Archives for the Month of April 2008 on Jeffrey Quick's Blog

EU noise regs after pipe bands, big orchestras

Brussels is out to protect the hearing of participants in musical ensembles, with new work rules:

The rules are part of the control of noise at work regulations, introduced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a Brussels directive.

The rules cap weekly average noise exposure at 85 decibels, meaning periods of loud play need to be cancelled out by quiet periods.

Now, this might not be a problem with orchestra music, which does get quiet. And rehearsals are only part of an orchestral musician's "work week" - there's also practice. But then there are the poor devils in bagpipe bands:

“You can’t play the pipe quietly; they haven’t got a volume switch.”

I don't know how many professional pipe bands there are. Since this is explicitly a work regulation, it shouldn't apply to amateur bagpipe bands, unless they have paid leaders. Nor to Belgian hunting horn clubs, which the story doesn't mention. Regardless, anyone who would take up the Highland pipes deserves what he gets, and the Euroweenies should butt out.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dr. Ross Duffin, this story about how the new rules are playing out in the orchestra world, including the scuttling of a premiere. As a linearly-oriented composer, I have to wonder about people who write excessively and incessantly loud music. What's the point?

Self-interview about my Symphony in D

In preparation for the Suburban Symphony premiere (May 18, 3:30, Beachwood High Auditorium), I was asked for "a little something" about the piece. I don't much like program notes, but I love to talk about myself (duh, I'm a blogger!). So I thought I'd do an interview.

ME: Why did you write a symphony?

JAQ: Because it was time. It was OK again to write a symphony in the ‘90s; it represented a conscious identification with the musical values of the past. I was about to turn 40, and figured it would be a nice birthday present for myself. I thought up this theme in Dec. 95 and waited for the Solstice to write it down ..because it seemed auspicious to do so.

ME: It took you awhile

JAQ: Yeah. It was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to get done by June of ’96. But then I got divorced, which was traumatic, made it hard to focus on composition, and put me behind. But that wasn’t all. I had a specific musical problem that I had to solve before moving past the exposition. That heartbeat rhythm in the 2nd theme group...”Lub dub [pause] lub dub”...came in fairly late in the process. Plus I was writing other pieces that had a better chance of being performed. So it ended up being more of a 50th birthday present.

ME: What are your influences, in this piece at least?

JAQ: You know composers hate that question! We’re all supposed to be totally original, you know. But I’d say it’s a piece in the Mahler tradition...if you can think of a Mahler who knew his Brahms well and lived in the US. That trad goes through Shostakovich, Pettersson, Chris Rouse, but it darkened up in the process. My symphony is not a dark piece, though it certainly has dark and ironic elements. The use of quotation is part of that. Most people associate that with Ives, but it’s present in Mahler 1 and Shosty 15. And for Ives, it’s mostly about scene-setting, but here the quotations are integrated into the thematic development.

ME: What do they mean?

JAQ: That’s another connection to the Mahler tradition: the disavowed program! I definitely had an extramusical idea when I began the piece, which I got away from a bit in the actual composition. If you want to see the piece as being about “the individual vs. the forces of oppression”, that’s OK. If you want to see it as about “fifths and 7ths in D vs. repeated notes and turns in Eb minor”, that’s even better.

ME: You dodged my question.

JAQ: I’m not going there, because to do it, I’d have to do the sort of program notes I absolutely hate: “Theme 2b appears in the relative minor of the Neapolitan, in a rhythm suggesting the march of ants in jackboots.” I’m not much of one for descriptive program notes anyway. The music either makes sense as music, or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, all the notes will do is provide distracting reading matter while the listener sits through nonsense. All I will say is that there are symbolic elements that aren’t particularly subtle. Listeners will probably get them, and if they don’t, in 50 years some not-too-bright musicology grad student can do his dissertation on it, if anyone cares by then,

ME: OK, no blow-by blow...but what about form? Anything general you can say?

JAQ: It’s a 24 minute sonata-allegro, another link with the Mahler trad. I actually had somebody suggest I should write 3 more movements. Yeah, like anyone is going to play an hour-long symphony by an unknown composer; I’m surprised and pleased that I got 24 minutes. More to the point, there is a vast array of different musics in the form, to the point that I felt no need for contrasts outside of the form. I said what I had to say.

ME: Since this is an avowedly tonal symphony, can we expect any big tunes?

JAQ: I’m not afraid of writing tunes. And since I’m primarily a linear thinker, there should be adequate melodic interest. But tunes, in the sense of Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff, whistle it leaving the auditorium, convert it into a pop song type tunes? Probably not. Though if I do hear anyone whistling it, I’ll be pleased.

The Cleveland Composers Guild: in the beginning

Here's a very early picture of the Cleveland Composers Guild (late 1950s?) courtesy of Larry Baker, who got it from Lucile Erb. I'm not sure what the venue is, though it looks like the Cleveland Music School Settlement to me.
Guild Picture2.jpg

Back row (L to R): Fred Koch, Bain Murray, Howard Whitaker, Julius Drossin, Klaus George Roy

Front Row: Rudolph Bubalo, Jane Corner Young, Starling Cumberworth, Susan Krausz, Donald Erb

I'd also sent this via email to the Guild, with the impish suggestion that the blank square in the lower left was to cover Fred Koch dropping his trousers. I got this response via email:

Glad you found some use for the picture! The date is pretty close. Maybe early 60s as Bain didn't come to Cleveland until 1959. And, sorry, the reason for the blank spot is not nearly that interesting.....I just had a label on it in the album!

Best D and L Erb