Monday, October 27, 2014

Music and the Face of Eternal Youth...

Recently, I picked up the latest CD of, arguably,  the most famous pop singer still among us;  namely, Tony Bennett, and his duets with Lady Gaga.
My initial reaction to the performances on this CD is, of course, amazement at the reality that Bennett continues to be at the top of his form in doing that which he has achieved fame for, since the Second World War.
I am perfectly aware that there are those who do not like his singing style, and I am not in any way defending the entity of Tony Bennett as I write this. Personal taste and resultant opinion are factors that need not  be the subject of assault - after all; no argument is, from what I can gather, ever won or lost.
What is astounding to me is that, unlike any pop artist I know of, Bennett continues to make a statement in his particular field of the art that averts the reality that this man is months away from his 90th year.
In addition, he is singing with a vocalist who is 60 - odd years younger than he, and the result is an event of two aspects; one, Bennett is capable of melding with and shaping the form of his style around an artist who is young enough to be his granddaughter. And, two;  this young singer is, in my view, as sensational as Bennett, in that her styling and completing a picture of such stylistic compatibility in tunes that Bennett has been singing  for generations, which   helps form one of the most unique singing duos in pop music history. They are so wonderfully comfortable with one another that their performances  remind me of the marvelous synergy of 'oneness' created by the  two  great jazz/pop musicians pianist George Shearing and vocalist Mel Torme. They bonded in the same fashion and performed together for years. Torme himself remarked that what he and Shearing accomplished, as a unit, was "as if we were two minds in one body." What  is different is these two men were pretty much out of the same generation.
One additional issue about all of this is that Bennett, at age 88, and Shearing and Torme, as grandfathers, represent the face of Youth, with its words of love and hope forming so much of the base of pop music.
Listen to Bennett, or Shearing, or Torme,  with  'eyes closed'  - you hear the sounds of  the young expressing their  emotions and experiences in real time.
 There  were and are other pop artists who will always defy their ages in performance, such as Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald, and many others - that is the elemental nature of pop music. It MUST have either a smile on its face so much of the time, or the yearning, searching nature that is endemic to being young.
The Bennett/Lady Gaga CD encapsulates all of this so well - the most amazing reality is these two are sixty years apart...


Monday, October 20, 2014

Two Major Artists and the Fusion of Sight and Sound...

When I think of the process we call Synesthesia, two world renowned artists come to mind:
One is, of course, the Mystic from Mother Russia, Alexander Scriabin.
The other is the cartoon visionary, Walt Disney.
In his final unfinished work titled Mysterium, Scriabin describes, among other scenes,  the vision of "bells hanging from clouds" in a work that combines the forces of music and color that he had earlier produced in his "Prometheus - Poem of Fire," which premiered in Moscow in 1911; the conductor being the great Serge Koussevitsky. In "Prometheus" Scriabin employs the use of his invention called by some a color organ; by others a color keyboard (Scriabin called it "clavier a lumieres"),  which would project a specific color onto either a wall or screen, along  with a particular note of the scale, with the result being a certification of the process of synesthetic projection  applied in a formalized work of art.
Obviously, such a work requires so much effort, let alone  funding,  that it has  been done rarely in its original format. One recent performance was staged at Yale University in 2010, engendered by a young Scriabin scholar in pursuit of her PHD. Of course, by 2010, the miracle of computerized electronics is almost a century after Scriabin's experiments in his fusion of Sight and Sound. I sometimes wonder what Scriabin's reactions would be, upon being witness to his creation a century later, in the same way I wonder what Bach would have thought of his Brandenburg Concerti, were he  able to re-visit a performance, in our time,  of these works without the so-called "terraced dynamics" he employed in his time, when he was conductor of these masterpieces.
In a number of experimental cartoons, titled "Silly Symphonies,"  which appeared for about a decade after his introduction of  Mickey Mouse in 1928,  Walt Disney employs visions in brilliant color, most without dialogue, and fuses them to various styles of music, imparting a striking melange  of color  in various motions enhanced in projection with musical parallels which, for those times, must have been striking examples of  color and music with no words needed to complete a unique artistic response. I remember to this day, as a small child, seeing some of these brief cartoons in a theater my parents used to take me to, and how they are still imprinted in my memory. The cartoons I most vividly remember were "The Old Mill," "Flowers and Trees," and "Music Land."
And, almost fifty years ago, pyschedelic  music in the form of blaring speakers and flashing colors, in rhythm to  the music emanating from them, became the rage, especially among the young.
Music and color  are bed mates; innate or otherwise , and  have been extant in cohabitation  long before Scriabin appeared. In one of  a number of interdisciplinary  endeavors I developed was a course I taught titled "Sights and Sounds,' dealing with music and visual art enhancing one another in a state of constancy. My partner in this pursuit was an art teacher, who came out of retirement to be my other half.
And so it goes..


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gerard Schwarz - A Pregnant Statement About Mozart Tells Me More About Haydn...

During the period when the American conductor Gerard Schwarz was conducting the Mostly Mozart group out of New York, the conductor was asked a question about a number of factors which separated the sublimity of Mozart from the brilliance of  his well known contemporary Antonio Salieri, the Court Composer.
Schwarz answered first by reminding the interviewer that the primary difference, of course, was the lofty position Mozart was positioned in simply because of an unprecedented supply of  incandescent   genius.
Schwarz DID give an answer to an almost rhetorical question by remarking that "for me, the most revealing aspect that Mozart projects   besides the obvious gift of creative genius  the world of music is aware of, is his ability to work out the material that comes out of the messages given him."
When I heard this statement my attention almost immediately swerved to Mozart's predecessor Haydn , and the gargantuan powers he held in the manners of "working the material."
 I wonder what the youngster Mozart saw in his analyses of his teacher Haydn's massive sense of attaching architecture to the Primary Idea?
When I peruse Haydn, I am unceasingly struck by the ways of his building the structures emanating from the core idea; for instance, the virtually endless array of variations being splayed out to the listener or analyzer from just one theme, or even part of a theme.
On the other hand, Haydn absolutely dazzles the observer when he takes a theme, and rather than hurls variation after variation in our direction, he maintains absolute rigidity in the theme, say in his Rondo forms, and gives  us a potpourri of  ideas that swirl around that never-changing theme - the absolute opposite, tactically, from the wonders of Theme and Variations, which, in my view, are unparalleled; that is, until that fellow named Beethoven comes by.
I'm quite convinced that the student Mozart, what with the depth of vision he held, must have been absolutely dazzled by Haydn's riveting architecture, and had to have been permanently attached to this aspect as part of what becomes that overriding miracle we  know as  Mozart


Saturday, October 4, 2014

An Example of the Sedulity That Can Emerge From This Thing We Call Music...

I call it a kind of mini-miracle.
A world famous pianist ( a visitor to dinner at my home-honestly!) was incredulous when in answer to a question he projected concerning  my activities, I related this 'mini-miracle'  to him.
This subject is bandied about periodically among my friends, family members and students.
And, at times, I wonder about the number of teachers in the arts who have undergone, or are at present undergoing  the same event?
Read on -
In 1981, at the college I was teaching in, I received a new student, at the time a sophomore at Harvard, for piano lessons.
He is now in his fifties, and is still a student of mine, spending an hour with me each Tuesday. He has, since his Harvard days, taken harmony and counterpoint with me by way of Hindemith and Piston texts, along with his piano lessons.
Another student of mine, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, took his daughter's place a week after she left town for college; the daughter having been with me from age 6 to age 17. That was some twenty one years ago- he sees me each Wednesday evening.
A graduate of M.I.T. also replaced his son's lesson slot with me, after the son  graduated from high school (he began piano lessons with me in 3rd grade) to go on to college. That was also about twenty years ago. I see him each  Tuesday, directly after my Harvard sophomore of 1981 has  bid me 'adieu' for the week.
Another brilliant M.I.T. graduate usurped his daughter's lesson time with me, directly after she left town to attend college  following about six years of piano with me. He comes in to my studio each Tuesday at 8:15 A.M., on his way into work directly  thereafter, and has been doing this for about twenty years.
These men; all four, are in the sciences, and  now accomplished pianists.
Looking at numbers(which generally do not lie), it appears that each of the four families listed above have averaged over thirty years of visitations, and continue doing so, with  continued elan.
The most illuminating result of these experiences is the amount of growth I have been witness to, especially in re-visiting works these men had done in previous years with me.
How often is that possible with students who are  actually in pursuance of a musical career, and cannot be seen by a teacher for more than a handful of years?
I truly have been blessed with the empirical reality of  the bottomless and boundless nature of artistic expression and meaning, by way of these sessions with these people, who are now, essentially, extensions of my own family.
I ask any teacher in the arts who happens to come across this blog:
Are any of you undergoing this kind of experience? Please let me know through "comments." I pray that I am not alone.