Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Enterprising Pianist: The Magic of Spontaneous Creativity







Piano Addict (http://pianoaddict.com), one of my favorite piano websites, invited me to write a guest blog this week and it gave me a chance to chat about one of my favorite topics--creativity.  And this surreal picture?  Just a random (creative) shot through my window on a sunny day--no special effects or filters.

To read the article, follow this link...and while you're there, browse some of the other excellent blog entries by other pianists.


The Enterprising Pianist: The Magic of Spontaneous Creativity

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Schenkerian Review of The Waco Variations, by Dr. Dave Deason



This blog entry comes courtesy of the fantastic composer Dave Deason because when someone writes a book review that is actually a musical Schenkerian analysis (and writes it so well), it has to be shared with others.

This video is a short introduction to  the man who continues to write such beautifully crafted yet approachable music.  You can find more about him at his website: https://davedeason.com. 

And now, without further introduction, The Waco Variations as reviewed by Dr. Dave Deason.


Wittgenstein once said that you get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.  In Ms. Rizzo’s new novel, The Waco Variations, the fragile boundary between bending and breaking stands as the central premise that keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat.  Will Cassie be able to “bend” and thus keep moving forward in the slow process of healing? Or will she “break”, turning what seems to me to be always on the very brink of a tragedy into a full-fledged tragedy? One cannot be sure, even at the very end.  One can only hope that Cassie’s story survives the “bend”.

For the general reader, Ms. Rizzo’s book stands as a superb example of a novel by a wonderful writer, whose first novel reveals a work that should be read by everyone who appreciates beautiful imagery, emotional expressiveness, and dramatic intensity. It is easy to imagine how Ms. Rizzo will build on these skills in subsequent books, which I hope she does.

For the musician, however, Ms. Rizzo’s book also features many useful and subtle connections with music, especially to the music to JS Bach.  As I was reading the book, some of my experiences as a Professor of Music Theory began to reassert themselves.  One of these experiences particularly struck me: how much of this work can be viewed as one might approach a formal analysis of a musical composition, say, from a Schenkerian perspective.  In this approach, some characters with their subjectively associated key suggestions would be represented in place of the Urlinie, while more central characters might be substituted as the bass brechung. (Of course, such an application would be regarded as heretical by any Schenker enthusiast, but this application in just an attempt to transfer one theoretical concept to another discipline.)

After all, the very structure of the book, while clearly influenced by Bach’s Goldberg Variations (such as the 30 chapters/variations, the initial Aria and the final Aria Da Capo), also might be called in a central “tonality”, which, for me, is C minor.  Why C minor as opposed to, say, G major as in the Goldberg?  For one thing, the first letter of Cassie’s name starts with C, which is the tonal center in both Bach’s C major and C minor Double Concerti. A coincidence? Possibly, but the association seems, at least to me, to be provocative.)

My feeling that it begins “in” or should I say “on” C minor and ends similarly, suggesting a single overall tonality, a key element in Schenkerian theory, for example.  In fact, the whole book suggests various related “keys”, such as possibly F minor for Naomi, who seems to exude cynicism almost to the point of outright Nihilism. In Schenkerian theory, the Ursatz, or fundamental structure requires the bass brechung to be the Dominant of the central key, ultimately returning to the Tonic.  This role (Dominant) is, of course, critical to the structure of a piece, which I see here as that portrayed by Maureen.  Cassie and her relationship with Maureen, I believe, may be seen as providing the fundamental background structure, through which other characters, such Eric, Joel, Mark, Greg, and others, occupy various levels of middleground. What actual levels I would assign them to is beyond the scope of this review.  All of them, however, contribute to the overall prolongation of the central key of C minor, or Cassie.  It is important to see Naomi and Maureen as kind of, shall we say, “ritornello” characters, due to their re-appearance throughout the novel, similar to the returning orchestra tuttis periodically in the Double Concertos and other pieces.

What about the character Ms. Rizzo refers to only as “He” or “Him”? In Schenkerian theory, the Urlinie can be an 8-line, a 5 -line, or a 3-line.  Although differing opinions can be made, I feel that the 3–line is the most appropriate here, as it is the third of a triad which defines whether the final triad is either major or minor.  For me “He” is what makes the C tonality as a minor one, and “His” continued influence lead to my view that the whole novel as belonging to C minor. 

Often in musical compositions, especially in the music of Bach, the listener is presented with a Deus Ex Machina conclusion, which substitutes the major third for the original minor third.  This has the effect of giving an almost uplifting effect to the piece.  In other words, things may be not so bad after all.  Can we se this in The Waco Variations?  As I nearly reached the end, as mentioned before, I could either see either a “broken” Cassie, or a “bent” Cassie.  Ms. Rizzo seems to leave that decision up to us.  For me, I DO see it as major, as I truly want to see Cassie survive her ordeal.

In conclusion, though some may feel that subjecting this book to a Schenkerian view might be too far outside of Schenker’s original concept, the obvious musical associations, coupled with the familiarity of Ms. Rizzo’s excellent musical background and her accomplishments as a pianist, just seemed too tempting to pass up.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Waco Variations a novel



This book came to me long after I'd decided that the writing side of my life was best expressed in articles, essays, and blog entries.  But, to adapt an old cliche,  this novel is what happened when I was making other plans.

The book is (of course) about music.  It's also about survival and recovery.  I've included a short description:

On April 20, 1993, sixteen-year-old Cassie watches her world burn to the ground. A week later—far from Waco, TX and the Branch Davidean fire that claimed her family, friends, savior, and the only life she had ever known—Cassie enters a new life—a strange new ‘normal’ life after being ripped from a cult and forced to function in routine society with little knowledge of how to navigate reality.
Cassie has just two goals: to play the piano and to learn how to be normal. Her love of music, especially the music of J.S Bach, is her only thread to a past she buries under her “normal” fa├žade, the thread that holds her together where therapy and religion fail. But Cassie’s habit of using music to hide from her emotions fails her and she must grieve the truth about losing her family and her world in the Waco fire and begin to let time, and Bach, heal her.  And only through that music can she dare to feel the loss of her parents.
The Waco Variations celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit and the healing power of music. 
This story is available on amazon.com/author/rhondarizzo



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Three Intermezzi by Paul Schoenfield


I was introduced to Paul Schoenfield’s music a couple of years ago when the Oregon Symphony performed one of his compositions.  It blew me away.  The next day I wrote him a fan email and was thrilled by his quick reply.  When I purchased a copy of his piano duet, “5 Days in the Life of a Manic-Depressive”, Paul graciously included his Three Intermezzi as a gift.

These three introspective pieces are works he says he wrote just to please himself, specifically, “music my hands feel like touching and sounds my ears enjoy perceiving.  The music is intimate, serene and contemplative.  It’s the sort of music I improvise at night with the lights out and the house empty.”

I’ve included all three Intermezzi in this post because I feel they progress so beautifully from one to the next.  It’s rare to find modern music that borrows much from the past (Bach and Brahms are two influences) yet is still fresh.  The challenge, of course, is to allow it to sound improvised, all the while never losing sight of the introspective nature of each one.  They’ve been a joy to learn.





The videos were shot by my friend Bob Wall, in my home.

To order a copy of this lovely music:
http://music.tfront.com/sheetmusic/Paul-Schoenfield








Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Adagio, from Gazebo Dances by John Corigliano



John Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances depict the sorts of pavilions often seen in the center of small towns across the country, where ad hoc local bands play concerts on warm summer evenings.  Corigliano’s depictions of the mixture of the bombastic energy of marches and dance pieces, and the inevitable clashes and crashes of under-rehearsed ensembles is evident in the other three movements of this suite.  Adagio, however, is a moment of true reflection, tenderness, and almost tragic beauty in the midst of the celebration.

Molly Wheeler and I have recorded the complete Gazebo Dances.  I featured our recording of the Tarantella previously on this blog.  The suite continues to be one of our favorites, and this performance was part of a concert we gave a year and a half ago.

To order this music, visit http://www.johncorigliano.com/

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Nasty Habit by Jason Heald



There are few composers who bridge musical genres as well as Jason Heald.  He writes just as well for musical theatre as he does for chamber music.  He writes choral music.  He writes cabaret.  In addition, he runs a music department, takes students on tours, performs, conducts...I don’t know when or if he sleeps.

Jason also allowed me to record one of my CD’s, A Spin On It, at Umpque Community College where he teaches.  In addition to pieces by Joel Pierson, Dana Libonati, and Dave Deason, I recorded Jason’s Suite for Guitar and Piano.  At the end of a very long afternoon, I knocked out this cabaret song because, after all, what better way to channel my inner Diana Krall?

Nasty Habit.  Get it here: http://jasonheald.com/

Friday, October 27, 2017

Autumn Hues by Dave Deason



Fall is my favorite season, and few pieces capture the visual beauty of turning leaves like Dave Deason’s Autumn Hues.  This lovely piano solo is part of Dave’s Oregon Impressions CD, and reflects his admiration for the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The long melodic lines of this composition require a fluid sense of time, while the left hand is the conductor that keeps the piece from devolving into sentimentality.  The beauty of the melody is balanced by an underlying sense of pathos and the inevitable passage of time.

To order a copy of this music, contact Dave at: http://www.davedeason.com/