Of all my experiences as a musician, the six years I spent as a Gentleman of the Choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral is perhaps the most formative of them all (possibly matched only by my experience as a barbershopper). I sang in hundreds of services, performing music that ranged from ancient chant to contemporary works that were composed by my fellow choristers. Some of the most memorable include Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations, Joseph Clokey’s Treasures in Heaven, and Poulenc’s O magnum mysterium. As Easter was last Sunday, I thought I might share some of the favorites I’ve sung over the years.
Articles that explore the experience of music and the search for what makes music good or bad
Hearing the Music
On the recent Lunar New Year I spent the afternoon catching a classic film for the first time, Dirty Dancing. Many of you are rightly showing disgust with me that I waited 29 years to finally see this movie, but sometimes, for one reason or another, a person just doesn’t see a particular movie or other show or song or whatever. The movie was fun and entertaining, and said many things about how people from the 1980s see the 1960s, and despite the blunt handling of class and gender issues, and Roger Ebert’s one-star review, Dirty Dancing has become an iconic film from the late 1980s.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a concert of choral works by Maurice Duruflé performed by Florilegium Chamber Choir. They sang Duruflé’s Requiem along with his Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégorians (Four motets on Gregorian Themes), and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer. The choir sung beautifully and the intensity of Duruflé’s works were certainly rendered in a compelling manner—especially the end of the Requiem‘s final movement, “In Paradisum”—but the real joy of the afternoon was due to a thunderstorm that rolled in during the Requiem. In fact, the whole concert experience was almost invaded by the sounds of the outside world, not only by the thunderstorm, but also by the busy noises of traffic and people on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
When I research for articles, I often come across odd tidbits that are tangentially related to the topic and sometimes more interesting in their own right. In my recent article on Starship’s 1985 hit, “We Built This City,” I discovered a couple of these bits and pieces of knowledge that didn’t fit into the narrative of the post.
Starship’s “We Built This City”: How Could Something Like This Happen?
In 1989 I attended the opening of San Diego’s new waterfront convention center with my father. My most vivid memory from that event was hearing Starship’s 1985 single, “We Built This City,” play as the fireworks danced in the sky over San Diego Bay. Since I was nine at the time, I didn’t know Starship’s song and I didn’t remember when it hit the charts in 1985. What I do remember was feeling how appropriate the song was to the event: a celebration of a building being built, and an exciting fireworks show.
Three Takes on “All About That Bass”
For the week ending September 20, 2014, Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” hit number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was cited by the New York Times as one of several new hits that utilizes the theme of body image, and Trainor mentioned in an interview with Billboard that the song is “about loving your body…and your booty.” On the other hand, the song (and its music video) have been criticized for not actually being body positive; author and blogger Jenny Trout even cogently asked, “If this song is promoting body positivity, then why does it define a specific body type as being more desirable, and place all of a woman’s value on her fuckability to heterosexual men?”
Those criticisms aside, the song is quite catchy, and since its release back in June it has become a memorable hit of the summer (and a welcome change from last summer’s dance craze). However, what intrigued me about the song was not its body image theme, but rather how other performing artists appropriated Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish’s song, and covered it in different ways.
Reflections on Nirvana
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s unfortunate suicide. I remember when I had received the news of Cobain’s death: I was in eighth grade and I had just purchased In Utero only a week before. Not only was it the first Nirvana album I had bought, it was really the first time I bought an album because I liked the way it sounded. I often cite that action as the beginning of my personal, independent experience as a listener and consumer of music. Continue reading
Music & Place
It’s peculiar how extra musical circumstances can affect one’s musical experiences. For me, places and locations strongly affect my response to songs, and changes in my life can and will change how I react to music. Recently, my move across country completely altered my experience of Tom Waits’ song “Downtown Train” from his 1985 album, Rain Dogs.