Friday, June 29, 2012

A Temporary Farewell

We'll Bring the World His Truth (Army of Helaman) by David Glenn Hatch on Grooveshark

This is it. In less than a week I will be in the Missionary Training Center in Provo! On Sunday I am being set apart. My FBI clearance finally came in the mail yesterday, so everything I need to apply for my visa has come together. The timing was wonderful. I can't say how lucky I am to have had things work so nicely - a good job, enough money, support from friends, timely travel preparations. I've been in the midst of good music, some of which I will be able to take on my mission, for which I am grateful; I am grateful that I have learned to look deep enough into music to recognize its inner workings. I cannot complain that I am not to listen to anything but classical music, hymns, and music produced by the church. There ultimately isn't much else that is necessary listening.

Of course, you may need to redefine classical music for me.

New challenges are about to arise. A test of faith. Perseverance. Patience. Willingness. Love. Love to serve, love of culture, love of individuals. Language barriers.

New things are about to be experienced. A new lifestyle. New strangers-made-friends. New sights to see and places to visit.

New blessings are about to be received. And hopefully I will be one to receive the least of them. I would much rather that I be one for others and come in time of need.

I am off to do a good work. That's all I know right now. Please contact me or my family for mailing addresses, as they will be my only means of communication for the next twenty-four months. Additionally my family will be posting my letters home to eldertsai.blogspot.com to anyone who wishes to read. I love you. God loves you. I'll be back real soon!

Read More

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wind Symphony Tour

I wrote a blurb about touring Europe with the BYU Wind Symphony on my family's blog, so head on over there to read about it. Overall it was a fantastic experience. I only we could have stayed in one place for longer! But I'm glad we saw every place that we did, because there were so many sights. And seeing YSAs and faithful families on other continents was an inspiration to me; it was amazing to meet all these people from other cultures. Now I'm back in Provo on my second day missing four wisdom teeth, and so far I feel no pain or swelling coming on - knock on wood! The funny thing was leaving right after winter semester and returning in the middle of spring semester: this campus is empty! But it's been fun running into old friends at different times. I'm glad not everyone's left. But soon I will go home... just one more week. Oh, the excitement of traveling.


Read More

Monday, April 16, 2012

How Do You Evaluate A Year?

Okay, there are still finals left for this semester - the majority for which I am terrified - but I'm afraid that there won't be much time to write anything afterward and I feel like I should reflect on the changes I've made over my first year in college. It will all be a rush: after finals, I need to hurry up and move out, rehearse with the Wind Symphony for a few days, ship off to tour Europe for three weeks, fly back here to get my wisdom teeth yanked, return home for a month, then say goodbye so I can fly back to the MTC in Provo by July 5. After that the remainder of two years I will be serving my mission in Australia, and for that period of time it is unlikely that this blog will even be updated. But enough about my immediate future.

I remember when I first posted about arriving here in Utah. It was kind of like it is now - excitement, anxiety for the future. The complications of moving around so much! Here I was, not knowing anybody, expecting to eventually be able to become familiar with the place and lots of people. Then there was band camp. What a hot, dry, exhausting week. I made really good friends in band, especially with the members of my section, my skin became black and I drank more water than I ever could have imagined. This is some strange new climate I've (almost) gotten accustomed to! But truly marching band was one of the keys to my existence last semester. It was the reason my roommates hardly ever saw me; the football games, rehearsals, socials, and variety show were kind of the highlights of the semester.

Oh the roommates. What can I say? That indeed first impressions are often wrong. They know I thought I lived with weirdos when I first moved in. How judgmental could I be? I couldn't have picked a better bunch to room with, not on the entire campus. They've become my best friends here and I love just sitting around talking with them about anything, even the dumbest things. I've probably lost a few IQ points in the process. We lived in Snow Hall last semester until it got torn down. God bless. But then we were rewarded with Building 26 of the luxurious new apartments in New Heritage. It's practically so easy to live here that time's really flown by so quickly.

I've gone off on composing adventures. Late nights - that's when the ideas came to me. Pulled way too many all-nighters in relation to this. Even though my output was small, I've gained a lot of experience and insight in my own writing. I probably learned a lot more in Music Theory and Ear Training than I think I have, because at least something's changed. And my struggle with new music continues until today. Even if I was aware of the strange things in modern music when I was in high school, I still wasn't prepared for the ways it would hit me in college. Especially when taking Music Composition and being assigned to write in new styles that I would never attempt on my own. These things brought many, many questions into my head about the entire purpose of music. But I have enjoyed the new music concerts. I was lucky (and wise) enough to attend as many as I could and broaden my musical tastes. I was lucky to attend any concert actually. I've loved stalking BYU Arts for events that I could go to and see all the concerts, recitals, and shows. It's one of those gems of living so near the HFAC.

It's in the HFAC that I built the majority of my web of relationships. People see me there all the time; it is my second home. You do meet the most amazing people there. I've seen talent that has driven me to a point of jealousy that had become rage. I've met other people with startlingly similar interests as me. And for some of the friends I've made there, quickly or slowly, I hold so much love and respect. I still don't understand how they can be both so talented and have such strong testimonies at the same time... it's like they're so perfect. Of course this is impressive when it comes to science and engineering, but good musicianship speaks to me on a personal level.

Other random memories. Getting mission papers done in secret. Clarinet fest (unsuccessful all-nighters). Bishop setting us up on dates. Being the toe for the independence half-time show. Hearing that great rendition of 'Colors of the Wind' for the first time. Variety shows. Mission calls. Music civ exams. Seeing my siblings (rarely) and getting Yogurtland. Juries. Frosted rocks. The sloth video. Hiking the Y at night. Home teaching woes, and triumphs. Quoting Mulan. Belting H2$ at 2AM. Por que no funciona la red? From Cumorah's Hill rehearsals. Baconators. The power of tunnel singing. Seeing old friends on campus. Standing in the Drive-thru at Wendy's. Music (and instruments) falling apart onstage. Joseph Alessi, Catharine Hartig, and Bill Smith. VanDoren, Mitchell Lurie, and Rico! Terrible Chinese food. American Heritage lectures. Stop it! My roommates' laughs. Last-minute hires. And basically going to every concert possible.

So, looking back. I know I skipped a ton, but you can't keep track of everything. If one thing has changed about me, what would that be? I feel that college that been a truly humbling experience for me, to learn about myself, to learn about God. I've learned a ton in such a short amount of time, and I expect to learn much more in the coming years. But using this experience as a way to wipe my slate clean and adapt to a new environment has allowed me to change my attitude toward life. I've been given the chance to make myself whatever I wanted to be out here, and I've chosen to be happy with the conditions I chose. This has been a wonderful year, and I'm going to miss anyone that I don't see for a while. It's almost time to say goodbye; I've said a few already. This is one amazing school and I couldn't be more grateful for the gifts and opportunities I've gotten because of it.

Let us all press on!

Read More

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Critique of Enthusiasm: Missed Opportunities

Despite its negative nature, I was looking forward to be struck by some powerful Elder Holland-type chastisement this Priesthood Session. I wasn't entirely disappointed, but of course this session has likely affected others in a much different way than it has me. Elder Bednar did share a telling story from his childhood: his father, not being a member of the church, once asked Bednar that if we truly had God's authority restored in our church, then why did the men in his ward constantly have to be reminded to do home teaching, callings, duties? If they held the authority, why did they continue to act similarly to those who did not?

I am reminded of a phenomenon I've mentioned seeing since I've been to BYU. What appears to be a lack of support among peers may just be somebody else's business in your mind. But I'm consistently astonished at a seeming lack of interest in attending concerts, particularly ones that are offered for free.

These may not just be concerts. There are master classes, recitals, lectures, galleries, even background music that don't cost any money but rank at a comparable caliber. One of my roommates performs in the Jazz Legacy Dixieland Band and invited me to a gig they were playing at SLAB Pizza. When I got there I waited and called some friends to get them to come, to no avail. While I sat there alone I thoroughly enjoyed the music (and the pizza). I love settings like this, especially when there is an audience. But the audience was sparse, which I guess is reasonable considering everyone's musical tastes.

What about recitals? Most performance majors give a final recital per junior and senior year. This is what their years of work and study have led to, and turnouts are still fairly limited to a relatively few friends and people required by MUS101. The Guest Artist program even brings in professionals and professors from all over to perform and give master classes. What an excellent, free opportunity! Shouldn't the auditorium be filled? As for new and electronic music concerts, I can't blame the general public for not having any desire to attend them, but it would help if our music school were interested at least.

Then there's the SoMSAC, which has provided numerous opportunities for music majors, many of which I'm sure I haven't even been introduced. I had heard some initial interest in a Repertory Orchestra in which any willing participants would meet on a consistent basis to read through orchestral repertoire together and for a conducting major to have the opportunity to conduct them. Maybe I'm strange in that I'd like nothing better than to read through fresh music in an ensemble. Isn't that the fun of being a performance major anyway? I was worrying about parts and doubling until I arrived and realized that I needn't even have bothered. Where were all the people? I was certain that there were multiple people anticipating this group. Yet there were no more than seven people in the rehearsal room during that entire hour, and I played my part without any semblance to the full orchestra experience. Maybe next time, we concluded.

One of my favorite institutions of SoMSAC this semester has been the Concerts at Noon. Every Friday at noon music majors sign up to perform for an audience, which is good practice for those preparing pieces for auditions and competitions. And each week there are various excellent musicians performing these recitals at no cost, which I find ironic for only one reason - all of the empty chairs placed in front of them. To as many of these concerts I have made, I have been confused, surprised, to appear to be one of two people in the audience not performing. Were I to perform, I would hope that there would be at least some people there to listen.

Could that be the problem? Are concerts then not meant for the enjoyment of music? Would you really only go if it were your friend performing, so you could cheer them on? I refuse to believe that I am the only person that will take any chance at listening to excellent live music at little or no cost. If that isn't the case, then someone clue me in and explain the greater balance between enthusiasm and duty. It reminds of the Washington Post experiment featuring Joshua Bell under the guise of a street performer in a DC subway. Similarly, among other things, the social situation or formality may have something to do with it. (Is a costly, well-dressed performance really worth more than one put on for free?)

I don't mean that all people should rise to the occasion and go listen to things they don't love. Go to concerts that you do love. But there are so many opportunities that go amiss either due to poor advertising or actual lack of passion for talent that isn't dressed in a concert hall. I don't feel as though I have the right to say I love music more than you, but I'd certainly like a reason not to think so.

Read More

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drone + Viola Melody

Download: ter pastora


I only really upload these audio files for my sake, but really, these are all computer-generated and are terrible to listen to. Anyway this is a viola solo that's meant to be played over vocal drones. Please excuse me as I think deeper thoughts than necessary.

So this had been assigned for a while and yesterday had come up before I still had any idea what I wanted to do. The first problem is that I lack intelligence when it comes to strings, so that was a slight hindrance. Bowing slurs and multiple stops still have me confused.

But the larger battle that has been happening within me is what I want my music to do. It may have something to do several of my teachers being composers of new music, but I certainly have changed the way I listen to practically everything by this point. I'm finding that I truly appreciate modern music the way I do with the older tradition, but I think this has greatly affected the way I compose. This solo is very tonal and simplistic, and several months ago I would have been much more pleased with it than I am now. Now I'm not so sure that this style defines any part of me even if I achieved the American folk sound I wanted. There used to be rules to break, now there are no rules. I feel like my ideas have been reduced to randomness.

Yesterday in composition class we split up into groups and had a minute each to write a measure of a piece, then pass it onto the next person. Obviously what I thought was different from what the others were thinking, but more so than I imagined. I completely disregarded any sense of tonality, diatonicism, rhythmic pattern, or even logical establishment of meter, which became obvious as that wasn't quite what my group had in mind, and the ending result was entertaining but I couldn't help but feel that perhaps I'm not on the right track after all. After that, I wrote this piece in a completely unadventurous style. Maybe someday I'll grow to like it again.

Read More

Friday, March 2, 2012

Originality

First of all, I just came from a piano recital by my friend Mac, which was fantastic. Congratulations to him! Anyway, yesterday in Composition we listened to the music of Aaron Jay Kernis. It was a string quartet, a contrapuntal mixture of tonal runs with atonal sprinkles, what I'd like to call "Beethoven with some wrong notes." Maybe the only strange thing about it was that such a style was out of place where the paradigm runs on new music, although hearing my Adagio in class felt quite the same. And it was not something from which I expected Dr. Thornock would expect us to take influence. Indeed, it was mentioned in class that it sounded like Beethoven, and to this he responded that this was what he did not find appealing. "If I am going to listen to Beethoven," he said, "why wouldn't I just actually listen to Beethoven?"

To this I turned my head. Composers take influence from what was previously there, it is extremely difficult not do so. But I saw where he was coming from. Not just Beethoven, but every composer whose name has transcended up to this point was an innovator, someone who was writing in a style specific to himself, and it was radically different from any of his peers. People like Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Messiaen wrote in original and highly personal manners of expression, and it was because of this that music has been driving forward throughout the centuries.

Coincidentally the generalization of historical eras has been on my mind. I think that bunching the Baroque-Romantic eras as a "Common Practice Period" is highly misleading. Especially because after that, we no longer generalize music as a whole but as music of the 20th-century or modernist. This has always struck me as great classical composers writing during the CPP and after that, art going haywire. But as we study history, there are hardly enough composers to generalize so many of them into groups reflecting a certain style, as every significant one had their own. Bach does not sound like Handel. Wagner definitely does not sound like Verdi. I wish to argue that highly tonal modern composers such as Copland and Shostakovich developed fresh new styles that reflected themselves personally. What made me begin to respect Schoenberg is his response to George Gershwin's plead for lessons in composition, along the lines of, "I would only make you a second-rate Schoenberg, and you are such a good Gershwin already." Ravel declined the same request along similar lines. I've also recently been researching the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen: his music takes influence from Stravinskyan harmonies and American minimalism, however with these he infuses his Marxist political ideas, which makes his style both fascinating and original.

If music has taught me anything, it's that absolutely anything can sound good when you know what to listen for (does that apply to politics?) (This also might have something to do with my philosophically being an optimist. After all, life's what you make it.) I don't think the point is that we want our own music to be different for the sake of being different. Innovation is absolutely what makes art great, but that doesn't require experimentation. There is always new material to be worked with. Do I think Kernis sounds like Beethoven? Not really. I am not opposed to writing music emulating that of others before us. After all, Beethoven is no longer writing music. That does't mean if he is our favorite composer, that our favorite new music must die with him. This does however bring to new light a modernist mentality. Microtonality, minimalism, postmodernism - these developed in the same way every important past composer thought, and I think for that it could be helped that all music can be enjoyable, because as Berg once stated: "Mr. Gershwin, music is music."

Read More