Apple Stole My Music: My Own Story

Much has been written online by the tech press concerning the new Apple Music subscription streaming music service, and iTunes, and how it all functions, with regard to a serious problem brought to light by James Pinkerton in his blog post Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously. Apple itself has taken this seriously and is responding to it.

I have encountered another onerous problem of a different nature to James Pinkerton’s (although they are related, as you will see). This problem has to do with basic design assumptions of Apple’s.

With Apple Music enabled, I can’t copy any specific files from my local iTunes library onto my iPhone!

Not anymore, apparently.
Not anymore, apparently.

The original slogan for the iTunes app for Mac at its release in 2001 (before there was an iTunes store, and even before the first iPod) was “Rip. Mix. Burn. It’s Your Music”. But today, Apple Music tells you in effect that if you participate in its subscription / streaming / rental service, your own exisiting music files are subject to restrictions placed upon them by Apple Music. This is not acceptable to me.

I’m a traditional church singer. I recently got an Apple Music subscription, after having used iTunes for over a decade. I do not use Apple iTunes Match.

Over more than a decade, I’ve used iTunes on my Macintosh to store music files. I’ve ripped from my own CD collection. I’ve purchased music from the iTunes store. I’ve made my own audio files of recordings of my own musical performances using tools like GarageBand and Sibelius, and I’ve stored those files in my iTunes library. I’ve found some specific musical performances on YouTube or SoundCloud and made MP3s of them and stored them in iTunes.

Recently I had to prepare for some auditions, so I went to my iTunes library to study my collection of different versions of Handel’s Messiah. I have selected several different commercial recordings of Messiah made by different conductors, orchestras, and different tenor soloists. There are particular recordings that I have because I want to carefully compare, contrast and study the vocal styles of different singers singing the same piece of music. This is what we musicians do.

Well, since I got Apple Music, this has become very difficult.

With my Apple Music subscription active, and iCloud Music enabled on my iPhone, I can no longer simply copy my personal collection of different recordings of a piece from Handel’s Messiah to my iPhone to listen to on the go, as I was formerly able to do.

When Apple Music is enabled, it is designed to prevent you from copying your own files from your iTunes library directly your iPhone (like you did for a decade before you had Apple Music). Apple Music expects you to create a playlist, copy that to your iPhone, and then have your iPhone download the files from the Apple Music service that Apple wants to serve to you.

The problem in this case is that I copy to my iPhone an iTunes-created playlist that references a particular recording of Messiah (by a particular conductor and orchestra and record label) that I have in my local iTunes library but which is not available on the Apple Music service. Apple Music insists on substituting and downloading a totally different recording of Messiah. The version of Messiah that Apple Music insists on serving to me and permitting me to download to my iPhone is not the one I want to study! Now there may be multiple recordings of Messiah available on Apple Music, but they are not the same ones that I have collected over the years and have in my iTunes library.

Then there is the matter of MP3s that I have made myself, even home recordings that I have made in GarageBand of me performing certain pieces, which I have stored in my local iTunes library. Apple Music effectively prevents me from loading those onto my iPhone as well.

The only way that I have found to work around this is the following elaborate method, involving temporarily defeating Apple Music’s function:

  • I connect my iPhone to my Mac using the Lightning cable.
  • I disable iCloud Music on my iPhone.
  • I turn off the cellular phone and WiFi connections on my iPhone.
  • I turn off WiFi and disconnect the Ethernet cable from my Mac.
  • I reboot my Mac and reboot my iPhone for good measure.

Now both my Mac and my iPhone are isolated from the Internet, the cloud, and any computer network and are connected directly to each other by a cable.

I start iTunes on my Mac.

Now I can copy music files directly from my local iTunes library on my Mac to my iPhone through the cable.

After I have achieved this, I can

  • Reconnect my Mac to the Ethernet cable and to WiFi. (This requires rebooting my Mac with regard to getting it to recognize the Ethernet connection.)
  • Reconnect my iPhone to the cellular service and WiFi
  • Re-enable iCloud Music on the iPhone.

I can now listen to my particular collection of recordings on the iPhone, while continuing to use Apple Music.

Any time I want to copy more local files from my iTunes Library on my Mac to my iPhone, I have to repeat the workaround.

This is not fun.


Apple Music is a walled garden with DRM (digital rights management, a form of copy protection). Once you sign up for it, however, it applies its DRM rules not only to those files you are renting from Apple Music, but also to all the other files you have in your local iTunes library, regardless of the fact that those files were acquired by you from outside of the Apple Music system.

I’m sure that Apple Music had to make some design decisions based on DRM and getting record labels to buy into the licensing business plan. But I see no reason that Apple should apply the DRM requirements, retroactively as it were, to the non-DRM-protected files already in my iTunes library, and any new files that I create myself or rip from CDs (irrespective of music downloaded through the Apple Music subscription service) that I choose to load into my iTunes library in the future.

Apple needs to find a way to separate and make a distinction between files I rent from Apple Music on the one hand, and files I acquire, create and store myself on the other hand, and to allow me to use both side-by-side on the same Mac and on the same iPhone under the same user account, without hobbling the whole process.

Apple Music’s current methods and design decisions are unfair and burdensome.

The Georgia Tech Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, 2016

guthman poster scaled

On March 3, 2016, the Center for Music Technology program at Georgia Tech (the Georgia Insitute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia), held the finals of its eighth-annual Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, as a public performance. This event is both international and world-renowned. Designers of musical instruments compete for cash prizes and recognition by going through an extensive multi-day interview process with a panel of judges, culminating in the evening concert for the finalists.

This was my first time attending this event, world-famous among those who develop new musical instruments. Several instruments that have appeared in the competition over the years have gone on to become mass-produced, commercial products. On the other hand, many instruments and their creators are in it for something entirely different — they hand-build one instrument for their own use. And this leads to the Guthman competition’s multiple-personality problem.

Is this an event to foster technological innovation, or is it a competition for individual performers to show off their unorthodox skills using impractical instruments that you couldn’t imagine anybody else wanting to play? It’s both. The range of instruments and performers were so wide that I cannot understand how the judges could select winners. Regardless, this dichotomy made for a great evening of avant-garde musical entertainment.

One instrument was entirely acoustic, others acoustic with simple pickups or contact microphones. Other instruments made use of digital sounds and cutting-edge computer software in artificial intelligence, algorithmic composition and the like, in combination with novel implementations of hardware such as motion-capture cameras, wireless controllers, lasers and optical sensors.

The judges for the competition were the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, American music journalist Allan Kozinn, and Marcelo Wanderley, professor of music technology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The Ferst Center seats over 1,000; the hall was full of curious Georgia Tech students, who cheered on and warmly encouraged this very motley crew of inventor-musician-madmen, some of whom must have spent their last €0.10 to get here from the four corners of the globe.  Everybody felt entertained and enlightened.

Now on to the amazing instruments and performances, most of which inspired a well-deserved sense of wonderment from the audience.

A general comment: You can find information about each of these instruments online, but even recent photos and videos you see may not reflect the state that the instrument was in at Georgia Tech. I get the impression that each of these inventors was constantly modifying and tweaking their prototypes right up to performance time.

Yaybahar, Görkem Şen, Turkey

Second Place Award
Audience Award: Best Instrument


This imposing instrument, which is entirely acoustic, creates its own deep reverberation, while the performer plays it both as a pair of bass drums and as a fretted, bowed instrument with about the dimensions and range of a Turkish bağlama or saz. The neck of the stringed instrument is coupled through two long, loose springs to the two bass drums which provide both resonating chambers and acoustic spring reverb. Görkem Şen spun out enchanting, haunting, wistful melodies that set the stage for the evening.

The Sound Space, Greg Beller, France

Judges’ Award: Technical Excellence

The Sound Space
The Sound Space

Greg Beller performed as a human beat box. He created percussive and melodic sounds with his voice into a head-mounted microphone, sampling, triggering and modulating the sounds in real time using his body’s gestures in three-dimensional space. This was sensed by a motion-capture camera and triggered by controller buttons on gloves on each hand, with computer software that handles all this behind the scenes. His performance was entertaining and humorous and warmly received.

Claudeatron Mk IV, Claude Woodward, Australia

Claude Woodward is a veteran tinkerer with the soul of a street busker. His enigmatic clear Plexiglas hand-held instrument enables him to perform expressive melodies by manipulating wheels and buttons, controlling parameters in virtual instruments in Apple’s MainStage program for the Macintosh. He was really into the performing shtick, cranking out a medley of show tunes and operatic themes with a wild, wooly vibrato on what might be called an information-age theremin. He explains it all in his demo video above.

Kalichord Strum, Dan Moses Schlessinger, California

An earlier prototype of the Kalichord Strum: This is NOT the instrument in the form that it was being performed at the Guthman competition.
An earlier prototype of the Kalichord Strum: This is not the same instrument in the form that it was presented at the Guthman competition.

Dan Moses Schlessinger is an engineer with the Sennheiser microphone company. The Kalichord is his home-brew array of piezoelectric sensors that can be plucked and strummed by one hand while notes are played on a keyboard with the other hand. The latest prototype is in a wooden box that sits on a table. Behind the scenes is a computer-based physical modeling virtual instrument which creates string sounds, processed through the Max/MSP music programming environment. The Kalichord could enable a keyboardist to mimic the performance of a guitar, but he went beyond that, starting out with New-Age harp and zither sounds and ending with an endearing attempt to crank out a classic 70s Motown riff.

Stimulierte Emissionen Klingen, Leo Bettinelli, Argentina  and Austria

Third Place Award

Stimulierte Emissionen klingen
Stimulierte Emissionen klingen

Leo Bettinelli came from the Andes and crossed the Alps. His instrument (it means “stimulated emission sounds” in English, but that takes us no closer to understanding its function) is a two-meter-square vertical two-dimensional array of laser beams and photo sensors creating a grid of eight beams on a side, which define 80 different sensor points. It is played by a performer waving his hands, feet or any other part of his body inside the grid to trigger sounds and musical phrases. The laser grid is interfaced to an Arduino microcontroller kit and thence to computer-based sound generation. Playing it seems to be as much of a dance as a musical performance.

La Diantenne, Dianne Verdonk, Netherlands


Possibly the simplest instrument in the competition was played by Dianne Verdonk, who is also a cellist and bass player. Her latest prototype is simply a sheet of metal with a contact microphone which Verdonk plays by striking the center with her hand or with a mallet while warping the shape of the sheet. This is a variation on the old “musical saw” or the device used in theater sound effects for centuries to simulate the sound of thunder. Verdonk, however, uses her instrument to skillfully produce slow, sonorous bass lines with deep, sweeping portamento and mysterious overtones. Verdonk was the only performer in the competition to sing while playing, making her own statement about do-it-yourself instrument building for a singer-songwriter. She won no award, but I cast my ballot for her in the category of audience award for best performer.

Electric Mbira, Josh and Wes Keegan, Colorado

The mbira, also known as the African thumb piano or the kalimba, is a folk instrument with a long history. The Keegans, doing business as Colorado Soundscapes, were the only finalists with an instrument which they manufacture and sell, rather than the one-offs or prototypes every other participant was playing. But the format of the live concert presentation let them down. For eight minutes one of the Keegans stood on stage and played his mbira held motionless in his hands, which is not a visually exciting thing to do, and the audience was at a loss to understand why this instrument was significant. But when I looked them up afterwards, I realized that they have re-designed and re-engineered this folk instrument, crafting every component in unique ways to make it more professional and reliable. They have carved a wooden soundboard that acts like tuned speaker cone; they have designed and custom-machined an original mechanism for precision-tuning the tone bars which seems to be innovative. Many craftsmen make mbiras, but the Guthman competition recognized the Keegans for their refinement of the design. I suppose you could call it the Fender Stratocaster of mbiras.

MotionComposer, Andreas Bergsland and Robert Wechsler, Norway

Special Recognition Award

Motion Composer

Robert Wechsler is a dancer from New York who got his start with Merce Cunningham. Andreas Bergsland is a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. As they say, “The MotionComposer is a hardware-software device being developed for persons with disabilities. It allows anyone a clear sense of musical expression through creative gesture and movement.” Wechsler added, “We even work with people who can only move their eyes.” To demonstrate their system, they brought out a “local kid” named Eirc Naindouba. Eirc appears to be about twelve years old and lives with a condition that I am guessing is cerebral palsy. Eirc performed from his wheelchair. I gather that he and his family are immigrants from an African nation who live in Atlanta. Details are scant, but from what I can gather, the MotionComposer operates using motion capture from a single camera box, with three-dimensional range, without the need for any physical sensors attached to the performer. The performer’s gestures trigger what I gather to be a computer-based real-time algorithmic composition system with pre-determined musical phrases mapped to different kinds of gestures that the performer can trigger. It also seems to take its tempo and rhythmic phrasing from cues in the performer’s gestures. I think MotionComposer was truly inspiring and empowering; it was given special recognition by the judges.

Golf club sitar/tabla and associated hybrid instruments, Ken Butler, New York

First Place Award
People’s Choice “Most Unusual”
People’s Choice “Best Performance”

Ken Butler and one of the many instruments he entered under the title "Golf Club Sitar/Tabla"
Ken Butler and one of the many instruments he entered under the title “Golf Club Sitar/Tabla”

Ken Butler closed the show and blew everybody away. I was amazed but also baffled by every minute of his performance, which largely defies description. He was certainly the most interesting performer, to the point that his instruments seemed to be an incidental detail compared to his musicianship. He swept the awards. His performance was howlingly funny and, well, baffling. What he did was to rapidly work through short performances on a series of instruments which he crudely home-made from found items, literally junk with strings and contact microphones attached, in the finest American tradition of the gut-bucket bass or the homemade slide guitar. He played astonishing melodies and percussion interludes, running everything through a Fender vacuum-tube guitar amplifier and grungy guitar pedals for that essential lo-fi vibe. This culminated in a percussion solo played on an ordinary toothbrush with a contact microphone scrubbed across his teeth, and then clamping down on the contact microphone inside his mouth and drumming out a solo with his fingers on his balding head. Forget all the computer software and the motion capture technology. Country-rocker Mack Davis had a song in the 70s that went, “Poor boy don’t need electronics to make no rock and roll. Poor boy got boogie woogie born right in his soul.” The Guthman judges agreed.

Semi-finalists (not performing in concert)

Contriverb, Ed Potokar, New York — Judges’ Recognition Award
The BladeAxe, Romain Michon, California
Pocket Operators, Teenage Engineering, Sweden
Kinefy, Federico Visi et al, England
The Big-Eared Scrambler, Greg Hendler and Mark Crowley, Georgia Tech
Reflexive Looper, François Pachet et al, France
Exp.Inst.Rain, Balam Soto, Connecticut gloves, Imogen Heap et al, England
The Spiral of Fifths, Ruben Dax, Massachusetts
The SolidNoise Ensemble, Jiffer Harriman et al, Colorado
ShohamMX, Amit Shoman, USA
Acoustic Additive Synth, Krzysztof Cybulski, Poland
ACPAD, Robin Sukroso, India
Instrument 1, Artiphon, unspecified location

Comments and criticisms

There were things about the event that I found frustrating.

My biggest problem is that the judges and the organizers knew all about the competitors and their instruments, but the audience had to scrabble for clues. For instance, what is the most basic thing you would want to know about a performer at an international musical event? Where that person is from. But this information was not made obvious to the audience. The printed program gave short “Entrant Biographies” but each one was free-form and there was no editing for consistency in the information provided. I was interested in the instrument “La Diantenne” played by musician Dianne Verdonk, but neither the program nor anything said on stage revealed what I was only able to infer by listening to her accent as she spoke briefly in English: she is from the Netherlands.

The most annoying thing about the event, for me, was the moderation by John Biggs, New York-based journalist for TechCrunch, who approached the entire event as a stand-up comedian who made endless little jokes but couldn’t be consistent in imparting useful information about each instrument and performer.

Each of the nine finalists gave an eight-minute performance on their instrument. Each one was amazing and beautiful, but during each performance I had a nagging what-the-heck-is-that-thing-and-what-am-I-listening-to? feeling. Then the moderator would come out and ask the performer to sum up in one or two sentences what it was we had just heard and how the instrument worked. This was always inadequate. I’m telling you that I had to go home and look up further information about each of these instruments on the Internet the next day in order to adequately understand myself what it was that I saw and heard the night before.

There was no good reason for this. The event organizers could have provided a proper introduction for each performer and instrument, printed in the program or presented verbally and with slides on the numerous projection screens on stage. They could have succinctly explained the principles involved and pointed out the innovations before the performance took place. This would have increased the audience’s appreciation for what they were hearing, and it need not have been tedious.

Setting aside my complaints, this was an exciting evening of the wild and wonderful, showing us the possibilities in the future of musical performance. People travel from across the nation and across the world to participate and to observe. I would recommend that you check out next year’s competition if you are able.

Bach’s Motets in English Translation

Last night I attended a performance of six motets by J. S. Bach, performed by the superlative Georgia Tech Chamber Choir, Jerry Ulrich, director, with Timothy Hsu, Baroque organ and Erin Ellis, Baroque cello.

So once again I’m revisiting a series I’ve done here that’s been quite popular; I’m providing my own translations of the texts, in this case from Bach’s German into modern English. I should restate my purpose:

My translations are intended only for English-speaking singers who are rehearsing and studying these pieces for performance in the original German.

My translationsare not for singing the piece in English. They are also not translations for printing in a concert program to be read by an audience during a performance.

What they are is more of a word-by-word translation to help singers who do not speak German to study the lyrics they are singing, and to find the emphasis of specific words within each line of melody. Therefore many grammatical structures in my translation will sound strange to a speaker of English, because German word order and modern English word order are very different.

If you are a music listener and you want a smooth-reading, easily-understood translation of the lyrics of these Bach motets, you can find those online in other places. If, however, you are a singer who is rehearsing and studying these pieces for your own performance, you might find my translations very useful.

I have labeled the Bible verses and source material in Bach’s texts. They are either from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible (circa 1522) and are therefore un-rhymed, or they are rhyming lyrics from hymns; in that case I have identified the lyricists.

I encourage you to look up each of the Bible verses in the translation or version of the Bible to which you are accustomed. When there are Bible verses being used, I have not simply copied-and-pasted text from one particular English translation of the Bible, as many would do; rather, I have attempted a word-for-word translation of the German text that Bach himself set. My approach will necessarily sound awkward, but it will help the singer identify the important words according to the German sentence structure; that’s why I suggest that you look up the verses in your own Bible to get a more coherent understanding of the meaning.

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225

Sing to the Lord a new song

Hymn texts by Johann Gramann (1487 – 1541). Movement 3 is from “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren” (“Now praise, my soul, the Lord”), which is based on Psalm 103.

1. (Psalm 149:1-3)
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!
Die Gemeine der Heiligen sollen ihn loben,
Israel freue sich des, der ihn gemacht hat.
Die Kinder Zion sei’n fröhlich über ihrem Könige.
Sie sollen loben seinen Namen im Reihen,
mit Pauken und Harfen sollen sie ihm spielen.
1. (Psalm 149:1-3)
Sing to the Lord a new song!
The congregation of the saints shall him praise,
Israel rejoices itself in him, who has created it.
The children of Zion are joyful over their king.
They should praise his name in dances,
with drums and harps should they play to him.
Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an!
Denn ohne dich ist nichts getan
mit allen unsern Sachen.
D’rum sei du unser Schirm und Licht,
und trügt uns unsre Hoffnung nicht,
so wirst du’s ferner machen.
Wohl dem, der sich nur steif und fest
auf dich und deine Huld verläßt!
God, take you from now on us (to you)!
For without you is nothing to be done with all of our belongings.
Wherefore be you our protection and light,
and if deceives us our hope not,
So will you us happier make.
Happy is one who strictly and tightly
to you and your mercy submits!
Wie sich ein Vat’r erbarmet
Üb’r seine junge Kindlein klein:
So tut der Herr uns Armen,
So wir ihn kindlich fürchten rein.
Er kennt das arme Gemächte,
Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub.
Gleichwie das Gras vom Rechen,
Ein Blum und fallendes Laub,
Der Wind nur drüber wehet,
So ist es nimmer da:
Also der Mensch vergehet,
Sein End, das ist ihm nah.
As a father has mercy
upon his young children small:
so does the Lord does with us poor ones,
So we respond to him with childlike fear pure,
He knows his poor creations,
God knows, we are but dust.
Just as the grass that is mowed,
a flower and a falling leaf,
the wind only over it blows,
So is it no longer there;
So the person passes away,
His end, it is is near to him.
 4. (Psalm 150:2, 6)
Lobet den Herrn in seinen Taten,
loben ihn in seiner großen Herrlichkeit.
Alles was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn,
4. (Psalm 150:2, 6)
Praise the Lord in his works,
praise him in his great lordship.
Everything that has breath, praise the Lord,

Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf, BWV 226

The (Holy) Spirit helps our weakness

Movement 2. Hymn text by Martin Luther (1483-1546)

1. (Romans 8:26-27)
Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf.
Denn wir wissen nicht, was wir beten sollen, wie sich’s gebühret;
sondern der Geist selbst vertritt uns aufs beste mit unaussprechlichem Seufzen.
Der aber die Herzen forschet, der weiß, was des Geistes Sinn sei,
denn er vertritt die Heiligen nach dem, das Gott gefället.
1. (Romans 8:26-27)
The Spirit helps our weakness.
For we know not, for what we should pray, what we should pay (in fees);
rather the Spirit itself intercedes for us in the best way with unutterable sighs.
He, however, who his heart examines, he knows, what the Spirit’s intention is,
because it intercedes for the saints according to that by which God is pleased.
Du heilige Brunst, süßer Trost,
Nun hilft uns fröhlich und getrost
In dein’m Dienst beständig bleiben,
Die Trübsal uns nicht abtreiben!
O Herr, durch dein Kraft uns bereit
Und stärk des Fleisches Blödigkeit,
Daß wir hier ritterlich ringen,
Durch Tod und Leben zu dir dringen.
Halleluja, halleluja!
You holy fire, sweet comfort,
Now help us joyfully and confidently
In your service firmly to remain,
Trouble to us is not aborted!
O Lord, through your strength us prepare
And strengthen the flesh’s bashfulness,
So that we here like knights may wrestle,
Through death and life to you can penetrate.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227

Jesus, my joy

Hymn text by Johann Franck (1618 – 1677)

Jesu, meine Freude,
meines Herzens Weide,
Jesu, meine Zier!
Ach wie lang, ach lange,
ise dem Herzen bange
und verlangt nach dir!
Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam,
außer dir soll mir auf Erden
nichts sonst Liebers werden.
Jesus, my joy,
my heart’s pasture,
Jesus, my treasure!
Ah how long, ah long,
has my heart feared
and longed for you!
God’s lamb, my bridegroom,
besides You should I (hold) on earth
nothing dearer.
2. (Romans 8:1)
Es ist nun nichts Verdammliches an denen,
die in Christo Jesu sind,
die nicht nach dem Fleische wandeln, sondern nach dem Geist.
2. (Romans 8:1)
There is now nothing damnable in those,
who in Christ Jesus are,
who do not after the flesh walk,
but rather after the Spirit.
Unter deinen Schirmen
Bin ich für den Stürmen
Aller Feinde frei.
Laß den Satan wittern,
Laß den Feind erbittern,
Mir steht Jesus bei.
Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt,
Ob gleich Sünd und Hölle schrecken,
Jesus will mich decken.
Under your protection
Am I from the storms
And all enemies free.
Let Satan rage,
Let the Enemy fume,
By me stands Jesus.
Whether it now crashes and flashes,
whether now sin and hell terrify,
Jesus will me protect.
 4. (Romans 8:2)
Denn das Gesetz des Geistes, der da lebendig machet in Christo Jesu,
hat mich frei gemacht von dem Gesetz der Sünde und des Todes.
4. (Romans 8:2)
For the law of the spirit, which alive makes in Christ Jesus,
has me free made from the law of sin and death.
Trotz dem alten Drachen,
trotz des Todes Rachen,
trotz der Furcht dazu!
Tobe, Welt, und springe;
ich steh hier und singe
in gar sichrer Ruh!
Gottes Macht hält mich in acht;
Erd und Abgrund muß verstummen,
ob sie noch so brummen.
Defy the old dragon,
defy death’s vengeance,
defy fear as well!
Rage, world, and attack;
I stand here and sing
in altogether secure peace!
God’s power holds me in watchfulness;
Earth and abyss must fall silent,
However much they might rumble.
 6. (Romans 8:9)
Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich, sondern geistlich,
so anders Gottes Geist in euch wohnet.
Wer aber Christi Geist nicht hat, der ist nicht sein.
6. (Romans 8:9)
You, however, are not of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit,
since otherwise God’s Spirit in you lives.
Anyone, however, who  Christ’s Spirit does not have, is not his.
Weg mit allen Schätzen,
du bist mein Ergötzen,
Jesu, meine Lust!
Weg, ihr eitlen Ehren,
ich mag euch nicht hören,
bleibt mir unbewußt!
Elend, Not, Kreuz, Schmach und Tod
soll mich, ob ich viel muß leiden,
nicht von Jesu scheiden.
Away with all treasures,
you are my delight,
Jesus, my desire!
Away, you vain honors,
I want to you not to listen,
remain to me unknown!
Poverty, misery, torture, shame and death
shall to me, although I must suffer much,
not from Jesus part me part me.
 8. (Romans 8:10)
So aber Christus in euch ist,
so ist der Leib zwar tot um der Sünde willen;
der Geist aber ist das Leben um der Gerechtigkeit willen.
8. (Romans 8:10)
So however if Christ is in you,
so is the body indeed dead indeed for sin’s sake;
the Spirit, however, is life for righteousness’s sake.
Gute Nacht, o Wesen,
Das die Welt erlesen!
Mir gefällst du nicht.
Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht!
Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Gute Nacht gegeben!
Good night, nature,
that the world cherishes!
You please me not.
Good night, you sins,
Stay far away,
Come no more to light!
Good night, you pride and glory!
To you utterly, you corrupt life,
Good night be given!
 10. (Romans 8:11)
So nun der Geist des, der Jesum von den Toten auferwecket hat,
in euch wohnet, so wird auch derselbige,
der Christum von den Toten auferwecket hat,
eure sterblichen Leiber lebendig machen,
um des willen, daß sein Geist in euch wohnet.
10. (Romans 8:11)
Therefore now the Spirit of him, who Jesus from the dead raised,
in you dwells, so will therefore that same one,
Who Christ from the dead has raised,
Your dead bodies alive will make,
for the sake, that his Spirit in you will dwell.
Weicht, ihr Trauergeister,
denn mein Freudenmeister,
Jesus, tritt herein.
Denen, die Gott lieben,
muß auch ihr Betrüben
lauter Zucker sein.
Duld’ ich schon hier Spott und Hohn,
dennoch bleibst du auch im Leide,
Jesu, meine Freude.
Hence, you Spirits of sadness,
because my Master of joy,
Jesus, comes here.
Those, that God love,
must even their troubles
(seem to be even moreso) pure sugar.
Endure I already here mockery and shame,
nevertheless you stay with me even in suffering,
Jesus, my joy.

Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir, BWV 228

Fear not, I am with you

Hymn text in Movement 3. by Paul Gerhardt (1607 – 1676)

1. (Isaiah 41:10)
Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir; weiche nicht, denn ich bin dein Gott; ich stärke dich, ich helfe dir auch,
ich erhalte dich durch die rechte Hand meiner Gerechtigkeit.
1. (Isaiah 41:10)
Fear you not, I am with you;
recoil not, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you also,
I sustain you through the right hand of my righteousness.
2. (Isaiah 43:1)
Fürchte dich nicht, denn ich habe dich erlöset; ich habe dich bei deinem Namen gerufen, du bist mein.
2. (Isaiah 43:1)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine.
Herr, mein Hirt, Brunn aller Freuden!
Du bist mein,
ich bin dein,
niemand kann uns scheiden.
Ich bin dein, weil du dein Leben
und dein Blut,
mir zu gut,
in den Tod gegeben.
Du bist mein, weil ich dich fasse
und dich nicht, o mein Licht,
aus dem Herzen lasse!
Laß mich, laß mich hingelangen,
wo du mich, und ich dich
lieblich werd umfangen.

Fürchte dich nicht, du bist mein.

Lord, my Shepherd, fount of all joy!
You are mine,
I am yours,
no one can us part.
I am yours, since you your life
and your blood,
for my sake,
in your death have you given.
You are mine, since I hold to you
and you (I do) not, O my light,
from my heart let go!
Let me, let me attain unto,
where You to me, and I to you
lovingly will embrace.

Fear not, you are mine.

Komm, Jesu, komm! BWV 229

Come, Jesus, come!

Hymn text by Paul Thymich (1656 – 1694)

Komm, Jesu, komm, mein Leib ist müde,
die Kraft verschwindt je mehr und mehr,
ich sehne mich nach deinem Frieden;
der saure Weg wird mir zu schwer!
Komm, komm, ich will mich dir ergeben,
du bist der rechte Weg,
die Wahrheit und das Leben.
Come, Jesus, come, my body is tired,
the strength wanes more and more,
I long for your peace;
the sour path becomes for me too hard!
Come, come, I will to you myself yield,
You are the true path,
the truth and the life.
D’rum schließ ich mich in deine Hände
und sage, Welt, zu guter Nacht!
Eilt gleich mein Lebenslauf zu Ende,
ist doch der Geist wohl angebracht.
Er soll bei seinem Schöpfer schweben,
weil Jesus ist und bleibt
der wahre Weg zum Leben.
Therefore enclose I myself in your hands
and say, World, to you good night!
Hurries my life’s run to its end,
is certainly my spirit fully prepared.
It shall with its Creator soar,
because Jesus is and remains
the true path to life.

Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230

Praise the Lord, all heathens

(Psalm 117)
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden,
und preiset ihn, alle Völker!
Denn seine Gnade und Wahrheit
waltet über uns in Ewigkeit.
(Psalm 117)
Praise the Lord, all heathen (nations),
and extol him, all peoples!
For his grace and truth
rule over us for eternity.


Please write to me and let me know if you have found this translation helpful. Let me know where in the world you live, and tell me about the choir that you sing with or the school where you study.

Progressive Rock, The Program Notes

prog rock jam banner

On Saturday, February 13, 2016, I will join over 30 musicians in the Prog Rock Jam, an epic jam session at Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs, Georgia, described thusly in my Facebook post:

Come hear me tomorrow night as I sing in the most over-ambitious jam session ever attempted by thirty-odd of the best rock musicians in Atlanta! Thrill as we, live, without a net, pay tribute to Jethro Tull, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Kansas, Rush, King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Gentle Giant and more. Twist and turn as we rip through epic, triumphant, grandiose, pompous, intricate, baroque arena-filling anthems in a cozy folk music club. Colossal musical train wrecks and widespread collateral damage are predicted. All superlative adjectives will be exhausted. If you survive, you’ll have something to tell your grandchildren about. You might even send them to us for music lessons.

At these jam events, the musicians are beginning to look to me to fill in time between the numerous set changes by telling stories about the history of the music. So I wrote the following 3,000 words, what I call the “program notes” although they aren’t going to be printed up and handed out to the audience. There will probably be very little time for me to use any of it, as we are looking at a 4-hour performance, so I thought best to post it here.

This show is focused on what is referred to as British progressive rock, a movement within rock music that spanned a rather narrow time period, circa 1968 through 1979.

The great Louis Armstrong, especially in the early days, was sometimes asked by professional journalists if he could explain what jazz is. He was said to reply, “If you have to ask, I can’t explain it to you.” Progressive rock is like that.

The most effective way to understand progressive rock is to listen to the actual music itself. More work for you, but as Billy Joel said in “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me”: “There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine.”

In a nutshell, however, it is this: In the 60s and 70s, British rock was bands appropriating American blues and rhythm and blues (“R&B”) and doing things in their own style. But there was a group of bands that came to be known as the British Progressive Rock movement, and what they were doing was this: They used the musical instruments of a rock band, but they sought to compose original music that drew on every musical influence they could muster, with the exception of American blues and R&B and rock and roll. My essay below goes into some of that, and provides a background for our concert.

What is progressive rock?

To talk about it in 2016 is a bit of an oxymoron: what we are concentrating on here is the British movement that took place in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Looking back from 40 years in the future it seems a bit strange to refer to it as progressive, but at the time, it was avant-garde. My esteemed colleague Sean Tonar, founder of the music fan forum, explains progressive rock in this fashion: There was a time in the early 70s when the music business was such that certain bands in the genre of rock were financed and enabled to create music that was experimental and non-commercial in nature; they were free to create a kind of music no one had heard before, and the record labels were willing to promote it. Some of these bands did indeed achieve worldwide commercial success. This was a unique time that was brief and would never be repeated.

However, to look at it only that way is to assume that the musicians in these bands created the music entirely on their own in a vacuum. That’s never the case. While it’s true that many of us musicians today go no further back than the original compositions by Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer and the like, it’s certainly not true that the musicians lacked prior influences for their songwriting. Let’s talk about that.

In the 1960s, British musicians got into “rock and roll” by blatantly copying American delta blues and Chicago blues from the earliest massed-produced recordings in the 1920s up through their period in the 1960s – the music of working-class black Americans recast for middle-class Brits, updated with the instruments they had on hand. Acts like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin all owed a tremendous debt to African-American music. All through the 1960s and 70s, the dominant form of British and American rock was heavily influenced by African-American blues.

But there is a clear line between these bands and progressive rock acts, and it is this: progressive rock bands wrote music that drew on everything that they could find to listen to except for the blues. In this way they defined themselves against the mainstream of pop music. But where did they get their ideas?

The Beatles, thanks to Paul McCartney, injected a thread of British Music Hall, a kind of adaptation of big-band jazz that went all the way back to the New Orleans Dixieland jazz of the earliest part of the 20th century and flourished into its own unique style through both world wars and up until the ascendency of rock. The Beatles’ more avant-garde excursions using tape loops are due to the influence of an early style of electronic music called Musique Concrète, specifically the 1950s and 1960s recording of classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen from Germany.

King Crimson was clearly influenced by 20th-century European classical composers such as the Hungarian Béla Bartók. Crimson seemed to be creating 20th-century classical chamber music but with amplified rock instruments at ear-splitting volume.

Yes started out with an infatuation for the American vocally-oriented pop of bands like the Association, the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, but throughout the 70s they strove to create an orchestral, symphonic sound using the instruments of a small rock band. Jon Anderson listened to the symphonies and tone-poems of 20th-century composers like Finland’s Jean Sibelius and the ballet music of Russian-French-American composer Igor Stravinsky, while guitarist Steve Howe listened to the 300-year-old chamber orchestra concertos of the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman has had a life-long love affair with the music of 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, whose style and sound pops up all through everything Wakeman has done.

Keith Emerson went a bit further back; he is known for adapting a monumental piano work of the 19th-century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, called Pictures at an Exhibition, and going from there.

It was the 20th-century European classical composers who were the first to incorporate a musical element that would prove essential to the British progressive rock sound: the use of odd time signatures and frequent changes in meter throughout a song. Ultimately these ideas came to the classical composers from the traditional folk music of Eastern Europe, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans. Writers like Tony Banks of Genesis, members of Yes and King Crimson made a careful study of how 20th-century Western composers made use of these exotic rhythmic ideas.

A core element of most of these bands was a keyboardist, and those keyboardists, almost without exception, got their musical direction from one source: being trained as an organist for worship services in the Anglican Church. The great electric bass guitarist John Wetton, a featured performer in several prog rock bands, said further, “I learned from the greatest bass player of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach. My brother was a church organist, and I would sit next to him and study Bach’s bass lines as he played the organ.” Similarly, some singers in these bands were known to have been trained as church choirboys. Chris Squire is a well-known example, but I would be remiss if I did not add that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was an accomplished church choirboy as well.

British folk music and British classical music played a large role. Jethro Tull is probably the best-known band with obvious British folk-music roots. Tull started out flirting with African-American blues but found exploring British folk music, going back hundreds of years, to be more fertile ground.

When Pete Townsend of The Who wrote “Pinball Wizard” from his ground-breaking rock opera Tommy, he explained that the pedal-tone bass arrangement for the song came straight out of the works of British composer Henry Purcell, from the same time as Vivaldi. Likewise, Paul McCartney explained that his guitar composition “Blackbird” was his attempt to emulate J. S. Bach’s lute music.

Gentle Giant was a band that probably went further back for ideas than all the rest. They made great use of a style of musical composition that came well before the Baroque chordal music of Purcell, Vivaldi and Bach. Gentle Giant drew upon the 500-year-old Renaissance methods of counterpoint and polyphony, which is to say writing several simultaneous independent melodies that weaved together intricately to create a whole. Some of Gentle Giant’s music sounds rather Renaissance in tone, but they adapted these compositional ideas into their own take on funky American-sounding rhythm and blues as well.

Stepping back to look at the big picture, there is another element that characterizes progressive rock, and that is the compositional idea of the suite. Most pop music, then and now, is in the format of the song, which is a short composition structured into verses and choruses. Commercial radio in the 1950s and 60s dictated that popular songs needed to be no more than three minutes in length. Progressive rock, on the other hand, used a more classical model for much longer compositions. In a suite, one piece of music is divided up into a sequence of different musical sections, played one right after the other. Each section can have its own different keys, tempos, or musical moods. Many British progressive rock compositions are thus around twelve minutes or more in length. Now the use of the suite goes back to my colleague Sean Tonar’s point about bands having the creative freedom to experiment: in many cases, these classic suites, some of which we will be performing tonight, were composed on-the-fly during monthlong stints in a recording studio, where the band would compose only eight or sixteen measures of music, then record it, then compose a few more bars, then record that, and have the engineer splice it all together to create a final long-form suite. Only then would the band address learning to actually perform the piece live. This is why it’s often said that certain bands’ live albums contained better, more cohesive performances of these long suites than can be found on the original studio recordings.

My final observation is that British progressive rock happened at a unique point in music technology. It came to use sounds that nobody had ever heard before, made by a new and rapidly-evolving kind of electronic musical instrument called the synthesizer, which first appeared on the market circa 1968. They had been around in experimental recording studios for a few decades, but it was only at the very end of the 1960s that synthesizers were designed and built that were portable and suitable for use in stage performance. Progressive rock bands were especially eager to exploit this new technology. The first synthesizers, however, in addition to being staggeringly expensive, were only capable of playing one note at a time, like a flute or a trumpet, and not chords, as on an organ or a piano. Thus the synthesizer fell naturally into the role of providing a bass line or a solo melodic instrument for the keyboardist. It was not until the late 1970s that synthesizers became available which could play full chords like on an organ or piano.

Now let’s look at some of the individual bands on our program.

The Moody Blues were founded in 1964 as a party band that simply did covers of African-American music, hence their name. But after a radical change in the lineup, they became a kind of composer’s club bent on psychedelic, consciousness-expanding music centered around a cumbersome and unreliable magnetic-tape-based keyboard instrument called the Mellotron, played by their member Mike Pinder, who happened to work for the British Mellotron factory and thus got the old employee discount. The story goes that in 1967 their record label asked the Moody Blues to make a demonstration album for a new technology that the record company wanted to market: this was called stereo. The record label hired the Moody Blues an orchestral arranger and a pick-up orchestra and asked them to make an original album of their own adaptation of the 19th-century Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s popular orchestral work called the Symphony out of the New World. However, the Moody Blues won the orchestrator over to their side and recorded and delivered an album of all-original compositions. Fortunately the record label was forward-thinking enough to put out Days of Future Past, which became an instant classic and a best-seller. The Moody Blues were on their way to create their own progressive rock.

King Crimson is a band with a revolving door of musicians, the only constant being guitarist Robert Fripp. (Fripp grew up with and took guitar lessons from the same teacher as guitarist Andy Summers of The Police, who came to prominence more than a decade later.) With Crimson, each new album consisted of an entirely different lineup of musicians. Their sound went through many permutations, most all of them very serious, very hard, and very loud. However, tonight we are performing two rather atypical Crimson songs. The first, “I Talk to the Wind”, is a gentle acoustic piece of music that might have more to do with the Beatles that with the bone-crushing proto-heavy-metal that they included on the same debut album in 1969. The second, “Cat Food” is one of their only singles, and it’s clearly a tongue-in cheek throwback to the British blues-rock that all the proggers seemed bent on avoiding. We also must acknowledge that “Cat Food” bears a clear debt to the Beatles’ “Come Together”.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer was prog rock’s enduring “supergroup”. Keyboardist Keith Emerson, while never having been to music college, brought to bear a formidible understanding of concert classical piano and orchestration as well as bebop jazz. “Karn Evil 9” is a wide-ranging suite covering everything from psychedelic space-rock to acoustic piano jazz, and covering themes of human suffering in the face of technological oligarchy. The lyrics came from Pete Sinfield, who also worked with King Crimson. We’re doing the movement in the middle, which is a whimsical stab at carnival entertainment and a shout-out to the great American Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Berlin and his first hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” from the year 1911.

Yes is a band that never accepted any limits on what kind of influences they could incorporate into their music. They are know for their gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, in a close-harmony style reminiscent of the Beach Boys. But they also freely drew from American country music and jazz, psychedelic science-fiction themes, and built their lyrics on Eastern mysticism, while they strove through the keyboards and the bass to approach making a five-piece rock band sound as big as a symphony orchestra. They might be said to have the biggest arena-filling sound of all the prog bands.

Genesis started out as a cadre of friends from the same high-school, adapting British folk music to the rock idiom. Their earlier music is characterised by intricate layers of rather simple chords played on two or three twelve-string guitars. Lyrically they drew on classical Greek mythology, fairy tales and flights of science fiction. “Watcher of the Skies” is something that speaks to young men of my generation who read all they could of the “golden-age” science fiction writers like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Even Marvel Comics had a character called “The Watcher”, an immortal and supernatural being whose job it was to observe everything that humans did throughout the history of Planet Earth, without ever interfering. “Watcher of the Skies” is a story on a cautionary tale that was common at the time: that of Planet Earth being totally worn-out and uninhabitable, and human beings having to migrate from the planet into a new home elsewhere in space. Neil Young wrote a song called “After the Goldrush” which is on the same theme. “Squonk”, on the other hand, is based on a whimsical folk tale that they say comes from Appalachia. Sonically, Genesis was striving toward the epic sound of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.

If Yes was a monolithic wall of sound, then Gentle Giant was a stainless-steel chain-link fence. Rather than huge chords sustained on organs and guitars, Gentle Giant played nimble, intricate interlocking melodies that are, let’s be honest, really hard for musicians following them to figure out how to play. That’s why you don’t hear of Gentle Giant cover bands. Yet tonight we’re attempting two songs from their 1974 album The Power and the Glory, which are meditations on the theme of political power and control. Say a prayer for us.

Jethro Tull is all about their sole songwriter and front-man: singer, flutist and acoustic guitarist Ian Anderson. He started out with the blues, but took a sharp turn into loud, powerful rock built on British folk music, with a continuous dose of whimsy, and a knack for Dickensian characters and narratives in the lyrics. Tonight we present one of their most lyrical and “pop”-sounding pieces, “Living in the Past” and one of their darkest, heaviest works, “Aqualung”.

Kansas is the sole American band on our lineup tonight. They started as friends and fellow musicians from small-town Kansas, but as soon as they broke out they relocated to Atlanta, Georgia; several members still live here although they aren’t seen around town very much as they continue to tour heavily all these years later. Kansas is one of the very few rock bands to feature a solo violin throughout its history, giving its arrangements a penchant toward orchestral sounds. Kansas was the brainchild of songwriter Kerry Livgren. His early musical inspirations came from trying to identify with the plight of Native Americans and their history; he progressed through New-Age spirituality and settled on Christianity, which became a theme that put him at odds with other members of the band. Tonight we also feature one of Kansas’ best-known pop hits, “Point of Know Return”, which was actually written by other members of the band without Kerry Livgren’s contribution.

Rush is here tonight representing Canada. Our musicians on  this jam come from two active, working Rush tribute bands here in Atlanta: The Spirit of Rush and Permanent Waves. Rush had a unique sound that nobody tried to emulate for a long time. They were a power-trio veering on heavy metal but very much into Yes and King Crimson. Somehow they managed to find tremendous commercial success, an enduring fandom composed of working-class people and not intellectuals, and just about the longest continuous career of making new music of all the bands we are paying tribute to tonight.

Copyright © 2016 by Wheat Williams, Unpublished. All rights reserved. 

Sun vs. Chess Jam with the BadAsh AllStar Team

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog — the good news is that I’ve been up on stage. Over the past four months I’ve fallen in with a motley crew of professional jazz and rock musicians who do jam sessions in jazz clubs in Atlanta, Georgia. They are called the BadAsh AllStar Team. Their jam sessions are all based on a specific theme. I’ve sung in shows paying tribute to Elton John, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Motown and Stax, and most recently Sun and Chess Records.

On Tuesday, February 5, 2016, I performed in the Sun vs. Chess Records Jam, which gave me the opportunity to share my 20 years of study on the subject with the audience, as well as to sing some early Elvis and Carl Perkins. I’ve published a 1,200-word article about this at a new music website called, so I’ll just give you a link and you can read my article there.

Sun vs. Chess Jam, Part I

Sun vs. Chess Jam, Part II

My Interview with Steve Howe of Yes, 1999

This article Copyright© 1999 by Wheat Williams, III. All rights reserved.

Steve Howe in 1999
Steve Howe in 1999

In 1999, I was commissioned by Guitar Player Magazine to do a short feature on Yes guitarist Steve Howe. I got an interview with him, in person, while he was on tour with Yes. Unfortunately, Guitar Player was only able to run a very short piece. I contacted Progression Magazine, a publication for fans of progressive rock, and they agreed to publish an edited version of my full interview with Steve Howe. What follows is the manuscript that I submitted to Progression; it’s a bit longer than what they actually published.

Yes press photo, 1999
Yes press photo, 1999

In 1999, Steve Howe was amazingly prolific, seeing the release of his solo albums Quantum Guitars and Portraits of Bob Dylan, in addition to Yes’ 18th studio album, The Ladder. And the 1968 album from his pre-Yes band, Tomorrow, became available on CD. As a fitting tribute, Martin Guitars released a limited edition of 250 Steve Howe-model acoustic guitars, based on his beloved 1953 00-18 model. Beyond Sound also released the Steve Howe Interactive three-CD-ROM package for Windows and Macintosh computers. It contains extensive interviews with Steve, and demonstrations where he performs his signature licks, as well as “Clap” and “Mood for a Day” in their entirety, on high-resolution video. This would be useful to any guitarist trying to cop his licks. The third CD in the set is a digital version of his 1994 coffee-table book, The Steve Howe Guitar Collection, with audio narrations.

I spoke with Steve Howe at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 16, 1999, hours before Yes’ second performance of the American leg of their tour supporting The Ladder. I had a specific mission: to learn about Steve’s formative influences as a guitarist, and how he brought those influences to Yes. I posed the daunting question, “What is progressive rock?” As you’ll see, if you want to really understand where Steve’s playing comes from, it’s not just jazz; you’re going to have to go out and get a lot of country music from the 50s and 60s. And after more than two years of having Billy Sherwood as a full member of Yes, Steve shares his not-so-cordial reservations about having a second guitarist in the band.

Wheat: I just spent the afternoon going through the Steve Howe Interactive CD-ROM collection. The information on there was so good that I feel that I’ve already interviewed you, and in my own office.

Steve: Great!

Wheat: I guess the CD-ROM project started two or three years ago?

Steve: Yeah, at least. It took awhile. We kept thinking it was going to be this, and it was going to be that, and then we redid a lot of it, so it all had continuity. At one time we’d done some shooting. I thought I was done, but it didn’t really turn out good enough. So we got clever and the ideas got better, and we did it again. Hopefully it was worthwhile.

Wheat: So how is the material from the new album going over with audiences?

Steve: Well, we’ve done a bit in South America and we’ve done just one show here. Obviously America’s had a chance for some people to listen to it, and that helps us when we play. In South America they didn’t know what we were playing. Sometimes the language lost them a bit because it makes transitions difficult. In the weak space between songs they would start shouting.

We were going to so many new countries in South America that we decided to drop a few new songs because we felt they were struggling. We’d never played there before, so we stuck “Close to the Edge” back in there instead. We wanted to give them the kind of show that they were hoping for, not too much–you go to see a band and you’ve been itching to see them, and they don’t play your favorites. So we just worked, you know, to be as audience-friendly as we could.

Judging from last night, I would think it’s going to go reasonably well. I mean I think we’re going to find out what’s good and bad in it. Not every track that we record always necessarily works on stage.

Wheat: How would you define progressive rock? What is it?

Steve: Well it’s a pretty dangerous thing to try to decide. It’s almost about not having such a clear definition, but it being the beginning, if you like, toward much more openness towards crossing the music. Psychedelic music sort of started that; Indian music came in, and jazz then got kind of on the fringe of it because it was improvisation. Then psychedelic improvisation was brought in to jazz players. And then a lot more things started happening, I guess. Progressive seems to be more of a continuation of psychedelic, in my mind, than anything else, because it just opened up the idea that you could bring in influences that were much broader. Whereas classical music is part of a convention, progressive rock was broadening the music by bringing in something that was unconventional to be made a part of it, but in a way a convention of its own: classical music. I think that’s part of what happened.

But you could blame it on synthesizers. You could blame it all on Bob Moog!

Joining Yes was the opportunity for me to start fulfilling a dream of being in a group that had high musicianship, had strong individuality. And certainly we were a part of that progressive movement because we were allowed, or we allowed ourselves, if you like, to expand it into things like Close to the Edge and Relayer for instance.

When Patrick Moraz came into the band, we realized that in a way the band was like an orchestra, because it wasn’t limited by its personnel. The personnel could change and we could still kind of carry on the same concepts. So we had a certain style.

We did shut ourselves off from Genesis. They were a bit close for comfort after awhile. We didn’t want to hear them too much because in a way we didn’t want to be influenced. We didn’t want to be like them. Because they were formulating their own sort of style, you know. It was great for me later when I wasn’t in the middle of it to look back on what Genesis did, in particularly on the albums that Steve Hackett played on, and to find out more about what they were like after the fact.

Wheat: When I think of Genesis I honestly feel that their music is just very, very English.

Steve: Yeah.

Wheat: I mean anything from William Byrd up to Edward Elgar or this whole long line of British classical and church music composers. I seem to find some sense of that in there.

But specifically looking at things like multiple odd time signatures that change, frequent key changes, long form compositions: do you think that the people that were the architects of progressive rock, even the members of Yes before you joined, were they consciously looking to Bartók and Stravinsky and that sort of thing, or did that come afterwards?

Steve: Well, I think people just brought their ingredients. When I joined, and Jon and I began to talk about music over the first few years, we found we had quite different things we listened to. He liked classical music but a different era. And I was still kind of caught up in the Baroque era at that time and really influenced by Telemann and Vivaldi. Not influenced necessarily, but I listened, and I thought it was really bright and pure, and then the moody things I liked. The second movements from all those concertos was the other side of it. I liked those contrasts.

So I don’t know. I really can’t define it. But certainly as much as it was one kind of music, it was another kind of music. It was jazz as much as one thing, for me to come in and find that Bill [Bruford] was really into jazz. What he was talking about was something I enjoyed. And you know when we played “Siberian Khatru,” when we played that tune (hums second theme) that was one of Bill’s. When I play that, I still feel like I’m playing Bruford as much as I’m playing Yes.

Yes is hopefully a useful musical melting pot, where people just mix their ideas. I think that we weren’t really governed by what progressive rock was supposed to be. It didn’t almost exist. We were helping to invent it. We weren’t that conscious that we were doing something that was going to be called a name like that. We were certainly aware when we got to the mid seventies that there were two kinds of success for Yes. There was the immediacy of Fragile, and The Yes Album. Then Close to the Edge surprised everybody first, by just having three titles on it. We realized by the results of [Tales From] Topographic Oceans that a division was happening. Our popularity was going to the dedicated fans. The common man was going to say, “Oh no, Yes have got too much for me now.” So we just worked with the fan base and they seemed to be enormous. And in America so loyal, and in Europe so deceptively loyal.

Wheat: How’s that?

Steve: Yes didn’t pay a lot of attention to Europe. It was conceived that they weren’t really than interested in it. But as soon as we started to work there, and I did solo tours there, as well, then we realized that the Yes audience were really just dormant, waiting for Yes to return. So we did very well last year when we toured Europe. And we’ll go back next year. So that’s the kind of plot, why we do that thing: because people stuck with us and people kind of developed along with it. And clung to the memories that are surely deep in our minds. When we played “Perpetual Change” last night I was very surprised at how I felt about thinking that we wrote that song, and we played that song, and we arranged that song.

Wheat: That’s my favorite cut off that album.

Steve: Good. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

Wheat: If I can go back to one more question about the birth of this whole thing, would it be accurate to say that you guys were trying to avoid the Delta blues-influenced Rolling Stones to Cream and Eric Clapton kind of thing when you were starting, that you were trying to skirt around those blues-rock clichés and find something that was entirely different, but still used the same instruments?

Steve: Yeah, I mean, that affected me a lot because obviously I played guitar, and everybody else was playing guitar in a different style–and I wasn’t. I had done that in the early Sixties, and I was in a couple of blues bands then. And it was great fun. I dearly loved the blues. I want to return to the blues at some time. But the thing is that I got so caught up in not playing other peoples’ cliché guitar lines, but actually working out other guitarist’s lines, very short parts. I mean, I couldn’t concentrate on the whole track, so I’d learn maybe thirty-two bars from Tal Farlow, from Kenny Burrell, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian. I learned little bits from all of these guys but I didn’t attempt to learn vast amounts of each of them. I listen to them. I hear them. And I learned a few things.

I did make a conscious decision not to play blues after The In Crowd changed to Tomorrow. When I was working with people who wrote songs, then it was much easier to put original guitar into new songs than it was to put in old songs. So Keith West and I started writing songs, and then I wrote with another group before Yes called Bodast. That experience wasn’t enough for me because there wasn’t the instrumentation going [Bodast was a power trio].

When you first mention progressive, I think of King Crimson. I think Yes were conscious that Crimson were very close to them in the timing of it.

Wheat: Much darker, though.

Steve: Yes. I suppose that was what intrigued Bill, and we lost Bill, because he wanted to play in Crimson. We learned a lesson from Crimson in a way. We learned about music and certain people. And peoples’ decisiveness about their musical direction. We all admired Bill for his decisiveness. But he actually thought that Yes were getting too commercial. To think that we could have gone into a stage of writing Tales from Topographic Oceans with Bill might have been very unlikely in a way. Besides the fact that it’s not more commercial, which is kind of what Bill thought, it was certainly more time consuming. It was more meandering and more structurally fragile in its scale [spreads out arms wide]. For Bill it most probably would have been hard work on that record. But he may have been good for us.

Wheat: I have noticed one thing, though. I’ve met Robert Fripp on a couple of occasions. Both he and you state very clearly that [Elvis Presley’s original guitarist] Scotty Moore and [Ricky Nelson’s guitarist] James Burton were very motivational. Not necessarily for the licks but just because that made you want to run out and get a guitar and play it.

Steve: But it did also make me want to play exactly like them, which I couldn’t! You know, Scotty, and James Burton, and also, the other guitarist I’ve realized plays a big part in that is a guy called Jimmy Bryant.

Wheat: He played with Tennessee Ernie Ford, is that right?

Steve: Yeah. I know that Albert Lee often mentions him and Hank Garland. Make sure you get the mono version of Hank Garland’s The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland. It’s moving. It’s so brilliant. On the fake stereo version, it’s swamped with reverb and you can’t hear the guitar. It just begs the question. There’s been so many brilliant guitar records made. And Hank Garland is definitely one of the most brilliant.

Hank Garland
The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland

Jimmy Bryant’s records have come out on CD now, from the label. You should get those. Jimmy Bryant is just one of the all-time greats. Well, a lot happened before the 50s.

That guitarist Roy Smeck, he played some very inventive stuff. He played stuff overdubbing on records and playing multi-guitar family instruments way before it. But when you get to the electric guitar era, somebody invented the guitar solo, the brilliant guitar solo. Obviously Charlie Christian was one of those people. Django was doing it almost before as well, but then there’s Jimmy Bryant. He made the guitar solo stunning. A guitar break in a song from Jimmy Bryant was all over the guitar. It was so great. I can’t say how much that inspired me. And everybody else was only almost as good as him. Every rock guitarist after Jimmy Bryant. But he was really a cross between hillbilly, R&B, and just great guitar.

Wheat: I was privileged three years ago — DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore came out of retirement and did an album. I got to interview them, and spend a day in the studio with them.

Steve: Yeah? I played with them not long ago. They came to England with a band. Yeah, I played with them. I played one song, Scotty played “I Got a Woman.” Yeah, and a lot of guitarists popped up with him that night.

Wheat: Did you record?

Steve: I think they videotaped it, yeah.

Wheat: Meeting him was the most unbelievable thing. I was absolutely frightened.

Steve: No, he’s lovely. I wouldn’t have thought. I met him about three years ago for the first time and he was fantastic. Just fantastic.

Wheat: How is it working out playing with Billy Sherwood? I know that he’s been associated with Yes in some form or another going back to the Union album. He’s obviously been around a long time. And he’s also brought a lot of engineering and producing skills. But what is it like having him as a second guitarist on stage?

Steve: Well it kind of varies. I mean, things in the Open Your Eyes period were a little bit of unknown territory. We had to forge a different kind of Yes. Certainly Chris [Squire] was backing this idea of having two guitarists.

I said, if I want to play with another guitarist, how about [Dixie Dregs and Deep Purple guitarist] Steve Morse? Because to me there’s world class guitarists who I’d like to spend a lot more time with. Steve is one of the people at the top of my list. Because he’s amazing. But the concept here wasn’t to have two dazzling guitarists.

I had to redevelop where I should be in the group, and hope that Billy’s position wouldn’t either intimidate, threaten, or undermine me. He’s providing more fundamental parts than me, with my embellishments and solos and anything like that. So when we got to The Ladder, we kind of defined it a little more clearly. We couldn’t really go into the record not knowing who was playing what kind of guitar. So I suggested that we clarify it and make it fun for me, not to have to consider Billy in the lead guitar area at all.

But when we got back on stage, other things start to come into it. And other threats come into it and things get confusing. And it sometimes can remind me of the Trevor Rabin era a little bit and that’s obviously a problem for me. So I’m kind of working towards it all working out great. But I mean given the opportunity this group works for me better with one guitarist. The fact that Billy’s in the band as a full-time member is not a problem unless his guitar work interferes with what I’m doing. I imagined that he was going to become more of a multi-instrumentalist within the group. Because he has that capability. And that’s what I believe we were opening ourselves up to.

Wheat: Playing keys, playing bass?

Steve: Yeah. A variety of things all of which he does with a nice style. So seeming that guitar’s rather inseparable, obviously there are times when I’m watching how things are going. So it is a fluid situation where we need good intent, and fair use of what this group is. Optimizing on the group. That’s about all I can say. It hasn’t worked, it has worked, it can work, it is working, but it might not work. Not that it might not work, but that it might not be as easy as people would like to think.

When I played “Perpetual Change” last night, I was hit emotionally about the fact that we were playing that music in 1970. We wrote it in this beautiful place that I lived nearby. There was a lot of sentiment in it, a lot of romantic thoughts and a lot of awesome concepts of what life was like then, and how much time we had and how much space we had, and how much freedom we had. It’s quite an eye-opener when you find yourself playing a piece of music that somehow encapsulates some of that era. Deep, deep!

Wheat: You seem to be in a phase where you’re not interested in working with the latest technology. You’ve never gotten into the Roland VG-8, that physical modeling device that takes an input from any electric guitar and creates the sound of other types of guitars and amplifiers?

Steve: Oh, that stuff. Well, you know, I was very excited when I first heard of it, but then I saw David Bowie and his guitarist [Reeves Gabrels] using it. I thought, that’s very nice, but I’m not going to go over to it. It would be a fascination to use that stuff. And I reckon I could use it pretty well, but, the strange thing is, I’ve got really back into what amps are all about. What two guitar amps are supposed to sound like. And I think I enjoy that more. The purity of the mike. So a DI sound going into the PA doesn’t really interest me compared to the sound of an amp. A good guitar going into an amp; somehow that’s the sound I want to hear. I’m not using a great deal of processing, either. It comes in now and again, where it has incredible effect for me. But look at the gear. There’s the guitars, you know, I mean one or two effects might be on the standby making a stereo delay, but there’s basically the guitars, the amps, and a simple pedalboard I’ve been using since Keys [to Ascension]. I’ve still got a huge pedalboard that’s 24 switches, three volume pedals, lovely. It’s a bit big, and it’s really for the larger venue work. So on this tour I’m relying much more on what I like, which is the guitar and an amp.

steve howe book
The Steve Howe Guitar Collection coffee-table book, published in 1994

Wheat: Have you got any new guitars, since your Steinbergers, for instance?

Steve: Well, I got a lovely present from Scott Chinery; he gave me a marvellous Martin 00-42H, a Hawaiian guitar from the 1930s, and that was stunning. ESP gave me a beautiful Telecaster a couple of years ago that I like very much. And also Sans Amp gave me a very nice Tech 21 amp. Roland have been great and they’ve supplied me with two Jazz Choruses–the amp I never thought I’d use. But it’s actually a terrific amp. I like Jazz Chorus amps now.

Wheat: Still using a Fender Twin?

Steve: Yep. Can’t seem to replace them, but certainly for the solo shows the Jazz Chorus is great.

I think that guitars have become more a discovery of what I’ve got than the constant search for something else that I haven’t got. And that’s something that you realize in a collection. That by keeping on collecting and expanding you never really get to the core of why you did it. So I went back and started moving parts of my collection at various times. And I like that because it gets smaller, more manageable, and the things that are there I’ve got time for. Because the other maybe eighty guitars I used to have I didn’t have time for. I had no time at all for. Can you imagine how to get time for those guitars? It’s impossible, really. So a player’s collection, which mine’s becoming more and more, is more refined. And once a guitar has been tried numerous times for a particular various ideas and it doesn’t really do anything to you then there’s actually no point in keeping it. Because somebody else might find something in it.

Wheat: What was your reaction when Eric Clapton got $450,000 for his first Strat in the auction? I thought tha was pretty terrifying myself. I thought, well, I’ll never own one, will I?

Steve: I suppose I’ve got a lot of feelings about that as a one-off thing that Eric did. I understand that it wasn’t something he thought of automatically, and it wasn’t something that was easy for him to do. Having said that there were some reasonably conventional guitars in there that did go for some astronomical prices. But I think that just shows what the spirit of giving can be in this world. And it’s something that Eric, bless him, has always had, ever since I’ve known him, or met him, back in the 60s. He’s always been very generous and kind in that situation. So to see him do something like that wasn’t so much of a surprise as you might have thought. That says more than what’s already been said about Eric, so I feel admiration and respect for him and for the pleasure that he raised so much real money in terms of supporting his cause. And serious money it was. But I think that collection is so exceptional that one can’t relate it to any other sales. It wasn’t a sale so much. It was much more of an event.

Wheat: And a charity also.

Steve: That’s right. That’s what I mean. It was a multi-media thing that helps a need very much. But some of his obviously great guitars, and ones that he used, like Blackie and Brownie, and all those, deserve to go for very, very high prices. Those are high prices that they went for. They’re very high, truly top end, but then again, who did you think could sell guitars for more?

You know, it does show something, like when David Bowie went on the stock market with his songs. It shows that in reality a musician has to think what he’s worth, because he’s got bills to pay, and he’s got ideas to fulfill. You can’t just sit on wealth. It’s very negative. So in a way Eric’s a leader in a cause again, like [Princess] Diana was. I just love him. He’s a wonderful guy.

This article is Copyright © 1999 by Wheat Williams, III. All rights reserved.

Arietha Lockhart and Todd Skrabanek, February 17, 2015

Arietha Lockhart and Todd Skrabanek
Arietha Lockhart and Todd Skrabanek. Photo by Sid Hetzler.

Arietha Lockhart, Soprano and Todd Skrabanek, Piano
February 17, 2015, 7:00 pm at Inman Park Church, United Methodist, Atlanta, Georgia

  • “Our World” and “Las estrellas” (2014) from Worlds of Beauty by Amy Leventhal
  • “Of Being” (2013) and “Caedmon” (2001) from The Believers by Mary Lynn Place Badarak
  • “A Man Who Showed the Way” (2007)  by Douglas Tappin
  • “Little Lamb” (2015) by Mary M. Boyle; text by William Blake (1757-1827)
  • “Love Ritual” (2009) by Dr. Sharon J. Willis
  • “Let There be Peace on Earth” (2007), Travis Vaughn, III
  • “Laughing Monkeys of Gravity” (2003) by Curtis Bryant, text by Stephen Bluestone
  • “Hold On” (2007) and “Soon I Will Be Done” (2004) by James V. Cockerham
  • “from Isaiah 40” (2014) by Michael Kurth

In a historic but bare church sanctuary in need of renovation, backed by a little upright piano, Atlanta coloratura soprano Arietha Lockhart gave a Tuesday-night recital of recently-composed pieces by Atlanta composers. She was accompanied by the prodigiously-capable Todd Skrabanek (known as “The Skrabanek Philharmonic” for his ability to pull an orchestra’s worth of textures out of a single acoustic piano). It was the kind of rather impromptu recital where most of the members of the audience are the composers themselves and their friends and families. But a range of interesting music was performed nonetheless.

A couple of stand-out pieces were notable for their comedy. “Love Ritual” by Dr. Sharon J. Willis is a five-movement monologue of a vain, coquettish contemporary young woman relating her story of meeting a man, instantly being infatuated with him, and fretting obsessively over his failure to call her on the phone for a couple of days. Ms. Lockhart obviously enjoyed slipping into this role, with a lot of sly winks, visual and musical.

“Laughing Monkeys of Gravity” is Curtis Bryant’s setting of four poems by Stephen Bluestone on the films of iconic comedic movie stars: Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, The Three Stooges, and Charlie Chaplin. The performance of voice and piano was all the more impressive when I spoke to the composer and learned that he originally composed this piece for a “Pierrot Lunaire” sextet: soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. This performance was a piano reduction. Todd Skrabanek bore up admirably under the challenge.

The recital concluded with the premiere of “from Isaiah 40” by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra bassist and composer Michael Kurth.  He wrote an art  song that nonetheless keeps a “contemporary worship” feel, down-to-earth yet ascending to the absolute heights of pitch and expression that a coloratura soprano can create. Ms. Lockhart provided the ideal vehicle, soaring on the eagle’s wings in song.

O Little Liturgical Candle of Syracuse

This Christmas eve at church, I looked down in my hand and realized something. For virtually every single Christmas Eve in my 49 years, wherever I was, in whatever church I was, I was handed exactly this: a small white candle with a paper guard that read “Candlelight Service: Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co. Syracuse, N.Y.” And the candle that I have been handed every year is exactly the same, and so is the printing on the paper guard.

The Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co., Syracuse, N.Y.
The Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co., Syracuse, N.Y.

In Christian churches all over the USA and probably farther afield than that, on Christmas eve, congregants get handed these little candles, which they light one by one from a central flame while singing “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) until everyone is singing in a dark sanctuary lit only by these candles. That must be many millions of candles over the many decades of the tradition.

The moment I was contemplating this, last night, I remarked aloud, “Who are the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company of Syracuse, New York?” and immediately, right in front of me, was a couple who are almost 80 years old, who happily told me that they both grew up in Syracuse, and that they have seen the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company factory many times. It is at least a hundred years old, they told me. Apparently, when they built the interstate highway through Syracuse, they built a ramp for it, leaving the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company factory undisturbed.

What a strange and wonderful business they must have. I assume they sell something other than these millions and millions of completely identical and disposable small white candles which are only used one night of the year, every year. But the fact that the design of the candles and even the Spartan artwork on the paper guards has essentially never changed — that means that they must have found themselves a niche and held onto it for dear life for a century.

Then there’s the name. “Muench” and “Kreuzer” are proper surnames for German-American immigrants. “Muench” means “monk”, and “Kreuzer” means “crusader”, and comes from the same German root word as the word for “cross”. So it’s the Monk-Cross liturgical candle company. That worked out well.

I have deliberately not Googled the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Co. of Syracuse, N. Y. before writing this reverie. Now maybe I will.

Don’t spill hot wax down your hand and arm next Christmas eve. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Added December 29, 2013

Sadly, the era has already ended. I came across a newspaper article from April, 2012 that says that the Muench-Kreuzer Candle Company, started in 1925, shut down its Syracuse factory, and the article implied but did not explicitly state that the company was out of business. The factory building in Syracuse was sold, and was to be renovated for loft apartments, although they promised to keep the historical exterior.

One of Syracuse’s last candle factories to become apartments

A further chronicaling of the decline of the company is found in another article from the same Syracuse newspaper dated May 10, 2010.

Syracuse candle company laying off up to 38 of its 46 workers

Cecilia McDowall’s “Christus Natus Est” in English Translation

In recent years, as I’ve learned another major sacred choral work and performed it, I’ve done my own study of translating the lyrics (usually from Latin) into English, and researching the source of the texts and Bible verses used as source material. As I’ve come up with each one, I’ve posted it here on my blog.

In the past few years, this has lead to my being contacted by musicians and music directors all over the world, and I’ve made some friends!

Here is my latest installment. If you would like to make use of, or reprint my work, please do me the courtesy of sending me an email first, asking for permission, and telling me how you will use it. Please introduce yourself and tell me about you, where you live, and about the choir you are working with. I look forward to hearing from you.

And in this case, my Latin and French are not the best or the most correct. If you have expertise in these languages and would like to send me corrections or suggestions for improvement, I would welcome them.

Copyright © 2013 by Wheat Williams. All rights reserved.

This season I’m preparing to sing in a production that includes Cecilia McDowall’s 2007 suite of ancient Christmas songs, Christus Natus Est. (Oxford University Press)

I have prepared a study of English translations of the texts she chose:

  • Personent Hodie (Latin, from Prague and Germany, 1300s)
  • Entre le bœuf (French, 1600s)
  • Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus (Latin, from Finland and Sweden, 1500s)
  • Infant holy, infant lowly (originally Polish, 1600s, presented by McDowall in English translation after Edith M. G. Reed)
  • Angelus ad Virginem (Latin, from France, 1200s)

The published and copyrighted sheet music for Christus Natus Est contains English rhyming translations of the text for use if a choir performs the piece in English. However, these settings are not literal, word-for-word translations of the original Latin and French.

I have endeavored to make a literal translation of the texts for the purposes of study by choral singers who want to understand the meaning of each line and phrase, and to identify the important words in each phrase so that they can better understand how to sing the text expressively.  My inelegant translations are not “singable”. As I have stated in previous posts, I have no formal training in Latin.

Personent Hodie

Latin  English translation
1. Personent hodie,
voces puerulae,
laudantes iucunde
qui nobis est natus,
summo Deo datus,
et de virgineo ventre procreatus.
1. Resound today
voices of children
praising pleasantly
Who to us is born
supreme God, given
and of a virgin born.
2. In mundo nascitur,
pannis involvitur;
praesepi ponitur
stabulo brutorum,
rector supernorum.
Perdidit spolia princeps infernorum.
2. Born into the world,
in swaddling clothes wrapped
Stable brutes
Straight above
Lost and spoiled is the prince of Hell.
3. Magi tres venerunt,
munera offerunt,
parvulum inquirunt,
stellulam sequendo,
ipsum adorando.
Aurum thus et myrrham ei offerendo.
 3. Wise-men three came
Gifts they offer
the little star following
him worshiping
Gold, frankincense and myrrh to him offering
4. Omnes clericuli,
pariter pueri,
cantent ut angeli:
adventisti mundo,
laudes tibi fundo.
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo.
4. All clergy,
children together
as sing the angels
the arrival of the world
praise you from the foundation.
So glory in the highest to God.

Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris

French English translation
1. Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris,
Dorts le petit fils.
1. Between the ox and the grey donkey
Sleeps the small Son.
Mille anges divins,
mille séraphins,
Volent à l’entour de ce grand Dieu d’amour.
A thousand angels divine,
a thousand seraphim
Flying around the great God of love
2. Entre les deux bras de Marie
Dorts le fruit de la Vie
 2. Between the two arms of Mary
sleeps the Fruit of Life
3. Entre les roses, et les lys
Dorts le petit Fils
3. Between the roses and the lillies
Sleeps the small Son.
4. Entre les pastoureaux jolis,
Dorts le petit fils.
4. Between the beautiful shepherds
Sleeps the small Son.
 5. En ce beau jour solennel,
Dorts l’Emmanuel.
5. In this beautiful solemn day,
Sleep, Emmanuel.

Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus

Latin English translation
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary, rejoice!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
The time of grace has come
that which we desire,
songs of joy
let us devoutly return.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God a man is made
Wonder of Nature,
The world is restored
By Christ’s reign.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
Ezekiel’s gate
closed, is passed through,
Hence, light has risen,
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra concio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore our gathering
Play already our plan
Bless the Lord:
The salvation of our King is ours.

Infant holy, infant lowly

1. Infant holy, infant lowly
For his bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging, angels singing,
Nowells ringing, tidings bringing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
2. Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil ‘til the morning new,
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow;
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Angelus ad virginem

Latin English translation
1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinem.
1. The angel to the virgin
crept into the room.
The virgin was in fear.
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Coeli terraeque dominum.
Et paries
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medela criminum.
He said to her, “Hail”.
Hail the Queen of virgins,
Of heavens and earth the master.
You shall conceive,
A wall
the Salvation of men.
You the gate of heaven made
Healing sins.
2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?
How shall I conceive,
seeing that a man I do not know?
How shall make such an infraction,
I who made a vow with my mind firm?
Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timeas,
sed gaudeas,
quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia.
The Spirit’s holy grace
will bring all this;
Fear not
But rejoice
and safe
that chastity
will remain pure
in God’s power.
3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
To these words the virgin noble
answered to him;
Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio
Et cupiens
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio.
The handmaiden am I, humble,
Of All-powerful God.
By your heavenly announcement
I am of such secrets made aware
I am in agreement
And I want
To see
that done, that I hear.
I am ready to obey
God’s will.
4. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuum exora filium.
Ut se nobis propitium
Et deleat
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beata
Post hoc exsilium.
4. Come, mother of the Lord
Who has peace restored
To angels and mankind,
When Christ you bore;
Pray your Son
to be good to us
Let Him show,
And wash away
Giving help
Life to enjoy
After this exile.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Sonic Generator in Atlanta

MetropolisposterLast night I, along with a huge crowd sitting on lawn chairs on the plaza of the Woodruff Arts Center, witnessed one of the most important performances ever staged in Atlanta, Georgia with regard both to cinema and to contemporary classical music. The ensemble Sonic Generator, with Parisian conductor Bruno Ferrandis, and audio engineer Frédéric Prin, played a live accompaniment to the recently-restored full-length 2-hour-and-28-minute version of Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s monumental silent film Metropolis, first released in 1927. What Sonic Generator was playing is a score by Frenchman Martin Matalon, first composed in 1995 and revised and lengthened after 2010 to incorporate about 20 minutes of interstitial footage that was long lost from earlier cuts of the film and only recently restored. This was the first American live performance of the new score.

You really missed something special if you were not there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a coming together of cultural forces that make me proud to say I live in Atlanta and participate in its fine arts scene.

The performance and production, three years in the planning, was sponsored not only by Sonic Generator’s usual benefactor Georgia Tech (the university more properly known as the Georgia Institute of Technology), but also by the Atlanta offices of the international governmental organizations the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut, and finally by Flux Projects of Atlanta, in celebration of 50 years of cultural cooperation between France and Germany. Monumental and auspicious indeed.

I’ll leave it to the reader to look up more information on Metropolis, what the film has to say in terms of science fiction, philosophy, politics, economics, spirituality and religion, and above all, the Roaring Twenties and what came after. Go ahead now; this blog post will still be here when you get back.

I would also recommend if you are reading this that you get yourself a trial subscription to Netflix’s streaming service and watch the film on your computer. It can be found at this link, at the time of the posting of this blog entry.

Today, after last night’s performance, I went back to my computer and watched the full restored film streaming on Netflix, where it’s been available for at least the last year. It’s presented on Netflix with the original 1927 orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz. More on that later.

The concert at the Woodruff Arts Center started while the sun was still up, at 8:00, when I was delighted to hear Jessica Peek Sherwood performed Steve Reich’s minimalist opus Vermont Counterpoint on three flutes of different range, playing along with a pre-recorded ensemble of many other flutes. This was followed by my favorite Steve Reich composition, Electric Counterpoint, expressively played by Indiana guitarist Derek Johnson, along with the backing tracks of 11 guitars and two bass guitars originally recorded by Pat Metheny in 1987. Each of these pieces are about 15 minutes long, in three movements, and for this reviewer, they encapsulate everything that was the best of the style called minimalism. Electric Counterpoint is particularly (or I might say “comparatively”) tuneful and melodic, with a recognizable and distinctive chord progression (although it’s not a functional harmonic progression in the sense of classical music theory) and a sunnily-disposed and emotionally uplifting final movement. Of course it would be amazing to hear either of these pieces performed entirely live rather than with one soloist and backing tracks, but this is almost never done due to the logistics that would have to be involved.

At about 8:50, after numerous thank-yous, introductions, and short speeches by international dignitaries with charmingly heavy accents, the sun set and the film began.

Here were the performers:

  • Jessica Peek Sherwood, flutes (from piccolo to bass flute; five instruments in total)
  • Ted Gurch, saxophones (from soprano to baritone)
  • John Warren, clarinet (all the way down to contrabass clarinet)
  • Mike Muszynski, bassoon (and contrabassoon)
  • Kevin Lyons, trumpet
  • Douglas Lindsey, trumpet
  • Nathan Zgonc, trombone (and I believe bass trombone but I couldn’t quite see)
  • Charae Krueger, cello
  • Joe McFadden, double bass (with low-C extension)
  • Mark Miller, fretless electric 5-string contrabass guitar
  • Derek Johnson, electric guitar
  • Diedre Henson-Agustin, harp
  • Tom Sherwood, percussion
  • Charles Settle, percussion (including concert marimba, orchestral chimes, timpani)
  • Paul Vaillancourt, percussion
  • Wiley Sykes, percussion

I don’t know exactly who played what in the percussion section, but I must point out that one percussionist made a great deal of skillful use of the Indian tablas, and also played an array of exotic gongs with which I’m not familiar, as well as a jazz hi-hat.

The score by Martin Matalon had as its basis a pre-recorded electronic track that provided at various times mechanical clockwork percussion sounds, swooping portamento monophonic synthesizer leads that were reminiscent of Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson, some atmospheric sound effects, and at one point electric organ chords. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis, who was brought in because he has done this amazingly difficult score before, of course had to keep the orchestra in sync with what was in his headset. And in settings like this, the front-of-house sound mixing engineer, Frédéric Prin, has almost as much to do as the conductor himself. The orchestra was heavily amplified and individual instruments were brought out at different times and processed with electronic effects. The top-flight sound system was well-designed and transparent when it needed to be; the audio, while quite loud to those sitting up front, was well-distributed around the plaza, certain architectural echos notwithstanding. The film was projected digitally on the exterior wall of the High Museum, drive-in-theater style.

Matalon’s score is very demanding, thoroughly atonal and through-composed, and must have required superhuman powers of marathon concentration from every musician involved. Not a lot of extended or unusual playing techniques were employed. What stood out time and again was the orchestration of the bass instruments. Frequently, prerecorded bass synthesizers weaved in and out of the fretless electric contrabass guitar playing slippery sliding figures right alongside the more percussive plucked upright bass, the contrabass clarinet, the contrabassoon, and the bass trombone, and the lowest notes of the bass flute in between.

Now I get to the difficult part of my blog. At the risk of pissing off a number of musicians whom I deeply admire, and whose performance I enjoyed listening to and felt privileged to witness, I have to say that I did not like Matalon’s score and I did not think it was an effective accompaniment to this monumental piece of visionary filmmaking.

I have to back up and give a retrospective of all the uses this film has been put to from its release in 1927 until Matalon’s revised score in 2010, a span of 83 years. A film made near the end of the silent movie era, it was originally cut at 2 hours and 28 minutes. It was apparently screened in Germany accompanied by a live orchestra playing a score by Gottfried Huppertz, in the Wagnerian mode, with the conventional use of leitmotifs and grand, sweeping melodies. Of note are the movie’s scenes in the Yoshiwara Club, a symbol of the divide between the haves and have-nots of industrialized society. For those scenes Huppertz uses the jaunty European jazz of the 1920s, their interpretation of what was coming from composers like George Gershwin in the USA. (You can purchase the restored film with a newly-recorded version of the Huppertz score on DVD, or watch it on Netflix.)

Immediately after the first screenings of Metropolis, however, its international producers and distributors cut the film down (“eviscerated” would be a better word) to a 91-minute version that basically ripped up the H. G. Wells-influenced dystopian plot and reduced it to an hour and a half of what were still stunning, unprecedented special effects and startling futuristic images. Doubtless, audiences around the world saw the film with whatever improvised accompaniment was provided by pianists or organists in silent movie theaters.

In the 1980s and after, the 91-minute cut of the movie was reissued to theaters and on VHS with different musical accompaniments, the most celebrated of which was the score put together by disco producer Georgio Moroder, with an ensemble of rock stars. Since the international copyright of the original film fell into dispute, it seems that several composers and orchestras around the world tried their hands and creating original scores that were mostly used only in live performance. You can read the confusing history of all this at the Wikipedia article on the film.

Martin Matalon wrote his score in 1995, for performances accompanying what I understand to be a 2-hour cut of the film. After the newly-restored 2-hour-28-minute version was released commercially in 2010, Matalon revised his score to fit it.

I do not fault Martin Matalon, with his pedigree of work with IRCAM (the world-renowned Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique Musique of France) in wanting to deconstruct everything and compose a fresh 1990’s score with no precedent. However, to this music critic, I cannot see that his score accomplished the goal of providing a successful programmatic accompaniment to the film’s images or its narrative. Watch the film and imagine the perspective of viewers seeing it for the first time in 1927, while you listen to it with the ears of a 2013 music lover who understands contemporary classical music and the avant garde, and to me it just doesn’t work most of the time.

In fact as the film progresses through its three sections (labeled “Prelude”, “Intermezzo” and “Furioso”) the score seems to drift progressively further out-of-sync with the film, thematically and also temporally. The movie starts out with scenes of the dehumanization of workers made to be slaves to giant rhythmic clockwork machines, and in the beginning, elements of Matalon’s score represent this.

If Matalon, through his freely atonal and contrapuntal idiom heavy on complex percussion, is making use of anything motivic, it is lost on this listener. And those scenes in the Yoshiwara club could have used something leaning toward jazz dance music with some recognizable chord progressions. On frequent occasion the composer achieves remarkable things texturally and with regard to orchestration with those notable combinations of bass instruments from different families. The writing and playing in the percussion section could be lauded as a tour-de-force if the whole thing hung together thematically, which to me, it never quite does.

By the conclusion, which involves apocalyptic scenes of massive frantic crowds and riots, explosions, the flooding and destruction of a city — the score grows thin, sparse, and eerily detached in a way that seems to contradict and impede the frantic, massive momentum of the film. Then, bafflingly, at the peak of the violence onscreen, and to no beneficial effect, the orchestral score stops dead and falls silent for about a minute and a half while the film rips along, before the music comes back in and limps to a quite unsatisfying conclusion.

Somehow I think I run the risk of being accused of damning with faint praise, but in conclusion let me say that I was not disappointed by this production. The film is monumental, historic, and amazing in its own right, and stands up very well and is beloved by audiences 85 years later. The assemblage of international cultural forces necessary to mount this production in Atlanta was laudable in every respect. (and I loved hobnobbing with the German and French folk that I met there, and trying to speak a bit in their languages, which I studied years ago.) The musicians were the best that Atlanta has to offer, on the cutting edge, augmented with the out-of-towners necessary to pull of such a hugely demanding project. Everybody played amazingly well. It was innovative and challenging and satisfying in places. While I feel that Matalon’s score just doesn’t jibe with the visuals, I might enjoy it on its own merits if I were to listen to a recording or see a concert performance without the film playing above it. But one way or another, it was a night to be remembered in Atlanta, probably never to be repeated.