Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How Times Have Changed

In the world of retail classical recordings, evolving technologies have spawned a rapidly changing business climate whose trends have been hard to predict. The onslaught of live streaming and online sources like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon have rendered brick-and-mortar stores rarities, because the actual thing you hold in your hand that has the music on it is no longer necessary for 90% of listenable music. One change for the worse is about to take place on October 1st when the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway closes its doors. Since 1991, lovers of music from all genres have been descending on the Exchange to feed their hungry ears. A West Knoxville location was also open from 1993-2008. The current issue of the KnoxvilleMercury has a lovely article about the Disc Exchange, with reminiscences by former and current employees.

Time was, buying NEW records (lps) of any kind was a pilgrimage. You could buy them at drug stores, at Sears, Target, or at a “record store,” but you had to GO AND GET IT. It was no mere keystroke and mouse-click. Once in possession, it was then up to you to make sure that it didn't warp or melt in your car. Growing up in Hartford, as in any medium to large city, there were a couple stores (long gone now) that had complete classical catalogs of all of the major and many of the minor labels on their shelves, arranged by catalog number. If they didn't have it, then those four dreaded words would be uttered by the salesman; “We can order it." At that point, it was customary for me to curse my procrastination, since I doubtless needed a title in just a day or two-- in time for someone's birthday or soon enough to learn something really quick.

And then there were the mail order “clubs,” like Columbia House, where you could get 13 albums for $1! (provided you bought a large number of records for a large sum of money per record over the next three years-- many consumers' first brush with debt entrapment). Their classical selection was limited to the most popular titles; you weren't going to find any Ysaye or Crumb. C House's recorded music branch went under in 2009, but there are rumblings that suggest they are going to try a comeback selling resurgent vinyl.

By 1990. the compact disc had totally supplanted the lp as the dominant recording media, with cassettes bringing up the rear but fading fast. On Knoxville's classical front, Disc Exchange had a classical listening room wherein you could try out recordings. They followed the example of Lynn's Disc and Dat, another record outlet in town which fell to the online axe in the 90s. Former KSO clarinetist Heidi Madson was an employee at Lynn's back then, and way before my time, a horn player with the KSO and "veritable vinyl junkie" named Charlie Morris worked there. Whether the store was named after the emerging, short-lived Digital Audio Tape (DAT) technology, or it was just trying to sound like Popeye and then that technology just happened to emerge, is up for discussion. The big record store chains, like Cats, Strawberries, and those places in the mall like f.y.e. had just a token representation of the classical realm.

The Disc Exchange's Rock and Pop selection is by now depleted to the point where I don't recognize ANY of the artists, and that classical-only listening room is now given over to new Pop and Indie vinyl issues. Their classical selection is still fairly strong, though, and I saw some of the 2016 Big Ears repertoire for sale there today. They have a wealth of used lps, the better to compete with McKay's Bookstore and Raven Records-- as well as most Goodwill stores-- in that niche.

So take a trip back through time and pay them a visit! Dig through some crates!  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Chamber Secrets Revealed

Well, they weren't really secrets, but let us ponder another branch of the KSO's musical tree, the Chamber Classics series. It will continue some old traditions and initiate a new one for 2016-17, with four concerts at the Bijou Theatre, and one at UT's Powell Recital Hall (January's Principal Quartet concert). All concerts will start at 2:30 pm.

On September 25, the 18th century will come to life with music of Mozart and Haydn. The impish Overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart will open the afternoon, and Haydn's final symphony, the London, will finish it. In between will fit Mozart's timeless Piano Concerto No. 21 in C with our buddy Kevin Class soloing. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will be on the podium, as will he be for the October and April CC concerts while our new Maestro Aram Demirjian fulfills previous contracted engagements.

Since things Latin are on our minds during the Rio Olympics, it seems appropriate to bring music from other Americas to the Bijou stage. We shall do just that on October 30, performing music of Mexico (Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 4), Venezuela (Aldemaro Romero's Fuga con Pajarillo), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla's “The Four Seasons of Argentina”) and Cuba, via the USA (Copland's Three Latin American Sketches).

A tradition that started last season and continues this year is a holiday concert with our new Music Director, Aram Demirjian making his Bijou debut! We'll be joined by Pellissippi State's Variations Choir on November 27 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) for a holiday concert that will start your season off right. A tradition that is starting THIS season is the Principal Quartet's appearance at the lush, newrecital hall on the UT campus; an appropriately intimate setting for such intimate music. Two superb works will make up this program, Tchaikovsky's Quartet No. 1 in D Major, and a gem from Beethoven's middle period, the Op. 59 No. 3 Quartet in C Major. The series will conclude on April 2, returning to the Bijou with Respighi's neo-renaissance Ancient Airs and Dances, Mozart's Oboe Concerto featuring principal oboist Claire Chenette, and Tchaikovsky's delicious Serenade for Strings.


Tickets for all of these shows have JUST gone on sale, so hurry on down to your phone or computer! View the KSO concert calendar here.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Glossary of Terms

Any non-musician who has hung out with a group of musicians talking has probably experienced a crisis of cognition when confronted with musical parlance. They will be dumbfounded to learn that (for example) “oh, that hairpin before the railroad tracks takes me by surprise every time!” is NOT referring to that musician's commute to work. I've selected a few words to define which have been repurposed for musical use without, apparently, the permission of the general population.

1) recap

This word has many good uses in the English language, from describing a summary of a story to describing auto tires that have been rejuvenated. In music, it is an abbreviation of the word “recapitulation,” an unwieldy word which denotes the return of the original theme of a piece after that theme's development. Most musical movements composed between 1650 and say, 1910 are formatted on an “ABA” form, e.g., A =exposition, B=development, and A=recapitulation. The recap will usually only have the same material as the exposition for a short while before more development takes place, which leads to the next word-

2) coda

The coda is literally, from the translation of the Latin “cauda,” the tail-end of a piece of music. It is the point where the music begins to either intensify to an ecstatic conclusion, often speeding up, or wind down to a peaceful settlement in anticipation of following movements. A musician who “had trouble in the coda” therefore has not been involved in an accident in Bismarck, they have merely discovered that there were more notes than they were aware of in a piece that was longer than they thought. If you are still confused, just remember that the final studio album by Led Zeppelin is entitled Coda.

3) hairpin

Leave it to those clever musicians to come up with a word from the Walgreen's Hair Care aisle to describe the shape of a musical direction. A volume swell in the music can be indicated by the words “crescendo” and “diminuendo,” (or “decrescendo”), but inasmuch as a picture speaks a thousand words, the use of sideways “vees” to indicate this swell is much more obvious when reading the music. The widest part of the hairpin is the loudest. Note the similarity...

hairpins, in red
a red hairpin

Obviously, for a very lengthy increase or decrease lasting for multiple lines of print, these “wedge” notations are not practical, and the actual words “crescendo” and “diminuendo” are used with a series of hyphens to indicate their duration. While we're on the subject of crescendos….

4) crescendo

A crescendo (pronounced “creche-endo”) is the PROCESS by which the music gets louder. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've seen in print something like the following:

                                               The crowd noise had reached a crescendo.

I could buy that phrase's author a new dictionary. Arrggh. Friends, a crescendo is not something you reach. It is a way of reaching something. Not an end, but a means to an end. The crowd noise may be increasing, but when it gets to its loudest point, please call it a fortissimo, or a cacophony, but not a crescendo!

5) railroad tracks

Again, musicians are very good at “calling 'em the way they see 'em.” When a composer wants an unexpected pause in the music, they write two short, vertical parallel lines at the top of the staff to indicate it. The technical name is caesura, or if you're a classicist, cǽsura. In any case, the directions are to stop at the railroad tracks, like any normal human being would. This is not a long pause, roughly just one or two seconds, so there's not time to rosin your bow or fix your crooked tie. It's a way that composers stop the flow of the music to fool the audience-- and sometimes the performers!-- for dramatic effect. Often overlooked due to its small size, an oft-used piece of sheet music will have many additional, thickly-penciled markings to warn players of oncoming silence, and a crisp, new part soon will.

caesura after the first note

6) sitz

This is a many-splendored word. The most splendid meaning denotes the tub you sit in at the Y after a workout. It is pronounced “zits,” like the comic strip, or the bane of an adolescent's existence. In music, however, the word is an abbreviation of the German word sitzprobe, a word which at first glance evokes any number of scary thoughts. It is used to define the first rehearsal of an opera or musical where the cast and the orchestra are brought together for the first time. It is usually no soak in a warm tub, as the musical flow is still unfamiliar to many. The cast of such a production are, as a rule, seated in chairs, hence the term “sitz.”

7) staccato

Okay, one more pet peeve. "Staccato clapping" is a term that many sports writers and broadcasters use to describe the rhythmic clapping that fans do when they "want some action" in a game. Musically speaking, staccato describes notes that are detached from one another- short notes that aren't connected to other notes. The opposite of staccato is legato, notes that are smoothly slurred, or at least having uninterrupted sound. Clapping is by nature something that can only be done in a staccato manner- have you ever succeeded in clapping smoothly? I didn't think so. I hereby deem "staccato clapping" to be redundant.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sure-Fire Pops Series

The News Sentinel Pops series for the 2016-17 KSO season offers a range of attractions that appeal to Baby Boomers, Celtic music fans, and kids at heart. Two of our guest acts have been with us before, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Natalie MacMaster. The other four acts are Pet Sounds (a tribute to the Beach Boys), Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Windborne Music's tribute to Journey, and a showing of The Wizard of Oz with orchestral soundtrack accompaniment.

First off, on FRIDAY, October 7 at the Tennessee Theatre, 8:00, the Beach Boys trendsetting album Pet Sounds will be reproduced in its entirety, with giant hits Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, and God Only Knows topping the bill. On the second half will be a collection of the Boys' earlier hits, which scarcely need an introduction. Then on January 7, we're off to see- and play- the Wizard, which is just as good the 15th time you saw it as the first. I have a recent fond memory from this past March of watching this with my mother, who saw it first-run when she was 12. I sure hope the charts for it are available way early, because (typical of films of the Technicolor Age) the score is chock full of notes and details. (This show and all that follow will be on Saturday nights at the Civic Auditorium at 8. I have learned my lesson from two years in a row of misstating both the night and venue of the season's first Pops production, which will be on a Friday at the Tennessee Theatre).

Mary Wilson is a 60's survivor with a long list of humanitarian cred, and she will be bringing the Supremes catalog to the Civic on February 4. If this is going to be anything like last season's Fifth Dimension concert, you can expect to get up and dance. The question remains whether Ms Wilson will summon me to dance the way Florence LaRue did during the Fifth Dimension's show. Just in case, I had better get to work on some of those dance moves.

Next up on our Pops journey will be... Journey! Windborne Music has done it again, this time with Steve Perry and the gang's monster hits like Wheel in the Sky, Any Way You Want It, Lights, and two perennial wedding and karaoke favorites, Open Arms and Don't Stop Believin'. I personally hope they delve into Steve Perry's solo catalog, with songs like Oh, Sherrie and Foolish Heart. This will happen on March 11.

Natalie MacMaster will bring back her rollicking, dancing, fiddling extravaganza to us on April 8. (It isn't Saint Patrick's Day, but it IS National Zoo Lovers' Day)! Her stage persona is high-energy and her technique is jaw-dropping. Our Pops finale will be an encore appearance by Blood Sweat and Tears on May 6. While David Clayton Thomas is no longer with the group, the band has, over the decades, continued the tradition of tight coalition that made their eponymous 2nd album one of the most beloved discs ever. With songs like Spinning Wheel and You Made Me So Very Happy, it is one of my go-to albums when I need to hear something tight and tasty.


Tickets go on sale in August! Make plans now! http://www.knoxvillesymphony.com/events/pops/


Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Faces and Old Traditions on the Fourth

World's Fair Park, South Lawn! Tomorrow! The weather-guessers are in agreement that the likelihood of rain will be very low, and all Americans are agreement that this will be the most well-deserved Independence Day celebration ever. Our new Maestro Aram Demirjian will be at the helm, leading the KSO through heroic and traditional patriotic fare in his premiere as Music Director on the FREE 32nd annual Pilot/Flying J Independence Day concert.

The position of Music Director comes with a variety of opportunities to provide emotional leadership to a community through music, and just such an opportunity has arisen with the recent passing of Pat Summitt. One of his first duties will be honoring the legendary UT women's basketball coach with a moment of silence and a visual tribute (in conjunction with WBIR-TV Channel 10) that will play while the orchestra performs Rocky Top. There is no better venue than this great stage for Aram to get his baptism into Big Orange Country.

The larger civic celebration known as Festival on the Fourth will be a bigger-than-ever party, with special touches (such as the base of the Sunsphere being illuminated with red, white and blue lights in honor of Knoxville's 225th anniversary) and a variety of entertainment options throughout the day. Earlier in the day on the South Lawn, Americana band Kelsey's Woods will be performing at 4:15, and pop/rock cover band Fourkast will perform at 6:15. The KSO's performance,will start at 8, while the fuse of the fireworks display will be lit at 9:35.


Come out and see us! And fly that flag high!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Passing of a True Leader

The world has lost a true leader with the death of Pat Summitt, former Lady Vols basketball coach and the winningest coach in any college sport, period. She was the face of collegiate women's basketball for more than 40 years as a player, Olympian, and coach. Her accomplishments earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and status as one of the most beloved public figures in Tennessee history. There is some common ground between the UT Women's basketball program and the Knoxville Symphony.

As part of a strong tradition of hosting celebrity guest conductors at the annual Ijams Nature Center concerts, Ms. Summitt led the KSO in an unforgettable rendition of The Tennessee Waltz in Sept. of ‘97. Before she gave the downbeat, however, she made an amusing “substitution.” She called out then-principal flutist Rob Cronin and instructed second flutist Jennifer Regan to take over first flute, claiming that Rob was suffering from a condition she called “loser’s limp.” During the ensuing performance, Pat looked at Larisa Bairomova and I on the front stand of cellos, and with arms waving, asked “How am I doing?” but the look on her face clearly indicated “WHAT am I doing?” I thank the day that I decided to become a musician, for it led me to that point where I would be sharing the stage with such a strong leader.

My wife and I would later be in contact with Ms. Summitt at AYSO soccer and Knox Youth Sports basketball games, where she graciously shared her knowledge of athletics and competition. She was the most amazing “soccer mom” you could ever wish to meet. Our son Thomas played with (and alas, against) her son Tyler in various venues across the county. I was just tickled pink one day when she approached me postgame with a box of Krispy Kremes. The smile on her face was just as radiant and real as her infamous “game face” stare was menacing. It was fulfilling to be acquainted with that side of her.


Memorial gifts may be made to The Pat Summitt Foundation by visiting www.patsummitt.org/donate .


The stare...


...and the smile of success


Thursday, June 23, 2016

String Camp Gets In Gear

It's not spring any more, but it is string season with the KSO Youth Orchestras' String Camp! More than 200 violinists, violists, cellists and bassists are descending upon Hardin Valley Academy's Music Department to build toward a final concert Friday, June 24 at 2:30. I am privileged to be a part of it this year, and my work with the kids in the cello sections has been sheer joy. They are not merely a talented bunch, (and it's a big bunch!) but inquisitive and courteous as well.

Four ensembles are derived from the total student body: the Prelude, Overture, Intermezzo and Finale. Conductors of these groups and combinations thereof are Erin Archer, Kathy Hart, Wesley Baldwin, Nina Missildine Mikos and James Fellenbaum. An overriding theme of the camp's repertoire is music of the movies, with selections from Starwars, The Avengers, The Sound of Music, and others being offered.

I have included some fine photographs of the proceedings at camp by Faithful Photography. Enjoy! Better yet, come on out tomorrow to see our talented musicians make sweet summer music.




Dan Thompson leads a contingent of bassists


Sarah Ringer with a passel of violinists


Yours truly demonstrating a pizzicato moment


Erin Archer leading the Prelude Orchestra


What it's all about.