A.I. sure ain’t Baroque

Most of the world woke up to a cute Google doodle this morning, featuring the incredible Johann Sebastian Bach of organ-shredding and music-dynasty-begetting notoriety. The doodle’s claim to harmonize any two-measure melody in the style of Herr Meister Johann was intriguing. I quickly plugged in the first thing I could think of: “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” (I’ve been teaching a lot of beginner piano lately.) What resulted sounded like a mistake, a four part chorale written by Charles Ives or someone who might be failing Music Theory I. What’s the tonal center? Why are some of the chords missing thirds? And what’s with that minor second between the soprano and bass voices? Can the A.I. even counterpoint?

 

In short, my first try at using the Google doodle made me suspicious that it was a far shot from generating Bach-like music. But I decided giving the program W.A. Mozart’s “Ah vois dirai-ja, Maman” wasn’t quite fair; so, next, I tried giving it the first two measures of a melody Johann set a quite a few times: “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.” Below is what I got, with my quick analysis. To other music theory nerds, I’m sure I’ve missed stuff–let me know in the comments!

[CORRECTIONS: The third chord (on beat 4 of measure 1) should be labeled a V4/3. The suspension in the tenor (or escape tone) on beat 3 of measure 2 is foiled because of the E in the alto. March 23, 2019.]

 

Now, compare that to my favorite of Johann’s own settings: BWV 303 (from bach-chorales.com).

 

To be fair, I generated thirteen “A.I. Bach” harmonies; and the above was the most humorous. But in my mind, this very happily confirms that, as great as technology is getting, J.S. Bach’s genius–his mastery of melodic/harmonic tension, fugue, and incredible voice leading–CANNOT be replicated by a computer program. Try again another time, Google. In the meantime, Bach’s ghost is killing kittens for that parallel fifth.

 

Winterbirds

 

I am so excited to announce the release of Shaker Songs, Winterbirds’ debut album!

A little back story. Last year, I was fortunate to collaborate with composer Nick Rich in my commission, performance, and recording of his flute/light composition This is a picture of…”  (Read about that collaboration in a former blog post.) Shortly after our world premiere performance, Nick asked me to join his progressive folk band, Winterbirds. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Have you ever heard of a bluegrass flutist, before? Maybe there’s a reason for that?
Nick: Nope. You’ll be the first!

Folk music has always had a special place in my heart. There’s something about it that feels like home, in all its rich simplicity. Mix that with the opportunity to work with an incredible lineup of musicians: I was sold. Bluegrass-flute precursor (or lack thereof) be hanged, I couldn’t say no. And since joining last summer, I’ve been blown away by the musicianship and creativity of my Winterbirds colleagues.

Take a moment to listen to Shaker Songs (I play on tracks 6-8)! I hope you’ll find it as refreshing as I have. If you like what you hear, follow our Facebook page for upcoming performances and news.

Flute/light Video 6: Nick Rich’s “This is a picture of”

It’s been awhile, but I’m excited to announce the release of a new flute/light video!

Flute/light video? What am I talking about? Here’s a video that explains my flute/light project.

We live in a world saturated with information and virtual communication, thanks to technology. But does technology always illuminate, or is it more likely to obfuscate? How can we better use technology to help us in our interactions with other people and the truth? These are questions that strike me as I listen to Nick Rich‘s flute/light composition “This is a picture of.” Nick thoughtfully contrasts the human with the technological, and then integrates them in a manner that is both surprising and beautiful. For more information about the piece, read my interview with the composer from earlier this year.

Many thanks to fiddler Rich Hartness, multimedia artist Jonathan Wall, bassist Emily Damrel, and video artist Wayne Reich!

Check out the rest of my flute/light videos:

Anna Meadors, At Daybreak
Kyle RowanKomorebi
Michael S. Rothkopf, I Dream of Coloured Inks
Stuart Saunders Smith, The Circle of Light
Jacob Thiede, And everything in-between

NFA and Liberty

Phew! It’s been a busy beginning of the school year, but I’m finally getting a moment to sit down and write about some fun performance news from the last two months: my debut performance at the National Flute Association Convention and a guest artist recital at Liberty University.

The NFA Convention was in sunny Orlando this year; it was a blast, getting to perform Jacob Thiede‘s And everything in-between on “The Future Is Now” concert with other electroacoustic-loving flutists, making new flute friends, and running into old flute friends. Taiki Azuma was such a big help, listening to my soundcheck the night before!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an honor to perform at Liberty University. The Liberty faculty and students were tremendously encouraging, the lighting and audio tech staff was tremendously helpful (thanks SO much, Amy and Kevin!), and the Concert Hall in the Center for Music and Worship Arts is beautiful. What’s more? Robin McLaughlin kindly accepted my commission to compose a piece for the occasion: In the Beginning for spoken word, flute, percussion, piano, and lamps. I’m so excited she was able to join me for the premiere, with the wonderful Erik Alexander Schmidt (percussion) and Elizabeth Church (spoken word). I’ll be posting a video of the premiere soon; and I hope to recording a video of the piece in the next few months, too, pending funding!

This fall, I’m looking forward to solo performances at Carroll Community College and the Raleigh Area Flute Association Flute Festival. Until then, a new school year has started; and I’m back, teaching flute at Guilford College and at Ms Georgia’s Creative Arts Academy.

(left to right) Elizabeth Church, myself, Robin McLaughlin, and Erik Schmidt

#SaturdaySounds: Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte op. 19 no. 1

Misuse the word song in conversation, and you’re sure to rankle even the most gracious classical musician. It may be a subtle error, but go ahead! Try it. See if they don’t correct your language–or wince a little, at least. To those interested the rationale for this reaction, a song, according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, is “a form of musical expression in which the human voice has the principal role and is the carrier of text…” Note the key elements: human voice (singer) and text (lyrics). By that definition, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony CAN’T be a groovy song, dude. We call that a piece, or “a composition, especially but not necessarily an instrumental one” (Ibid). So, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is also a piece–because yes, it has singers and lyrics, but only in its final movement.

Okay, enough with the definitions and on to some music. Today, I’m listening to Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte), op. 19, no. 1. Notice the use of the word song? “But it’s a piano piece. There are no words! No singer,” I hear you grumble. Yes. I could wax musicologist now and write about characteristics of the Romantic Era, with its shift away from strict Classic Era structures, its lyricism and “emphasis on the indefinable and the infinite” (Ibid). But there are already plenty of sources that describe the music of the Romantics. (Check out links here and here, or go to good music history book, like Norton’s History of Western Music.)

I’d rather write about this one little wordless song: Andante con moto (Walking, with motion). It crystalizes the things I love most about Mendelssohn’s music: its innate sense of hope, purity, and energy. It’s as though his compositions, even in their stormy moments, were bathed in glimmering yellow sunshine. Perhaps that has something to do with upward melodic gestures (Schenker friends, I’m not talking about the Ursatz, don’t get mad). Personally, though, I think Mendelssohn’s music was somehow impacted by his faith. Even now, he is often criticized for his sentimentality and lack of tortured Romantic emotion (à la Schumann or Mahler); but I feel as though I hear the song of his soul when I listen to him–a song too deep for words, evoking inner hope, peace, joy. Perhaps that’s what he meant by Lieder ohne Worte. 

Listen to this recording by Daniel Gortler and see if you’re not feeling more hopeful.

 

Published: Perspectives of New Music Article

I’m so excited to announce that my interview with Stuart Saunders Smith has been published by Perspectives of New Music. In our conversation, Dr. Smith explains his compositional process while we discuss his flute/light piece, The Circle of LightMy deep thanks to everyone at PNM, to Dr. and Sylvia Smith, and to Mark Engebretson and Erika Boysen.

Check out the article in PNM volume 55, no. 2!

Yeah, this is old school: UMBC guest artist adventures

For me, a trip to UMBC is always like a trip home. Sure, the music department has relocated to a new building, my friends have moved onwards and upwards, and some of my favorite faculty members have retired; but there’s something special about remembering your own undergraduate bildungsroman. Whenever I visit campus, I catch ghostly glimpses of things I learned while there: about myself, music, the world. There are apparitions of past joys, heartaches, victories, defeats, and friendships. My heart always fills with thanks when I reflect on any of this.

Imagine my excitement when I was invited to come play a UMBC guest artist recital, as well as stop by classes that I once took myself: Careers in music (MUSC 323), Flute repertoire class (MUSC 193, 194, 390, 391, 392, 393), and Linehan Artist Scholar freshman seminar (LAS 121H). It was déjà vu all over again. My heartfelt thanks to Lisa Cella and Doug Hamby, as well as the rest of the UMBC Department of Music for these opportunities!

This flute/light recital was a beautiful collision of some of my Maryland and North Carolina friends, all incredible musicians and wonderful people: lighting technician (and flutist!) Willie Santiago, sound engineer Sarah Baugher, composers Nick Rich and Jonathan Wall, percussionist Michelle Purdy, and double bassist Emily Damrel. (And I can’t forget Yoshi Horiguchi, who lent us a bass!) The craziest part of the story? Somehow, the performance managed to sell out! There’s no way I can fully express just how exciting this week has been, or just how deeply honored and thankful I am to have been back.

Go Retrievers!

Recital pics and videos will be coming soon.