Graham Nash

Graham Nash played a wonderful concert last night in Madison, Wisconsin, along with incredible guitarist Shane Fontayne (who also contributed backing vocals).  At age 75, he sounds great.

The venue was perfect.  This was my first visit to the ornate Capitol Theater, which was incorporated into the Overture Center, which opened in 2004.  Acoustics were perfect, the environment comfortable and attractive, and the music was never too loud.  The earplugs I brought along just in case went unused.  A lovely evening.

Here’s the setlist from the October 14, 2017 performance:

Set 1

  1. Bus Stop (The Hollies song)
  2. King Midas in Reverse (The Hollies song)
  3. Wasted on the Way (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
  4. I Used to Be a King
  5. Immigration Man (Crosby & Nash song)
  6. Sleep Song
  7. Myself at Last
  8. Marrakesh Express (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
  9. Military Madness
  10. Wind on the Water (Crosby & Nash song)
  11. A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)

Set 2

  1. Just a Song Before I Go (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
  2. Taken at All (Crosby & Nash song)
  3. In Your Name
  4. 4 + 20 (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
  5. Golden Days
  6. Mississippi Burning
  7. Back Home
  8. Cathedral (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
  9. Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
  10. Chicago (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)

Encore

  1. Blackbird (The Beatles cover)
  2. Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
  3. Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)

I’ve been a fan of Graham Nash since his 1971 album, Songs for Beginners and, of course, his work with CSNY.  I’ve always appreciated his deep political convictions and antiwar activism.  This was in full evidence at last night’s concert, with Immigration Man, Military Madness, In Your Name, Mississippi Burning, Cathedral, Chicago, Ohio, and Teach Your Children still as relevant today as they were when they were originally written—some of them decades ago.

This activism was reflected in some of his comments to the audience.  Prior to performing Military Madness, he shared that he is “tired of doing this song” as he reflected on the current dire political situation in this country and around the world.  At one point in the song, he replaced the words “military madness” with “nuclear madness”.  Nash made it clear at various points throughout the concert that he despises Donald Trump and his administration, and as near as I could tell, everyone in the audience agreed with him (Hillary Clinton received over twice as many votes as Donald Trump in Dane County, thankfully).  In Chicago he replaced the words “Don’t ask jack to help you ’cause he’ll turn the other ear” to “Don’t ask Trump to help you ’cause he’ll turn the other ear.”  And so on. His occasional comments between songs about war and violence were heartfelt and sincere.  He lamented, “What ever happened to ‘all you need is love'”, and that each of us must do our part to “stop all the killing”.  He also mentioned the news focuses on all the horrific things that happen in the world but not the “thousands of good things” that happen everywhere every day.

For more about Nash in a recent interview, see Tom Kobinsky’s interview published October 12 in Isthmus, “Finding peace in chaos”.

There were a number of good balcony seats available in the Capitol Theater on Saturday, October 14, 8:00 p.m.  If you weren’t there, you missed a fabulous concert.  Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne will be playing Milwaukee tonight.  Future concert dates can be found here.  Enjoy!

References
Kobinsky, Tom, Isthmus, “Finding peace in chaos: Graham Nash on teaching our children in the age of Trump”, Oct. 12, 2017 <https://isthmus.com/music/songwriter-graham-nash-trump/>

setlist.fm <https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/graham-nash/2017/capitol-theater-overture-center-for-the-arts-madison-wi-53e3d7e5.html>

Also Sprach Zarathustra

My first exposure to the music of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was, like many, the magnificent fanfare that is the opening music in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Der_junge_Richard_Strauss.JPG
Richard Strauss

I soon discovered that this was the beginning section of the 1896 tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss.

The full title of the work, his opus 30, is Also sprach Zarathustra: Tondichtung für großes Orchester (frei nach Friedrich Nietzsche) [Thus spoke Zarathustra: Tone-poem for large orchestra (freely after Friedrich Nietzsche)].

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote his philosophical novel that was the inspiration for this musical work, Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen [Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None] between 1883 and 1885.  Nietzsche argues that the meaning of existence is not to be found in religious pieties or meek submission to authority, but in an all-powerful life force: passionate, chaotic and free. (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961).

Friedrich Nietzsche

The nine sections of Also sprach Zarathustra by R. Strauss are as follows:

  1. Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang [Introduction, or Sunrise]
  2. Von den Hinterweltlern [Of the Backworldsmen]
  3. Von der großen Sehnsucht [Of the Great Longing]
  4. Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften [Of Joys and Passions]
  5. Das Grablied [The Song of the Grave]
  6. Von der Wissenschaft [Of Science and Learning]
  7. Der Genesende [The Convalescent]
  8. Das Tanzlied [The Dance-Song]
  9. Nachtwandlerlied [Song of the Night Wanderer]

There is one recording of this extraordinary work that stands above all the rest.  It is so close to perfection that I doubt it will ever be surpassed.  It is the 1973 Deutsche Grammophon recording, released in 1974, of Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.  Solo violin: Michel Schwalbé.

Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989)

This very best recording of Also sprach Zarathustra is Deutsche Grammophon 447 441-2.  Duration: 35:05.  Seek out this recording, and enjoy it for a lifetime!

Einstein, Brahms, and Exoplanets

What do Albert Einstein, Johannes Brahms, and exoplanets have in common?  They are all great courses provided by The Great Courses.

Call me old fashioned, but I love a great lecture presented by an expert in the field.  What a wonderful way to get introduced to a new subject, or refamiliarize yourself with an old subject, or deepen your knowledge about a subject with which you are already familiar.

I recently finished watching the magnificent course “Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian” by Don Howard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, former Director of Notre Dame’s Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science, and a Fellow of the University of Notre Dame’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values.

I have taken an interest in Einstein since I first encountered relativity in my early teens, and of course being a physics major in college I became much more familiar with Einstein’s remarkable scientific contributions.  But this course surprised and delighted me with many details about Einstein himself.  Howard obviously has a much deeper understanding of Einstein the person than most physicists do, and his enthusiasm for his subject comes through in every lecture.  I doubt you will find a more thorough treatment of Einstein anywhere short of reading a biography.  Recommended!

As luck would have it, while I was nearing the end of this course, Time came out with an updated reissue of its special edition, “Albert Einstein: The Enduring Legacy of a Modern Genius”.  Great photographs, great text.  Well worth every penny!


Robert Greenberg is music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances and has produced a lot of high-quality music courses for The Great Courses.  I am in the process of watching all of them (yes, really, they’re that good!).  Recently, I finished his course on Johannes Brahms, who is probably my all-time favorite composer.

The music of Brahms is well known by many, but how much do you know about Johannes Brahms the person, and the events of his life?  This course is the perfect introduction to those subjects, as well as his extraordinary compositions.

It is amazing to me that no one has yet made a feature-length film about the life of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).  A historically accurate dramatic portrayal could easily become one of the most significant musical film biographies ever made.  Brahms was one of the greatest composers who ever lived, and he had an interesting life—there is much material to draw upon for the making of this movie.  Greenberg’s course is a great place to begin, and I would also recommend the definitive biography, “Brahms: His Life and Work” by Karl Geiringer.


You’ve just got to love The Great Courses.  This is what television could have been.  PBS is the only thing that even comes close.  I recently completed “The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know” presented by Joshua Winn, now Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.  Not since Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson have I been this excited about an astronomy presenter.  Josh Winn presents his exoplanets course with enthusiasm, precision, and a delivery that really draws you in to the subject.  I hope we see much more of him in the future.

Electronic Music

If you haven’t experienced any of the wonderful music courses taught by Dr. Robert Greenberg, available through The Great Courses, you’re missing a lot.  In episode 1, “The Language of Music”, of Understanding the Fundamentals of Music (Course No. 7261), Greenberg describes music not only as a language, but as what I would call a superlanguage.

Music is the ultimate language, a mega-language.  A language in which our hard-wired proclivities to use successions of pitches and sounds to communicate are exaggerated, intensified, and codified into a sonic experience capable of infinitely more expressive depth and nuance than mere words alone.

Greenberg goes on to present a definition of music that is far better than any you will find in the dictionary.

Music is sound in time, or, if you prefer, time ordered by sound.  That definition isolates the two essential aspects of music, sound and time, without any qualifications.

After defining timbre, Greenberg presents the five families of instruments in the Western musical tradition.  Aside from the human voice, they are

  1. Stringed instruments
  2. Wind instruments
  3. Brass instruments
  4. Percussion instruments
  5. Keyboard instruments

And, Greenberg states,

If this course had been written back in the 1970s or ’80s, it would have included a sixth instrumental category: electronics.  There was a genuine belief back then that digitally synthesized sound was the wave of the future.  And that an entirely new vocabulary of sound, one relevant to the technocracy of the modern world, was just around the corner.  You know what?  It never happened.  As it turned out, composers prefer to write for real people playing real instruments.  And audiences would rather listen to real people playing real instruments.  Ironically, more than anything else, digital electronics are used today to imitate those “antiquated” instruments that they were purportedly going to replace.

Though I certainly agree that electronic music will never replace natural instruments played by real people, and I hope that orchestral and chamber music will be with us centuries hence, I have no doubt that new instruments will occasionally be invented and join their venerated ranks, and that electronic music will one day garner enough respect that it will take a permanent seat as a sixth instrumental category.

The world has yet to see a composer of electronic music that can be considered on equal footing with Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, or Mahler.  But it will happen.  Perhaps, even today, there lives a young girl or boy somewhere in the world who is already on the path towards becoming the world’s first great composer of electronic music.

Isao Tomita (1932-2016), of Japan, has arguably come the closest.  Yes, his music is idiosyncratic, and his best work a reinterpretation of existing orchestral pieces, but when you listen to Tomita at his best, you get at least a sense of what is possible within the electronic idiom.  Who wouldn’t be tempted by the ability to create any tone color or instrumental timbre imaginable?  It’s not for everyone, I know.

Here is a sampling of Tomita’s best work:

Snowflakes are Dancing (1974)

Pictures at an Exhibition (1975)

Firebird (1976)

Tomita was a pioneer.  The best is yet to come.

Wind in the Window

One very windy morning last week I lay in bed listening to the wind whistling in the window above me.  It was playing a pentatonic scale!  Albeit accompanied by some very complex and interesting overtones.  The pitches formed a major pentatonic scale: G♭4 – A♭4 – B♭4 – D♭5 – E♭5.

This led me to reflect on the origins of human music.  Even though there were no windows in prehistoric times, there has always been the sound of the wind amongst the rocks and the trees, and a myriad of other sounds in the natural world.  These sounds of nature must have provided the initial impetus for human music making, both vocal and instrumental.

All is Well

Iowa County, Wisconsin needs a secular, four-part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir for adult singers that meets regularly. When was the last time this area had something like that? I really miss singing in the tenor section of the Sul Ross State University Concert Choir under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Donald Freed.  Dr. Freed is quite a good choral composer, too.  What a privilege it was to sing a number of his choral works during my years in Alpine, Texas.

Fortunately, each year I have the opportunity to sing with the Lands’ End Choir here in Dodgeville each holiday season, under the capable leadership of Phil DeKok, conductor, and Dawn Lingard, accompanist.  It is an amateur choir, of course, and though we rehearse just once a week over the noon hour from late October through early December, it is always a joy to be singing again.

This year, my favorite piece by far was All is Well by Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick (words & music) in a beautiful arrangement by Lloyd Larson.  Here is Lloyd talking about the piece:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6wqL6Kt_L4

I get pretty emotional about music, and I had a hard time getting through this particular piece without getting a little choked up and teary eyed.

The son of one of our choir members, Bev Adams-Sugden, recorded our performance of this work in Bldg. 5 over the noon hour on Tuesday, December 20, 2016.  Enjoy!

http://skythisweek.info/Lands End Choir 201612 B5 All is Well.mp4