|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.
The Numinosum Blog
Monday night, February 1st is the 6th anniversary of Janet Jackson's infamous breastcapade in Super Bowl 38. It is also the next Composer Salon from 7pm to 9pm at the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn: literally above the Union Street M, R stop). While I can't promise there will be any wardrobe malfunctions, there certainly will be good discussion of the topic, Inspiration. Hope to see some of you on Monday.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:51 AM
I mentioned in the last Notes from the Teaching Field (November 2009) that I was a high school music director many moons ago and I do plan on writing about some of those adventures later in the year but for now I want to talk about my musical adventures with the kindergarteners. I do find it interesting, after a years long hiatus between my teaching high school band/International Baccalaureate music and today, that now I'm in the position of teaching young kids. REALLY young. Never during my teacher training in college did I ever envision myself as teaching the 'little people' since singing children's songs, dancing, and snack time were worlds I could never really imagined myself in. In fact, when I was a substitute teacher the one grade I never really looked forward to, was...yes, you guessed, kindergarten. Partly it was because I just had no real experience with them and didn't know what to do. I mean handling high school banders surreptitiously stealing into each others hotel rooms after hours on band trips or a cheerleader confiding to me about her 'mistake' the previous night, while no cakewalk, were things I could understand and relate to. But an air infused with flatulence and pee or knowing what to do when one kid cries because another kid breathes on them! Argh! What are you supposed to do with that! Well, now that I'm a seasoned kindergartenologist, I just find it a wonderful circumstance of life that now not only do I teach 4-, 5-, and 6-year olds, but that I find myself thinking why would anyone want to teach any other age?
So what is kindergarten music and what do I do each day with my 4 classes (of approximately 23 kids in each class) for 53 minutes a class? There are 10 kindergarten classes this year and since I do not have a classroom of my own, I travel between each classroom for music (and math games). My lessons are different depending on where we are in the year and while I'm not including everything I do, generally the structure of my time with the kids breaks down something like this:
1. Greeting and overview of the day's lessons
Usually here is where I find out who has a wiggly tooth, whose birthday is coming up, who has to go to the bathroom (or get water), or what they did over the weekend at their country/weekend house. Oh and yes, I do eventually get to say a little something about the upcoming lesson...
2. Sing a song, demonstrate instruments, kids composing their own music and/or playing instruments and/or conducting
This is where the sneaky learning of musical concepts comes in. While I'm not a big singer, I do introduce some songs that teach various musical concepts like soft, loud, fast, slow (these concepts are also covered when the kids learn how to conduct). I just bought two songbooks because one thing I want to do more with the kids this year is to sing more 'contemporary' songs, not just 'children's songs.' (just saw an article about Yo Gabba Gabba, which sounds like the kind of hip thing I'm looking for).
Over the year I do talk about and personally demonstrate each instrument family (those college instrument methods classes come in handy!) and depending on the instrument, the kids get a chance to either press/move the keys, valves, or slide while I play or they get to bang, shake, or rattle it themselves. Also I do teach them the basics of what a conductor does, including showing them a rudimentary conducting pattern (a 'V' or an 'U' since they are easy for most to do) with each student getting to conduct a band (with a REAL baton!) playing different percussion instruments. The students love being in control of the sounds the other students make and have a great time taking turns being the maestro.
Around January or so, I introduce music notation. I came up with a system to get them to learn music notation starting off with using 'X' for play and 'O' for rest. I came up with those because by January most kids are able to write those letters fairly easily. Gradually over the subsequent weeks, I ween the kids off the 'baby-stuff' X's and O's and into 'real' music notes and rests. By the time we get to our mid-Winter break in February, most of the kid's handwriting has improved enough that they are able to draw reasonable facsimiles of quarter, half and whole notes and rests. In fact a few years ago when part of my assignment, along with kindergarten music, was to teach a music class of pre-kindergarten and a class of the self-contained special education kids (for those of you not up on your teacher lingo, it is a small class of students with physical and emotional challenges such as down syndrome), I used a modified version of the 'X' and 'O' lesson which worked quite well and the students were able to not only write their own music but to perform it as well. I also have found that this system of reading and writing notes, reinforces basic concepts the classroom teachers introduce in reading and writing (starting from left to right, sequencing, moving the eye along the page to follow the words, etc.) Of course, not every kid gets it, but most seem to understand the idea. And from talking to the first grade music teacher, they seem to retain some inklings of what I teach them once they reach first grade.
3. Movement: usually singing and dancing to songs from Philadelphia Chickens.
This great book and CD by Sandra Boynton features fun and silly songs sung by people such as Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and the Bacon Brothers. I have made up some movement/dance to go along with whatever song we do and the kids LOVE doing the moves and singing the songs. So far this year we've done "Philadelphia Chickens", "Be like a Duck", "Cows", and "Pig Island" (one of my personal favorites). Later in the year we'll do "Pajama Time", "Snoozers", "Dinosaur, Dinosaur", and "Jump Rope Jive".
Be Like a Duck music video from Sandra Boynton on Vimeo.
4. Reading a music related story.
I always try to read a story having to deal with music although it is sometimes difficult to find good books dealing with music that work well for a group, over the years I have a number that work well. Some of the many books I have and use during the year are (left to right, vertically top to bottom in the photo): Opera Cat by Tess Weaver and Andrea Wesson, Horace and Morris Join the Chorus (but What about Dolores?) by James Howe and Amy Walrod, Mama Don't Allow by Thacher Hurd,Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley, Doddle Flute by Daniel Pinkwater,Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard, John Philip Duck by Patricia Polacco, and Music over Manhattan by Mark Karlins.
5. Goodbye song
Generally most students are excited for music and of course when it is time for me to go, I can't give them back to their classroom teachers all filled up with the fun from their musical 'sugar rush'. So I almost always end with a 'quiet' goodbye song which we all sing and clap to. The song I use is called First Cryand comes from a wonderful CD collection called Welcoming Children into the World. I heard about this CD many years ago while listening to PRI's Sound and Spirit one day on WNYC radio. The CD is a beautiful and diverse collection of songs about bringing new life into the world. From "Nursery Rhyme" sung by the Baka Forest people to "Hey, Pretty Baby (Who's My Pretty Baby)" sung by Woody Guthrie to "C'est La Vie" sung by Henri Dikongué to a wonderful adoption song sung by John McCutcheon "Happy Adoption Day", Welcoming Children into the World are mostly songs that are NOT 'children's songs', but songs that kids would certainly like. "First Cry" is sung in Navajo by Navajo songwriter Sharon Burch and the main refrain means "The baby is crying!"
For me the whole idea of kindergarten music really is to have fun (and we do!) but also begin to introduce basic musical terms and concepts. And if they do learn those terms and concepts, that is great; if they don't, that is fine too as long as they remember music as being fun and interesting. One evening I told my wife that teaching kindergarten, with the constant attention needed of me, is like being on stage for 6-7 hours straight, every day. This is in no way to suggest that teaching is all an act (although any teacher would probably admit that some dramaturgical skills are necessary and even required). I think of my teaching self as just a different part of who I am. After teaching kindergarten music for a number of years now, frankly one thing that is amazing to see is just how much they improve over the course of the year. Sometimes it is quite dramatic to see a girl who is completely uncoordinated in September or a boy who barely spoke those first weeks, really coming into their own by June. And this is one of the joys of teaching the little ones.
Another joy can be related in the following story:
A few weeks ago on a very cold day the kids couldn't go outside for recess. On those days, the 250 kindergarterners go to the auditorium to watch a movie. Well since it was my prep period, I was on my way to the computer lab and was just passing through the auditorium as students were gathering and beginning to sit down to watch. Almost immediately frantic waving of arms and trying to get my attention began to billow through a small section. However within seconds, like a flash forest fire, the entire auditorium was ablaze in the wildly enthusiastic chant, "Joe, Joe, Joe..." At that moment I felt what it must be like to be center court at Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game (well, at least back in the days of the 'good' Knicks of the Willis Reed-Walt Frazier-Bill Bradley 70s or the Patrick Ewing-John Starks-Charles Oakley 90s). Anyway, here's what I said on Facebook about it all:
I was very tired at the end of the day when this happened, but indeed I must say that it made me smile and think that that is how everyone should end their work day!
Stay tuned for another installment of Notes from the Teaching Field!
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:01 AM
Somehow I missed last week's Stanley Fish New York Times discussion of Barbara Herrnstein Smith's recently published Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion. From the reading the discussion and today's rebuttal and clarification from Mrs. Smith, it sounds like an insightful book filled with arguments about the role of both in our lives (and a book I plan to order and read, so maybe I'll have my own review later in the year). Actually reading the discussions made me wonder, what could be accomplished if our politicians took equal care to reason with such clarity and honesty?
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:17 PM
Whether the inmates who can't afford bail are guilty or not and whether or not corporations and unions truly have a inalienable, First Amendment right to spend whatever they want to influence elections or peddle influence regardless of the resultant effect, my question is what is happening to America's basic common sense, compassion, fairness and humanity?
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:16 AM
The next Composer Salon is on Monday February 1, 2010 from 7 pm to around 9 pm at the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn). And the price is right for our troubled economic times: FREE! The Lyceum is literally above the Union Street M, R Train stop in Brooklyn. The Lyceum does have various inexpensive libations including different beers, wine and other non-alcoholic beverages, as well as coffee and baked goods. If you are a composer/musician in New York City area, regardless of genre, style, or inclination, I hope you can come out, meet some new and old faces behind the blogs and comments and listen or join the discussion.
Salon Topic #4:
“You need a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high, that is not in ourselves, in order to do beautiful things….”—Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo
“Basically, music is not about technique, it’s about spirit.”—Terry Riley
As some of you know in June 2010, I'll be premiering one section of a new collaborative project based upon the writings of Thomas Paine, To Begin the World Over Again with Numinous, dance choreographer Edisa Weeks, and her company Delirious Dances. The full project will take place in the spring of 2011. In my research and reading for the project, I read David McCollough's wonderful book 1776, a riveting account of that pivotal year in American's revolution against England. And while the book only talks about or mentions Thomas Paine briefly, both occasions were stirring. One was an account of the retreat of the American troops from New York City to New Jersey and the famous crossing of the Delaware River. Thomas Paine, who as an aide to General Greene, was among the retreating troops. Inspired by the American's incredible resolve and determination against frigid weather and a seemly invincible opponent, Thomas Paine began writing the words which eventually became his American Crisis. Whose famous words, "these are the times that try men's soul's" echo the graveness of the times then and have been appropriated by many since then. The other account in 1776 was an aside about how Common Sense, which was published on January 9th, 1776 (not the 10th as is commonly thought), was read to the soldiers of the fledgling colonial army and how the moving words of Common Sense changed the conflict in the minds of those soldiers (as well as in the mind of General Washington) from a struggle against the meddlesome but generally welcomed rule of a benevolent crown to a war for freedom and independence against a foreign invader. I thought about how the words of Thomas Paine inspired the Revolution and recently it got me think more generally about inspiration itself.
Last week, I, along with my Pulse colleagues Darcy James Argue and JC Sanford, were a part of the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) where we were commissioned by founder Dave Douglas to write 'arrangements' of Ornette Coleman tunes. Before our concert was a performance of composer Charles Wuorinen's brass music. At the conclusion of the Wuorinen concert, I was talking with a fellow composer who remarked, something to the effect of how they were "amazed at what different music is in people's heads." This was not meant as a direct criticism of the Wuorinen music we just heard, but rather a general wonderment at how different people hear different things and how that manifests itself in sound and music. Certainly Charles Wuorinen's soon to be completed opera Brokeback Mountain will sound completely different than Gustavo Santaolalla's score to the movie? And what a different creation is the movie when compared to the Annie Proulx's short story? How does the same short story inspire such different outcomes? What inspires someone to compose the way they do? I also thought about the great music Darcy, JC and myself came up with in reimagining Ornette Coleman's music into something new. What inspired us to hear Coleman's music in such a way that, while certainly referencing Coleman, sounded less like Coleman and more like Darcy, JC, and me? It is really fascinating to contemplate (well, at least to me anyway) and I thought the idea of inspiration might be an interesting discussion for others in the Composer Salon as well.
I. German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said,
“always at the commencement of work that first innocence must be reachieved, you must return to that unsophisticated spot where the angel discovered you when he brought you the first binding message.”
How do you approach the start of a new composition? What inspires you to begin a composition? Is it purely the working out of musical material, an extra-musical association, or a combination that inspires the beginning of a work?
II. Composer George Crumb states that in composing
“there’s always a balance between the technical and the intuitive aspects. With all the early composers, all the composers we love, there was always this balance between the two things…that’s what all music reflects.”
How do you reconcile and balance the two forces? Do you really need to?
III. Composer Alvin Lucier, in his essay The Tools of My Trade, speaks of a temptation, when first conceiving a piece, “towards greater complexity” in his principal musical idea, but eventually reducing the idea to its’ minimum. This idea of reducing ideas to only their barest essence (and the difficulties inherent in that) is also spoken about by Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Mark Rothko and many other artists, writers, musicians (as well as philosophers and theologians). Do you fight the temptation of “greater complexity” in your own music? How do you do it? What ways/techniques help you achieve the 'right' way to convey your musical idea(s) in your composition? When do you know if it is 'right'?
If you are a composer or musician or music lover in the New York City area, consider coming down to the Lyceum and joining the discussion, or if you don't live in New York or can't make it, adding your thoughts in the comments. Hope to see you on February 1st!
Previous Composer Salons
Composer Salon #1: The Audience
Composer Salon #2: Future Past Present
Composer Salon #3: Mixed Music-Stylistic Freedom in the 'aughts
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 12:02 AM
This afternoon I attend the second in pianist Simone Dinnerstein's Neighborhood Concert Series at P.S. 321 in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. The concert featured Simone performing along with violinists Caleb Burhans and Yuki Numata, violist Nadia Sirota, and cellist Clarice Jensen of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME).
After a brief introduction from Simone, the concert began with the first two movements from Jefferson Friedman's String Quartet No. 3 written in 2005. Overall the work took various inspirational musical references and melded them into a cohesive and enjoyable whole. At times I was reminded of Henryk Górecki as the music took some prayerful, almost Eastern European-like reposes, at other times, as the strings were beautifully stretching into the upper registers, the music was reminiscent of Aaron Jay Kernis's string quartet, Musica Celestis. However, with its rhythmic twists and turns, the general atmosphere of the Quartet had a Bartok-ian perfume to it without being fully derivative (a tough trick to pull off successfully, which the piece did wonderfully). There were a number of interesting effects, some I'm planning to appropriate someday: the sul ponticello passages in the cello and viola which came out almost as an electric guitar distortion-like sound or the moment in the second movement where all the strings were arhythmically playing sliding high harmonics which slowly evolved into a more rhythmic passage.
Next were the third ("The Blue Room") and fourth ("Tarantella") movements from Phil Kline's quartet The Blue Room and Other Stories. Originally written in 2002 for the string quartet Ethel performing with electronic live sampling pedals, the work was arranged in 2009 to be performed by a conventional string quartet. "The Blue Room" opened evocatively with a couple of strings playing a sul tasto, quietly undulating minimalistic eighth note figure while a melodic fragment sang above it. This little musical gesture, which briefly happened again later in the movement, was one of my favorite moments of the entire concert. The movement continued in a lovely melodic and singing way and after a brief pause lead into the fourth movement, which began with a loping, galloping rhythmic pad and a reaching violin melody and continued with a more frenzied and exciting pace until the end.
For the final two pieces of the concert, Simone joined ACME in delightful readings of the first movement of Antonin Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 and J.S. Bach's Keyboard Concerto in F minor (which Simone will also be performing with ACME on January 30th as part of Columbia University's Miller Theatre's all-Bach Concert). The Dvorak was performed with the lovely melancholic, Brahms-like winter-fireplace-hearth warmth that music requires while the Bach was clearly delineated with beautifully dispassionate passion. And the Bach's famous second movement, with its beautiful piano melody in an almost duet with the cello bass line, was another of my favorite moments from the concert.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, all of the artist on the series are donating their time and efforts in order for all of the proceeds to benefit P.S. 321. And if the size and attentiveness of the audience is any indication (the auditorium was completely full with a number of people standing along the back wall), then the Neighborhood Series is a much needed and quite successful outlet for world class quality classical chamber music in Brooklyn and if you haven't checked it out yet, you are missing something wonderful.
Remaining schedule for Simone Dinnerstein's Neighborhood Concert Series
(all performed in PS 321's auditorium-180 7th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11215)
February 4th, 2010:
The Chiara String Quartet
April 15th, 2010:
Face the Music,
featuring premiere of the composition,
by Joseph C. Phillips Jr.
(commissioned by Simone Dinnerstein and the Neighborhood Concert Series)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:01 PM
Next week on January 14th at 9pm, three composers from Pulse (myself, Darcy James Argue, and JC Sanford) will be featured on a concert at the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) at the Abrons Art Center 466 Grand Street in New York City. Tickets can be purchased at the FONT website or at the door.
The Festival of New Trumpet Music, which was co-founded by the great trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas, actually begins the night before on January 13th with a tribute and benefit celebrating the life and career of famed trumpeter Wilmer Wise. Wilmer has lead a diverse and interesting career, straddling the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, and Broadway. Working with such musical illuminati as Steve Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Leopold Stokowski among many others, he was often one of the few (if most of the time, the only) African-American musician in many of the ensembles and symphony orchestras he performed in during the 1960s and 1970s.
The January 14th concert is really in three parts: At 6:30pm Anti-Social Music, Inc. presents a series of world premieres; at 7:30pm is a performance of the brass music by the incredible composer Charles Wuorinen performed by the New York Trumpet Ensemble and the Urban Brass Quintet, which will be conducted by the composer himself; then at 9pm Wilmer Wise reprises his role as trumpet soloist in Ornette Coleman's rarely performed chamber work, The Sacred Mind of Johnny Dolphin. Wilmer performed on the premiere in 1984 and trumpeter Lew Soloff played on the last known performance at Carnegie Hall in 1987. Both Wilmer and Lew will be tag-teaming the solo trumpet part in The Sacred Mind of Johnny Dolphin for the January 14th concert. Also featured will be Gerald Cleaver (drums), Warren Smith (percussion), Meg Okura and Scott Tixier (violins), Judith Insell (viola), and Will Martina (cello). To round out the 9pm part of the concert, Dave Douglas commissioned three composers from Pulse (myself, Darcy James Argue, and JC Sanford) to arrange some of Ornette Coleman's music for the ensemble with soloists Lew Soloff and Taylor Ho Bynum.
The composition I wrote, featuring both Lew and Taylor, is called "Memory of Red Orange Laid out in Still Waves" and is a transmutation and refraction of the beautiful "Kathelin Gray" from the Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny 1986 album Song X. My title comes from a line in Edward P. Jones's sobering book, The Known World which, while a work of fiction, was based upon the true incidents of African-Americans owning slaves during the 19th century. Darcy's arrangement, featuring Taylor as soloist, is the opening theme from Ornette's Skies of America from the 1972 orchestral album of the same name, while JC with Lew, will tackle "Peace" from the vestigial 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come in his composition, the eponymously titled "Lew's Peace".
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:51 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.