Archive for the ‘Essays and Analysis’Category

24 Hours With Taylor Mac

Portrait of the author with Crazy Jane

Portrait of the author with Crazy Jane

A month ago I was testing my body’s limits, forcing myself to engage in Facebook debates even later than my customary 2:00 AM cut off. I was staying up until a bleary eyed 4:00 AM leaked into 5:00 AM, finally turning off the overhead light, and would be startled to find the room still illuminated by a disorienting, demoralizing haze of daylight seeping in through the curtained window.

I was training, preparing for an endurance test. I was about to attend Taylor Mac’s marathon performance spanning 24 Decades of American Popular Music in 24 hours. Non-stop. From noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday.

And not just as an audience member (as if anyone is truly “just” an audience member in Taylor’s brand of interactive participatory theater), but as a full fledged performer, a singer, one of a handful of vocalists from Choral Chameleon who would be playing the role of “prudish temperance choir that storms into a rollicking 1790s era pub and spoils everyone’s fun”. I was a collaborator. A colluder. I had crudite platter privileges in the green room.

I had already seen the first six hours of judy’s (Taylor’s preferred pronoun is judy, and I will be using it) marathon in San Francisco back in January, so when the co-producers at Pomegranate Arts reached out to the board of Choral Chameleon in July (which I sit on), it took about five minutes for me to chime in with my vote: a resounding “Yes, and I’m flying out for it!” I’ve been a fan since judy’s Lily’s Revenge took over a large chunk of Fort Mason and the Magic Theater with another sprawling multi-hour affair, there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to be part of something this ambitiously insane.

24 hours. Each hour a different impractical and unwieldy costume. Each decade of America’s history contextualized and defined by the songs that were sung by its citizens. A multiply compound experiencing apparatus, America filtered through the minds of American songwriters, then subject to the market of American tastes and popularization, curated and reconstituted through the minds of Matthew Ray and Taylor Mac, and then collectively experienced again over a 24 hour period.

You know those little capsules you give kids? The ones that when you put them in water, the pill dissolves to reveal some foam dinosaur or something. In the days following the marathon, it felt like some very concentrated capsule had been shoved into my brain, one that would slowly transform into something else, a triceratops, or a spaceman, or Kentucky. Now, a month later, I still find moments from that epic day and night and day again occupying a new space in my brain.

In any given 24 hours in normal life, many many things happen. But most of them are largely automatic, habitual. I’d wager that under 4 hours a day are spent in actual engaged thought. So 24 hours of concentrated experience is something we are not built for. And this isn’t just experience, but intentional, surprising, entertaining, and provocative experience. So many things happened in that space of time last month. Simply listing my haphazard memories wouldn’t do the experience justice. But I have to do something.

So how about this: 24 Posts About 24 Moments in 24 Decades of American Popular Music in 24 Hours in 24 Days.

Huh. Ya know, I just thought of that. Right now. As I typed it.

That’s not bad.

Imma gonna do it.

Starting tomorrow!


Nov 2016

Hem – Half Acre – Analysis of a perfect thing

I often suffer from a common malady amongst composers, the illusion that complexity can make a weak idea stronger. Or perhaps make up for a deficiency in structure. Maybe it stems from the thinking that if you impress someone’s ear with something complex, they will be so wowed by your sophistication that they’ll figure that the music MUST be good. If they don’t like the music, surely that’s THEIR deficiency.

From now on, whenever I start to feel like I’m adding crunchy harmonies or complex rhythms to dress up a goat (not that there’s anything wrong with goats… or dressing them), I’m going to take a few minutes to listen to Hem’s magnificently sparse masterpiece, Half Acre. It is, I dare say, a perfect thing.

Here. Listen.

Is that NOT perfect? (If you don’t think so, you can feel just free to skip to some other blog.)

So… what’s going on here? I took some time to identify the key elements that make up this piece, focusing on the core of the song, the melodic and harmonic gestures that make this piece work.

The piece is quite sparse and made of of a few static elements. First there’s an ostinato figure on a distant piano that continues for the entirety of the song (taking a couple of beats of rest at a few cadential breaths).


Pretty clear C tonality, major or minor is unclear.

Then the harmonic backbone comes in underneath the ostinato:

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Section A backbone

Expansive open fifths with a fast, fast, slow harmonic rhythm, landing squarely on a C tonality in the second half of each measure, clearly C major with the A and E naturals. There’s no attempt at any sort of voice leading, just sound, sound, sound.

At the same time, a mandolin comes in with an easy, lilting line in a pentatonic C, avoiding F and B. (I’d argue that this isn’t really a core structural element but it does add to the character of the piece):

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Mandolin line


And finally the real melody begins with the utterly gorgeous voice of Sally Ellyson.

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Section A Melody

[audio:|titles=A Section]

It’s sparse and gorgeous, wringing expression from a reach to the sixth scale degree (A to G) and then a fall from either the major third or the blues third (E to C or Eb to C). Note the change in harmony and harmonic rhythm in the last two measures. The pace of the harmonic changes is slowed by half and we hear the seventh scale degree for the first time, a flatted seventh in the backbone, the characteristic modal sound of much folk music. These two measures are both a cadential pause and a foreshadowing of musical material to come.

At this point the stage is set for what I think is the real magic of the piece, the transition into the B section, the material that takes this from a pretty little song to something unspeakably beautiful. It starts with a restatement of the A section, same ostinato  same harmonic backbone, but when it gets to those last two measures, where before we took a cadential pause, the melody breaks out into new heights:

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B section

[audio:|titles=B Section]

Gah! It gets me every frickin time. It’s magic! What makes this work? There’s the big seventh leap to a whole other register of her voice (stunning in any register), and this is the first time the melody has that flatted seventh (Bb) which was only teased at in the initial statement of the A section. But for me, the thing that really makes a difference is the slowing down of that harmonic rhythm. The open fifths in the bass are held for every two beats now as opposed to changing each beat, which makes the whole thing open up and feel vast and expansive.

Some melodic details worth pointing out, the G in ‘every’ in the first measure is the first real accented dissonance in the entire piece and it feels like so much heartache, landing right on beat three, emphasizing the slowed down chord changes. The B section consists of the same two measure melody repeated three times. And on that third time there’s a variation, a reach up to the appoggiatura D on ‘night’, which is the climax of this section (and the song). Then there’s another cadential breath, which parallels the last two measures of the initial A statement.

It’s worth noting that melodically, everything in this song moves by either leap or by whole step. The only time we see half steps at all is the slide from the bluesy Eb to D on the way to C and that’s more of a gesture than a melodic idea. In the melody, there are NO leading tones and NO ascending half steps. Nowhere. Not once. There is, however, one pseudo leading tone harmonically, the A in the bass that finishes each two bar phrase and leads into the Bb that starts each phrase that keeps the motion going throughout the section.

That’s the core of the song. There are certainly many other observations that could be made about the orchestration of the piece, the Es in the cello that sail through every other measure of the B section (1:10), the magical addition of the celeste with the piano playing the fifths an octave higher during the final verse (2:17), the beautiful descending piano scale that brings us into the final B section(2:46). But these are more production/arrangement decisions and not so much compositional ideas. The guts of this piece are a pure exercise in restraint, proportion, and making the right moments count. Certainly something worth considering when trying to write music that people respond to.


May 2015

I May Be a Douchebag (aka noise, criticism, and the New Music Gathering)

The New Music Gathering rolled into San Francisco this past weekend. Founded by Brooklyn stalwarts Danny Felsenfeld, Matt Marks, Lainie Fefferman, and Mary Kouyoumdjian, it was equal parts symposium, festival, and gab fest for composers, performers, and devotees of that amorphous non-genre we’re calling New Music.

The festival is, necessarily, a very large tent. In a field that’s always trying to expand its audience, it’s considered a bad idea to speak ill of another composer’s work, even if it’s not remotely to your aesthetic tastes. If we’re all struggling to get our music heard, we’re better off working together rather than tearing each other down. In the panel on new music criticism, Matt Marks said he could understand a beat writer slamming a piece of his, they’re required to review things even if they don’t like them. But if a blogger goes out of their way to write a bad review, well, in the words of journalist Joelle Zigman, that blogger is, in fact, a douchebag.

I’m not so sure. As someone who’s written quite a bit about pieces that I’ve found lacking, I’d like to think I’m not simply doing so as an exercise in douchebaggery. Rather, I’m doing my best to explore and understand the space. What is it about the piece that I’m finding lacking? What could have been different? Is it a failing of the artist? Is it a matter of taste? In the end, what do I value as a consumer of the arts, and where does this piece fall in the grand spectrum of things I’ve experienced. A thoughtful, honest, well considered response to a work can be a gift, even if it’s not an enthusiastic rave.

Case in point: there was quite a bit of music performed this weekend that I did not get at all. Many performances were noise explorations, without any of the traditional musical considerations of harmony, rhythm, or pulse, that left me alternating between boredom and annoyance. Based on my knowledge of the people who created it, and the people who seemed to genuinely enjoy it, I have to believe that there is truly some intellectual and/or aesthetic pleasure to be derived from this work, but it is entirely beyond me how to find it. It’s just not my bag.

I’ve been wrestling with why this is. Why is it that I’m perfectly happy watching long stretches of theater that defy any sort of rational comprehension (e.g. Richard Foreman), but if it’s sound exploration, I clock out at around 10 minutes? This weekend, while being confronted by the protracted drone of an electronically distorted minor second, I developed a pet theory: Maybe this is a function of my (oft maligned, yet occasionally insightful) Meyers-Briggs type, specifically my place on the S-N axis.

In Meyers-Briggs speak, a senser experiences the world more with their five senses and an intuit-er experiences the world through a layer of intellectual abstraction. I am ALLLLL the way over on the N side of things. I’m looking for patterns, for larger structures, for recurring themes and connections. Screw the tree, however lovely, and show me the damn forrest! Perhaps people who are ALLLLL the way over on the S side of things are better at reveling in the aural experience of the moment. They’re less concerned about the ‘where’ and ‘why’ and fascinated by the ‘what’. While I’m annoyed by not being able to find any structure or meaning in a sustained minor second, the senser is digging the experience of a shifting, gritty dissonance just sitting there.

This may be completely reductive, but it’s all I got right now. I’d need to hear more from folks who really dig the whole noise exploration side of the new music world. I’m all for keeping a large tent, let’s leave room for the extremes, but I think it’s telling that my favorite piece of the weekend, Samuel Carl Adams’s Shade Studies, sat right in the middle of the S-N axis. Relatively conventional harmonies satisfy the intuit-ers desire for structure, while the sustained, shimmering resonances allow the senser to bask in the layers of overtones that the harmonies created. That’s the kind of work that gets me excited, interested, engaged, and, ultimately, makes me want to create work of my own.

Quentin Letts Shows Us What Ugly Is

What Ugly Isn't

What Ugly Isn’t

There’s been an uproar in the opera world after London critics delivered a series of very personal insults regarding Tara Erraught’s weight. “Dumpy of stature”, “unappealing”, and “chubby bundle of puppy fat” gives you a sense of it. Most of the critics have since tried to contextualize their comments as specific to the role at hand, one in which Miss Erraught plays a rakish young man. Indeed, it’s somewhat easier to swallow these comments as captions under an image from the production being reviewed than under Miss Erraught’s publicity still. But in a startlingly tone deaf retort, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail actually doubles down, amazingly hurling a new round of insults towards the singer while defending the critic’s responsibility to speak their truth.

Here’s the thing Quentin, your truth ain’t shit. Your narrow definition of beauty has been polluting our collective brains for too long. If you were really searching for a truth, your criticism would read more like “Miss Erraught, who is more attractive than ninety nine percent of the people I encounter in the real world, and quite a bit more attractive than anyone I have ever shared any sort of intimacy with, doesn’t match the standard of beauty that I have been conditioned to expect when watching television or movies. By choosing to use my reviews to point out this difference in a particularly hateful way, I not only perpetuate these ridiculous, deceitful, and disgusting expectations, but I show that people who don’t conform to these standards shouldn’t be treated with respect or consideration. In short, I am a total asshat.”

Now that’s a truth worth publishing.

We’ve learned a lot about these critics in the past few weeks, enough for me to completely discount their thoughts and opinions regarding just about anything. We’re not censoring your thoughts, Quentin, we’ve just realized that they’re worthless.


May 2014

When Bad Music Happens To Good Critics

In an article entitled “The Composer As Critic” composer Andrew Ford conflates two points, first that one should be able to divorce your own taste from one’s criticism of a piece, and second, one should refrain from reviewing bad works in general. In making his case, Ford cites Auden: “Attacking bad books is […] a waste of time [and] bad for the character.”

There are certainly many different metrics by which to judge a piece, but for discussion, let’s explore the following: “Do I like it?” (the subjective metric), “Would anyone like it?” (the collective metric), and “Should anyone like it?” (the objective metric). The first questions is purely subjective, it’s the taste that Ford believes should be removed from one’s criticism. The second question is where the critic imagines a hypothetical audience and, divorced from his or her own taste, looks for what that audience member might enjoy. Then there’s that hairy third question, with that prescriptive “should”. It presumes some universal standard of merit, a yardstick by which all pieces should be measured, and that the critic has the ability to discern where a work belongs on that scale.

It’s rare these days for a critic to claim to speak authoritatively for that third metric. Maybe critical hubris has become an endangered species in a world where everyone can publish their thoughts with the press of a “comment” button. (If opinions are like assholes, the internet is a tapestry of sphincters.) But I rather like the idea of a critic with the conviction that their taste is the RIGHT taste, that what they like is what SHOULD be liked. That there is indeed some universal metric for quality that we all strive for as creators and a critical body that makes that distinction. As a consumer of content, I feel enough strength in my sensibilities and convictions that I won’t be unduly swayed by an assertive critic whose tastes don’t align with my own and as a creator of content, receiving a well considered response to my work is a gift.

When faced with a bad work, what should the critic do? Auden says that it’s impossible to criticize a bad work without showing off, without engaging one’s facilities merely to find new and entertaining ways to savage a piece. (I’m reminded of the invective I hurled at Mark Narins’s opera Theresa Kren). But that seems a cop out. Wouldn’t a better critic engage their facilities to examine and articulate exactly WHY the piece doesn’t work? Wouldn’t such an insight be useful to an artist and audience, regardless of taste? And why would criticizing a good piece be any different? In the absence of such an analysis, without spending time to figure out the “why” of the good, wouldn’t the critic merely be showing off by finding new and entertaining ways to PRAISE a piece?

So go ahead critics, show some taste. Let’s get some flavor in there. Let’s hear about what you like, what you hate, and most importantly, why.  Will we learn more about you than we learn about the piece, as Ford asserts? Maybe, but if done properly, we will learn both about you AND the piece. And that will help orient us as you review future pieces. And we’ll all go on creating and critiquing and failing and succeeding and the remains of our meager attempts to improve on the past will define the standards for the audiences of tomorrow.



May 2014

Four Laughs Per Minute: What Music Can Learn From Comedy

Daniel Koren: Composer, Comedian, and Pretty Good Dancer

In his setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, premiered last week in its entirety by Cantori New York (and again this Saturday, May 10), composer Benjamin C. S. Boyle finishes each verse with a recapitulation of the refrain “Ierusalem, Ierusalem, conertere ad Dominum Deum tuum”. With each return, the treatment of this text becomes increasingly ecstatic, ultimately bursting into a ten part exhalation. After the third statement of the text, I found myself wondering, “How is he going to top the intensity of THAT one”, only to be impressed by the resources brought to bear in the next iteration.

When I mentioned this reaction to Dr. Boyle after the concert, he said that he often challenges his composition students this way. How much further can you go? How can you make this section even more interesting, more intense? This resonated with me. Often I find myself wondering if the music I’m writing is too complacent, too satisfied with what it is. Sure, it can be listenable, recognizable as worthy music, and maybe even enjoyable, but how does it compare with the greatest music ever written? Is it really the best I can do?

I recalled a performance I saw at LaMaMa just the day before, a multimedia concert, theater piece, comedy act from Daniel Koren. One of the things that impressed me with Koren was how densely packed his material was. It seemed like not a minute passed without some reversal or surprise or gag that recontextualized what we had just seen, confounding our expectations with surreal and often hilarious results. Koren’s piece was immediately gratifying and enjoyable in a way that new pieces of concert music rarely are. (You can see his videos on YouTube, but I highly recommend catching the live show if you have an opportunity. Much of the strength of the work is the interaction between the live performance and the videos.)

Koren’s act would feel at home in a comedy club, where success is measured in laughs per minute. Four laughs per minute is considered the minimum for a comedian who expects to get hired again. What if a similar metric existed for music, if there was some way of measuring interest or surprise or resolution of tension? What if you evaluated the music you wrote to make sure that every minute there was something that kept the listener going, that delighted or surprised them. Imagine applying that metric and asking yourself Dr. Boyle’s question… Are you doing enough? Could you do better?

Now composition isn’t comedy. Most of us have far loftier goals than to merely entertain (no offense to the legions of comedians reading my blog). But if we lose track of the listener’s need to be engaged, we’ll never manage to get their attentions long enough to say what we really want to. If we want a listener to listen deeply, we first need to get them to enjoy listening superficially. As we make compositional choices, are we considering the listeners attentions? Are we giving them enough to keep them interested? Are our ideas strong enough? Clear enough? Engaging enough? Can we do better?

Not a practice that Adorno would likely espouse, but then again, that one time he hosted Saturday Night Live was a disaster.


May 2014

Einstein and Moby and LINES, Oh My!

It’s been a big week for massive sweeping ambitious works of art. I read Cloud Atlas in preparation for the release of the movie (book is great, movie less so), saw Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick at the SF Opera, watched Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and capped the week off with four and a half hours of Einstein on the Beach while the San Francisco Giants were winning the world series (I managed to wait until the opera finished before checking the score. Game delayed on account of Glass).

Moby-Dick was a rather satisfying piece of conventional drama. Heggie’s score is appealing and easy to appreciate on a first listening. The use of computer generated imagery projected on the stage created massive sense of scale, although the combined effect of the tuneful score and projections made the opening sequence feel like the opening credits of a movie more than an opera. At the time it was exhilarating, but upon reflection, there’s something a little unsettling about an opera dressed up like movie. It’s like your mom showing up with her midriff exposed, navel freshly pierced, looking to hang out with your friends. The projections were most effective when they were creating the environment that the performers inhabited, particularly the small whaling dinghies.

The libretto streamlines the novel greatly, and the most effective source of drama is the tension between the obsessive Ahab and the more reasonable Starbuck. The secondary arcs involving Queequeg, Greenhorn, and Pip are much less well defined, holding little moral or emotional weight. At times it’s not even clear exactly what happens with those characters (Queequeq’s speedy recovery from his deathbed is unexplained, as is Pip’s somewhat spontaneous insanity). Reading the synopsis helps a bit, but I prefer a piece that can make itself understood without cliff notes. Still, between the visual spectacle and the scenes between Ahab and Starbuck, it’s a fine night at the opera.

Einstein on the Beach is a four and a half hour mega-opera that is anything but conventional, yet, 40 years later, remains deeply affecting. The libretto consists almost entirely of counting (“one two three four”) or solfege (“la si do si la si do si”) with brief, semi-coherent monologues of spoken word layered over the top. The music is monolithic, literally 20-30 minutes is spent oscillating between two or three harmonies with rhythms and accents constantly shifting beneath. In such a context, the introduction of a new harmony is startling. Much of the stage work is structured and formal, clearly delineated, with patterns and gestures that also recur and repeat over 20 or 30 minute chunks. Then there are the “Fields” the astonishing (and crowd pleasing!) ensemble pieces where dancers pirouette in precise patterns, creating arcs and complex geometries across the stage, yet never touching or directly interacting.

It is not a piece to decode or follow or explain. It is a piece to observe, to allow to seep in. Certainly there are recurrences and connections and things to notice. Being familiar with some of the specifics of Einstein’s work, I recognized the train and the space ship from his thought experiments, as well as the more abstract mathematic and geometric ideas that permeated the sets. Amongst the artifice and formality on stage, there were recurring references to the more banal aspects of human existence: the ensemble brushes their teeth, engages in a collective brown bag lunch break, files their nails. How amazing that a human, who eats bagged lunches, who brushes their teeth, who sticks out their tongue, also has the ability to combine the raw stuffs of mathematics into a model of the physical universe that human inhabits. Perhaps Einstein on the Beach is not so much about Einstein as it is an invitation to inhabit the mind of Einstein, to see the world as he might see it, to come to a unique understanding about the complex world emerging from the interactions of many seemingly simple events, meaningless in isolation, but luminous in concert.


Oct 2012

Why bother composing?

Jeffrey Parola sounds kinda bummed in his latest blog post. He outlines the all too familiar plight of the contemporary concert music composer (no appreciation, money, and little hope of either). He then earnestly asks: Why do we bother?

In my mind the answer is simple. Creation of music that didn’t exist before HAS to be its own reward, devoid of compensation, recognition, or praise. If that drive for creation for its own sake doesn’t exist, I might humbly suggest that a composer should just stop.

Praise is nice, and earning a living doing something that you love is great, but just because you love something doesn’t mean you can make a living at it. And just because you wrote something doesn’t mean anyone should care. Money and acknowledgement have to be secondary concerns for a composer.

Of course we should try to capitalize on our work. Self-promote, market, try to get people to listen, care, and support . But that’s not WHY you should write. You write because no one else will create the things that you will create. And ideally you will love what you’ve written so much that promotion will be easy and enthusiasm will be contagious. But even if it’s not, you should like what you’ve created so much that even if no one else seems to care, it was worth the effort.

Perhaps that sounds kinda glib and self evident. But there’s a real nugget in there. A composer should think about the music they love and why they love it. They should think about how they feel when they listen to it. Then they should listen to their own music, and if they don’t feel similarly, maybe they’re doing something wrong. After all, if you don’t love listening to your own work passionately, why should anyone else?

And if you DO love listening to your own work, what else do you really need? Perhaps money and adulation will follow, perhaps it won’t. But you’ve made music that you love and that you love to hear. Strive for those things that we associate with success, but don’t let those goals ever be mistaken for the real reason you write music.

(By the way, you should listen Jeffrey’s work. It’s some really lovely stuff. All of it. And then maybe go write some of your own.)


Aug 2012

The worst music ever written

A couple of weeks ago I recorded an episode of VoiceBox with Chloe Veltman about the worst vocal music ever written. While preparing for the show I did my best to try to analyze the nature of “badness”, perhaps even creating a taxonomy of characteristics that contribute to bad music. The goal was to not simply list bad songs, but to try to get a better understanding of what makes bad bad.

One thing that we found was that it was much easier to judge the merits of popular music. As Chloe pointed out in her blog entry about the show, people are much less comfortable imposing such value judgments on classical music. I think this is for a few reasons. For one thing, aficionados of classical music often harbor notions that their music has more merit than mere “popular” music. At the same time, they feel that their music is rarified and, therefore, under constant threat of marginalization (witness the death of classical music that’s been a constant source of print articles over the past several decades). From this perspective saying that a particular piece of classical music is “bad” exposes you attacks of “you’re just not smart enough to get it” from one end and provides ammunition to those folks who don’t like classical music on the other.

For that reason, most of the show focuses on popular music, which, fortunately, has many examples of bad music. I’ll probably make some enemies with this show. My own subjective tastes leak through. Fans of Bare Naked Ladies and Celine Dion might end up boycotting my site, but I think most of my other examples of bad music will be generally agreed upon.

I’m particularly fond of the last portion of the show where I launch into a spirited case for The Shaggs aptly named “Philosophy of the World” as being a truly amazing album. I will stand by that argument until I die. There is no other album like it. It exists outside of judgment, convention, or taste. It exists outside of reason. It out-Duchamps Duchamp, out-Cages Cage. It is the voice of the very artistic soul of mankind channeled through three adolescent girls by means of sixties guitar rock. I am so glad it exists.

If you don’t like it, you’re just not smart enough to get it.

To hear the entire broadcast until the end of the week (Jan 20, 2012), visit this link to get the KALW local music player, then scroll to the bottom and click on “VoiceBox with Chloe Veltman”



Jan 2012

Is Sondheim Classical?

The Australian Broadcasting Company recently released a list of the “Top 100 Classical Pieces of the 20th Century.”  As with any list, there is much fodder for discussion, debate and derision (judging from this list, Stravinsky apparently stopped composing after 1913). Blogger, pianist, and educator Elissa Milne was particularly disturbed by the complete omission of Sondheim’s work, particularly considering the inclusion of Bernstein’s West Side Story in the top 20.

Now I love Sondheim’s work with a fiery passion. My first exposure to Sweeney Todd in middle school forever altered my understanding of musical theater and its possibilities. The most viewed posts on this blog are in depth analysis of his works. Stephen Sondheim is no slouch. However, I find that his exclusion from this list of classical works, even in light of West Side Story‘s inclusion, makes perfect sense. There is something inherently more classical about West Side Story than any of Sondheim’s work.

In my admittedly unconvincing responses to Elissa’s tweets, character challenged as they were, I pointed out that West Side Story is more suited for the concert hall with symphonic suites and adaptations, and that there are nothing like the ballets of West Side Story in Sondheim’s work (with the exception of the “Cookie Chase” in Anyone Can Whistle, which seems, like of much that piece, rather self conscious). But these are more symptoms than causes. The real reasons that Sondheim’s works are inherently unclassical is also their primary strengths. I would characterize these strengths as a combination of specificity and inviolability.

The beauty of Sondheim’s music and lyrics are that they are Read the rest of this entry →


Dec 2011