Essays

Essays on topics including: compositional approach and techniques, the aesthetics of music, the philosophy of music, music as language.


  • One Perfect Christmas Song

    Disclaimer: Note that when I write One Perfect Christmas Song. I do not mean to imply that it is the only perfect Christmas Song. I am making the claim, however, that it is possible to compose a perfect piece of music – in this case, a song where lyrics, music and message are perfectly married. A little over a week ago, a niece-in-law of mine posted a request on her Facebook page asking her friends to list their favorite Christmas carols. Those of you who know me would think this was right up my alley. I though so, too. But…

  • Music as Language: Part III

    Think of the many ways in which the term language is used: computer language, spoken and written (verbal) language, body language, and music – so often referred to as the universal language. There are, of course, others we could list, but these four will serve the purpose of this essay. Linguists would not classify all of these as languages, technically speaking, so for our discussion, we’ll refer to them as language-types. Of course, these four language-types serve varied purposes, but one way to compare them is to note the breadth and depth to which they can communicate. What I mean…

  • Branca & Theofanidis Symphonies

    This post is as much a philosophical discussion of what a symphony is, or should be, as it is a review of two symphonies, so I’ve posted it under both Essays and Recording Reviews. While I was compiling my list of favorite symphonies and preparing to teach a new course on the symphony, I realized I needed to bring  my knowledge of contemporary (post-Stravinsky) symphonies up to speed. So while accumulating recordings for my library, I began organizing my thoughts around what it means to compose a symphony – what are my expectations when I listen to a work titled…

  • Music As Language: Part II

    Jabberwocky `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”¹ – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There If we take away from the introduction to this series of essays the thought that music is not a language in the strictest sense, we can, at least, identify correlations between the language of music and the language of words, or as one linguist said to me, “music is language-like.” From 1969 to 1973, as an undergraduate composition student at Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music,…

  • The Star-Spangled Banner

    I have long had two problems with the way many performers sing our national anthem at sporting events. My first concern is a technical one and, in comparison to the second, relatively minor. The seventh line of the first stanza reads as follows: Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave The adjective star-spangled modifies the noun banner, yet virtually every singer these days insists on taking a breath between star-spangled and banner. It shows laziness and is unnecessary; it is improper and no vocal coach would ever instruct their students to do so. Any singer worth listening to should…

  • Music As Language: Part I

    Communicate: to express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively.¹ Much has been written in debate on the topic music as language: is music a “universal language”, is it really a language at all? If so, what does it communicate, does it communicate the same message to everyone, is its message representative of emotions or life? Philosophical arguments on the nature of music date back to the recorded history of Western philosophy and while I intend to join in on those discussions in future essays, this introduction starts the process by addressing a most basic question “does music communicate?” Consider…

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