Thursday, May 30, 2013

Zydeco Two-Step Tutorials

The wonderful Dr. Patrick B. Murphy of Tecumseh Junior High School and Jefferson High School Orchestras in Lafayette Indiana is at it again with a series of tutorial videos for Zydeco Two-Step. He does a fantastic job of breaking each part down and giving expert guidance. Check them out and play along!

1st Violin

2nd Violin




Dr. Murphy previously posted tutorial videos for North Pole Workshop, which you can find here. Again, these are fantastic videos and I hope Dr. Murphy's students and administrators appreciate the time and hard work that goes into making them.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

YouTube Concert

It's time for another online concert! Let's start with a performance of Maharaja by the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra of George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia,

These guys get it. The tempo isn't too fast, leaving lots of room for expression and the stylistic nuances of their performance are excellent. Maharaja is a character piece and this group was able to see beyond the notes on the page to really bring the character to life. Bravi.

Up next is a performance of Star of Valor. I'm not sure which group this is, but it looks like it was performed at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Nice job! Star of Valor is like an emotional roller coaster and this group does a good job of navigating the turns. Lots of good stuff happening in Virginia.

Our final selection is Gargoyles, performed by the Concierto Solidario of the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Córdoba, Spain, led by D. Gabriel Arellano.

I can see that there's a lot of passion in this performance but, to be honest, this isn't the greatest rendition of Gargoyles I've ever heard. It's rather heavy-sounding and there's not a lot of dynamic contrast. So why am I featuring this video? Because it was made in Córdoba, Spain. In Andalusia.




Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Avatar Debate

A friend of mine who teaches middle school orchestra recently asked me to settle a debate he'd been having with his class over my piece Avatar. The argument centers on the very last measure, which looks like this:
His 'cellos and basses prefer playing all of beat 2 as a three-note slur, rather than slurring just the 16th notes and playing the upbeat as an upbow, as written. So my friend, the orchestra teacher, turned to me to judge the case. Here's my response:
The reason it's a two-note slur instead of a three-note slur is:

1. That same rhythmic figure appears a two-note slur throughout the entire piece (practically every odd-numbered measure) so playing it that way at 59 keeps things consistent. It's an essential part of the piece's DNA. Changing it on the last rhythm of the final measure would be weird.

2. Playing a two-note slur at m. 59 ensures that the last note is played with a down bow, which naturally has more power than an up bow and results in a natural accent.

3. Playing a two-note slur and ending the piece on a down bow keeps things consistent with the violins and violas, who also end with a down bow. Everyone ends together on a strong down bow, which gives the piece both a sonic and visual sense of finality.

4. I'm the composer and I know what I'm doing.

There's plenty of room for interpretation when it comes to expression, style, and even flexibility in tempo and dynamics (within reason) but notes, rhythms, and bowing are all carefully chosen and shouldn't be messed with. Especially in this piece, which requires precise, articulate playing.
Let me know what you think – which elements of written music are open to interpretation?  And if you have your own debate about something I wrote, I'd love to hear about it and make a ruling.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Doug Spata's iPod 2013

It's been a while since I posted about the music I've been listening to. I use my iPod when I go running, so up-tempo pop and dance music works best. Nothing against ballads or classical music, but a fast steady tempo helps me keep up my pace. Here are some of the songs currently on my running mix:

1. My World by Hands Up!

There's no video for this one, but the song is really cool. I especially like the percussive, overdubbed violin ostinato. It reminds me of Steve Reich's piece Violin Phase. Also, you don't hear many pop songs (or, really, much of any music) in the key of C# Major.

2. Love You Like a Love Song by Selena Gomez

When I first heard this song on the radio I thought I was hearing a lost Donna Summer track from 1978. It has a great groove and I love those disco violins and the dubstep wub-wub-wubs give it a modern edge. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was listening to a Disney pop princess.

3. Brokenhearted by Karmin

Here's a cool, infectious pop song. I'm especially fascinated by the bass line, which outlines the same four-chord progression (I - vi - IV - V) without variation throughout the piece, similar to the famous ground bass in Pachalbel's Canon In D.

4. Closer by Tegan and Sara

Their new album, Hearthrob, is a real departure for Tegan and Sarah, who made their name with quiet, folksy songs. But I'm thrilled that they found the beat, making this one of the best pop albums of the year. I especially love this track for its bold, hands-in-the-air confidence.

5. Perform This Way by "Weird" Al Yankovic

I think it's generally accepted that induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is the second-highest honor one can achieve in the world of popular music. The first is having your song parodied by Weird Al. And I always like Al best when he skewers the artists themselves (like Smells Like Nirvana), rather than turning the song into something else. I think he picked a great pop culture moment to parody and I'm happy to hear that Lady Gaga was so accommodating.

6. Get Lucky by Daft Punk

Oh, Daft Punk, you crazy French robots. You've done it again. And good on you for bringing in the legendary Nile Rodgers and his funky guitar licks along.

7. Celebrate by Mika

Ohmygodyouguys. Mika put out another album. And (as usual) it is amazing. His cover of Popular from the musical Wicked is getting more attention, but I like this song which, like Get Lucky, features Pharrell Williams. It bears repeating: Mika is writing all the songs Freddy Mercury never got around to.

8. The City by Madeon

Here's a great song for running. It's a cool piece of EDM with a nice, driving beat. And the best surprise is when it ends with a piccardy third! Baroque compositional techniques in the house!

9. Nanobots by They Might Be Giants

The latest from one of my favorite bands. I'm a lifelong fan and I was lucky enough to see them live a second time this year. I hope to see them again and again as long as they keep touring. They're an unabashedly nerdy band that writes awesome songs about nerdy things. As usual, their melodies are infectious, their songwriting is inspired. It's sheer brilliance and I look to the Johns as creative role models.