Continuing the discussion of modern classical music:
Growing up, minimalism was sort of made fun of, at least in the amateur musical circles of which I was a part. As the years have passed though, I think we’ve seen the importance of the ideas and the music. I was exposed to some Philip Glass during high school (Einstein on the Beach), and then John Adams in my undergraduate study (China Gates). I started to really get interested when I re-watched The Truman Show and discovered that Philip Glass had done the wonderfully lyrical score.
Although I’ve mentioned Philip Glass and John Adams, other composers use minimalist elements and ideas such as: Arvo Part, Steve Reich, and John Tavener. Anyone who hears the choral music of Arvo Part more than once will instantly recognize the unique voice he has through his music.
I can’t say I have a great knowledge of minimalism , but I have grown to like the pieces I’ve heard and played. Being a pianist, I have naturally gravitated to minimalistic pieces for that instrument. Specifically, I’ve played some of Philip Glass’s pieces titled Metamorphosis. I find them to be conducive to the imagination in almost a stream of consciousness kind of way. Yes, it’s repetitive, but that’s the point. The pieces gradually transform, the harmonies gently shifting. There is a mysterious quality, and people have called the music hypnotic, but I don’t really like that term. The music itself never stops, like the human mind. Even when we sleep, our subconscious is active, reflecting, reconsidering our conscious experiences. So, to me, the music is like a conscious rendering or interpretation of the subconscious state.
Below are a few clips. The first one is Philip Glass playing and discussing one of his Metamorphosis pieces. The next clip is Phrygian Gates by John Adams. The final clip is part of the score to The Truman Show. This clip shows the more lyrical side of this music.
I once had a music history professor that said unless the classical world embraces modern classical music in a bigger way, there’s a good chance traditional classical music will die out. I’m not sure I agree, but his point was that there has to constantly be new things and new ideas to explore for any field to remain relevant.
There are scores and scores of fantastic new “classical” music being written these days in the choral, instrumental, organ/piano, and orchestral genres. I will do a series of short, related blog posts on these different genres of contemporary classical music.
The first area I’ll highlight is choral music:
Almost all of us know some of the popular choral composers writing today- Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, among others. And there are those that are content with performing a short range of these contemporary composers to balance out their repertoire of Thomas Tallis and Palestrina motets. The problem I have with this is I get bored with hearing the same composers over and over at concerts. It’s like taking a course on English literature and spending the entire semester on one Canterbury tale. Yeah, it’s great stuff, but there is so much more out there. Several of the popular contemporary choral composers write in common tonal language and I find myself wishing for more diversity.
A wonderful young composer of choral pieces (and organ, which I’ll get to in my next post) is Carson Cooman. He is in his mid thirties, but already has a tremendously varied output in many genres, including choral. He is a contemporary classical music aficionado himself, so he has a passion in his composing, and it comes across well. I find it hard to pinpoint his musical influences, which for me, means that he has absorbed much and made his music something new altogether- a unique tonal language and musical voice.
Below is a recording of a somewhat simple piece by Cooman: Bless the Lord, O My Soul. This piece was written in 2010 and uses this common sacred text to great effect.
Here’s quick, fun audio that’s made the rounds on social media the past few years. I still haven’t figured out if it’s a joke or a mistake by the organist. If it is a joke, it’s a gutsy move, considering the performance is LIVE.
One of my favorite orchestral excerpts is Petrouchka by Stravinsky. The principal trumpet player of the Berlin Philharmonic gives some advice on phrasing and talks about playing the “character” of the ballet, not just the notes of the excerpt.
Jason here. One of my favorite brass quintet arrangements is Just a Closer Walk with Thee as popularized by the Canadian Brass. The arrangement emulates the New Orleans jazz style and divides the tune into two parts- the first part a dirge portraying the slow walk to the grave; the second part a joyful portrayal of the deceased being received into heaven (…at least that’s how my interpretation of it goes…)
I remember going to hear the Canadian Brass in the 90′s at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia with members of my dad’s brass quintet, The Jubilant Brass, and their families. I can’t really remember if they played this tune that day, but I do remember that it was a fun concert.
If you’re looking for a local group you can book for a great evening, look no further than The Jubilant Brass. They play a huge variety of different music- from sacred, to classical, to jazz. They even do Just a Closer Walk oftentimes, and in my opinion, my dad does an even better job with the trumpet solo than Fred Mills! Unfortunately, no video of the Jubilant Brass performing it exists, so you’ll just have to book them for a concert to hear it (go here)…in the meantime, “make do” with the Canadian Brass.
Inspiring words to the hymn, Just Where He Needs Me. I’ve included a link below to a video of one of my first cornet teachers, Derek Smith. He is playing this hymn with a Salvation Army Staff Band, one of which my dad was the principal euphonium player (New York Staff Band).
The words remind us that whatever our current situation, God goes before us and prepares the way. We may not feel we are in the perfect location or living the life we intended for ourselves. But God knows where we are needed in the plans He has for us. Let’s remember that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts!