b Riding East

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chopin Preludes Opus 28

I sat down this morning on my Steinway B and recorded a few of the Chopin Preludes I've been practicing.   They're not quite ready but getting closer.  I'm hoping to put together a recital, perhaps commemorating many different recent life events, both personal and academic.

I was inspired by Kenneth Hamilton's lecture at Stanford a month ago in the Reactions to the Record IV Symposium.  Kenneth's lecture walked through the recent history of piano performance, focusing on the changes of the past century, perhaps relating to the era of the recording.  He spent considerable time exploring the notion of the unpolished, authentic, improvisatory elements of performances in the previous century, including the practice of 'preluding' between pieces in a performance.  Most of this preluding represented somewhat spontaneous musical musings of a pianist in transitioning between pieces, although in many cases I'm sure those transitions may have been planned, composed, or perhaps drawn from a collection of tools.  Beyond such musings, we have several collections of preludes in the canon of western music, notably Bach's WTC I and II, but also Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin to name a few.

I contemplate a recital where every piece is connected to another piece through preludes, mostly those chosen from Bach, Chopin, and Debussy (and perhaps one or two of my own), but also sometimes more improvisatory in nature.  My hope would be to create a somewhat continuous ribbon of music from start to end with no breaks, where different movements of disjunct works might be integrated with one another in novel ways.  Ideally the listener in the end perceives the works but also the connections between them (that is to say the preludes), and in some cases might have their lasting attention drawn to the preludes themselves.

Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 1 in C Major
Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 10 in C-sharp Minor
Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 14 in E-flat Minor

Friday, February 21, 2014

Old Castle, Bruyères, and Lander Pass

I sat down this morning before work and recorded a couple more pieces.  I'm posting them alongside one of my own works that I recorded years ago.

Most know the story of Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian composer of the 19th century, his music, the struggles with alcoholism.  His opera, Boris Godunov, to me proudly stands beside Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Don Giovanni.  Pictures at an Exhibition, a piano composition, is mostly know through orchestral or even marching band arrangements.  I learned the first few movements of Pictures a year ago or so.  My brother Greg played it (and played it well) 30 years earlier at Stanford while studying with Mr. Baller.

Debussy's second book of Preludes includes some of my all time favorite pieces.  I performed Brouillards (Fog), Bruyères (Heather), Canope (Canopic jar?), and Les tierces alternées (alternating thirds -- really an etude as much as a prelude) years ago at Stanford.  I relearned Bruyères yesterday.

I wrote Lander Pass in October of 2007.  I performed it at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Concert at Stanford in 2008.    

Old Castle from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

Bruyères from Debussy's Preludes Book II

Lander Pass by me

Sunday, January 26, 2014

O mio babbini caro

In the context of Smule, I was meeting with the director of digital media for the San Francisco Opera a week ago. We were talking about potentially collaborating with the SF Opera and Smule's Sing! Karaoke product. Wouldn't it be amazing if you could sing with the acoustics of the SF Opera hall, with the SF Opera orchestra? And wouldn't it be more amazing if you could actually sing with some of the top artists in the world? We shall see.

It was funny, though, because we were talking about what songs might make the most sense for the Sing! community, and I naturally thought of Mozart and Puccini. My colleague at the opera mentioned, "yeah, I suppose we should include some pop music". As opposed to the ring cycle?...

Anyway, I was reminded of how much I adore Puccini arias (guilty as charged), and so sat down and recorded O mio babbino caro this morning. I performed this alongside selections from Strauss and Schubert with a friend over the past couple years.

O mio babbino caro

O mio babbino caro,
mi piace, è bello, bello.
Vo'andare in Porta Rossa (it)
a comperar l'anello!

Sì, sì, ci voglio andare!
e se l'amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio,
ma per buttarmi in Arno!

Mi struggo e mi tormento!
O Dio, vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Oh my dear papa,
I love him, he is handsome, handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
To buy the ring!

Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio
And throw myself in the Arno!

I am anguished and tormented!
Oh God, I'd like to die!
Papa, have pity, have pity!
Papa, have pity, have pity!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Brahms Op 116 No 4

My Schumann episode continues, this time with Brahms Opus 116 No. 4.  Such a sweet piece.

One analysis of the piece (that I freely borrow from Professor Barth at Stanford) proposes a dialog between tenor and soprano.  We see the clues in the opening of the piece.  The tenor has a piano dynamic and wedge on the ascending chromatic motion through B-sharp to C-sharp, whereas the dolce response of the soprano has descending fifths and sixths, eventually with descending motion to G-sharp.  Of course C-sharp is a third below the home key of E, while G-sharp is a third above.

We see the recurring passage built on this opening tenor gesture at mm 32-36 where we arrive at G-sharp, and then again at mm 49-52 where this second time we arrive at C-sharp.  

I won't elaborate on the arpeggiated una corda section starting at m 36 with the melody in octaves plus a sixth, including the pronounced ben legato, but leave that to the imagination of the reader.  Eventually, and once again through with ben legato gestures, the two separate voices finally converge (merge?) on E, coinciding with the arrival of E as the harmony at m 67.

Brahms Opus 116 No. 4

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kind in Einschlummern

I appear to be going through another Schumann period (episode?).

I went back and started reading some of his KinderSzenen a day ago. I decided to record the Kind in Einschlummern this afternoon. I first did a recording via iPhone in the Smule Sing! Karaoke App. I then used a better recording device for this second recording, link below.

Kind im Einschlummern from Schumann's KinderSzenen Op. 15

The scenes from childhood are easier pieces but, not to be confused with his Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young), were not written for children per se. The titles to each song, like much of Schumann's work, apparently came late. I suppose you shouldn't read too much into any of the titles other than to explore more ideas of how to interpret each piece. Yet this song, and taken in from the whole cycle, certainly seems to suggest that the days of innocent youth are nothing more than reminiscences now.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Schumann Arabeske

Jaehyun Park recorded the video of my performance of Schumann's Arabeske in C Major Opus 18 at our final studio concert at Stanford. I've posted the video here.


It was a fairly insane quarter given I was defending and submitting my dissertation for my Ph.D. Between the Ph.D. and Smule, I didn't have time to finish the late Schubert Sonata, D958 in C minor, that I had started. Yet I couldn't help but learn the Scherzo and Largo movements from Chopin's 3rd Sonata while finishing my dissertation (I don't know why -- something about confronting my demons when completing the Ph.D.), but it wasn't ready either. So I played the Schumann Arabeske at the concert. Unfortunately there were a few memory slips. Oh well. I hope I have more time for piano now that I'm finished with my Ph.D.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I defended my Ph.D. yesterday

I started auditing classes in the music department at Stanford in the fall of 2005.  I was admitted to the Phd program at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) two years later, entering in the fall of 2007.  I passed my qualifying exams in the fall of 2008, the same quarter we launched Smule.  I completed my special area exams on June 3rd of this year (2013).  I defended my dissertation yesterday (11/12/13).  And I passed.

Here is the abstract of my dissertation.

Correlation analyses of encoded music performance by a large and diverse international community of amateur performers reveal insights into fundamental questions of musical behavior.  Specifically, by observing demographic data encapsulated in a corpus of performance recordings, we can conjecture about cultural, geographical, topographical, socio-political, economic and other potential influences, as well as explore possible 'universals' in musical thought and practice.

A century ago, Bela Bartók visited what were then remote regions to identify and characterize folk music at its source.  Subsequent investigators and collectors, particularly in the context of colonialism and with a variety of objectives [Agawu] sought to clarify and categorize music from a broad spectrum of cultures and regions.  In some cases western music was introduced to an indigenous populace specifically in order to observe and record listener reaction [Sachs].

Bartók recording folk songs from Slovak peasants in 1907.

Although fraught with issues, there is a great deal to gain by examining how a particular populace interprets a foreign object. In terms of cultural objects such as a work of music, inferences can be drawn as to what (if anything) is 'universal', as well as how to characterize cultural differences.

As music delivery, through increasingly pervasive mobile devices, becomes more available as well as more interactive, new opportunities arise to study musical practices.  Interactive applications merge audio playback with recorded performance, effectively providing users novel musical instrument interfaces that are amenable to mastery by amateurs. These software instruments are limited in their acoustic richness and expressive control. They also are largely biased in their available sounds and tunings toward mainstream western musical practice. On the other hand, within a relatively short time and with minimal frustration, users both young and old can learn to perform and record music including a wide range of pre-composed works in diverse styles and genres and from numerous origins. More importantly, despite (perhaps, because of) these instruments' limitations, particular aspects of performance -- specifically rhythmic agogics -- are recorded with accuracy and stored efficiently.

The underlying premise of this thesis is that, embedded in the encoded music performances by this diverse community of amateur performers is a wealth of information about musical performance practices. Statistical analysis of these performances can provide insight into musical behaviors as a whole, as well as comparative observations on the cultural, social, economic and geopolitical influences on music performance.

This study attempts to address questions of musical practices from an entirely novel perspective, specifically taking advantage of massively popular game-oriented music performance programs on mobile devices.

A photo my brother Curtis took of my oral defense at Stanford.

Thanks to Jonathan Berger, Chris Chafe, Giancarlo Aquilanti, George Barth, and Bryan Wolf for your insight and support. Special thanks to Craig Sapp, Ge Wang, and Nick Rudolfsky (among others).