Posts Tagged: Lenny

An Open Letter to the Chief Arranger or Music Supervisor or Whomever of Glee:

According to (via New York City Opera’s Twitter feed), an upcoming episode of your television show will feature Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett singing “Ohio” from Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town.

I could hardly think of a finer pair of actresses to perform this classic of the American musical theater.  This is one of my favorite Bernstein tunes of all time, and I think it was an inspired choice to include on your program.

Just a few hints:

1) Please do not tamper with the lower part.  It’s not just your average harmony.  It is quite specific and quite specifically brilliant:

In the space of just a few measures, it goes from shadowing the melody a sixth below (“Why-oh-why-oh-why-oh”) to moving in contrary motion (“why did I”), and goes up this amazing contrapuntal arpeggio (“ever leave O-“), setting up the most extraordinarily beautiful double appoggiatura (“hi-o”) [like, ever]. And the intricacies only compound from there.

It is this lower harmony – let’s just go ahead and call it the “tenor” part, since that’s really where it lies – that gives the song it’s wistful, melancholic charm.

2) It is a well established fact that you guys auto-tune the shit out of this show.  Maybe these kids really can’t sing in tune and you’re just doing your job, so OK.  But please, if you’re going to auto-tune this song, and you’re going to do it in the key of Db (hint, hint), please auto-tune it so that the low C in the “tenor” part sounds exactly as flat and manish sounding as Rosalind Russell’s in the above (on the syllable “e-” of “ever”).  Thanks.

3) If you’re going to continue into the “chatter” section of the song (and I certainly hope that you will), I’ll completely understand if you have to re-write the dialogue to suit the particular needs of your plot.  This is assuming that the episode in question will contain a plot, which I understand is no small assumption given the typical episode of GLEE.  However, I would suggest that you keep the spunky little jazzed-up arrangement of the main tune in the background:

4) Other than that, just have a great time and let these two magnificent ladies do their thing!  Oh and try to at least approximate the original orchestration with real instruments.  ‘K Thanks!


William White

Culture Wars: America loses big time

And who’s winning?  The Japanese.  Witness below:

Cultures wage wars in many ways, often leading to profound advances in human creativity and knowledge.  They create opulent works of architecture, erect grand totems to their gods, and go exploring for uncharted territories and domains.  But now there’s a new race: the race to teach little kids to memorize and perfectly execute the music of Leonard Bernstein.

I urge all parents: start now.  If your infant’s first word isn’t “Maria”, we’re never going to cover the ground we need to.  Make “Let Our Garden Grow” your nighttime lullaby.  At birthday parties, replace the traditional “Happy Birthday” with the 4 Anniversaries of 1948 [but please avoid the 7 Anniversaries of 1988 at all costs.]

By the age of five, if your child can’t rattle off the opening lick of Trouble in Tahiti on the clarinet, or make at least a passable rendition of the piano solo from the 2nd Symphony, we will simply have to give up hope and demure to the accomplishments of a much greater culture.

PS. While we’re at it, let’s give Mozart a rest for the ABC’s and switch to Ligeti:

Surely we can do better than this…?

OK, a while back, I posted a blog entry about poor Esa-Pekka, who had been made to look so egregiously un-handsome by some LA press agent’s legerdemain, and now it’s maybe gotten worse…?

Picture 1

…to the point where I have to suspect that he is consciously choosing to present himself in the least flattering light, perhaps under the assumption that an ever-vivacious 50-something conductor/doyen does not a full-time serious composer make.

But at least he looks way less old-lesbianish in this more recent photo – more grizzled, more rugged, even kind of hot (I mean come on, those eyes…?)

But what, Dear Readers, are we to make of the following image??

Picture 2

To the credit of the New York Philharmonic, they did not choose their new Music Director for his looks. Maestro Gilbert never won any beauty competitions and that’s just fine – I’m sure he more than makes up for it in his probing interpretations.  But to the publicity department of the NYP: surely, surely we can do better than this… can’t we?

What happened to the days of composers and conductors having respectable portraits taken of themselves?




And since we’re on the subject: where are the cigarettes in the first two photos??  As the portraits of Mssrs. Reiner, Ravel, and Shostakovich clearly reveal, any adult male classical musician who wants to be taken seriously needs to be photographed smoking a cigarette, regardless of whether he smokes in real life.  It wouldn’t hurt him to get his ass over to a piano and procure a large piece of manuscript paper either.

Pitted against their predecessors, the first two photos come of looking pretty amateurish.  Of course, certain advanced models should not necessarily be emulated:

lenny inappropriate

Polystylism and the State: A case study


Not that I’m trying to get all political in this space, but I want to single out certain people in positions of power around the world for their recent displays of musical acumen.  First is senior White House advisor David Axelrod (above), who took a “musical leave of absence” from his duties in Washington to hear the Chicago Symphony play Lennyz “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium” simply because it is so rarely played.  Well done, Mr. Axelrod.


Next, even greater honors go to one Vladimir Putin, “Prime Minister” of Russia, who recently held a forum for Russia’s literary leaders, during which he said, and I am totally not making this up:

Humanity has entered a new development stage, and cannot turn back. It should be taken for granted. There is no way to reverse progress.

You know no worse than I do, and possibly better than I do that new means of expression appear every now and then in music and pictorial arts. Take our compatriot Alfred Schnittke. His music appeared sophisticated to the extreme. One did not think more complicated music could have been written-but contemporary composers write music of which experts say that no unprepared listener can hear out a piece from beginning to end. But some people enjoy such music and say that is the only way music should be today.

Say what??  Did the PM and general éminence grise of Russia seriously just name check Al Schnittke?  Damn straight.  But Putin has distinguished himself in matters musical before: in 2007, at the death of Mstislav Rostropovitch, the then premier issued a statement of public grief and attended the cellist’s funeral.  I remember that this seemed somehow natural to me at the time, but my good friend and insightful commentator El Bensón (who is apparently an opera blogger at this point) was duly startled, and contextualized the event with the following question: “Do you think George Bush would make a public announcement about the death of Yo Yo Ma?”


george-bush conducts

Unfortunately, just when things were looking up in the public sphere with regard to music, there’s This which basically cancels out everything that was ever good or right with humanity.  Pity.

On the flip side, if you want to read one of the finest pieces of writing about politics in music (not the other way around), I would direct you to our good friend Slavoj Žižek’s article “Shostakovitch in Casablanca“.