Archive for April, 2008

Relaxing (but engaging) music

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Music that focuses on relaxation without sounding like Muzak? MDR Klassik has it right in their Musik zum Träumen (i.e., Music to Dream By) slot from 10pm-12am German time – which also ends up in a nice time in my workday that can use that kind of mood (3-5 pm US Central time). Adagios galore, and a new age piano piece or two thrown in, with no announcements. The slow movement from Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, those tender movements from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne featuring flute and harp, unfamilar adagio movements from symphonies… on and on, without even having to strain your brain to make out the German announcements. The excerpts from Wagner’s Parsifal might grow to full orchestra and shock one out of one’s twilight meditations, but on the whole it fits the mood –  I mean, not every single moment can be meditative, what the hey…

Mary Preston dedicates Buzard op. 34

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Following up on an old post, a Buzard organ went in down in Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church, near Racine, WI (in the town of Mount Pleasant, logically enough …) and the Milwaukee AGO chapter and the church co-sponsored a wonderful program by Mary Preston on April 22, 2007. The builder’s page on the organ is found here. The chapter’s Pipenotes newsletter contains details and an organ spec, but not the full program, so I’ll only give you a few highlights.

A talk beforehand by the builder, John-Paul Buzard, and acoustician Scott Riedel gave an idea of what they were up against, and still are to some degree. Basically, only a few acoustic improvements could be made in the unusual space, and then it was up to the builder to make the sound work in the dead space. The choice was a very dark sound, which supported singing well with a fine foundational feeling in the “gut”, but which at times left one at least wanting a little bit of bite and brilliance. Still, the choice might have been wise considering that many seats are very close to the organ, so a bit more to the brighter side and these folks might be blasted out of their seats.

Mary Preston’s program exploited the instrument well… my biggest memory is the Joseph Jongen “Sonata heroique”, a fiendish work which got a brilliant reading in the daunting acoustic. A rich clarinet and solo flutes were the highlights of the soft parts, and the copper chamade reed did not at all “part your hair” but capped the full organ quite nicely. More as I remember it…

Krishna Das and Hindu chant on German radio!

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Playground on RBB Kulturradio is a late-night (German time) program of world music… and I was brought home in an odd way by yesterday’s broadcast of music by Krishna Das, an American convert to Hinduism who is becoming well known for an American version of the kirtan, a devotional singing style which even in recordings just gives you the feeling of getting right to the root of all of humanity’s spiritual strivings. German radio playing an American Hindu’s devotional music influenced by the spiritual culture of India!

Of course anybody of my generation knows the flirtations of the Beatles with eastern cultures – George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” being the best known setting of the “Hare Krishna” chant 🙂 …

Why did this come off as a “homecoming”? Well, I’ve had a few brushes with the East and various East-meets-West figures in spirituality… In the late 70’s, at a visit to St. Joseph Abbey in Louisiana, I heard a talk by the late Bede Griffiths, a British Benedictine who worked on the fine border between Hindu devotional culture and Catholic monasticism. A disciple of his, Russill Paul, is a musician offering workshops incorporating Hindu customs and a Christianized version of this participatory musical style, and at one of the “Creation Spirituality Workshops” (influenced by Matthew Fox) in the 90’s I encountered him leading us through “Om nama Kristai”, a chant with movements that meant something like “Christ, I surrender all to you.” (I actually got to jam with him later at another event too!)

The centering quality of this music has been absolutely amazing – a bit of downloading from Napster and a quick capture of the samples from RBB’s webcast have kept me in peace for over 24 hours now 🙂

The renewed question for the classic church musician in me… not to neglect the devotional, irrational, repetitive, mantra-like aspects of music and meditation. Especially walking among Lutherans now, this becomes a great concern – how easy it is for them to think rationally, verbally efficiently, in a time-limited fashion, and lose the ecstatic, interior, meditative aspects. (Catholics who like their short, spoken “low mass” might fall in the same category…) Yes, Taize and traditional Western chant has some element of this, but are a few snippets from this repertoire enough? What about worship planning, where so much concern for time leads sometimes to minimizing redundancy, “cutting for time,” picking the “shorter option” instead of really getting people caught up in the prayer. A never-ending quest…

Mobile Internet Radio

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Classical radio in Milwaukee was never all that great since the departure of WNIB/WNIZ in Chicago/Zion, IL about 3 years ago… and now the local commercial classical station, WFMR, dropped the classical format about a year ago. Bummer.

The options:

  • HD radio
  • Satellite radio
  • The Internet

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin Public Radio’s WHAD has a second HD radio program with only about 6 hours of locally originated programming, the rest a canned satellite feed. Is that worth getting a mobile HD radio for? Not for me… though at home it’s nice to have the option on the Polk iSonic, an excellent tabletop radio. XM Satellite Radio (which I also get on the iSonic) has about 3 “okay” classical channels but I don’t know if I’d run out and get an XM subscription and mobile satellite rig just for them…

The Internet is by far the finest source of varied classical programming, which I’ve long known at home. But how to get it mobile? Well, surprise, a company discount on an all-you-can eat Sprint data plan came to the rescue. The phone is a Sprint Treo 755p, and with proper adapters, a cheap car amp, and speakers I get the world (literally) of classical listening with surprisingly few hiccups while on the road in a company truck. One piece of purchased software for the phone (Kinoma Media Player) handles internet radio fairly well, and Sprint’s connection at its best handles hi-fi 128kbps connections quite decently. AAC, mp3, and Windows Media formats are available with good smartphone software – Real formats are not as well supported, if at all, so the BBC’s fine programming on Radio 3 isn’t mobile friendly yet.

The quick list of favorites:

Once programmed into the phone, the list is easily accessible to punch in. Several of these have wonderful church music programs, my favorite being HR2’s “Geistliche Musik” from 6-8 am German time. See my list for more information over time.

Interested? Well, unlimited plans (including internet) are now the rage with the wireless companies, and you can get good smartphones for $100-200 after rebates. Check around for what’s available in your area – Sprint’s data service is the best so far, despite some bad press on Sprint in general, though others are catching up with new “3G” higher-speed wireless services in major cities. Of course you can always go for the expensive trendy iPhone from AT&T, which will likely do a great job on internet radio (although the less robust AT&T data network might not work as smoothly for high bit rates…)

Ready for the mobile Internet radio revolution?