26 August 2007

Happy Birthday/Blog Philosophy Revisited/Year In Review

This blog turned 1 year old on August 18. Happy birthday to me/it. What follows are some of my reflections on the year that was.


After a certain amount of experimentation, I decided that the best way to proceed here would be to post only when I feel I have something worth saying AND have taken the time to produce something worth reading on said subject. This, of course, results in two highly un-bloglike characteristics: the posts are often long, and they materialize infrequently. Nevertheless, I plan to continue down this road because I believe that there are many topics that deserve better than the traditional blog-and-run miniatures found elsewhere, and also that both you and I probably have better things to do than to hang out here on a daily basis. If I am going to take the time to write (and expect you to take the time to read), I want it to be worth it for both of us.

If you simply must have your Fickle Ears daily, you may follow this simple procedure:

(1) when a new post materializes, determine how many days it has been since the last post;

(2) divide the new post into this many sections;

(3) read one section per day.

If that's not good enough for you, there's always the prospect of re-reading past entries. Particularly if you're new here and on the fence as to whether you'll ever come back, you might check out the following "year in review" for a sampling of what I feel to be the most representative posts from Year One:

On Music Criticism

On Composition

On Teaching Jazz Improvisation

On Patterns In Music

On Self-Esteem

On "Saving" Classical Music


To avoid the appearance of simply using the birthday/year in review thing to fill up space after not producing much for the last several weeks, there's a new post up following this one. Remember to enjoy it responsibly; it may have to last you a while.

The Most Important Thing...

Back in March, I wrote:

The imitation of another musician's personal style is often considered to be an act of reverence. If the imitation is too close, it may cross over into the realm of plagiarism. But more often than either of these, it is an act of vanity. When John Q. Composer writes a new work that is significantly indebted to a previous one yet is of lesser quality, the most important thing about the new work is that he is the one who created it.

I fear that the same dynamic exists when it comes to blogging about current events. This has been particularly in evidence recently with the seemingly perpetual string of major musical figures passing away.

Certainly writing a blog entry constitutes a certain way of paying respect; the near-total dominance of one story throughout the musico-blogosphere merely reflects how important a musician was to so many people. One the other hand, though, in the case of writers who had little or no personal contact (let alone relationship of any kind) with these musicians outside of admiring their work, it becomes increasingly about oneself (i.e. the blogger) rather than about the musician in question, especially when nearly everyone seems to put everything else on hold in order to give their take on the story. At this point, one is no longer doing everyone else a service by breaking the story because everyone else already knows; what distinguishes one article from the next, then, is who wrote it.

Read a newspaper obit and you get all the pertinent information; then read 15 blogs and you learn very little else about the person, but a hell of a lot about the bloggers. Perhaps a brief mention of the passing and a couple of links would be the most respectful way to go about it; "Here's what so-and-so meant to me" is starting to get old.

Of course, we have all caught ourselves raving to an acquaintance about a piece or a recording as if we had created it, even though we hadn't. It seems to be human nature to, figuratively speaking, take ownership of things that we cherish. It's one thing when the dearly departed is an obscure or unknown figure that could use the exposure. On the other hand, in the case of a real luminary, it's made even more superfluous by the fact that we all feel that same sense of ownership and emotional investment with this person and their work.

08 August 2007

Home Recordings #1

This marks the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts sharing some "do it yourself" recordings of mine. To kick things off, I have a three tuba arrangement of some Beethoven piano music:

"Presto" from Op. 10, No. 2

It's a frequent topic of speculation among tubists what old Ludwig might have done with the tuba had he ever heard one. I'm not so sure this is it, but it's fun nonetheless. Even with a click track and unlimited chances to get things correct, I found this to be quite a challenge, and the end result is far from perfect. The tuba is, of course, a nightmare to record. It certainly was never intended to be miked this close and in such a dead room, but besides the fact that the sound tends to be more optimal several feet away, close miking also makes even the smallest mistakes stand out.

I don't claim superiority to anyone who has put out a "classical" tuba recording commercially, but the distant nature of the sound on many such records has always bothered me. I'd like to hear closer miking and a more "immediate" presence from the recorded tuba, and I'm trying to use projects like this as training for anything I might do in a "real" studio. If you can get a great sound right off the bell, you'll have a world-class sound in most any decent space. Some teachers advocate practicing outdoors this reason, and I think I may try that more often (although it's only available 6 months out of the year in MN).

As a side note, this is, in fact, a three-part arrangement. I cheated here and there in recording it, but I originally wrote it to be played in real time by three players, and I'm sure it's doable as such.