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Off Topic: Random Acts of Culture — Handel’s Messiah in a Mall

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As many UD readers know, I am a classical pianist by training since the age of seven. The piano and classical music have been a tremendous inspiration all my life, and this was my refuge during four decades in the hideous darkness of atheism.

After 2.5 centuries, great, uplifting works of musical art such as Handel’s Messiah endure.

But fear not, we have in the 20th century such great classics as those by the Rolling Stones with these inspirational lyrics:

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no girly action.

How far we have come since Handel’s masterwork!

HT: Jonathan Wells

OT: Great news, they have uploaded the English version of the Richard Dawkins/ Michael Shermer vs. William Lane Craig/ Doug Geivett Debate (English Version) - Does the Universe have a purpose? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6tIee8FwX8 bornagain77
What has been lost in the latter half of the 20th century is a sense of rigor and discipline in the arts, and this is reflected as well in certain "scientific" disciplines such as origins "research." Throw paint on a canvas and call it art. Play a few simple chords over and over and call it "minimalist" music. Make up stories about how the bacterial flagellum evolved through chance co-option and call it science. I love jazz (I devoted an entire record album to the works of Gershwin). There is much popular music I enjoy (especially the works of the great songwriters of the 20th century). I play piano and digital keyboards in a praise band at our church, and am inspired by much contemporary Christian worship music. But trash is still trash. And you know it when you encounter it. GilDodgen
Gil, Actually, my secondary school arts teacher, the person with the widest general knowledge I know, had a very similar opinion about arts. I.e. that the whole thing took a nosedive in the 20th century and did not recover. Quite a lot people call today art, he though of as joke. I can fully agree with him. People with common sense often ask why something trivial, like a few rectangles on a canvas is considered to be art at all. We do not have paintings like the Sistine Chapel any more. Having said that, there are of course a lot of decorative things around, just like we have quite a few catchy tunes. But we have lost the soul to create another St. Matthew Passion. Alex73
Clive, Please tell me how Gil's statement "Now that I think about it, my post is not off topic. The ability of many in the academic community to accept the transparently absurd concerning great musical composition is mirrored by their ability to accept the transparently absurd concerning origins." has something to do with "taste?" riddick
Hugh Masekela Upright BiPed
Gil, I hear ya… but, you are wrong. I won’t even put myself in the position of arguing over the merits of the music you love, And, I certainly won’t argue over the men who created that music for all to hear. We can agree up front that there are no Chopins on the pop charts. You’ve told your story on UD before, so here is just an edge of mine. I grew up with a piano in the ”front room” - a permanently clean room no one was allowed to go in except for having company and on holidays (tee hee). Later my stepfather moved us to a real live small town; the high school had a graduating class of twelve. Since every kid had to do everything in school in order to have enough kids to do anything at all, I stood there in Band Class looking at what I wanted to play. I picked up the trumpet because I knew my (deceased) real father played one, and his beautiful trumpet was to be mine when I grew up. Besides, it only had three valves – how hard could it be? I taught myself how to read music by watching those who knew how. I ended up playing in the first chair, was recorded, and won State Championships in both Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble. Pfffft. Later, another family move placed me in a city with a very singular store just around the corner from my house. The store had the rather unencumbered name of “High Fidelity.” They had built their store in the mold of a sound engineer’s dream and sold things like McIntosh, Arnie Nudell, Ortofon, and the like. All the sudden I picked up the knack for creating great recorded sound (none better than large scale ensembles). Later, I did the math and learned how to tune bandpass boxes before Dr Bose bought his first Cadillac. Later still, I learned how to deposit powdered aluminum on six foot long strips of DuPont Kapton in my garage. I stretched it out as a voice coil between six rows of magnets (like a six foot kazoo) to make full range ribbons. Today, when someone plucks a string on the “stage” in my house, I hear it reverberate off the floor in the room it was originally recorded in. It’s a very good way to become addicted to music you’ll never have a chance to hear live. So although Chopin is not on this week’s charts, I suggest that’s not the place to look for the talent and care that came from the masters of days past. Let me take you on a trip. There is a live recording that many truly thoughtful engineers consider the best sonically-correct live recording ever made. I must admit, it is stupidly stunning for those that have the proper equipment to reproduce it. The artist involved grew up in a segregated South Africa and attended (as many did) a school set up by the church. His schoolmaster, the anti-apartheid Father, came upon the idea one day that he would take up a collection in order to buy a set of instruments for his young students, and start a school band. Our hero picked the trumpet (er, a flugelhorn). So well did he play, that his young face is widely recognized as one of the first black faces to ever appear in the white newspaper. At 17 years old he received a horn in the mail as an inspirational gift from a fan, Louise Armstrong – who was not allowed into his country. He then became an exile for years, and has 35 albums to his credit. He celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year. This recording of his begins with a percussionist beating the hell out of a cowbell in a massive crescendo, joined in by the full remaining allotment of the percussion section. It’s not exactly Stravinsky. He then tells the story of the song. The story of guttural pain and loss; the story of Stimela, the South African coal train:
There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi, there is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe, There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique, from Lesotho, from Botswana, from Zwaziland, from all the hinterlands of Southern and Central Africa. This train carries young and old African men who are conscripted to come and work on contract in the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg and its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day for almost no pay. Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth, when they are digging and drilling for that shiny mighty evasive stone, or when they dish that mish mesh mush food into their iron plates with their iron shovels or when they sit in their stinking, funky, filthy, flea-ridden barracks and hospitals. They think about the loved ones they may never see again because they might have already been forcibly removed from where they last left them or wantonly murdered in the dead of night by roving, marauding gangs of no particular origin. We are told. They think about their lands, their herds that were taken away from them with a gun, and the bomb, and the teargas and the cannon. And when they hear that choo choo train, a-chugging, and a-pumping, and a-smokin, and a-pushing, and a-crying, and a-steaming, and a-cheekin, Whaa Hooo! They always curse, they curse the coal train. The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg.
When the story is over, a lily white saxophonist steps up and leads a short transition to yet another cowbell-laden crescendo. On the other side of that transition is our hero and his trumpet. Triplets (tah-t-tah-t-tah) are a wonderful thing on a horn (or anything else). They are fast and precise; that’s part of their beauty. Experienced players can easily play triplets of a single note, or pairs of notes. Some can even roll notes in triplets - as long as the notes are not too apart far from each other. Our subject, on the other hand, can play up and down the scales (at will) in triplet form - as if the man could actually leave the ground and fly. There is also the effect on a horn of intentionally going “sharp” or “flat” for effect. Then there is also blowing so hard into the horn that you make it over-resonate and (like banging the keys on a piano) grow harsh and beautiful at the same time. When his solo performance is complete, he then finishes the song - Stimela! - in his native tongue, where any sound that the human mouth can make is fair game to be added. Pops, clicks, and whistles are all given a place. Now Gil... I want as much as anyone to think that no form of musical art will be without the next generation waiting in the wings – but that wish does not mean that I find nothing worthy in this time. Ya know, I bet you could play Masekela’s solo on a piano – but no one, not anyone, none of the “Greats” in any age, not now and not then, could sit down and do it easily. - - - - - - - I enjoy your posts here, and always have. I think they are too few. Hugh Masekela - Stimela Upright BiPed
Gil, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Glass is clearly among the greatest of living composers. Your extended bashing of him just displays your ignorance of the history of post-war twentieth-century music. Please leave music criticism to the professionals.
de gustibus non disputandum est But there is arguing manners, have more respect or you will be banned. Clive Hayden
Gil, you don't know what you're talking about. Glass is clearly among the greatest of living composers. Your extended bashing of him just displays your ignorance of the history of post-war twentieth-century music. Please leave music criticism to the professionals. riddick
Philip Glass is a joke. Check out this marvelous piano composition http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imbwn6iVryQ which is less musically interesting than Czerny's piano exercises, which I spent many hours in my youth practicing in order to develop the technique required to play real piano music. Glass's piano "compositions" are simply an embarrassment. They are boring, uninspired, hopelessly repetitive, and lack any sense of harmonic or melodic creativity, or any sense of musical thematic development. It's mindless zombie music, that someone with a decent ear might improvise after two weeks of piano instruction, but with no technique, and no appreciation of the great pianistic works that went before. This stuff is the pianistic musical equivalent of rap music, but that would not be fair to rap music. Now that I think about it, my post is not off topic. The ability of many in the academic community to accept the transparently absurd concerning great musical composition is mirrored by their ability to accept the transparently absurd concerning origins. Those who would like to hear some really great piano works can download them for free here http://www.worldchampionshipcheckers.com/Piano/piano.html with program notes. P.S.: If you want to learn how to play piano like Philip Glass, this video will teach you how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNiOqa1nWgI&NR=1&feature=fvwp It will only take 11 minutes, if you have about two weeks of piano lessons under your belt and can play broken chords. P.P.S.: If you want to hear some really great pianistic artistry check out this link and skip ahead to 26:40 to hear Yundi Li's performance of Chopin's first piano concerto, which Chopin wrote at the age of 19: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo82ipPkTRY GilDodgen
Gershwin died in 1937. Much of 20th-century "classical" music represented experimentation for the sake of being different (12-tone, atonal, minimalist, dissonance for the sake of dissonance...) and won't last, because it is ugly and musically incoherent. These works will only be of interest in the long run to academics. GilDodgen
Henryk Gorecki died last week, and his magnum opus, Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) was written in 1976, becoming the highest selling classical music recording of all time in 1992 (selling over a million copies worldwide in less than a year). Samuel Barber's most famous works (including his Adagio for Strings) were all composed and performed during the mid-20th century, as were Leonard Bernstein's, Aaron Copeland's, and George Gershwin's. John Adams, of course, is still very much alive and his operas and other classical works regularly top the classical music charts. The same is true for Phillip Glass and Gian Carlo Mennoti, whose operas (composed and first performed in the mid-20th century) have been produced worldwide before audiences measured in the tens of thousands (including a sold-out performance at Ithaca's State Theatre - 1,600 seats!). Furthermore, an entire genre of classical music - full-length works for wind ensemble - is an almost purely 20th century phenomenon. I played concert euphonium (1st chair, 1st) in many works by Grainger, Hindemith, and Holst, and believe they are the equal of anything in the symphonic repertoire. IOW, the 20th century has produced at least as many great chamber music, operatic, symphonic and wind ensemble works as any other century. We're just too close to it now to appreciate it. Allen_MacNeill
The 20th-century composers mentioned above were from the first half of the century. (And I've performed and recorded a lot of it, especially works by Gershwin and Rachmaninoff.) The second half of the century didn't produce much at all, except movie and pop music. GilDodgen
OT: If anyone can translate Spanish here is the debate between the Dawkins/ Shermer vs. William Lane Craig/ Doug Geivett . The translator speaks over the debaters and I could not find a English only audio file: Debate - La Ciudad de las Ideas 2010 - Does the Universe have a purpose? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3eQE5q_UP8 hopefully someone can caption it. bornagain77
The 20th century also had Mahler, Shostakovitch, Gorecki, Adams, Barber, Rachmaninov...great music is great music, regardless of period (and pop music is just that, the sound of a bubble that is gone almost instantaneously). As for conductors and great musicians, I think a strong argument could be made that the 20th century had more and better conductors and musicians than any preceding century. Allen_MacNeill
Bruce David you may have a bit of something there, I've heard said that "A Mighty Fortress" was actually adapted from a popular tavern song of Luther's time: A Mighty Fortress - Glad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9AoELpPryk bornagain77
C'mon Gil, I don't think your comparison is quite fair. The twentieth century had Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin, not to mention Prokofiev and Stravinski. And let's not forget Cole Porter, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Sondheim, Richard Rogers, and Jerome Kern. And I'm sure there were people writing pop music comparable to the Stones in Handel's time, too, don't you think. It's just been forgotten. Bruce David
Personally, my favorite selection from the Messiah is "For Unto Us a Child is Given". I first sang it as a soprano in grade school, then later as a baritone with my mother in the Homer Congregational Church Christmas concert in 1968. You must remember to take a BIG breath just before the "For unto us a child is born" or you will definitely run out breath before the end of the phrase... Allen_MacNeill
thank you for posting this! this song, along with amazing grace, are the most inspired music ever written. Handel said: I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself!! and I believe he did. tsmith
From Spain with love: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=NLjuGPBusxs&vq=medium Enezio E. De Almeida Filho
I sang the Halleluia chorus in high school. It was very fun. I sang 2nd tenor, which is as high as 1st tenor in most other songs. Handel liked those high notes. I learned exactly what falsetto means with that song. Collin
Gil, even though that was a 'planned' Random Act Of Culture, it is still inspirationally 'miraculous' to me none-the-less: ,,, I found this gem last night from Alison Krauss,,, Alison Krauss - There Is A Reason http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWXNm9b6pKs bornagain77
Gil, This entry of yours is not off topic at all. First, you may want to read this article, especially the second page: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/science/02angier.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 There it is explained that our muscles and the co-ordination of our movements are perfectly optimized. This optimization actually makes good use some residual noise, making each movement somewhat random as a result. Their example is a flicking light switch, but the best one, of course, could have been playing music. It turns out, that there is very good reason why live music is different from recordings or midi programming. Even today, live music did not lose its appeal and humans outdo any computerized playback algorithm. It looks like that in spite of many broken details we are still examples of perfect craftmanship. Alex73
Loved it. But there are many expressions of humanity that are worthy of being considered stunning. That's the beauty of it. Upright BiPed
Gil, a little background. This didn't occur at a shopping mall but the Macy's in Center City Philadelphia right across the street from City Hall. The building is the former Wanamaker's flagship department store which was once known for its lavish Christmas displays. It houses the world's largest working pipe organ. John Wanamaker, a devout Christian, founded the store in 1876. The family sold the business in 1978 and the name disappeared in 1995 with it eventually ending up as a Macy's. If you ever get to Philly, make it a point to visit it. tribune7

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