Goin’ down to the river some day

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, if only because there hasn’t been much to report. We are careening into the new year with light at the end of the tunnel but, if the virus experts are right, with the tunnel buckling just as we’re getting to the exit. We’re somewhere near the bottom tier of those expected to get the vaccine over the next six months, so the winter will be … well, whatever the common cliché is. It has rendered me even more taciturn than usual; my three regular readers have been patient, so thank you.

On the other hand, there are ways to get through the night. As a part of my readers’ reward for their patience, I note that the latest issue (#39) of Mineshaft magazine was released earlier this fall, and I suggest you get a copy now. I also know that a few Mineshaft contributors may wish to join me in revisiting the fine Hoagy Carmichael song “Washboard Blues,” originally recorded by RCA Victor in 1927 with Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra,  Carmichael soloing on vocals and piano. Carmichael was then 28 and at the start of a long career (perhaps he is best known as “Cricket” in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not), during which Carmichael contributed several songs to the American popular music pantheon, not least “Stardust” (which Carmichael recorded just before “Washboard Blues”), “Georgia on My Mind,” “Rocking Chair” (a personal favorite), “Two Sleepy People,” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”

“Washboard Blues” is a characteristic Carmichael composition: eccentric and vernacular. An anonymous Wikipedian wrote, “Though the verse, chorus, and bridge pattern is present, the effect of the song is of one long, cohesive melodic line with a dramatic shifting of tempo. The cohesiveness of the long melody perfectly matches the lyrical description of the crushing fatigue resulting from the repetitious work of washing clothes under primitive conditions.” One must, at this late date, overlook the dialect in which the lyrics were written by Fred B. Callaghan, but catch the midwestern air of Carmichael’s half-mumbled half-wailing high-baritone-almost-tenor lament. The below is not the Whiteman recording, but a solo recording released some years later, and more haunting for all that. If you haven’t heard it before, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy this; and I’ll hope to be back soon.

Butterflies in captivity

Morton Feldman once described his monumental Triadic Memories as “the biggest butterfly in captivity.” My lovely wife Marilyn Nonken recorded it several years ago for Mode Records, so it seemed appropriate for the Washington Post‘s Michael Andor Brodeur to ask her for her opinion on what Feldman’s music might mean to us during the current scare, when we’re all in some kind of captivity:

For Nonken, the power of Feldman’s music comes from the tension he generates between regularity and instability (sound familiar?), and his reluctance to suggest narrative through “artificial resolution.”

“The drama,” she says over Zoom, “is how is that instability going to manifest itself? When is it going to rupture? How is it going to rupture?” Indeed, you can be 80 minutes into a Feldman piece before something happens, in the traditional sense of things happening. Nonken compares the journey to a long hike that ends at a grand vista. …

“The monotony of these days,” Nonken says, “day in and day out, there’s a repetitiveness. We’re waiting for something to happen and we’re not quite sure what it is. Small details take on incredible significance.”

Mode will release her and Stephen Marotto’s performance of Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field later this year. In the meantime, you can read all of the Washington Post story — which also includes interviews with Marotto and other seasoned Feldman aficianadoes — here.

Heliotrope Bouquet

Today’s music is “Heliotrope Bouquet,” a 1907 rag composed by Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin. Chauvin was a ragtime composer of great promise who alas fell victim to a turbulent and dissipated lifestyle in 1908 at the age of 27. Bill Edwards describes the composition and structure of the music here:

This rag contains the only known surviving compositional fragment of Louis Chauvin, who by most contemporary accounts was a very creative, skilled and prolific pianist who knew a multitude of pieces, though he was unschooled and could neither read nor write music. Chauvin lived a hard life as an itinerant pianist and died of complications from syphilis and multiple sclerosis shortly after his 24th [sic] birthday. The first two sections of “Heliotrope” are Chauvin’s, which Joplin first heard while visiting Arthur Marshall in Chicago in 1906, and thought enough of them to put them down to paper. The harmonization and last two themes were later completed by Joplin, with some tie-ins to the first two. The A section, utilizing a tango rhythm, is fairly unique in all of ragtime for its structure, rhythm and melody. The B section also contains some unexpected syncopation. The C and D sections are obviously born of Joplin’s writing in their nature, but the C section does contain a snippet of Chauvin’s melody in the middle.

The performer is Joshua Rifkin. Mr. Edwards provides a fuller biography of Louis Chauvin here.

This Sunday night: A musical soirée at NYU

Let’s not forget, folks, to bundle up this Sunday night and make your way to NYU for Marilyn Nonken‘s American Spectral: Works for Piano and Electronics concert, described below.


Lately my lovely wife has been coming home merrily singing the praises of two new piano solos she’ll be performing at NYU’s Black Box Theater, 82 Washington Square East in New York on Sunday, February 23 — they’re difficult but divine, she insists, and promises a good time. She’s never wrong.

The big piece on the program (which is called American Spectral: Works for Piano and Electronics, by the way) is the hour-long “Music for Piano with Slow Sweep Pure Wave Oscillators,” a new “extended mix” of a shorter 2010 work by highly-regarded avant-garde tunesmith Alvin Lucier. Marilyn will raise the curtain with Philadelphian Ellen Fishman‘s “Ruptures” (2018-19). These works, Marilyn says, “explore how technology changes our sense of time, consciousness, and sonic reality.”

Admission? Gratis. The trouble begins at eight o’clock. I’m told that there’s a new-fangled thing called social media that’s taking the place of the hardworking press agent, so if you visit the Facebook page for the event, please “like” it (whatever that is) and “share” it with your “friends.” Me, I’ve got to get my tuxedo to the dry cleaners; the composers will be present, after all.

I confess to you that I use the word “solo” advisedly here; she will be accompanied by some electric gewgaws. But they aren’t human, and I’m going to maintain my distinction between man (or, in this case, woman) and machine, so matter how complicated the box of wires is. After the show, we’ll all head out to the local tavern (except the computers, of course), where we’ll explore how wine and vodka change our sense of time, consciousness, and sonic reality, though I doubt the sensations will be quite as profound.

A musical soirée

Lately my lovely wife has been coming home merrily singing the praises of two new piano solos she’ll be performing at NYU’s Black Box Theater, 82 Washington Square East in New York on Sunday, February 23 — they’re difficult but divine, she insists, and promises a good time. She’s never wrong.

The big piece on the program (which is called American Spectral: Works for Piano and Electronics, by the way) is the hour-long “Music for Piano with Slow Sweep Pure Wave Oscillators,” a new “extended mix” of a shorter 2010 work by highly-regarded avant-garde tunesmith Alvin Lucier. Marilyn will raise the curtain with Philadelphian Ellen Fishman‘s “Ruptures” (2018-19). These works, Marilyn says, “explore how technology changes our sense of time, consciousness, and sonic reality.”

Admission? Gratis. The trouble begins at eight o’clock. I’m told that there’s a new-fangled thing called social media that’s taking the place of the hardworking press agent, so if you visit the Facebook page for the event, please “like” it (whatever that is) and “share” it with your “friends.” Me, I’ve got to get my tuxedo to the dry cleaners; the composers will be present, after all.

I confess to you that I use the word “solo” advisedly here; she will be accompanied by some electric gewgaws. But they aren’t human, and I’m going to maintain my distinction between man (or, in this case, woman) and machine, so matter how complicated the box of wires is. After the show, we’ll all head out to the local tavern (except the computers, of course), where we’ll explore how wine and vodka change our sense of time, consciousness, and sonic reality, though I doubt the sensations will be quite as profound.