Friday, January 29, 2016

The Passing of the Generations...

As so often happens here at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria, I found myself in the wrong part of the Civic Center as I wandered around looking for the MYA Big Band concert. This resulted in a happy coincidence, as I ran into a DHS Band alum and former drum major, who is now a band director in Naperville. She invited me to her clinic session where she presented her master’s thesis research on how young band directors from the suburbs often feel “praxis shock” when they take their first job in a rural, downstate community. She spoke of her own experience as a North Shore kid who became the grade 6-12 band director in a small town in Central Illinois. I remember talking with her on the phone several times as she navigated the first two years of her career, and I really enjoyed sharing in her triumphs and challenges. I was so proud listening to her thoughtful and important research.

This got me thinking about how in education we are continually passing the torch on to the next generation of teachers. My former student took all of her experience at DHS and two college degrees and is now sharing her passion for music with a group of eager middle schoolers, some of whom might go on to be yet another generation of music educators. They are my musical “grandchildren,” just like all of those kids being taught by other alumni who are now music educators like Sam, Michael, Aaron, Susan, and Alexis, and all my past student teachers.

To bring this around full circle, I went into the exhibit hall to find my high school band director, who has since retired and works as a tour escort for high school band trips out west. We had a great chat about what we were both up to, and I could tell he was pleased with having started me on my career that led me to Deerfield. So now all of my current and past students have Mr. Pete Pappas to thank, because you are his musical grandchildren. Thanks, Pete, for all you taught me, and thanks to all my teachers from Mr. Meyer who first gave me saxophone lessons in 4th grade all the way through my profs at NU, DPU, and BU. And so the circle continues…

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Binge Listening

It seems that everybody today talks about binge watching their favorite TV shows. With so many ways to view them and with so many episodes available all at once, there is a great temptation to hunker down and spend hours with a single show, especially now in the middle of winter. It's a much different experience from traditional viewing, one episode a week. The immersive nature of binge watching allows you to really connect with story lines and characters as they develop and change. That (and simple inertia) is probably why it's become such a popular activity.

Something I've come to enjoy is what I call binge listening. With streaming services like Spotify, you can listen to an artist's entire recorded output from debut album to their latest offering. It's very interesting to hear how some artists stick to a tried and true style or genre while others change greatly over the years.

For me, binge listening works best with an artist with a somewhat limited output. The Beatles put out 13 albums, all of which predate the CD era, so they all clock in around 40 minutes or so (not counting the double White Album). That's about 10 hours to hear the progression from a brilliant cover band through Beatlemania, folk rock, psychedelia, sonic experiments, and back to their skiffle roots. Well worth your time!

Other artists I've done this with: Steely Dan, R.E.M., and The White Stripes (still in progress). I also recommend taking a specific portion of an artist's output, like Miles Davis' second quintet albums (E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky, Filles de Kilimanjaro) or David Bowie's Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger) if their discography is too large to go through all at once.

On the classical side, I am currently listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams nine symphonies in order. I had previously only known a couple of them, so to sit down seriously with all nine is fascinating. Quite a departure from the English Folk Song Suite.

Anybody have recommendations for their own binge listening playlist?

(Yes, I know that this is the first blog post in a year and a half. It might be the last for another long time. Or maybe not. We shall see...)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Live Music in the Summer

At the end of the school year, I usually remind the students to check out some of the many live music offerings around Chicagoland in the summer. This year, I've taken my own advice to heart and have already been to four events.

I started off with a trip to Ravinia to hear the Steans Music Institute jazz showcase. This concert capped off a week of intensive jazz study for 15 up-and-coming undergraduate and graduate students from the finest college music programs in the country. They were put into three quintets, and each group played five tunes, all of which were composed by the band members. They were led by some of our most esteemed jazz educators, including Dr. David Baker, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and bassist Rufus Reid. It was a great evening of music with a lot of fine soloing and unique compositional voices. I will definitely put this concert on my must-see list for June 2015.

Next I checked out DHS alum Greg Spero with his trio playing a homecoming gig in Highland Park at Vibe at 1935. Greg played piano in our jazz band and trumpet in the concert bands and marching band. He has since carved out quite a nice career for himself as a jazz pianist and keyboardist. This gig featured a lot of tunes from his most recent album, Electric. I especially dug his Bollywood meets Herbie Hancock number called "Raga."

I was very proud to see my former student with his killer bandmates Junius Paul on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. Check them out if you get a chance!

My next event was a trip into the city to see Sting's new musical The Last Ship at the Bank One Theatre. Despite the fact that it took over two hours to drive there from the north suburbs, it was a very enjoyable show. The story is about the relationship between fathers and sons set against the backdrop of a dying shipyard in the north of England. The performances were strong, and I enjoyed the music. The tunes are varied with lots of traditional fiddle sounds, but there are little hints of Sting's individual style - a chord here or a bit of melody there. It sounds at times like one of his early solo albums, The Soul Cages, but it is definitely a musical theatre score, as opposed to a bunch of pop tunes strung together to make a "jukebox musical."

My last live music event was an old-fashioned "house concert." We had a guest musician, Matthew Clark, singing in our Sunday morning service at church, and one of the families hosted him in their living room that evening for an intimate performance. It was great to hear a singer/songwriter who knows more than four chords and can really get around on an acoustic guitar. Matthew sang and told stories about his life, and about 30 of us had a great time listening and chatting with him. There's actually a long history of house concerts in Western society--before recorded sound, if you wanted to hear music it had to be live. Think about all of the great Classical Era music that was performed for dinner parties, including many serenades by people like Mozart. What a wonderful tradition to bring back.

Later this week, we'll be off to Ravinia for our first Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. Looking forward to hearing one of the finest orchestras in the world!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Goodbye to the Hard Bop Grandpop

You may have heard by now that legendary jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver died last week at the age of 85. He is best known for his funky, earthy playing and his wonderful compositions that defined the style known as "soul jazz." Combining blues, jazz, and gospel sounds, his tunes have a classic feel-good attitude that has made many of them standards. I went through my old repertoire lists and found the following tunes that the DHS Jazz Band and after-school combos have played over the years:
  • Nica's Dream
  • Strollin'
  • Nutville
  • Tokyo Blues
  • Summer in Central Park
  • The Preacher
  • Song for My Father
  • Filthy McNasty
  • The Jody Grind
  • Senor Blues
  • Silver's Serenade
  • Sister Sadie
That last one has really been a staple of our repertoire, with 6 performances over the last 26 years. It's currently in our book, so you can expect to hear it in the fall. We've played "Song for My Father" almost as many times, including this past spring with Tuesday Afternoon Jazz. There are very few composers whose music we've played as much--John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus. That's impressive company.

If you'd like to find out why Horace Silver is so highly esteemed in jazz circles, check out this greatest hits album:

Photo: Horace Silver by Dmitri Savitski 1989, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

Yes, I know, it's been many months since my last post. I guess I've been lazy and putting up quick Facebook posts instead of more thought out blog entries. Well, I'm going to make it up to you today, on this first day of 2014. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to this new year in band:
  1. January 15 is Klezmer Day! We will have three musicians visiting from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band visiting DHS to work with SB and WE on pieces for our upcoming concert.
  2. The orchestra winds and percussion will join our strings in the second performance of A Heartland Symphony at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria on January 24. I'll be making the trip with you all.
  3. There are still lots more Pep Band at basketball games!
  4. On January 30, we'll put on the second annual Jazz Combo night featuring the 2014 MAJ and TAJ debuts. This year, we'll be in the studio theater, which will be a fun new venue for us.
  5. The Winter Band Concert will take place on February 5 with all three concert bands--we'll perform our klezmer music along with other wonderful selections.
  6. The Jazz Band heads to Evanston Township High School on February 8 for the Evanston Jazz Festival, where we'll play a 3-tune set, get professional critiques, and hear a concert featuring John Fedchock, an internationally-known trombonist.
  7. A number of our students will join musicians from 9 other local schools at the North Shore Honor Band Festival on January 11. A special highlight will be a world premiere piece by guest conductor James Curnow based on themes from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
  8. Concert Band will start their annual music on Latin American music. Get ready to become a giant mariachi ensemble, salsa band, and samba group!
  9. The Solo and Ensemble fest in March will feature a number of SB/WE chamber groups as well as soloists.
  10. Sometime this spring, I'll announce the proposed destination for the 2015 band trip. I've got some pretty cool ideas, but for now, my lips are sealed!
So there's just ten reasons why it's going to be a great 2014 with the DHS bands, and I haven't even gotten up to spring break. So now's the time to warm up those chops and wrists--time's a-wasting!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Musical Saturday Evening

This past Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of leading a group of 12 Warrior Marching Band members in the briefest of performances for the DHS Class of 1963 at their 50th reunion. This is the first graduating class from DHS; they started as freshmen at HPHS, opened DHS as sophomores in 1960, and began many traditions that continue today. They chose our school mascot and colors, and they named the yearbook and school paper.

We entered their party room at the Embassy Suites to drum clicks--we were the special surprise they had been told about. We then played the Fight Song (about 40 seconds), I shared greetings from the current students and staff of DHS (about 15 seconds), and we finished with "Go Big Red" (about 20 seconds). Shortest. Gig. Ever.

We were well received, and some of the women did an impromptu cheer from the early 60s. It was a lot of fun, and I think we were an exciting addition to their festivities.

Then, I headed off to a friend's house for his annual backyard music fest. Sounds quaint, but it was really quite impressive. Here is the line-up:

  • a singer-songwriter performing a solo set accompanying himself on guitar and piano (not simultaneously!)
  • a vibraphone/violin jazz duo that sounded like it was straight out of the ECM studios in the 1970s
  • three tenors singing folk and pop music with guitars and basses
  • a world-renowned opera singer who has debuted several important operas over the past several decades
  • a country-rock band performing originals and covers
  • a band with the three tenors, 5 female backup singers, piano, mandolin, piccolo, guitar, dobro, bass, drums, and a horn line of sax/trumpet/trombone
I was in the last group on alto sax. We played R&B type tunes and some classic Americana. The highlight was a cover of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." We began with two percussionists, one on Afro-Peruvian cajon (a wooden box you sit on and play with your hands), and one on Indian tabla drums (the look a little like bongos but can play different pitches--you may have heard them on Beatles tunes). They are both master drummers, and their rhythmic interplay was incredible. After they traded improvised licks back and forth, the band snuck in and played the song up to its climax before fading out to the cajon and tabla again. When they finished perfectly together on the same beat (without really having planned it out ahead of time), it was one of the most musical moments I've experienced in a long time.

So you see, kids, this is why you need to keep playing your instruments into adulthood! Maybe you'll have a friend who is ambitious enough to stage his own mini-Ravinia. Then you can take part and have that transcendent experience of sharing music with good friends. That's why we do what we do, isn't it?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Pop Music Playlist for September

Happy September! Here's a Spotify playlist of songs with September in the title. Quite a variety--enjoy!