few more times to listen deeper. The composition is short and I was wondering why Dr. Man had written so short a movement. Within the structure of his composition is a wealth of melodic lines and tonal colours just waiting to be explored and expanded…but he didn’t.

Let me quote from Dr. Man’s e-mail, “Here is the 2nd movement of the orchestral suite “Koinonia” (Greek word for life together in Christ). It describes about our God who is the only wise and mysterious one. Without him no life in Christ can be possible.”

And I began to wonder: if we know so little about God, how then can we possibly write music about God? We can only draw upon our experiences and encounters with God and then spend a lifetime trying to understand and define what we think we know about God and eventually realize that we cannot possibly fathom God.

In a musical context, Dr. Man has brilliantly captured these feelings. 

I wish I could compose music like that, music that seems alive and speaks to the longings within. For me every note is a fight to wrest and produce, like panning through tons of gravel for specks of gold, but so often the result seems more like shiny specks of fool’s gold and frustration. Yes frustration and even anger toward myself because I just cannot seem to be able to break through the barriers of my limitations and grasp the inspiration needed to create beautiful music.

Nonetheless I try not to lose sight that my purpose in writing music is to worship the God of Israel through pleasing sound rather than self-expression through noise, but at times the distinction is very blurred… no doubt from my imperfections.

The Oddblock Station Agent
Written: Friday morning, February 17, 2006

Monday, 11 May 2015

What is a Descant?

Nothing quite like an open invitation to perform, but does a fine line exist between play me and play with me?

Jonah to audience: I don't have to see what I'm doing; it just has to sound right.

Today's lesson: what is a descant?

One dictionary's definition verbatim: An additional part sung (sometimes improvised) above a given melody.

As Jonah adroitly plays out for us, a descant can also be an instrumental voice above the given melody, and in his fortissimo example, was improvised and impromptu.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, 30 March 2015

Name That Tune

Name That Tune was a game show on radio and later on television in various forms.

Anyway, one can only wonder what thoughts run through the mind of a small child sitting in front of a keyboard for the first time, especially after the little person discovers that sounds result from touching, pushing, hitting, and/or banging those keys.

Audrey to audience: If you're so smart in music, then let's hear you name this tune.

For now, let's just say this tune starts in the key of G. 

G is good! 

Good starts with G!

Beethoven's 4th piano concerto starts in G.

And G is one note better than John Cage's alleged composition called 4'33"

 The Oddblock Station Agent

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Less Serious Side of Music

I Simply call this post, "Lessons in the Keys of Humility" or "Doses of Counterpoint in Reality"

...and then laugh at life.

My dream was to be a composer...

...but eventually I learned I was not noteworthy.

Either I had an unappreciative audience...

 ...or the truth hurt.

My new composition may not be exactly like Beethoven or Mozart...

...but does it even make sense?

For a while tried my hand at conducting...

...but written music has a complex language of its own.
...and everybody has to be on the same page, including the conductor.

Shhh! Genius at work...

Then again, maybe it's better if no one finds out.

Trade Secrets:
I used to wonder how those older accomplished conductors were able to memorize the entire scores of large works and then never seemed to lose their place when conducting a performance from memory.

easier this way... and I'm getting there myself.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The MCBC English Choir

The MCBC English Choir under Fred's very capable conducting.

One of the most encouraging remarks I once heard Fred say came early one Sunday morning a few years ago. Fred mentioned that he could not sleep well the night before, because the music and our voices were running through his thoughts. I don’t say encouraging because Fred could not sleep, encouraging because of his commitment to this choir. I too have to admit to some restless and almost sleepless Saturday nights before our Sunday presentations because the tenor part had been running through my head.

Below is another photo of our choir recorded in March 2008, the week prior to Sharon's final Sunday with MCBC. Missing from the photo are Fred and Jimmy. That morning, Fred had to rush off in order to conduct another choir.

With a deep and heart-felt thankful gratitude to God, and with many fond memories, I have been a part of this choir.  

Thanks Andrew for taking these photos.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum: a part of our history

In a light-hearted moment: our Sopranos and Altos with our pianist who will be leaving for university.

Our very talented conductor and gifted pianist (Father and daughter) June 2003