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Essay

Remembering Dr. Ted Hansen

Remembering Dr. Ted Hansen

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Ted Hansen. During my tenure as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University-Commerce, I took every class he taught (something I probably can't say about any other professor in my training). As I reflect on those courses, I am struck by the way in which every class was so uniquely organized and tailored to the students and to the topic at hand. No two were alike.

Classical Music is Boring

Classical Music is Boring

Boring speaks to craft. It speaks to craftsmanship. It speaks to long, laborious, often repetitive tasks that have great payoff, if only the craftsman will apply the time and diligence to see the project through to the end.

TEDxMidAtlantic

TEDxMidAtlantic

In October 2017, I had the privilege of giving a TED Talk and leading Symphony Number One in a performance at TEDxMidAtlantic 2017 in Washington, DC. My talk was titled Classical Music is Boring. (Turns out, there's more to "boring" than meets the eye!)

Bruckner Gets Naked

Bruckner Gets Naked

I think one of the reasons I find this so appealing is that I didn’t initially discover Bruckner through his symphonies. My initial vector was through singing his motets in college. So, I think I never formed my mental Bruckner totem around his orchestrations but rather around his harmonic language, expressed in a capella choral music, as a tool to focus on reverence for The Divine, for The Higher Ideals, and for Our Better Nature. In a word, God. 

This Week in Personal History

This Week in Personal History

But there was one person who indefatigably stuck by me at this juncture, at the hour of greatest need. This was the same guy who was the very first to write me to express interest in getting the project going in the first place, all the way back in August 2014. In March 2015 at that coffee meeting, I had to ask him, in the midst of what had become a chaotic environment, where he stood. He told me, "I'm still in. At this point, I feel a moral commitment to help get this thing off the ground." And get it off the ground, we did....

Symphony Number One: An Introduction

Symphony Number One: An Introduction

In May of 2015 I lead Symphony Number One in our debut concert in Baltimore. Here's an audio essay I posted ahead of our launch:

We think we can better serve the composers we feature by focusing on just one emerging composer at a time rather than lumping all of them together onto one concert. Even trained musicians can get overwhelmed by a multitude of new compositional voices presented on one concert; how can we expect our audience to do any better? When this happens, your memories start to get flattened and you tend to only remember features like special effects, strange instruments, or other novelties, rather than to deeper musical layers.

 

 

 

Remembering Gary Faust

Remembering Gary Faust

After the death of my high school mentor, I wrote a thank you note to a number of influential mentors:

I could keep this up for hours, but I think you get the message. You are some of the most wonderful musicians and humans I have had the pleasure to know and I am just a representative for all of us whom you have touched as teacher, student, mentor, colleague, and friend. You are remarkable musicians and people, all of you, and I owe every bit of whatever small bit of success I've had to you. And if my message doesn't communicate a little bit about the power of band, this video about Gary says it all. 

Analysis: Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. Mvt. I.

Analysis: Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. Mvt. I.

Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste highlights Bartók's mastery of orchestration, and innovation with rhythm. However, the opening movement perhaps least exemplifies these features (relative to the other movements). The first movement of the work instead showcases his mastery of counterpoint with a particularly praiseworthy example.

Nuance and Rubato

Nuance and Rubato

...Bartok, for instance, gives us not only metronome markings, but precise timings for sections as a second check against grossly deforming his works. He believes his music to be more delicate with regards to timing, so one wrong move and snap. Mahler, on the other hand, gives loads of instruction with regard to tempo, some metronome markings, but a degree of sturdy flexibility to his music. It seems that his approach to harmony and orchestration further supports this.

The Musico-Linguistics Meme: Recursion and Musical Meaning since Bernstein in Boston

The Musico-Linguistics Meme: Recursion and Musical Meaning since Bernstein in Boston

Leonard Bernstein's Norton Lecture Series of 1973 has played a critical role in helping to define a particular landscape of thought which might be best described by Bernstein’s own (admittedly nonacademic) term, "musico-linguistics". While not a formal discipline, the term characterizes and encompasses the body of thought upon which he speculates in six multi-hour lectures at Harvard. 

How We Hear Boulez

How We Hear Boulez

A year before my first Boulez performance, I wrote an essay about what it's like to listen to Boulez in 2009.

...upon repeated hearing, this music does indeed open itself up to the listener. It slowly, reticently yawns forth its secrets to the hearer in unexpected ways. His output is by no means monolithic either, with very thorny yet electric piano sonatas and sometimes breathless long-distance sprints like Sur Incises (cue the linked clip to 4:15 to hear this ‘long-distance sprint’), contrasted by eerily celestial portions of Pli selon Pli and the richly colorful ‘folds’ of the aforementioned Le Marteau.

Law & Form

Law & Form

In my 20's, I was a huge fan of one of America's longest-running television programs. In 2008, I wrote down a few thoughts about it.

I am always astonished at the shear variety. There are, after all, only so many crimes we are interested in watching a show about.  I find myself enjoying, as my fellow blogger pointed out, the ‘how’ of it all.’Isn’t that what classical forms are all about?

Early Orchestral Works by Brahms

Early Orchestral Works by Brahms

In 2006, I wrote an analysis of the early orchestral works of Brahms. I revised it in 2011.

 

Johannes Brahms stands as one of the central-most figures of late 19th century German art music. Brahms was the first true successor to Beethoven in the symphonic tradition, and according to Bozarth, “creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music.”1 Some would consider Brahms’s orchestral output to be his most important contribution, and many volumes have been devoted to cataloguing the significant melodic, harmonic, and formal features of his four symphonies. Fewer have been devoted either to the early orchestral works or to the rhythmic and metric techniques employed. 

Beethoven 3: An Analysis

Beethoven 3: An Analysis

Widely acknowledged as one of the most pivotal symphonic compositions in allof western music, the third symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven is, in substance, rarelyagreed upon. Beethoven’s semi-programmatic title, “Eroica,” the extreme size, uniqueformal organization, and developmental history of the work collectively open up toomany variables to allow a singular analytical approach to this work that is mutuallyagreed upon by the musical community plausible, as evidenced by over 200 years of serious efforts to do exactly that. This discourse seeks to give one possible analysis, thefocus being primarily upon the organization of thematic elements that give the work acyclical or “symphonic” quality.

Jordan Randall Smith is the Music Director of Symphony Number One.