Sometimes, I don't want to think dark thoughts -- I want to feel them. Ola Gjello is a Norwegian living and working in the United States. Sometimes...I like to listen to this music sitting in the dark.
David Cherwien is the talented conductor of the National Lutheran Choir (Minneapolis); he put this project together. And you know what? It has the sweep of film music and that is just wonderful with me.
Turn off the lights and turn up the volume. And enjoy.
This gem of a film is the opening credits for To Kill a Mockingbird -- introducing the innocence, the place, the time -- it is a miraculous, legendary moment in cinema. And Elmer Bernstein's music propels the viewer into the private, personal life of a child (girl or boy?) and we are inside that life.
Excellent commentary is available here quoting the meticulously crafted opening title director Stephen Frankfurt. I also recommend taking a moment to listen to the sound design without looking at the images - a snatch of Bernstein's theme plays and then we hear an un-selfconscious child's lilting voice humming a tune with the sound of a crayon scraping across paper. A ticking pocket watch, presumably, of Atticus Finch, fades in and out and in and out. And then, the music begins by putting you into that child's world without suggesting the violence and racism that follows in the story. The implication of innocence and better times mask what is to come and I find myself embracing that. time and place and innocence. It is abruptly torn open as the chid seemingly tears the crayon drawing revealing a black background. There is a chuckle as the camera pans downward and cross-fades to tree branches moving at the same speed in the same direction.
Return again to the images and see how extreme close-ups put you on the scale of tiny, beautiful objects kept and protected in an old cigar box. This opening music unfolds into the movie and transforms it into something timeless and exquisite. This little 5:45 scene is a memorable masterpiece. Many lessons reside here.
There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.
Composers Institute alumnus, Max Friedman, had a premiere at Brandeis University recently. I love the slow, subtle, relentless, penetrating musicality of the composition. Watch carefully to see the performers hovering in the darkness over the piano.
A graduate of Brown University in music and political science, Max is currently pursuing a Masters in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University. He studies composition with Yu-Hui Chang, David Rakowski, and Erin Gee; Yiddish with Ellen Kellman; and is a former student of Eric Nathan, Wang Lu, and Shawn Jaeger at Brown. In addition, Max was a 2021 Steiner Program Fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, and in 2022 he plans to attend the YIVO-Bard Uriel Weinreich Yiddish Summer Program.
It's always fun to listen to music while watching a video. What is often forgotten is the art of synchronizing a visual to an already-existing score (whether moving images or in a game). Here is a fascinating example of animation following music -- less common than you'd think. (Thank you, Disney!)
SLAVA UKRAINI! The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov whispers in times of great chaos and commotion. That is the radical quality of his music when war is raging. Taking the time to let this music enter into your mind is also radical, not easy-listening. Take the time to listen to his whispering melodies.
A cool transition...
...between two pieces I love.
David Lang's Just (After Song of Songs) from the movie "Youth."
...and composer-lyricist Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma performed by Stan Getz (sax), Chick Corea (piano) and Grady Tate (percussion).
Thorkell Sigbjörnsson (1938-2013)
I only just became aware of this composer. He graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota at about the time that my teachers at the University of Minnesota (Paul Fetler, Eric Stokes, Dominick Argento) were starting to establish their practices.
Mr. Sigbjörnsson worked tirelessly at the Icelandic Academy of Arts and on Icelandic National Radio as an advocate and curator of the musical life in his native country. Until lately, his music has been little-known. This music from 1981 is experimental for its time and has an audience of less than 10,000 (I'm pretty certain). But the nature of the internet and social media has radically altered the size and nature of his audience in two profound ways:
JAMES BROWN Please, Please, Please
I think many teachers of music composition train their students to create "sticky" melodies (something that are memorable, even unforgettable). One of the melodies I think demonstrates stickiness is James Brown's melody for "Please, Please, Please."
I'd love to hear if you find this melody especially memorable. What techniques does Mr. Brown (!) use to create the stickiness.
Here are just a few of the things my students and I have listed as the elements of stickiness...
What do you think?
ARVO PÄRT "Fratres"
I've been on a music tour bus for more than four weeks playing Christmas music with pianist Lorie Line. Someday, I'll post her music but it is now Epiphany, and I am in a self-reflective mood and this music suits me.
This particular composition by Pärt steadies my breathing at first and like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings raises my temperature ever so slowly until I find that there is a pounding in my chest.
Pärt's compositions mirror one's meditation on resounding bells, tintinnabullations. This music centers around the focus you bring to the listening experience. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor -- pause...calm your mind and body...close your eyes...concentrate your breathing...focus on your heart beating...and you will be rewarded.
Composer Randall Davidson creates music, and performs, produces, and promotes music of others. This blog is an annotated, virtual playlist of the music that he loves and that he calls "sticky" (aka memorable).