Organum let open

For those who were unable to attend, below is a recording of Elizabeth Hoffman’s organum let open, based on a few texts of mine, performed last Friday at NYU during the Tutte le Corde: Piano Music After 1970 program. Marilyn Nonken is the pianist; I’m the reader (and I don’t appear in the flesh until the very end of the piece); Tristan McKay is the pageturner. Credit where credit is due, after all.

Warm up with Tutte le Corde

If you’re looking to get out of the cold for a few hours tonight, hie yourself on over to NYU’s Black Box Theater at 82 Washington Square East at 8.00pm for Tutte le Corde: Piano Music After 1970. Marilyn Nonken, Charles Abramovic, Michael P. Tan, Tristan McKay, Alexandra Saraceno, and Rinat Tsodyks will perform music by (mostly) living composers, such as Morton Feldman (he’s the dead one), Michael Finnissy, Joshua Fineberg, Elizabeth Hoffman, Oren Lok, and Matthew Greenbaum. I myself will be participating in the performance of Elizabeth Hoffman’s organum let open, based on some of my short texts from another lifetime.

More information here — the concert is free. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

The trouble begins at 6

Liza Lim and Elizabeth Hoffman.

To kick off the 2017 season of pop-up concerts at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, Marilyn Nonken will take the stage at 6.00pm tonight to perform two works that were specially written for her: Liza Lim‘s The Four Seasons (After Cy Twombly) and Elizabeth Hoffman‘s organum let open, the latter a New York premiere. Doors open at 5.30pm, no reservations necessary; more information is available here. If you’re coming, let us know. We’d be delighted to have you.

In an ill-advised attempt to attract the rabble, Ms. Nonken and Ms. Hoffman have asked me to participate in the performance of organum let open, which was inspired by some texts I wrote a decade ago. For this reason I have wrapped myself in a dress shirt, tie, and jacket for the occasion; I would ask you to hold your laughter until free drinks are served after the concert, at which time you can feel free to advise me on my sartorial missteps and tell me to buy a comb. You’ll have to listen to the music for the sublime part of the evening; I’ll provide the ridiculous.

Next Tuesday at Miller Theatre

Liza Lim and Elizabeth Hoffman.

To kick off the 2017 season of pop-up concerts at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, Marilyn Nonken will take the stage at 6.00pm next Tuesday, January 24, 2017, to perform two works that were specially written for her: Liza Lim‘s The Four Seasons (After Cy Twombly) and Elizabeth Hoffman‘s organum let open, the latter a New York premiere. Doors open at 5.30pm, no reservations necessary; more information is available here. Bend an elbow with all of us — the composers will be there too.

This will be something of a family affair as well. One of the movements of The Four Seasons is dedicated to our daughter Goldie, and organum let open is based upon a few texts that I myself wrote (I’ll be there to participate as well). Ink it in; I’ll see you there. To whet your appetite, a recording of organum let open is below:

Charley Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues” (1929)

One of my 2017 New Year resolutions will be to spend more time with some things that used to give me pleasure in my misspent youth and still do; better that than to spend them otherwise. I’ve already started to do so, looking back at American humor and satire and American silent film in the fond if unrealistic hope that I’ll pass some of this hopelessly anachronistic appreciation on to my two young daughters.

My lovely wife also gave me a guitar this Christmas, which means I can indulge again in enjoying another anachronistic pleasure, American music from the ragtime and Tin Pan Alley eras, and maybe even learn to play a little of it myself. When I was a young kiddo I also listened to a lot of Delta blues, and I’ve spent several hours over the past few weeks listening to more of this, thanks to Pandora radio (now that I no longer have to buy records, it’s much more convenient). I’m also reading Robert Palmer’s fine 1981 history of the form, Deep Blues, and delighted that I can now follow this history song-by-song, thanks to YouTube. (Perhaps an indication of just how much I’ve missed it is that I’ve breezed through 115 pages of it in just two days; it normally takes me a month or so to get that far in any other book.) When I was a teenager in Hazleton, PA, in 1975, the Listening Booth store at the local mall was crammed with Peter Frampton and ELO albums, but I could still find this stuck in the stacks at the back of the store.

Robert Crumb’s portrait of Charley Patton.

One of the earliest recorded blues songs was “Pea Vine Blues,” which Charley Patton (1891?-1934), one of the greatest of the early Delta blues artists, set to vinyl in 1929. Max Haymes has this rather good essay on the song, and Robert Palmer wrote this:

A number of [Patton’s] recorded blues have a definite thematic unity, or at least a unity of feeling or perspective. … “Pea Vine Blues” is a careful, coherent creation that would have been especially meaningful to the people for whom Patton performed, since it not only conjures a complex of emotions that many of his listeners would have shared but makes a vivid mental association between these emotions and an experience that was, in the vicinity of Dockery’s [plantation], virtually universal: hearing the Pea Vine whistle blow.

The song is also a good instance of the way in which music and lyrics — guitar and voice — are inseparable in the best Delta blues; not only the words, but the timbre of Patton’s voice and his elusive enunciation seem married to Patton’s picking, rhythm (which, sliding here and there, is also somewhat elusive) and technique.

For more information, Robert Crumb’s biography of Charley Patton — something of a work of art itself — can be found here. Below is the song; Palmer’s transcription of the lyrics follows.

I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
Blowed just like my rider getting on board

If you’re livin’ single then babe you … (phrase finished by Patton’s guitar)
(Spoken: Baby, you know I can’t stay)
You’re livin’ single, Lord, you know I ain’t gonna stay
I’m goin’ up the country, mama, in a few more days

Yes, you know it you know it, you know you done me wrong
Yes, you know it you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it you know it, you know you done done me wrong

Yes, I cried last night and I ain’t gonna cry no more
Yes, I cried last night and I ain’t gonna cry no more
But the good book tells us you got to reap just what you sow

Stop your way of livin’, and you won’t … (finished by guitar)
(Spoken: You won’t have to cry no more, baby)
Stop your way of livin’, and you won’t have to cry no more
Stop your way of livin’, and you won’t have to cry no more

I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
She blowed just like she wasn’t gonna blow no more