Author: Amber Alyssa Milan

John Luther Adams- Music and Nature

After hearing two known pieces, Become Ocean and InuksuitI immediately took an interest to John Luther Adams, not just as a composer but as an artist. The way he views music as just something more beyond then a few melodic instruments put together is what I feel is missed in today’s music.

I was happy to see a numerous amount of music he’s made and each was more unique than the other. Since the class heard his most recent piece, Become Ocean, I decided to listen to older pieces, first one being SongbirdsongIronically, there’s no “bird” sounds but mimics of bird’s whistling from high pitched instruments like the flute, wind chimes and a vibraphone. Having just 9 movements that last about 40 minutes, Adams creates this atmosphere where I feel like I am surrounded by birds. “There isn’t a clear narrative to the piece, but there are scenes that sound somehow familiar: a nocturnal episode in which the sharp, bright birdcalls mellow into owl hoots; a terrifying scherzo that could be a storm or a hunt; a shimmering finale sunrise (or sunset).”

While looking for more of Adams’ music, I just found out that he released a new album about 2 weeks ago called Canticles of Holy WindOf course with an album title like that, it came as no shock that some songs were related to wind and its sounds, whether on its own or bushing on nature such as trees. I listen to bit of all 14 songs from the album and found out that they pertain to wind, birds, and sky. The winds are actually vocalist singing. “Slow-moving, sustained chords typically painted the sky movements. These usually had no discernible pulse, only a gathering density, followed by a gentle dimming of the sound. Wind movements were animated by eddies of rippling arpeggios enveloped in placid streams of fused voices.”

He’s very philosophical when it comes to art music or the way he describes it is intriguing. For instance, in interviews he would quote questions like was it something that created the artist or the artist created something.

Art is a journey that is completely experienced differently by everyone because of the discoveries founded everyday. The environment is Mother Nature’s “art” to the world, at least to me, because of the infinite amount of things seen and unseen. Same thing with music, Adams took the sounds of nature that happens like a normal routine everyday but turned it into something more. I wouldn’t know if I can pull of composing pieces like Adam did, but visually I can see what he’s hearing, if that make sense? To me I would put his music on paper, sometimes people can understand what they hear while others need a visual presentation.

Anyway, John Luther Adams is a unique and original thinker that you don’t know about quite often. I looked forward into hearing more of his music from his new album along with anymore pieces and compositions he plans to make over the years.



Soh Daiko Concert

I went to see a live Japanese percussion concert yesterday and I was not disappointed. I went to LaGuardia Performing Arts Center with my mother after I found out about this free concert through Carnegie Hall. It turns out that this is the 4th time the Soh Daiko concert has been performed it has now become an annual spring concert.

The word “daiko” is the Japanese word for drums. Not only was I exposed to music and instruments I wasn’t aware of, but each piece that was played had a story and representation of the Japanese culture.

There is a piece called “Shishimai” (“Lion Dance”) is about a shy lion (in Japanese is called “shishimai“) who dances around in hopes of meeting new people and become friends. A man was dressed up in a costume and danced on stage and then off stage to the audience. There was a lot of families in this concert so unfortunately there were more screams from kids and laughters from adults. The performer had a mask that wasn’t a “lion” lion like we are use to see at a zoo, but more of a creature that is similar. He then would open and close the mouth of the mask, as if he were bitting something, which he did to a few audience members because being bitten by shishimai means good luck for the year. (No I didn’t get bit).

While shishimai was frolicking around there was music being played by two percussionist, one playing a brass bell and the other going back and forth between two taiko‘s (they looked like snare drums but more wooden and wool that it looks hand made). They played very soft to bring more attention to the lion performer than the music.

Another piece where the instruments are just background music to portray a character is in the piece called “Nimba“. This piece is based on the art of Edo Sato Kagura genre, what the announcer told us and it seems that this fisherman wasn’t ordinary. “Hyottoko” is the Japanese word for fisherman but specifically “country bumpkin”. Dressed in regular performance attire except for wearing a decorative mask, the performer throws “bait” at the “sea” which ended up being free candy to the audience. The fisherman’s theme music was different from the lion’s since it was more dancelike but a simple beat. Two percussionist, again one playing bells and the other playing two gaku-drums, where playing while the fisherman gave us a memorable scene.

One of my favorite pieces was the “Miyake Daiko” because out of all the performances, the beats and performance on just drums were very loud and overall amazing. There were 5 percussionist in total but only 3 instruments. Three people were playing “miya-daiko” or big drums and the other 2 were playing an odaiko, “big drum” but its literally twice the size of the miya and was played on both sides.

I’m so glad I was exposed to so much considering I knew little of Japanese culture and Japanese music. There was an intermission like period where the performers invited kids from the audience to come up on stage and got a brief lesson on the drums.

Here’s a picture of a set of drums that were the most used in the concert pieces. A lot of information was found on the program and also explained by an announcer.

Charlie Parker- Summertime (Jazz Instrumental)

I decided since it is Black History month, to listen to a famous songwriter and saxophonist, Charlie Parker. Playing mostly jazz music, most of his songs are still popular and played today like “Now’s the Time.” Since I heard that song, and most of my classmates, I wanted to hear something different. Jazz music was something I wasn’t exposed to as much until came to Lehman, but Parker was someone I was familiar with. He was born August 29, 1920 and started performing as saxophonist since he was 15. Parker grew up as an only child and found his talent in music through lesson from school, transitioning from the baritone horn to the alto saxophone (the sax was given to him by his mother when his father abandoned them). Dropping out of school at 15, Parker was determined to make a career as a saxophonist that he played in clubs where he lived, Kansas City, Missouri. He played in clubs until he joined a band with a pianist that had the group tour in places like New York and Chicago. Since he chose to stay in New York, Parker became a part of different groups that allowed him to make his first recordings, his own solos in those recordings, met other upcoming jazz musicians, and became a leader in his own group. Unfortunately, his music career wasn’t as long as it could’ve been since he died in 1955 due to his history of alcohol and substance abuse.

Out of all the music he played or has written, I enjoyed listening to “Summertime”. It begins with a string section introduction, which is different considering only the double bass is popular in jazz music. Right after, you hear the harp play a repeating melody, almost like a scale, and the remaining instruments (bass, percussion) join in the music, leaving the saxophone as the solo instrument. The song is short but consist of harmonies between the saxophone and another instrument such as the harp, strings, and piano. The tempo of the song is slow or moderately slow but then turns into a swing motion in 8ths, which is common in jazz music.

A little fuzzy to read but below is the first page of sheet music of “Summertime”. The music is written for only a pianist to play the notes and sound is similar to the ones you hear in the video below. The saxophone solo plays a certain pattern with a similar sound heard at least three times throughout the whole song, like a melody, and then follows with the other instruments playing their harmonious section, repeating the same thing. The harp plays a repeating glissando melody, the strings play a harmony in both pizzicato and acro, and you hear the piano for a brief moment.

I enjoyed listening to this piece and learning more abound Charlie Parker. It was unfortunate that he lasted in the music industry in such a short time but I think he enjoyed the journey of being exposed to it while he was still alive. Even though he didn’t composed this song, there is no denying he was a great saxophone performer.

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