Saturday, January 24, 2015

Video of the Week: Chance's A-ri-rang

This week, I remember back to when I played trumpet in the high school band.  My fondest memory is "Variations on a Korean Folk Song" by John Barnes Chance.  Perhaps this memory is reinforced by my living in Korea for two years, or maybe because it's just cool music.

The tune is very easy to pick out.  The piece starts out simply, and then in the first variation, the tune becomes both accompaniment (played faster and repeated) and melody (played slower).  After exploring different variations, slow and fast, the composer ends with a finale that may well be some of the best band music ever written.  Starting at time 5:53, the drums begin one layer of the melody, and then one by one more layers are added until it builds a wall of awesome sound.


Note: while searching for a good recording of this piece, I came across several other candidates.  The one I chose is boring visually, but the recording is the most professional I could find, and sounds the closest to what I remember in high school (if only I had that recording).

There are a couple of good recordings played by an orchestra instead of band, but Chance had originally written it for band, and that finale I talked about earlier doesn't work so well with string instruments.  It just doesn't sound Korean enough.  So, I didn't choose any of those recordings.

However, I'll include this bonus video, a marching band version with added drums and an impressive color guard.  I would have used it for my main pick, but it cuts out a couple of parts, and it's not the version I played in high school.  Still very impressive.  The extra drums give it a different kind of energy.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Video of the Week: Richter's Vivaldi

Last Wednesday, I turned on my SiriusXM radio to the classical station, and heard strains from the opening of "Summer" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."  I said to my kids, "Are they really playing this again?"  I turned the radio down and we went on talking about whatever.

I mostly ignored the background music until something strange happened.  The music went to a different chord.  What?  I turned the music back up.  This wasn't Vivaldi.  Rather, it was one of those creations of a living composer, Max Richter.  He had taken the "Four Seasons" and added his own touches, with interesting results.  Sometimes, it's as simple as using different chords under the same melody.  Or sometimes changing the rhythms.  And often it was getting stuck in a Hans Zimmer-like movie music loop.  (Sometimes you can hear hints of "Interstellar.")

What you are about to hear isn't really anything new compositionally, but it's a distinct sound that's worth hearing.  This reimagining is very effective in parts, and once you start listening, you may find it very difficult to stop.  It's worth making it all the way to the eeriest and coldest version of "Winter" I've ever heard.

The video is one and half hours long, but the Vivaldi piece (named "Vivaldi Recomposed") is only the first half.  After 45 minutes, you can enjoy more of Richter's music.  This is also a very exciting and well-done video.  Though the description does a terrible job of identifying the musicians.

The composer, Max Richter, is the man sitting at the electric keyboard -- the one who smiles the whole time.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Video of the Week: Short Ride in a Fast Machine

This week, I'll feature another minimalism piece: "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by the living composer John Adams.

As always, Adams injects intense energy into his music, providing a unique sound that is both minimalistic and very accessible to the popular audience.


As a bonus, after you've watched the above video, you may recognize Adams' influence in Don Davis' scoring of the movie The Matrix.  Listen for the similarities ...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Video of the Week: Ring Out Happy Bells

This week, I present a fun video to get the New Year started.  We Mormons have a New Years related hymn: 215, Ring Out Wild Bells.  It's about ringing out the old and bringing in the new.  The words are from the poem by the same name by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

This hymn is one of 3 or 4 hymns in the current Mormon hymnal that are minor.  But I thought I'd do some differently.  I change this to a major key to turn it into Happy Bells.  It turns out to be annoyingly happy.

So, there you have it.  Happy New Year!