Of music

When I left university with a First Class music degree, I had endured many complications through rejecting the current course of Classical music. My total aversion to composition based on dissonance and discord meant that I was at odds with the current trends my love of harmony was deemed backward. I coped with this in the knowledge that “ordinary” people know better and I determined to write for them.

The time since my graduation is little more than a decade. Perhaps my perception was wrong then. Or perhaps things have changed rapidly. But the “ordinary” people cannot be relied on to preserve a more warm and pleasant taste in music. Time and time again, my scores are sent back for review because the production company’s client says my music is wrong. Sometimes this is a red herring - a client playing a mini power game, whereby it needs to find a fault before sign-off. But it is too common to be just that. The music is rejected if there are harmonic changes that develop over 8 bars, the music is rejected if there is a melody more than 4 notes, the music is rejected if it attempts to reinforce changes in the visuals, the music is rejected if there is not a continuous droning rhythm in the background. This is therefore not a matter of style but of musicality. In order to satisfy clients (who in turn are applying their musical judgment on behalf of their customers) the background music must attempt to say nothing. It should be a forceful sound, it should be confident, and it must be meaningless.

Click to enlarge

This is beyond challenging for a composer - not because it is impossible to satisfy such a brief (banal though it is) but because to do so would mean setting aside all the skills of the composer. Just this week I received an invitation to trial a new software programme of an AI Composer’s Assistant. I would put in the parameters and the machine would “write” a track. Of course, there is no reason for any musical knowledge if that is all that is involved. And I am sure that the computer would write something with the appropriate treadmill effect to please the average listener today.

Once upon a time, the Salvation Army could stand outside a strip club and attract people by their harmony in song. Perhaps it was merely their propaganda, but they claimed some left the club because the music on the street was better. It requires no endorsement of the Army or the saving properties of music to observe that this could not happen now. People do not hear things in the same way. Where there is still appreciation for melodies and harmonies it is usually because the music has been known for a long time.

While this is a problem commercially, it does not affect the truth about music.

From my scribbling book

From my scribbling book

I have enjoyed setting and memorising as many metrical Psalms as possible in the last year. There is no better way to get the words into your head. And, having the words there, you can contemplate on them when your hands are busy and your mind is idle. The song is there to be sung. It is true. The melody helps you learn. With a few exceptions, I am composing new melodies for each Psalm to aid in memorisation. Then, when time permits, I scribble down a version in a blunting pencil.

As a Christian musician I do not want prizes, I do not want fame, I do not want praise. For the sake of bread and butter, it is necessary to display skill and to try to be paid. But these Psalms are what matter. My scribbling book could be lost and yet I would still know them. Wherever I am, I can praise the Lord in words He accepts. There is no higher purpose for a musician’s skill, nothing which makes us feel so inadequate to the task. And striving thus for his glory, the fickle whims of clients are seen in their true perspective.

Composing when not under the influence

I read this article the other day by Katie Botkin:

https://medium.com/@katherineheline/why-the-devil-gets-all-the-good-music-dbe4335e7098

It purports to be looking at the deficiencies of Christian art, specifically music. She makes some obvious points, which tend to throw more rocks at a form of American Christianity than illuminate the matter of music with any depth.

Her main point is that Christians make poor art because they will only project a censored view of life, which lacks any authenticity with respect to the “human experience”, is cold and therefore bad art. She bases this on her own attempts to conform to this artificial and culturally-influenced standard in novel writing. She contrasts this with her brother’s song-writing which invokes more Buddhism than Christianity and is better art because it is “real”.

Read More

How to make music and still be a child

This still from my Music Mania promo is a real photo of girls in the town where I was born. They already wear the weary of look of children forced to practise beyond the point of pleasure or even patience. Most children who have undergone Classical music training will remember the day when they reached this same level of “dedication” to music. My Grandmother, an accomplished pianist, associated making music with a much loved teacher and so her effort was associated with happiness.

Read More

A Sharpened Antithesis & the London Humanist Choir

Henry R. Van Til said that we are influenced by what we oppose and that is true. As Christians, we recognise error and distance ourselves from it. We try to be more consistent in the face of obvious inconsistency. However, we are not defined by the difference.

By contrast, the London Humanist Choir is a screaming example of people who are defined by their hate. They hate God. They hate the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the members of the choir gather, they sing in order to mock the Lord. That is their worship and their damnation.

Read More

Modern Music vs. Good Music

I noted this week that one of my former professors in composition and orchestration died last spring. It was not unexpected, after suffering a stroke in 2013.

I met James Wishart on my first tour of the university and listened to a presentation he delivered on composition. On that occasion he had forgotten to bring a CD of his own music and so I had no opportunity of knowing his style, namely what he called good. I could not have guessed how ghastly his modernistic compositions sounded. Instead, I heard him speak of being a grand encourager to every young composer and I looked forward to his support in starting my own career.

Read More

King Arthur Sullivan

Arthur Sullivan was an ambitious composer. He wanted to put pride into English music by promoting new English operas. The idea was straightforward - three English composers at a time would be commissioned to produce an opera each and these would be performed in the same theatre as a block. It might have succeeded if Sullivan had not been the only composer of the three to produce an opera. The other two left a gap that had to be filled somehow and the only solution was to use an existing European opera. Already the ideal had died. Sullivan's contribution - Ivanhoe - ran until everyone who wanted to hear/see it had done so. This was not a failure on Sullivan's part, but it was treated like one and - when the production closed - so did the dream.

Read More

The Sound of Smut - Stephen Ward

This week Andrew Lloyd Webber launched the first taste of Stephen Ward the musical - based on the life of the pimp central to the Profumo affair.

Just as in Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber sought to make a hero out of Judas Iscariot, so here he says he wants to exonerate Stephen Ward:

It's about the life of this man - and how a man who was probably the most popular, most sought after, most urbane - a figure who you really wanted to meet if you were in London - ended up as a waxwork in the chamber of horrors in Blackpool. He was the fall guy for what happened in a whole series of events that spun out of control... but the more you look at the story the more it's quite clear that a lot of things that were alleged to have happened probably didn't happen.

Read More

The Music of Funerals

The antithesis is sharpening.

Funerals are now taking on a new complexion in England. Some are religious and some are humanist. And people are becoming so indifferent as to the distinction that, more often than not, they do not tell you it will be humanist until you are outside the door of the "Church".

The fact that a funeral is classed as humanistic does not remove religion. In my experience, humanists always need music. 

Read More

The Bible and the Composer

One of the matters I sought to refute in Beauty and Joy: The Christian Nature of Music is the idea that the best art made by Christians is art with content drawn from the Bible.

Paul Westermeyer advocates - or rather assumes - this:

If you emphasise Christ’s humanity at the expense of his divinity, you might choose music that affirms our humanity - music that relates to us who are beings with bodies. If you follow this logic, the music may be rhythmic and perhaps even sensuous. Or may be the highest possible art.

Read More

The non-Christian nature of music

There is no jihadist Bach-equivalent, writing Soli Deo Gloria at the top of stirring musical masterpieces. Islamist “religious zeal” leads to lack of music appreciation and the quenching of creativity. All Western music was officially banned in northern Mali in an August 22 decree issued “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” Morgan reports. The decree referred to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people that “Qur’anic verses must take its place.

from The Sound of Silence in Mali - November 1, 2012 - Faith J. H. McDonnell

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/faith-j-h-mcdonnell/the-sound-of-silence-in-mali/

Read More

The Siren Song of Music

Carl Davis & Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Thursday 12th July 2012, 7.30pm

Programme:

  • SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet

  • CARL DAVIS (b.1936) The Rainbow

  • LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Allegretto from Symphony No.7

  • CARL DAVIS Amazons, Sophy and Dr Harrison from Cranford Suite

  • JOAQUÍN RODRIGO (1901-1999), arr. Carl Davis Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez

  • PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake Finale from Swan Lake

  • JOHN LENNON (1940-1980) & PAUL McCARTNEY (b.1942) Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane

  • JAMES HORNER (b.1953) Titanic Suite

  • ALEXANDER FARIS (b.1921) / CARL DAVIS / PETER SALEM Upstairs Downstairs / Call the Midwife

  • MONTY NORMAN (b.1928) / DAVID ARNOLD (b.1962) James Bond Theme / Casino Royale

  • SAMUEL BARBER (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings

  • VARIOUS Fantasy on Liverpool Themes world premiere

Read More

Dmitri Tiomkin and Maurice Jarre: Musical Terrorists?

On the way back from a family holiday, we spent 7 hours moving a few miles down the motorway. The police had decided to blow up a van in a suspected terrorist incident. It turned out that the owner of the van was not a terrorist but an antique dealer who had parked the van and gone about his lawful business. Either way, we had a very tedious journey and we had almost run out of music and audiobooks. What we had left was a 4 CD box set of the music of Dmitri Tiomkin.

If anything, Dmitri made a bad situation worse. After getting halfway through the first CD, we resorted to sitting in happy silence, counting the cars and watching people stretch their legs on the motorway. Anything but listen to it anymore.

Read More

Hubert Parry on BBC 4

Programme: The Prince and the Composer

Aired: Friday 10th February 2012

Hubert Parry is best known for two works: "Jerusalem" and "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind". A religious man, we might think. But no. His father's heart was made to ache by his son's rejection of Christianity.

He reminds me of Samuel Wesley, son of Charles Wesley, who left Methodism and became a Roman Catholic (while the work was there). And he in turn reminds me of so many men who have composed grand music "for the Church" from outside the Church. 

Read More

The Diamond Jubilee

Once upon a time, before musicians were "emancipated" from the stability of permanent work and board known as Patronage, the great and the wealthy who employed these musicians sometimes found themselves praised in music. And why not? They were paying for the privilege.

In sharp contrast we have the unusual presentation of music in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne. The concert included a variety of acts and a variety of music. It praised many things. But oddly enough, not the Queen herself. Eric Coates' Three Elizabeths Suite is perhaps the last music written specifically to honour a living Monarch. We can play music to a Queen. We can play music in the presence of a Queen. But music for a Queen is something else. In short, it is nothing like the specially composed Jubilee song called "Sing" (by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow).

Read More