Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dancing with the Penguin

Picardy Penguin is back! Look fast, because he’ll only be here this morning at the Tennessee Theatre at 9:30 a.m., and at the Clayton Center in Maryville Wednesday at 9:30, then he’s off for more cyber-journeys. He’ll be accompanied by the Go! Contemporary Dance Works and singer Katy Wolfe Zahn in a program that will explore dance traditions from across the globe. We’ll be playing a Dvorak Slavonic Dance, the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet, Shall We Dance? from The King and I, a Piazzola fugue- tango, and maestro Richman’s Tango á la Picardy among others. For  a few minutes, The Hokey Pokey will be what it's all about for Picardy.

It’s interesting that the piece Picardy is dancing has a French title, for France is from whence the name “Picardy” comes. This isn’t to say that Picardy Penguin is French, just his name. I don’t think the Normandy has quite the right climate for penguins. Musically speaking, the name Picardy refers to a compositional technique called “Picardy thirds.”  That’s what happens a when a song, or “piece,” or whatever, which has been in a minor key all along ends in that key’s major mode. Something that immediately comes to mind is Coventry Carol which, in spite of its English origin, is a definitive example. In volume 1 of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, only one of the 24 minor-key movements does NOT end with a Picardy third.

The origin of the term seems to be somewhat vague, perhaps due to the fact that performers would add the Picardy third ad libitum, but the manuscript would end in the minor mode just to be compositionally consistent. It was probably just these two or three guys back in the 16th century, Jean-Pierre Smith and Guillaume Jones, who would just get tired of playing in the minor mode and end a section of music with a MAJOR third above the tonic instead of a MINOR third. Eventually composers took to finishing multi-movement works with an entire movement in major. Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto are good examples of this. Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, which starts in A Major but whose last movement is in A minor, is an example of a “backwards Picardy third.”

The Picardy third has been described as “turning a frown into a smile” musically, and that is just what the KSO’s “cyber-penguin” will do. See you there!

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