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About Zimbelstern

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  1. Zimbelstern

    Music That We'd Rather Not Play

    “which in turn discourage and completely preclude worship songs“ What a shame that you dismiss a whole genre of music! There are great hymns and awful hymns. There are great worship songs and awful worship songs. Surely the duty of a church Director of Music is to be discerning.
  2. Zimbelstern

    Music That We'd Rather Not Play

    I am very fortunate in being delegated the responsibility for choosing the hymns in my church. I am, however, forbidden by the incumbent to include “Shine, Jesus, Shine” in the mass. This doesn’t bother me. I like a lot of Graham Kendrick’s songs, but not that one. One of my favourites is “Rejoice, Rejoice” which I find goes very well on the organ, and lends itself to post service improvisation if chosen as the final hymn. I am very fond of “Abide with Me”, which is set for next Sunday, but for the second year running I have been approached by one of the Church Wardens who says several members of the congregation have asked me to change it, because the emotions it summons up in relation to loved ones who have passed away become almost unbearable. I have resisted doing this, although I have offered to meet with them to explain why I feel we should include it. It is interesting that traditional hymns can be as controversial as “worship songs”.
  3. Zimbelstern

    World Cup

    I would have assembled a large choir and orchestra and performed Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Boer War Te Deum. With its glorious ending incorporating the melody of Onward Christian Soldiers from the 12th minute it would surely have enticed millions of football supporters back home to church.
  4. Zimbelstern

    Organs and the warm weather

    The reeds on my 1914 Hill have certainly gone out of tune with the flue pipes, but it seems far worse in the top two octaves and not so noticeable in the bottom two at the moment. Is this normal? I haven’t really paid much attention to this aspect before.
  5. Zimbelstern

    Organs and the warm weather

    With this prolonged spell of very warm weather, it might be interesting for forum members to record here any noticeable effect on the tuning of whatever pipe organ they have regular access to.
  6. Zimbelstern

    Organs in Florence

    I’m sure Christopher Stembridge would know something and would be delighted to help: http://www.christopherstembridge.org/
  7. Zimbelstern

    Wot, no organ music?

    Another approach to getting more people to listen to organ music is to include just one or two pieces in a concert devoted to choral music or music played on other instruments where these are held in a church. There are people who would not consider going to a recital only of organ music, but are quite happy to listen to one or two pieces as part of a wider programme. It is a great shame that the BBC don’t take this approach when planning the Proms at the Albert Hall. They also miss a great opportunity by not including organ music during the intervals, rather as organists used to play during the intermissions at the cinema. I’m sure there are many talented organ students who would jump at the chance of playing to a couple of thousand people, even if they weren’t always paying full attention. And,of course, there was an organ in Vauxhall Gardens. Judging by many accounts of 18th century audiences, I somehow doubt whether the organ was heard in total silence. Organs and organ music need a new approach to listening if they are to attract a wider audience used not used to 20th century concert etiquette. What’s wrong with wandering around, eating and drinking and having a chat whilst listening to organ music? I see Bath Abbey is throwing out its pews. Perhaps they could use the vast open space for a new kind of organ music experience.
  8. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    On the wider issue of music and higher education, I’m not sure that universities are necessarily the best place for highly talented young people who wish to dedicate themselves to practical musicianship (that is to say performing or composing). They are are probably OK for someone who wants be a musicologist, but they have become education factories hemmed in with targets, financial constraints, bureaucracy and political correctness. Students waste a huge amount of time and money looking for digs, travelling to/from/around campuses, making revolting meals, attending useless, irrelevant lectures, indulging in questionable behaviour, taking exams and so on. A conservatoire course may be preferable, but I’m inclined to feel that very few courses are worth the £60,000 of debt students come out with after four years. Surely much better value for money for gifted musicians would be to stay at home (providing it’s a supportive and stimulating one), spend the money on high quality private tuition and take the various diplomas available. I calculate that for the current cost of a university education (fees and accommodation) a student could buy around 8 hours of high quality individual tuition per week for 30 weeks a year at £60 per hour. Any tutor not coming up to scratch could be ditched in favour of a better one, and, of course, you wouldn’t have to pay for them if they didn’t turn up. It’s ironic that the kind of craft based musical education available in the 18th century was probably preferable to the offering most universities provide today. I don’t think it will be long before the most gifted students start voting with their feet.
  9. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    I think we have reached a stage in this discussion where it would be useful to ask the question: “What is composition?” It seems to me that any time a human being sings, plays or writes down a series of tones in an organised fashion (i.e. not at random) which have not been organised in that way before, they are indulging in musical composition. This means that the act of composition must involve playing or writing down an original piece of music which is present in the composer’s mind beforehand. Some musicians are able to play what they hear, but are unable to write it down. It is nevertheless a musical composition. If someone says they want to compose a piece of choral music for SATB, we make the assumption that they wish to write it down. But this is not always strictly necessary. The composition could be a canon, in which case the composer could invent a melody, sing it to the choir who memorise it and then direct each part to enter at the appropriate time. However, the composer would have to know how to compose a melody which would work for this purpose, so knowledge of which intervals will occur against each other at any given moment in a four part texture is necessary. Composing is not some random splattering around of notes like an abstract “artist” throwing paint at a canvas without any foreknowledge of the result. Music does not come out of thin air. It is a cultural phenomenon and relies on the transmission and reception of a large body of pre-existing music, which is absorbed by the composer long before he or she starts composing. So when a composition begins to form in the head of the composer, it will already have been influenced by previous compositions, either of the composer or of others. The problem for the composer is then to realise the composition in performance or on paper. The ease or difficulty of this task depends on the level of skill already achieved by the composer. Of course, composition can also involve a certain amount of hypothesising or experimentation. What chord is this I hear in my head, is it the one I feel in my fingers, or the one known as a Neapolitan Sixth, or shall I just play around with chords on the piano until I hit on the one I am hearing? But the more a composer composes, the more experienced and skilled he or she becomes, until it is much easier to play or write what is heard mentally. The most fascinating account of a compositional process I have ever read is Robert Bailey’s account of Wagner’s compositional process in “The Wagner Companion” (Cambridge 1979). Over 70 pages, Bailey takes us through an almost forensic report on how Wagner went from a few scraps of music in his head or on paper to the fully worked out orchestral scores of his music dramas, starting with the melodies, adding bass lines with nothing but a sketch of the harmonies, adding layer upon layer, all the time altering, rejecting, re-writing until he had achieved what he wanted. What also becomes clear is that a composition, once begun, takes on a life of its own. Whilst the germ of an idea is present in the head of the composer at the beginning, he or she is continuing to invent music as the process continues. But the same thing applies throughout: first the music is heard in the head, then it is played or written down. Great art is never, ever random. The moral to be drawn from this is the same as the advice given to the person asking how to get to the Carnegie Hall: practise, practise, practise. Anything which you do which helps you to play, or get down on paper, what you hear in your head will be of use. That can include advanced skills in playing by ear, keyboard harmony and realising figured bass, a theoretical and practical knowledge of harmony, counterpoint and - something which has not been mentioned much in this thread - rhythm. But don’t expect a knowledge of these things to make you into a good composer. You will only say something interesting if you have something interesting to say.
  10. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    I’m afraid we are probably on completely different wavelengths here. I’m not arguing against the study of counterpoint. On the contrary, I would greatly encourage anyone who has the desire to do so. I am a great lover of Renaissance music and a huge admirer of contrapuntal skill - when it is delivered in the form of what, for me, is great music. And of course Bach made a profound study of species counterpoint and demonstrated that skill in his works, including the Art of Fugue. When I was in the Sixth Form I already loved that work so much that I and a friend (whose father lent him his car) made a round trip of 300 miles one weekend to hear Lionel Rogg play it in Norwich Cathedral. My point is this: there are different genres and eras and styles of music (I am speaking of so-called “Western” music here). Within that, there are different motivations for composing music. For some, writing music may be a requirement of their academic course or their job. For others, the motivation is simply a desire to play, record or get down on paper the music swirling around in their heads. For reasons which no-one can explain satisfactorily, a very small percentage of that music is regarded by later generations as great music. Perhaps I am in a small minority in enjoying and admiring music from a wide range of genres. I do not believe that music of one era or style is superior to another, since no scientist, philosopher or musicologist can provide me with the evidence to prove this. What I do believe is that the only reason we are here today talking about “music” in the way that we are is because great composers have written great music which we enjoy and study. Probably the vast majority of music ever composed is not great music which passes the test of time (the only test which has any characteristic of objectivity in my opinion). But this music can take very different forms. It may be Gregorian chant, organum, medieval monody, English folk music, renaissance counterpoint, chorale, baroque concerto or fugue, hymn tune, classical or romantic symphony, a music hall song, atonal, serialist, jazz, pop, rock or worship song. The majority of music produced in any genre will not stand the test of time and is not great music. But my personal experience of music (for I can only speak of mine) is that a small amount of music composed in any era is for me enjoyable, not just for a short time, but consistently over many years. I remember the controversy surrounding the claim by the great music critic of The Times, William Mann, that the Beatles were the greatest songwriters since Schubert. But here’s an interesting thing. Having composed a large number of the greatest and most moving songs ever written, in the last weeks of his life Schubert turned to the renowned teacher, Simon Sechter, for lessons in counterpoint. The same Simon Sechter who told Bruckner to stop composing for six years (which he did) in order to study counterpoint. But being a great contrapuntalist does not make a great composer. What great music did Simon Sechter write? The other observation I make it that no-one has ever composed great music without having developed a very high level of skill. I am an adherent of that argument which states that at least 10,000 hours of highly focussed study is required to become an expert in any field, including that of musical composition. The idea that a great composer springs, as it were, fully armed from the head of Zeus, does not bear examination. It takes a huge amount of skill and training to compose great music. But skill and training by themselves do not produce great music. I believe that composing is a highly individual affair, and that there is no one correct method. A computer can be programmed to write music, and already in the 18th century methods were devised of generating music that did not require any knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. However, I would not describe the results of such devices as musical compositions. What marks out a worthwhile piece of music is its ability to move the listener, whose response is largely an emotional one: feelings of pleasure, joy, euphoria, sadness, longing, happiness, strength, tragedy, victory, mystery, reverence, compassion, and so on can be evoked by music. Physical reactions are possible too, including the desire to dance. I do not believe there is a device that can do this: only human minds can communicate artistically with other human minds. It isn’t necessary even to be able to read music in order to compose. There are many examples of great jazz compositions (or standards) composed by people who never learnt to read or write music. Someone else wrote it down for them - or not: it just remains a recording. The point is that not all great jazz, pop or worship song composers (and by composition I mean the act of producing music in either written or improvised or recorded form) can read music, or do not have the ability to write it down themselves or at least without help. But that does not mean that they can compose without skill. The greatest jazz composers spent thousands of hours learning to play highly complex harmonies and textures by ear. Indeed, it is not even clear who actually wrote some of their compositions. Take the case of Duke Ellington, for example, who is widely considered to be the greatest jazz composer of the 20th century. Although he could read and write music, his role in his compositions appears to have been been that of leader of a group of extraordinarily gifted musicians who worked collaboratively under his leadership. It also appears that his greatest collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, had far greater skills than Ellington when it came to getting the music down on paper. Here’s a very interesting report of how this may have worked: “Ellington rarely wrote out a composition in complete form, and in many, perhaps most, instances, the work existed on paper only in scraps and pieces, which have long since disappeared. Furthermore, like that of the songs, the provenance of much of the work is obscure. The men in the sections worked out a lot of the voicings, although in the main from chords supplied by Ellington. Tom Whaley and Juan Tizol [Ellington's main copyists] often made alterations as they extracted the parts. A great many contrapuntal or answering lines were suggested by members of the band … Phrases, snatches of melody, came from everywhere. And, of course, after 1939 Billy Strayhorn contributed a great deal......Irving Drake described Ellington’s orchestra as a musical kibbutz, in that it was this kind of collective. There were, say, you know, five or six really talented composers apart from Ellington in that orchestra and often, you know, they worked with Ellington in developing his tunes and he would work on developing things that they came up with, and there was a lot of back and forth in it. To a great degree, they were credited and compensated and to a certain degree, they were not....When it comes to credit and compensation, the most aggrieved party was arguably Billy Strayhorn, mentioned only in passing by Collier above. Strayhorn was a composer and arranger of a similar stature to that of Ellington – some of the Orchestra's greatest hits, including their signature tune ‘Take the “A” Train' are his – but he has arguably never been given his full due, either in fame or fortune. The received wisdom was that Strayhorn and Ellington collaborated so closely and that their styles were so similar – or rather that they were able to mimic each other's style so perfectly (more often Strayhorn imitating Ellington than the other way around) – that their individual contributions were indistinguishable. The record was put straight in an important book by Walter van de Leur who, through a meticulous analysis of both composers' styles and working methods, argues convincingly that Strayhorn had a distinct voice and approach as a composer and that his contributions can be traced quite precisely – and that they indeed often remained anonymous and uncredited, either deliberately or through the negligence of the company employed.” Indeed, this issue became even more important after the deaths of these composers, because of the questions of copyright. Who wrote what? A court case, Tempo Music v. Famous Music, was fought in which a judge had to pronounce on the questions of what melody, harmony and counterpoint are and what is a musical composition. It makes fascinating reading: http://mcir.usc.edu/cases/1990-1999/Pages/tempofamous.html What relevance does this have for church musicians? During the mid-1960s Ellington and his band, ever innovative, started to perform jazz-style sacred-music concerts in large cathedrals throughout the world. The first was in San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral in 1965 and included In the Beginning God. Ellington featured another lineup of sacred songs at his 1968 concert in New York City’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine and went on to perform at St. Sulpice in Paris, Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, and Westminster Abbey. But who composed them? How? And who wrote them down? Perhaps we’ll never know.
  11. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    The writing of fugues is another example of rules being elevated to holy writ. Those of us who have learnt to write fugal expositions to satisfy examiners know that the type of fugue expected in an examination differs from the real thing, as Prout raged in the late 19th century (with a health warning to exam candidates), even suggesting that Bach would have failed an exam in fugue.
  12. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    I cannot agree that an important reason for avoiding consecutives is to train your ears. Aural training should be positive, not negative. That is to say, the aim of aural training should be to learn to recognise what particular combinations and successions of tones sound like. If you cannot hear in your head what you are writing, you are unlikely to be able to write down what your hear in your head.
  13. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    I don’t understand what you mean by “conventional harmony” or what another writer has described as “traditional harmony”. These are very imprecise terms. If what is meant is the harmonic conventions of certain periods in the past, I would counter that there is no objective reason to value the music of one era, or of one genre above another. If someone writes a piece of music with parallel fifths or octaves and it sounds to right them, that’s fine. If someone else doesn’t like it, that’s too bad. And we haven’t even started on harmonic progressions or doublings. A problem only arises when a composer writes something without knowing what it sounds like.
  14. Zimbelstern

    Composing SATB

    There are only two reasons not to write parallel 5ths and octaves: because they don’t sound as you want the music to sound; because your work is to be assessed and marked. If your work is going to be assessed (unless you are writing in the style of, say, Debussy), avoid them like the plague, even if they sound OK to you. If you are writing for your own pleasure or as a composer for publication, anything is alright as long as it sounds alright to you or fulfils the aim of the composition. When you compose, you either write what you hear in your head, or you discover something which you didn’t intend, but which sounds good to you. This is always how music develops. How, otherwise, did we get from Palestrina to Bach, and from Bach to Wagner, and from Wagner to Schönberg? Here’s a quote from a book by the noted scholar of Bach and Wagner, Laurence Dreyfus:”In 1845, Robert Schumann wrote Felix Mendelssohn a letter, shaking his head over the recent publication of the Tannhäuser score, chock full, he grumbles, of forbidden parallel fifths and octaves. But after hearing the opera in performance he admitted to Mendelsssohn that he had to ‘take back some of what he had written after.....reading the score: everything seems rather different when presented onstage. I was deeply moved by a lot of it.’ “
  15. Zimbelstern

    Worship songs

    I’ve been wondering for some time why “worship songs” get such a bad press in this forum. Am I the only organist who likes quite a few of them? Surely worship songs are like any genre in music: there are good ones and bad ones, just as there are lots of good traditional hymns and probably thousands of bad ones, most of which have been forgotten. Where there’s a band, what’s the problem with the organist joining in and making a positive contribution to services that many young members of congregations enjoy greatly?