Category Archives: Music

Red lithium grease

Debugging the set for the Met’s Ring production.

When the giant planks spun into new positions — moving swiftly, say, to transform from the forest where the young hero Siegmund is being hunted to the fateful house where he seeks shelter — a whooshing sound could sometimes be heard. Officials dubbed it the “rainstick effect.”

Posted in Music, Theater | Comments Off on Red lithium grease


What’s it like to record an aria on 120-year-old technology? Met tenor Piotr Beczala and soprano Susanna Phillips give it a try.


Posted in Music, Tools and Technology | Comments Off on Waxy


Cecil Taylor’s passing reminds me of my favorite passage from Craig Lucas, from scene 2 of Blue Window. It’s a good thing that I have a printed copy to refer to, because my recollection of the dialogue, from a production I saw 22 years ago, is faulty.

At a small gathering/party of friends, Tom has put a recording of Cecil Taylor on the sound system.

TOM. But I don’t know if you can hear it, but I mean, he’s literally rethinking what you can do with melody. He’s changing all the rules from the ground up.

* * *

TOM. Like a painter. He’s breaking it up, you know, and putting some parts of it in front of where they belong and he’s splitting up tonalities and colors, shapes —
ALICE. Splitting up did you say?
TOM. Splitting.
ALICE. No, I know, I was…
TOM. He’s literally challenging you to hear it, you know, rehear it. What is music?
GRIEVER. No, I know, but this isn’t like a famous melody? Or –?
TOM. Why not?
GRIEVER. I mean it isn’t like “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” backwards or something.
TOM. No…

For some reason I always want to remember that as “‘Mairzy Doats’ upside down and backwards.”

Posted in Music, Quotable, Theater | Comments Off on Angular

Squeeze Waves REM

All the more difficult in my case, since at the present time I have boxes of mix tapes for two: “Party like it’s 1989: What should you do with all those old cassette mix tapes?”, by John Kelly.

Posted in Like Life, Music | Comments Off on Squeeze Waves REM

Peculiar muzak: 5

A lush, ostinato-less “Every Breath You Take,” in the lobby of Navy Federal Credit Union, Reston branch.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Peculiar muzak: 5

Peculiar muzak: 4

Portishead, “Sour Times,” in the Unique thrift store in Merrifield.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on Peculiar muzak: 4

Clybourne Park: an update: 2

So we closed the show yesterday afternoon, and I’m pleased, overall, with the way it went. (There’s always something that you wish could have been better. Like I wish that I’d had a coach to help me fine-tune the brief bit of stage combat.)

Every so often I use music as a way to get into the world of a character. (My friend Lisa suggested this trick a long time ago.) Now, the little Bobby McFerrin riff that Roger used as transition music at the top of Act 2 was all I needed to help me find Tom Driscoll. But for the well-meaning, somewhat feckless, gentle parish priest Rev. Jim in Act 1, I needed a complete playlist. Some of this music I already had on hand, and some was newly-purchased. Here it is, Jim’s Jam, all songs pre-1959 as far as I can tell:

  • Perry Como, “Accentuate the Positive”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Bubbles in the Wine”
  • Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ after Midnight”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo”
  • Mel Tormé, “Moonlight in Vermont”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Beer Barrel Polka”
  • Perry Como, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You”
  • Mantovani orchestra, “Charmaine”
  • Patti Page, “Old Cape Cod”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “A String of Pearls”
  • Perry Como, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Village Tavern Polka”

Mantovani’s version of a 1926 waltz by Rapée and Pollack is most everyone’s idea of soul-evacuating elevator music. (I remember an ironic modern dance troupe performance from about 20 years ago, set on this song, that consisted of the entire company queueing up as if at the DMV.) But for Jim, the lush, pillowy arrangement is pure bliss, his idea of what God’s grace must feel like. Is that a zither in the mix in the last chords? Plus, you can do t’ai chi stretches to it.

Jim and Judy danced to Glenn Miller when they were courting.

The Lawrence Welk recordings, all from the pre-TV days, are astonishing. Joyful, energetic, inventive, not slick at all—nothing like the bland music I heard when I was a kid in my grandfather’s living room watching the TV show. I used to worry that I was turning into my mother. Now I should worry that I’m turning into her father.

Posted in Backstage, Music, Theater | Comments Off on Clybourne Park: an update: 2

How does it feel

To sweeten a Blue Saturday, Orkestra Obsolete plays New Order’s “Blue Monday” using only instruments and technology available in the 1930s. and @tcarmody

Posted in Music, Tools and Technology | Tagged | Comments Off on How does it feel


Craig Havighurst has proposed a new umbrella term for that thing that most people call classical music, that my friends in college (particularly in the School of Music) encouraged me to call art music or serious music, and that I have also heard described as Western concert hall music. Havighust likes the term composed music, and he makes some good points.

Composed Music’s primary virtue is its blunt veracity. It is what it says it is: works by a singular mind, fixed and promulgated in written form. …it emphasizes the actual creator of the music, giving credit where it’s due in an era when the general public has been conditioned to associate works with performers.

And lest we forget,

The awkwardness of there being a Classical Period in Classical Music becomes moot.

In a follow-up, he points out that he intends the term to include jazz and third stream compositions as well, written by artists as diverse as Brubeck and Zappa.

Of course, we can always go with the dichotomy associated with Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington:

There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.


Posted in Music, Words Words Words | Comments Off on Composure

That sound you hear is my head exploding

Chris Ware, Ira Glass, Nico Muhly, and John Kuramoto, d.b.a. “Phoobis,” create an animated cover for this week’s issue of The New Yorker. Guest-starring a former Secretary of State.

Posted in Film, Music, Storytelling | Tagged | Comments Off on That sound you hear is my head exploding

Chromatic elegance

Five songs to mark the centenary of Billy Strayhorn.

Posted in Happy Birthday, Music | Comments Off on Chromatic elegance

The best part is when he stops for gas

This showed up on VH-1 this morning. It’s easily the dullest, lamest video that the 80s has to offer.

Posted in Annoyances, Music | Tagged | Comments Off on The best part is when he stops for gas

Shouting through the storm

John Adams chats with Renee Montagne about his works, old and new.

Posted in Music | Tagged | Comments Off on Shouting through the storm

He had me at the mbira

If your cellphone rings in the middle of a John Cage concert, Paolo Angeli knows what to do with it: he’ll fine some way to wedge it into his baritone guitar.

A musicologist’s wet dream.

Posted in Music | Tagged | Comments Off on He had me at the mbira

Feel the buzz

Great radio of the week: finding the best fit in musical instruments for Port Huron fifth-graders, as Kyle Norris of Michigan Radio reports.

The button on the end, added by an NPR director, will bring tears to your eyes.

Posted in Music | Tagged | Comments Off on Feel the buzz