Category Archives: Essays About Music

In the Hall (2008)

To listen on YouTube, click here. It’s free and accessible anywhere there is an Internet connection, which you can find nearly anywhere these days.

To download In the Hall directly, please purchase the music for $10. You could then hear it on your smartphone no matter where you are. Your contribution will go towards supporting my new album, Between Continents, to be released in January 2016. You can listen to my two singles, “Bad Theology” and “Bumble Beebop,” to get an idea of what that new album may sound like. It’s completely different than In the Hall, but will be well worth the wait.

Seven years ago, the Birdcatchers released In the Hall, a collage of classical arrangements, jazz, and pop music adaptations delivered to entertain and engage the common listener. They were my first real band, and we went way beyond the garage variety. We weren’t interested in snob reproductions or academic versions of the real thing: we wanted good fun music, plain and simple.

Since then, the members of the band all went their separate directions, like so many do. It started with me leaving Tulsa to pursue graduate studies. Pianist Jamelle Houston finished at Oral Roberts University (ORU) and moved to Los Angeles, where he works as a music director at his church. He boasts a blossoming career as a solo artist in gospel music, releasing his solo EP The Journey in 2013. Drummer Joel wood continued to play in Tulsa with various groups before moving to New Jersey to study for a Masters of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Bassist Wes Atkinson resides in Tulsa where he works as a high school band director. He continues to contribute musically at his local church and participates in the ORU pep band.

Even with all the changes that have occurred in our lives, that album brought us together in a way that will last for as long as there is culture and an interest in the arts. As I continue to build my music career, I wanted to share In the Hall online so that as many people who want to hear it can access the music. This album is dedicated to the parents and educators who have poured their time, prayers, and energy in the lives of these musicians.

Thank you for supporting independent artists on their way up! –JH


Bad Theology

Bad Theology is a work for alto saxophone and piano composed by Michael. E Anderson.

Whether it’s hot and sizzling or languid and consuming, musical inspiration usually comes from some sort of prolonged focus. It might be a person, the memory of a place in time, or perhaps another great piece.

I met Michael Anderson in 2008 at the University of Missouri while we were studying music together. I had the Romanticism of Glazunov in my ears coupled with the complex and brooding vocabulary of John Anthony Lennon and even some of the polytonality of Charles Ives. It was all packaged into the sound and fury of Leo Saguiguit’s saxophone studio, a group of mostly country kids striving to make fine art music.

Ives once commented that he didn’t want his children to go hungry just because he wanted to compose music. His career as an insurance salesman solved that problem and kept him close to people, which helped make him feel more human. At the time I asked Anderson to consider writing me a piece, I found myself hooked on listening to Ives’s Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano. The violin starts out with this mournful version of the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” I knew Michael had to hear it, and this music served as the point of departure for the attitude I wanted to bring to this piece.

To suggest that the music of Anderson resembles Ives would be a mistake. Anderson’s works stand as veritable compositions in their own right. They somehow appear out of the Bible Belt, decisive and drawn from a host of inspirations like neoclassical Igor Stravinsky (Jaunt) and the shifting soundscapes of Samuel Barber (Wisdom’s Voice). Bad Theology is an indictment of the pre-fabricated solutions pilfered by preachers and politicians in a rapidly changing world. The answers that worked yesterday are no longer enough; people require new ways by which to make their voices heard amidst a digital cacophony of cat videos and hipster selfies.

The music of Bad Theology is jarring in some places; it is at once angry and resolute, vicious, yet pleading. There are moments that seem as if a piano is falling out of the sky onto people picnicking in the middle of a sunny park (1:00). At other points, there is a voice of longing and a desire for reconciliation with some unseen force (8:22). Whatever the mental imagery invoked, Anderson succeeds by bringing a blend of emotions and challenges to perceive music in a new and deeper way.

Rings and Pigs

For the most part, they [executives] are dirty little animals with huge brains and no pulse.[1]

­—Hunter S. Thompson

Once the “go” game is going and the clock has started ticking in the real world, time becomes not just a slot to fill but a precious commodity.  Without the padded rooms of degree programs and pedagogues, learning and advancements must find autodidactic sources of inspiration.  Acquaintances and friends revolve around set pursuits and there is no time to be wasted.  One must know immediately what can work and what will be best set aside.  It is within this decision-making conundrum that we explore the decisive and often inflammatory actions taken up by great prophets in their search for meaning.

Often within the bastions of Christian fervor, there is a perception among the religiously inclined that Jesus Christ was, as a man, meek, mild, and full of compassion with forgiveness for even the lowliest of sinners.  He loved children.  He laughed a lot. He probably petted all the animals.  Some of the most fundamental stories in the gospels, however, show a very different side of this Jewish prophet.  One of his most remarkable characteristics lay in his penchant for bending events to his expectations, impervious to traditional standards set around him.  He had his worldview set and shaped the circumstances around him to fit position.  There was a striking lack of passivity—JC was a heretic.

Towards the end of his life when he was about to be crucified Jesus was travelling into Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover festivities.  His arrival was anticipated as he had spent the past years healing people and antagonizing elitist Jewish authorities.  He planned to visit the Jewish temple, and he preferred to enter the city on an animal.  Horses were an attractive travel method of choice, and in spite of their low stamina over long distance, the animals represented power for their speed and stature, especially in the Roman culture.  Among his disciples, the connection to a noble steed must have been obvious; after all, to them he was their great teacher and “the son of the living God.”[2]  Deities should at the very least ride horses when limousines are not available.  Jesus was, however, looking for something a bit more simple and instructed his followers: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her.  Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”[3]   The reaction upon his arrival was ferocious—people responded with great enthusiasm.  The gospel of Matthew reports that denizens of Jerusalem cut down branches from the trees and took off their jackets in an effort to line the pathway for the arrival of this prophet.  Those surrounding him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The reaction shook the city to its core, and word spread quickly that this “Son of [King] David” had arrived.[4]  Musicians and athletes often dream of such a generous welcoming by supporters.  Naturally enough, I imagine Jesus took it all in stride.

What does this recollection teach us about the pursuits of an artist?  After all, Jesus was not a rock star and there were no paparazzi.  The lesson here lies in the conjectured affairs of a career: learn to evaluate cultural and musical expectations as a point of departure rather than a model for growth.  JC could have made a show of power in this horse vs. ass situation; some of his politically minded followers might have even encouraged him to play a diplomatic hand against the Roman establishment.  Instead, Jesus was moved to make an entrance in his own way and on his own terms, social obligations be damned.  Often musicians are presented by their peers to paths of conventions and models for growth.  Going to college and getting a degree may strike high on the list.  Studying with famous musicians in in Europe and the United States could carry attractive appeal.  Jesus did not shun the mighty horse because he wanted to shock people.  He chose the donkey because he understood who he wanted to be.

Later on after Christ arrived in the city, a bigger shock developed in the center of the public eye.  There at that great temple rebuilt by King Herod and which by all accounts Jesus (like most Jews) considered his Father’s house, there were salesmen selling doves, cattle, and other livestock for sacrifice as well as money changers set up for business.  Jerusalem, after all, was and still is an international city teeming with foreigners.  Where buying and selling occurred, proper currency was essential.  Coins must have been rolling on the floor and even animal feces were perhaps present.  Jesus wasted no time in adding to the hubbub of this holy place.  He made a whip and drove the merchants out of the temple, snapping and slashing away at the offenders.  He turned over the tables and further scattered the money everywhere, accusing those working of making the place “a den of robbers.”[5]  A matter of religious practicality had been turned into a portal for the marketplace, and Jesus’s reaction was nothing short of violent.  He outright rejected this imposition of the free market into a sacred space.  In doing so, Jesus provided a clear anti-pacifist portrait of his character.  The next day as he was leaving a city not far from Jerusalem he began to search for something to eat.  After spotting a fig tree in the distance, Jesus approached it expecting to find a quick snack.  When all he found were leaves being that it was out of the season for eating figs, he swore, “may no one ever eat fruit from you again.”[6]  Perhaps Jesus had missed his morning coffee.

When we examine such expressions of outburst from a neutral range, we see a man who got quite upset when he found situations that did not fit his paradigm of expectations.  Some would say he lost his temper.  Others would suggest he was righteously indignant. A young college student might simply point out the prophet needed some food!  Once again, there is a lesson here for the artist.  In the story of the temple, the man who hesitates to act in the face of confrontation and refuses to respond to his surroundings realizes nothing.  Nothing risked requisites nothing rewarded.  Christ’s reward was the satisfaction of knowing the temple was fit for worshipping.  Jesus extended a visceral response in the face of a parasitic process that was compromising the sacred nature of the temple.  He felt compelled to do something.  This sense of necessity remains one of the most important aspects of the artistic personality.  Urgency itself is what drives us to clearly seek out situations that correspond with our pursuits and values.  Without a sense of urgency, the artist remains lukewarm, apathetic, and probably not filling out the fullest of their potential.  Each and every day builds on the next, building momentum to act on musical convictions.

It is important to recognize that urgency does not equate a high-stress lifestyle; it means acting with a sense of focus and determination.  For example, Jesus rose early in the morning to pray and build a spiritual relationship with his father because this was the key contact point for focusing on priorities—his ministry.[7]  Christians might point out that it was this relationship that left Jesus in a position where he could powerfully operate—even if it meant throwing tables around to make a point.  Successful people (not just artists) arrive because, over time, they build strong relationships and healthy habits that free them to operate by their convictions.  This is the lesson of the thrown table: people who aggressively act upon deep-seated emotional convictions get noticed. I am not condoning violence here; I am condoning aggressive authenticity. People can spot a fake from miles away.

Finally, Jesus sent his disciples out from his company on a mission to spread his teachings. Instructing them, “freely you have received; freely give,”[8] he told them not to accept any money or other form of compensation for their preaching and miracles.  The objective was to help others and spread the news of hope to those that had none, especially those native to Israel.  Before departing, he left them with some final instructions,

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. . . .  I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard.[9]

The cultural context here remains essential for full appreciation of this dust-shaking action.  Today, when people are upset in passing or driving on the highway nearly anywhere in the world, a forceful symbol of disdain is the middle finger. It is the ultimate trump card to any grievance; walk away in contempt and flip them the bird.  In the Roman and Middle Eastern culture of this time, the feet were the dirtiest parts of the body.  In a world without organized transportation, people walked everywhere in order to travel somewhere.  In fact, Jewish law happens to be very specific about avoiding animals that have split hooves, so it must be understood in this context that feet were a sensitive issue if not generally distasteful part of the body.  To wash someone’s feet was the ultimate act of humiliation, at best a servant’s job.  When the disciples inevitably walked out of a town shaking the dust off their feet, they were in no uncertain terms insulting those individuals behind them.  In spite of the negativity surrounding such an action, perhaps a more optimistic solution could be searching for positive interactions with others.

In a somewhat jaded fashion, Hunter S. Thompson earned fame by documenting the world around him. The journalist made a career out of following groups of people like the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang for months at a time and then writing news stories based out of his own experiences. After a particularly underwhelming stint in the television industry, Thompson expressively describes the profession as only he could from his “Gonzo” perspective:

The TV business is uglier than most things.  It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.

Which is more or less true. For the most part, they [executives] are dirty little animals with huge brains and no pulse.[10]

Scores of artists have taken solace in these black words, misquoting Thompson to fit the reality of their own situation and lamenting seemingly unsurpassable misfortunes.  Thompson recognized things were often nasty when success was the objective, but he was not the first to see this correlation (although he may have been one of the more colorful personalities to point it out).  Even when Jesus warned “be on your guard,” there was an overtone of negative expectation.  Problems would come.  Complications and even rejection would arise on the path.  Good men could die.  If and when those barriers arose in the face of set goals, the solution was clear if not blatantly offensive: flip the bird and move along.

In each of these stories, Jesus takes a position that poignantly applies to our world today. As artists of all kinds, it is our responsibility to find venues and opportunities where our work will be valued.  When Jesus was confronted with issues that did not match his worldview, he signaled blatant intolerance for the status quo and immediately addressed the situation or moved to a place where his ministry would be accepted.

A different type of voice in the wilderness, Ornette Coleman made a similar choice after leaving his native state of Texas for Los Angeles and New York City.  Experiences in the south had not been pleasant; Coleman was beaten up and lost his horn in Baton Rouge on account of what he viewed as having a beard and hair grown out too long and, in a musical parallel, Coleman found it difficult to meet musicians who shared his ideas.[11]  Even when he finally began to share his musical voice with the world, critic Peter Welding responded with an attitude much of the general public must have felt at the time, “No one can deny the emotional intensity of Ornette Coleman’s music, but that is all there seems to be here—no logic, nor order, no coherence, no discipline, no imagination, no taste.  Why go on?”[12]  Such a vicious rebuttal would have taken the air out of a common man’s sails, but Coleman’s resolve to continue came from a deeper voice within.

Coleman has never seemed to be concerned by such notions or chasms between the general proletariat and his hipster audience.  Cheered along by John Lewis and Leonard Bernstein, Coleman’s musical voice was based in the Texas blues and often exposed in angular bebop and naked melodies that seemed to tear at the soul.  The rhapsodic nature of his playing consistently baffled and captivated his audiences, a quality that led to a perception of his music simultaneously as that of a revolutionary and that of a kook.  In spite of the erratic motions, Schuller contends, “it is the strength of conviction of his playing that produces a sense of the inevitable in Coleman’s art.”[13]  This unconventional saxophonist cemented a provocative career culminating in a 2007 Grammy award for lifetime achievement.  No doubt Coleman will remain remembered for the standard “Lonely Woman” from his third album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). The album stands as his magnum opus and laid the foundation for a burgeoning movement in free jazz during the second portion of the 20th century.

The truth is that all of us must forge forward wholeheartedly if we are to go into the arts.  In some individual way, we are called to press limits, think outside of the box, and challenge established norms within our fields.  Following the example of Christ usually seems to be about humility, but the outlying stories of his ways also paint a portrait of another path. Always remember that most people are not musicians, painters, composers, or sculptors.  They are cashiers, attorneys, doctors, and salesmen; seek to understand them before trying to be understood.  It will be the rare occurrence that reality matches up to the preconceived mirages of our artistic expectations.  In spite of difficulties, our work is unique and valuable in a quickly evolving world. Keep searching, never stop adapting.  Stay positive and look for opportunities to help others.  Shake the dust of your feet.  Don’t stop.  Belief and failure are prerequisites of reward.  You can do this.

[1]Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 43.

[2]Matthew 16:16, New International Version.

[3]Matthew 21:2-3, New International Version.

[4]Matthew 21:7, New International Version.  King David was the most powerful ruler of Israeli kings in the Old Testament and is often referred to as a man after God’s own heart.

[5]Matthew 21:13, John 2:13-16, New International Version.

[6]Mark 11:13-14, New International Version.

[7]Mark 1:35, New International Version.

[8]Matthew 10:8, New International Version.

[9]Matthew 10:14; 10: 16-17, New International Version.

[10]Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s, 43.

[11]Ornette Coleman, interview (1987) with Michael Jarrett, Cadence.

[12]Peter Welding, quoted in Iain Anderson, This is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 68.

[13]Gunther Schuller, “Ornette Coleman 2. Musical Style,” Oxford Music Online.

Location, Location, Location

Since most foreigners immediately notice an American accent, it is rare that I have the luxury of blending into the crowd and, after living abroad for years, I have noticed a cookie cutter conversation regarding geography that continues to underwhelm me. It goes something like this—New Friend: So, where are you from?  Me: The United States.  NF: Wow!  That must be nice living around New York City.  Me: Actually, I am from Kansas City in the center of the country.  It is the city where Charlie Parker was born.  NF: So how far away is that from California?  Me: Well it’s about a twenty-four hour drive east of Los Angeles.  NF: Cool.  I always wanted to live in Texas.

People seem to characterize the center of the United States as a vast tornado-bitten plain of cowboys and rattlesnakes where everyone loves Tim McGraw and the public schools are filled with Beliebers.  Cultural athletes play jazz and snobbish old people stand alone promoting classical music.  There is no inbred culture. It is a rare find to come across publically supported local art shows and concerts from upcoming talents and when it does come, it often carries the form of garage band imitations and Thomas Kinkade reprints.  Midwesterners do, however, have deer posts and ATVs with conveniently located strip clubs just off the interstate.  Many of the people there come from a generation of nineteenth-century settlers that had to fight to survive. Carrying guns was a question of finding the next meal and defending oneself against unknown elements.  Harsh winters required a reliance on friends and family in an open plain where death was never far away.  How is someone supposed to build a career on the arts based on such forlorn values?

There is a useful element to this distinctly American worldview, and, for all of its stigmas, growing up in the Midwest is not as impossible an experience as people from the East and West coast might imagine.  It is easy to criticize such antiquated traditions as gun socials and country music as old-fashioned,[1] but it does nothing to contribute towards building on already proven building blocks of moderation, creativity, and pragmatism. Americans from Oklahoma to California carry an attitude of independence and entrepreneurship.  They realize that the onus of success rests squarely on their shoulders if they are to achieve their goals.  Instead of blaming others, they look inward for finding solutions.  Sitting thousands of miles away from most continents bordered by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Americans have also embraced isolationism starting as far back as President George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is . . . to have with them as little political connection as possible.  So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith.  Here let us stop.”[2]  Our history (all kinds) makes us who we are.  Being from the “other” is distinct and deserves to be recognized. It is not a pejorative of individual abilities, it’s a facet of our national personality.

After living abroad for three years, I meet many people that seem impressed when I talk about how and where I have lived.  People seem to be enamored with a perception that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence; their particular location is somehow less valid than what lies just out of reach.  At the beginning perhaps this is convincing; people in Europe suggest that Milan could never be as captivating as Chicago and citizens of the Midwest openly suspect that Columbia, Missouri holds no comparison to Bordeaux, France.  Fear of failure is one reason that people make up fantasies that tell them they truly could achieve their dreams if only they were over there.  For most, that reality never arrives and they have their excuse.

In sorting out this location conundrum, I propose a basic view of American expatriate Paul Bowles, a writer and composer who spent the majority of his adult life in Morocco.  There exist two kinds of movers throughout the world: tourists and travelers.[3]  The tourist moves from here to there and everywhere with a willing suspension of reality.  They recognize, whether unconscious or not, that this current living situation is foreign to their sensibilities.  It is exotic, exciting, and fleeting.  It is also likely to be quite meaningful.  The traveler on the other hand views foreign worlds as a catalyst for calibrating sensibilities, reconsidering worldviews and perhaps even learning new languages.  The traveler carries a more lonely road of discovering for themself the intricacies of what makes the foreign unusual and what makes them who they are as citizens, friends, and artists.  If they return, they remain changed forever.

In spite of such pithy comparisons between colors of grass, traveling abroad essentially teaches the individual that most people live like everyone else.  People wake up, eat, work or go to school, have a lover or two, enjoy their friends, take a shower, and go to bed at night. Some of us do this process in English.  Some of us live this in Swahili.  The caveat to self-understanding lies in finding the 1% difference between our culture and the other.  Finding and embracing those distinct differences is part of the challenge of artistry.

Today, we live in a time where location is becoming less important. The world is becoming smaller, and people are more connected than ever before in the history of the world with programs like Skype. With a bank card (or a smartphone), you can pay for anything just about anywhere in the world and have it sent to you.  Ideas and innovations are being flung around at a velocity that is truly mind-boggling.  Location, at its essence, has been and will continue to be a question of finding people that share common values to network and build connections with.  New York City has traditionally been viewed as a place for assertive musicians to launch their careers.  Today, there are so many voices in the same place with the same mediums to communicate, it is easy to get drowned and burnt out of the system to say nothing of cost of daily expenses.  The economic principle of diminishing return remains in force especially here.[4]  The question is now more than ever about being clever enough to build your own way from where you are with what you have on hand.  Find something compelling to do at a level that reflects everything else you have been paying attention to, and you will become a wild card, a pioneer who had the courage to try.

Choosing a place to live is all about making the choice. Once that is complete, move on with the plan and build on what has been started.  It becomes quite simply a question of jumping in with an educated guess, odds be damned, and going for it.  Significantly, moving around a lot does not necessarily equate progress. However, it almost certainly will involve closing and opening a lot of boxes, paying tolls, purchasing gasoline, or passing airport security.  Have the wisdom and the creativity to take your own gun and stake a claim.  Whether it is on a “sexy” tractor or a profound truth, if it is well located, it may succeed.


[1]Just consider the 1998 hit “Kenny Chesney–She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” YouTube (23 November 2009), posted by KennyChesneyVEVO.

[2]George Washington, quoted in “George Washington on Foreign Affairs * September 19, 1796,” Library of Virginia,

[3]Paul Bowles, “The Sheltering Sky,” (New York: Ecco Press, 2005), chapter 2 .

[4]The law of diminishing return states that if all factors of production stay the same, output will decrease over time if another factor (such as population in a concentrated area) is increased.  For example, the Harlem Renaissance was spearheaded by people like Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday, but the movement eventually lost its revolutionary nature over time for multiple reasons, not least of these being oversaturation.


Ready, Set, Go: Why Intelligence Trumps Intellect in the Arts—an Apologetic and an Introduction

After cheaply throwing about musical and philosophical mandates via my all too convenient internet blog, I eventually ran into a wall of questions considering my writings.  Why do I write?  What am I trying to prove?  Who am I writing for?  The answers centralized in expressing and refining a worldview that could stay meaningful through time and serve others in their journey towards becoming better musicians, or at least enlighten and amuse them along the way.  Concerning the blog, I eventually ran out of one-stop shopping list ideas to coherently discourse about save the occasional interesting trip recounted in a literary fashion.  I began to reflect on what was important to me and decided that my interest in music needed to be disseminated, not based out of some intellectual glut of superiority but out of practicality, a carefully considered perspective for guiding someone else who might dare to try something along the same lines as I do.  I found myself surrounded by teachers who encouraged in the details of knowing the score at hand without addressing in broad brushstrokes the challenges of a modern career.  It is precisely that issue which I craved to grasp: a twenty-first century blueprint, a thoughtful proposal for the path of an artist.  For all of my one-cent concerts and thousand-dollar recitals, diploma-laced essays, independent investigations, and continent hopping travels, I still had not launched out my ideas and taken off my pants to world criticism for all to see.

Ready, Set, Go: Why Intelligence Trumps Intellect In the Arts is not about nasal lectures and cerebral discourse nor does it consist of magical formulas and ninety minute fix-it programs.  It is made for people who want to do something musically meaningful in their life, but might not have any idea how that could develop.  Like the main title, this book has three parts to it.  In Ready, I aim to cultivate a mentality and worldview that is worthy of the career to which the reader feels compelled to pursue.  In a world featuring many shades of gray, the artist must take a black and white stance towards their pursuits.  Indifference and indecision remain one of the most damaging positions one can take in the world of music; this attitude of not knowing what is good and what is not suspends decision-making and leads to aborted musical encounters.  The artist must prepare themself in advance.  Set will set the table of experience to place the reader in a position to succeed.  At this point, the chapters will concern taking surrounding elements such as friends, resources, and the community to the highest level of efficiency.  This is not about using people, it concerns engaging others in order to build and improve on abilities.  Any success obtained comes in no small degree from the help of others, and this reality drives to the core of this discussion.  It is the people around us that make us the individuals capable of completing the work required to achieve our goals.  Go does not concern instant success, but it will discourse a way for forward progress.  In this section, I begin by discussing how to know when the time is right to leave behind the apprentice mentality, the value of location in building successful projects, and model notable examples of other artists gone before.

Ultimately, this book is written with one goal in mind: to empower the musician to find their own solutions.  Successful performing in the arts does not require a fine arts degree or the right teacher; it requires an evolving work ethic and a keen ear.  Ready, Set, Go will make provision for those important details along the way.

The Right to Sing?

One recent performance by the Eastman Saxophone Project (ESP), a transcription by Dannel Espinoza of the Rite of Spring, has recently gone viral on YouTube with over 11,000 views in two days.* Thirteen saxophonists along with five percussionists join together to interpret this Stravinsky masterpiece in a riveting performance dedicated to making century-old music in a new way à la timbre of the saxophone. The execution is compelling, the memorization shocking, the interpretation rampant and unrestrained. No longer a ballet nor orchestral work, Espinoza has effectively transformed the Rite of Spring into chamber music. Such a charismatically executed performance speaks volumes concerning the state of the modern affairs of the saxophone—an adaptable instrument demonstrating a capability for authentic recognition in most Western musical settings.

Perhaps today, the response to this rendition remains comparable to the premiere of the work and the uproar caused by the Parisian audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913. In that commotion, the tradition-embracing aristocratic elite found much to differ with in the enthusiastic position of the bohemian revolutionaries also in attendance (paraphrase of the Wikipedia entry on the subject). The conflict between the groups eventually directed its way towards the stage and while Steven Walsh contends that such outbursts were “targeted as much at Nizhinsky (whose choreography of Debussy’s Jeux two weeks earlier had been disliked),” (quote found in the Grove Music Stravinsky bio) the music made a primordial exhibition of the angular accent placed over ostinato phrasing.

One hundred years later I find myself pitted against a posh musical milieu interested in revering the past by performing chic saxophone arrangements of Bach, Handel, Khachaturian, and Stravinsky; ESP is certainly not the first to do this although they may be among the most talented to realize it. In my experience such concerts often receive enthusiastic audience approval, but what does such a performance truly accomplish? Rather than proposing original repertoire that builds on the standards of great musical predecessors, these musicians choose to bask alongside those same whitewashed cadavers and blinding legacies of tradition. History will not remember such parasitic endeavors! The reward for such a performance finds its full and fleeting weight in thumbs-up YouTube votes and friendly backslaps found in a far too often innocent and undemanding public.

No, the solution for the concert saxophonist cannot nestle in the repertoire and history of other instruments, but rather must embrace its own reality and potential in classical music. Saxophonists accomplish nothing by ogling at outlying performance settings and glorifying the history of a genre not their own; an inherently versatile instrument does not necessarily merit its exploitation into every possible performance situation. Such musical masturbation may be useful as a learning tool as I imagine ESP saxophonists now know the Rite of Spring better than most orchestral musicians, but the end result still leaves me yearning for the real thing.

*Since the publication of this article, Boosey & Hawkes music publishers has eliminated the video from YouTube on grounds of copyright infraction.

Arts and Crafts with Christian Lauba

“So let me get this straight,” he said. “You can barely play Bach and you work at some bebop with a dash of Glazunov, and you’ve never even heard Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’? What about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ or maybe ‘Happy Birthday’? Do you know how to play those tunes?” My ears were bright red and my face was hot—I was speechless. Americans are supposed to be the kings of sarcasm, not the French! Here I was making the effort to embrace the best of the classical saxophone aesthetic after having moved halfway around the world and my first lesson was a criticism on what I would play if my mother were listening. Clearly, I had missed something.

Music lessons with Christian Lauba rarely produce a dull moment. They are a roller coaster of experiences from elation to despair to relief, especially when you figure out how to realize his musical demands. Working with him carries a two-fold focus: one on fundamental instrumental abilities such as timbre and tuning and the other on ear-training abilities. That’s not transcribing, but rather the ability to immediately recognize the different Brandenbourg Concertos and Kindertotenlieder by ear, for example. Some noteworthy divergences he took from other teachers were a substitution of Bach studies (normally movements from the cellos sonatas) instead of Londeix and Lecour études as well as a focus on the character of a performance of a piece. You played the work happily, with vigor, or angrily according to your desired interpretation or what the composer might call for. Lauba guided me to control my emotions on stage so that I could say what I wanted to say in my own way, any day.

Each week our work together began with the normal regimen of playing a scale, always slowly. Often, saxophone players practice flashy without focusing on fundamental matters of intonation and finger control; this rebuilding work neatly exposed all of the flaws I had simply blown past for years—I was the kind of guy who played his scales as loud as possible to the rhythms of Paul Van Dyk. With Lauba, I would begin with an A major scale (C concert) because this is the most difficult to maintain in tune. Saxophonists quickly learn this because of the naturally kinky open C# and full D notes in the saxophone’s middle register—they’re tuned opposite of the way a major 3rd and perfect 4th ought to sound. Another important hurdle we corrected concerned the naturalizing of the timbre between registers. No longer was it appropriate to fluff my way through the deep register with a woofy Ben Webster sound only to reappear cutting and overblown like Eric Marienthal in the palm keys. I listened to the evenness of Itzakh Perlman’s timbre on the Paganini caprices and learned to play with an even resonance no matter what note I was playing; according to the style called for, I learned to shape an appropriate sound.

Within this warmup exercise Christian would normally harmonize the scale with me on the piano. There was always an emphasis on fitting inside of the sound to create a homogenized effect instead of one instrument layered on top of another. I stopped blowing so hard and placed that energy into listening for the appropriate pocket fit of the two instruments. It’s kind of like sports when a basketball player cannot miss 3-pointers (case in point—Mike Miller, Miami Heat, Game 5 2012 NBA Finals). There is a groove to be found, and I listened to manipulate the materials at hand to catch the sounds we were looking for. From there I would usually simulate a performance situation of the work I was studying. Christian maintains a degree of intensity when it comes to these moments, and so little by little I worked to develop a performance bubble so that musical instincts would play out when the spotlight was on and people were watching.

Lauba also gave me a crash course list of essential works to know by heart on classical music, which you can access here. Put simply, it is a beginner’s anthology for scratching the surface of Lauba’s listening background or perhaps a workman’s guide for classical music dummies. In absorbing this new music, I learned to appreciate some of the most cherished works of the fine art canon. It serves spectacularly as a point of departure in a world glutted with more music than anyone will ever have time to totally listen to.

However, that’s only half the story. Ultimately, studying music with the composer is a lesson in humility. You realize you are not all that, you are blatantly confronted with your weaknesses, and you are forced to come to terms with your listening acumen. In short, studying with Lauba is a musical roast. He cheerfully laughs at you if you play out of the style at hand and holds you to the highest of standards. Friendship is an important matter, but the music is the most important. No element is left un-confronted. A bad lesson with Lauba is the only time in my life where I quite literally wanted to throw my instrument out of the window!

Working with Lauba installs a new mentality inside your sensibilities, a brand of thinking that reflects his economical approach to music. Because he didn’t begin studying music until he was thirty years old, the man simply had little time for extraneous musical efforts. Being the late bloomer that he was, he inherently placed himself in a position where it was important to make quick decisions about the musical issues immediately at hand. As a result, with Lauba, there is good music and bad music; one finds aesthetics that reflect a healthy finesse or approaches that debase the Western fine art form. A good place of departure for understanding this viewpoint is found in my article Art-in-an-ugly-box, which I wrote after a particularly memorable argument at the beginning of the year. Finally, his musical ideas aim for creating new works that embrace the past while pointing forward. Most of his favorite composers come before the 20th century (a notable exception is Ligeti) and fundamentally, I contend that Lauba is at heart a classical composer. But that is an argument for another day.

When it comes to music, Christian carries strong opinions proposed with a smile and defended with a bullwhip. He is particularly critical of classical saxophone teachers in America and Europe who routinely teach students without really helping them, who collect a salary while perpetuating a mediocre performance level, and fail to champion the quality repertory apart from the inferior. He resists such 20th century devices as indeterminacy, expressionism, minimalism and especially free (spectral) improvisation. He is convinced that most concert saxophone players come from the country or some backwoods culture; but then again, perhaps he was just talking about me! At any rate, the point is being musically broad with a well-rounded listening background.

Working with Lauba, nevertheless, will change your life. He is not the shamelessly self-promoting shark trying to overrun the next composer; he would rather let his music speak for itself. Because of him, I learned to play music with greater expression and live life without fear. I laugh more. I take myself less seriously. I hear more details in conversation and in music. I accept risk as the pathway to my goals. His approach to life and music is a bit elementary. You simply listen, perceive, compare, and adjust accordingly. This is the Lauba way. Observe and respond, develop your talents . . . trust your instincts.

Arts and Crafts With Richard Ducros

“Not Amsterdam, not San Sebastián, definitely not Paris,” I repeated over Skype. “I want to work with you guys.” My intentions were clear. Having studied in environments not so well known for saxophone my entire academic life, I wasn’t about to change now. “There will always be plenty of institutionalized saxophone players to fill the educational voids between Europe and the States. I’ve fulfilled my degree duties to the M.M.” For my part, after a master course with Messieurs Lauba and Ducros in Rouffach, France last summer (for me more affectionately known as Christian and Richard), I knew where I wanted to finally polish off my saxophone studies. Bordeaux was calling.

Upon first meeting Richard four months before that time, I had been familiar with his music only through YouTube. I figured he was probably a Lauba spcialist. Of course, that is true. Ducros really is the best interpreter of Christian’s contemporary œuvres, so not surprisingly it’s also true that they work out of the same studio in Bordeaux. I knew there would be no problem getting along with Richard the first time I met him, hanging out at Le Eight pub on the line 3 bus route just at the edge of Bordeaux city limits. Musically, I was all too wary of specialty saxophone players who carried great enthusiasm for one particular style of music and a great deal of ignorance for the rest. So when I finally realized over a beer and game of billiards that we both liked Michael Brecker and had obsessed with playing fusion jazz, I was ready to jump out of my skin. Finally, a hybrid professional saxophonist who embraced Coltrane, Mintzer, Glazunov, Scelsi, and Villa-Lobos alike. In Richard, I found a kindred musical spirit who recognized that ignorance was a ticket to mediocrity. He accepts he may not live to dominate every musical style, but he happily will borrow and utilize diverse influences in his musical personality.

When you walk into his studio, it looks like the typical bachelor pad. There are oranges lying around the occasional empty wine bottle set next to a half-eaten baguette and bar of dark chocolate. The table is filled with odds and ends, mostly knick-knacks. Old concert programs, an Aquitaine color-coded wine region poster, screwdrivers, bottle openers all clutter the table—the occasional CD sent from fellow musicians such as the Birdcatchers and Zzyzx Quartet tend to accumulate here as well. The dishes are always clean for some unfathomable reason. The coffee table is stacked high with MacWorld and Crutchfield magazines and the walls are filled above my head with CD’s.  Brandenburg concertos, Saint-Saëns symphonies, Bill Evans, and Stan Getz are kings of music in this house. Where there is wall-space, I see an enormous promo ad from some early movie music Richard played years ago. In the main room where they work, I find Programming Linux for Dummies, full scores of the Glazunov sax concerto, an occasional music history book, and an ample collection of the Great Adventures of TinTin. At the workstation to my right, I find a couple amplifiers, an E.W.I., a keyboard hooked up to a MacBook station running Logic Pro (Richard likes to write pop music too), and a bunch of reeds with squiggle marks all over them. Clothes in the transition of going from clean to dirty or dirty to clean are draped over armchairs. Two alto saxophones are neatly packed away with one sitting out next to a bass guitar, fax machine, pogoplug web server, and wall piano. In the back room are two dressers filled with saxophone reeds. There must be thousands of them in there, saved over time to ensure the best reed with the best sound is always available—if you can find it.

As a teacher, Richard is focused, almost nervous at all times. He speaks enough English to get by, and little by little I try and employ more of my French to speed the communication. He is sincere and eager, but more than anything he is a fastidious technician in the workplace. He knows the exact sound he wants for himself and for me too for that matter, and he uses his studio to iron the wrinkles out of the music.  He respects the style at hand and of course drives me to do the same. From him, I have developed an obsession for playing with a clear classical sound when required, overall, always in tune. He has helped me realize that my sound is not always consistent, which has interesting implications that extend to all aspects of my life. Working with Richard has taught me that music is not a job, it is an effort in artistry. You breathe this stuff, you obsess about it because you’re passionate for it, and you carry sharp opinions about others who make it. You must listen more than you practice at all times. Classical, jazz, pop, tin pan alley, it all goes in the box to give you a foundation for communication. This is the kind of education I never grasped when I was pursuing degrees, that is to say this emphasis on listening. Musically, they instilled inside of me a passion to hear with more focus and clarity, and without a doubt it accounts for the greatest of debts I owe to both Christian and Richard.

Richard is always respectful. We work in a musical laboratory, and although sometimes he chooses to use the scalpel to make a point, we understand the issue is to fix the music and not degrade a person’s sensibilities. Normally, we eat together afterwards, a simple meal of bread and wine (normally, such a meal is reserved for before the crucifixion), duck and carrots perhaps as well. He is also a generous person. The choices that he makes in helping me include loaning me mouthpieces and reeds, especially at the beginning when I had a great need for settling in and little €. He recognizes the financial price I paid when I came here and jumps at the opportunity to help if he sees a need.

Musically, we have spent more than our fair share of time working on Bach. The evenness of fingers has been a major project, and although I previously regarded this as a strength, I’ve learned to drive myself to technical perfection because of Bach preludes and partitas. Playing Bach has also driven me to improve my tuning. I know of no other music as intonationally delicate due to the fact that each interval requires the utmost of clarity to be within the style. Otherwise, the effect becomes muffled and fuzzy. The implications here are obvious, as playing in tune carries to every style of Western music at varying degrees. Regardless of how well you play in tune, working with Richard has taught me that an acute awareness of it is at all times essential. We have also worked to a lesser degree on the Wiedoeft and Matitia repertoire, which has jazz tendencies with classical sensibilities. It is light. It is fun. It sounds so French to my ears, and it is good for casinos and restaurants. Perhaps surprisingly, we have spent little time on Lauba’s repertoire. I polished Worksong and Balafon, and will meet with them one more time before I return to the United States to play a rough draft version of Bumble Beebop, a new étude Lauba composed in November for me to premiere. For those who are counting, this is the 21st étude of its kind. Within it, I hear Gershwin, Parker, and Coltrane all filtered through a very French sophistication. It swings hard and crooked, and there is no reflective introduction as in most of his études. Finally, we reviewed and rehashed the only great concerto for saxophone written by Alexander Glazunov. Alongside perhaps the Chamber Concertino by Ibert, it is the only classical saxophone work in which you can play it each year and have it worth your time and money as a player. Lauba also wrote an étude dedicated to Richard and intended as a subsitute for that briefly hashed out arpeggio cadenza most people normally play. It has found a degree of success among Russian musicians, and I did take the time to work this up with the two of them as well. It is meant to be spectacular like any good cadenza, but above all, sentimental.

It is a mistake to consider Richard a one-track musician. He is in reality firmly rooted in three styles, able to play the classical saxophone repertoire, early New Orleans jazz charts, and of course contemporary Lauba. He is the only classical saxophonist I am aware of who makes his living almost exclusively off of gigs and the occasional master class—no university or conservatory teaching for him. Like a secretive scientist or even the great Fred Astaire, he works so that noone will know until the time is right and he is ready. If, however, you think his obsession in the studio would lead to boredom on the stage, you might be in for a surprise. From him I have ultimately learned that the stage is the place to let go of yourself and launch your music to the public. Nothing else matters in those moments, it is only you and the music at hand. This is Richard Ducros.

Łódź: Saxophone Face-Off!

Performing music in the 2nd International Saxophone Competition in Lodz was a learning and listening experience. I was the 7th player of 39 in my age group of performers who had come from as far away as Los Angeles and Tokyo. We arrived with hopes to win concerts and prizes. In the end of course, most people won nothing except a lot of fantastic memories and pianist fees.

Musically, I learned the value of playing with excellence, and how playing perfectly can be more important than playing with heart in a competition. I’m not convinced this is a good lesson, but it is the reality of the system. Also, obligatory repertoire is often poor music designed to see if contestants have the stamina to keep up with the rest in a manner as clear as possible. On the other hand, pieces can be chosen to revive lost repertoire or premiere new music. This is reality. After this competition, I’m convinced there are some pieces which may be better lost to history.

Politically, I learned that staff pianists will almost automatically play better for native contestants than foreigners, American or otherwise. It’s unprofessional, but they have the power simply by the fact that we’re on their territory. Also, the most complete player doesn’t always win, especially when saxophone teachers feud—students can get backhanded by matters out of their control. With that in mind, I still happily leave my congratulations to the final winner Xavier Larsson, the kid really played fantastic! The rest of us will get another chance.

Some people say there are competition musicians and concert musicians. You’re amazed by the competitor, but can never get comfortable and enjoy their musical offering. Leonard Bernstein always said he would rather hear an imperfect performance played with heart than a flawless mechanical interpretation. For my part, I want the best of both worlds: a musician who can play clean and also with fullness of depth. For me, this is the most elusive and rare of musicians and my own personal aim.

In spite of having planned the last six months of my life for this saxophone olympics only to have made a quick exit in the first round, I’m reflecting on the best. I met fantastic people, lived like a crazy man, made my personality loud, enjoyed every moment, and left no stone unturned. Travelling to such a contest always leaves room for risk. No matter the result, you must choose to be content with yourself as a musician and person. The very act of trying is a musical upgrade on your abilities. When it’s time, people will start to notice.

Tonight, I close with the words of American comedian and actor Kyle Cease speaking in regards to risk and reward in life. His words, of course, extend way beyond a saxophone competition to life in the normal world. I humbly offer them with the wish that you find the ideas as meaningful as I have.

Seriously, if you want anything, all you have to do is show up. Do what you do, and it will happen. Stop trying to get it. That is cutting corners. That gets in the way. Just do your thing. You keep doing what you do, and you can have anything. Only work on what you can do, and let go. Enjoy doing it in that moment. Stop monitoring while you are doing. Results will show up when its time. Also, the results will be bigger than you can imagine, which is why you should stop deciding how it will go. Want the ultimate career? Become the best in that field. People will notice. Want the ultimate life? Allow. Stop thinking you are in lack without that thing or person. Just create. Don’t know how? Good. Just start. It will answer itself. Just start. That’s it.

Wagner vs. Verdi, Mahler vs. Strauss

 Dos ensayos cortos escritos por Prof. Carlos G. Pérez de Aranda y Ramírez en Madrid.

Tema  1) Richard Wagner versus Giuseppe Verdi

Wagner y Verdi fueron dos músicos contemporáneos que desarrollaron, cada uno por su cuenta, el género de la ópera. Aunque cada uno de ellos representa el espíritu del siglo XIX y de sus respectivos países, Alemania e Italia, Wagner compuso su obra dando una nueva dimensión al papel de la orquesta basándose en el leitmotif y en el cromatismo, mientras que Verdi prefirió hacer un homenaje al pueblo italiano más acorde con el romanticismo de su tiempo. No fueron amigos, ni siquiera llegaron a conocerse personalmente. Verdi dijo, a propósito de Wagner, que “siempre elige el camino menos transitado, aunque no sea necesario, y trata de volar donde cualquier otra persona caminaría con mejores resultados”. Después de escuchar el Réquiem de Verdi, Wagner comentó: “sería mejor no decir nada”. A pesar de las grandes diferencias en su tratamiento del género operístico, creo que merece la pena examinar cuáles son los rasgos propios de cada uno de ellos.

Gesamtkunstwerk representa el concepto del arte total al que aspiró Wagner a partir del periodo medio de su vida. En su primera época su carrera fue poco exitosa y no se caracterizaba por el estilo por el que lo conocemos hoy en día. En su ensayo “Eine Mittheilung an meiner Freunde”, escrito en 1851 proponía un arte del drama total que recogía aspectos de la mitología, la política y todo el arte en general, incluyendo la poesía y el aspecto escénico, para redefinir el concepto de la ópera. Así es como consideramos a Wagner: un compositor capaz  no sólo de componer la música sino también el libreto y de controlar el concepto total de su obra hasta el último detalle del escenario (el Ciclo del Anillo, por ejemplo). Con su ópera Tristan und Isolde se adelantó en cincuenta años al lenguaje musical de su tiempo. En ella encontramos que el uso del cromatismo es llevado hasta el límite de la armonía clásica en la que se inspiraban los autores del principio del siglo XX. Así mismo, otorgó a la orquesta un papel más preponderante, llegando a darle un protagonismo similar al de los cantantes. En su obra la orquesta ya no era la acompañante de fondo, ocultada tras las estrellas del escenario. La ópera wagneriana iba a dar como resultado una música épica y dramática que requería una fortaleza vocal del cantante muy distinta a la de la tradición italiana. Su utilización del leitmotif, asociándolo a los personajes, puede considerarse uno de los mayores progresos en la historia de la música.

Por su parte, las óperas de Verdi reconocen el pueblo italiano mediante un desarrollo de carácter nacionalista del melodrama romántico. Llegó a tener tal popularidad que gran parte del público identificaba las ideas de sus primeras óperas con la cuestión del Risorgimento tras la unificación de Italia en 1861. En cualquier caso, es un síntoma de la enorme popularidad del compositor que fue capaz de cautivar tanto el corazón como la mente del pueblo italiano. Al final de muchas interpretaciones a las que asistían oficiales austriacos entre el público italiano, el grito de Viva Verdi servía tanto como apoyo al compositor como una referencia política a Vittorio Emmanuele, Re dItalia. A menudo se critica a Verdi por no evolucionar en su estilo, que permaneció fiel a la escala diatónica. Salvo en el caso de Macbeth, siempre siguió el procedimiento de componer obras basándose en el concepto del amor dramático de la tradición italiana. Sin embargo, su repertorio goza hoy en día de gran popularidad, siendo mucho más interpretado que el de Wagner. También fue más prolífico al componer 28 óperas, más del doble que las 13 de Wagner.

Fundamentalmente, opino que Wagner tuvo más influencia en el mundo de la cultura, en el de la literatura, en el filosófico e incluso en el político a través de personas como T. S. Eliot, Friedrich Nietzsche y Adolf Hitler, mientras que Verdi apelaba al sentido de la ópera amorosa y trágica que supera las dificultades. Por supuesto, ambos serán recordados por su gran capacidad para comunicarse con la audiencia, aunque el carácter orgulloso y confiado de Wagner contraste bastante con la vida de sufrimiento de Verdi por la pérdida de su esposa y de su hija.


Selección bibliográfica

Julio César Morán.  Verdi y Wagner: La fuerza de convicción en la madurez artística de dos músicos con estéticas diferentes.

Giuseppe Verdi.  (en castellano e inglés)

Richard Wagner.  (en castellano e inglés)

Tema  2) Gustav Mahler versus Richard Strauss

Las diferencias entre los dos grandes compositores de finales del siglo XIX y del principios del siglo XX quedan subrayadas por el hecho de que Mahler fue un músico judío, que tuvo que renunciar por dicha razón a su puesto como director en Viena, mientras que Strauss mantuvo buenas relaciones con el Tercer Reich llegando a ser nombrado presidente del Reichsmusikkammer durante la II Guerra Mundial. Eran dos seres humanos distintos, Mahler atronador y despótico a la vez que infantil al lado de Strauss, el ejemplo del caballero ideal con una mirada de acero, una persona poco inclinada comentar sobre sí mismo, ni siquiera sobre su música.

Por parte de Mahler, el puesto más importante que consiguió también vino con la obligación oculta de convertirse a la fe católica (un tema de importancia mínima para él) para ser director de la Ópera de Viena; aguantaba desde el ayuntamiento hasta la prensa, el antisemitismo de la comunidad vienesa quienes no creían en la habilidad de un director no alemán para interpretar las obras alemanes. Su exigencia como director en los ensayos, provocó el rencor contra su liderazgo y a pesar de que resucitó la vida musical en Viena y dejó los asuntos empresariales más estables y rentables que antes, no caía bien a la gente. Mahler dijo sobre si mismo: “Soy tres veces extranjero: un bohemio entre austríacos, un austríaco entre alemanes y un judío ante el mundo”. Se especializaba en interpretar las obras de Mozart y Wagner como director y siempre dejaba a los músicos más famosos (Brahms y Chaikovski, por ejemplo) abrumados al ver sus conciertos. Siempre usaba los veranos para componer  música en cabañas solitarias e insistía en ser dejado en paz (un rasgo muy suyo). Componía dos géneros de música: el lieder y sus diez sinfonías y se puede decir que mezclaba muchos características entre ellos. Su repertorio tuvo poco éxito durante su vida (con la excepción de la sinfonía octava) pero gracias a Leonard Bernstein entre otros está de moda hoy en día. Fue maestro de la segunda escuela vienesa y defendía su música con vehemencia especialmente frente a Schönberg incluso peleándose con sus detractores.

Strauss, por otro lado seguía el florecimiento del romanticismo alemán según la tradición operística de Wagner. En 1905 estrenó Salomé, la ópera mejor conocida de su repertorio junto a de Der Rosenkavalier y también la más controvertida por su famosa “danza de los siete velos” debido a su escandalosa representación de los personajes de la biblia. También lleva un lenguaje armónico que adelanta el camino de Tristan und Isolde de manera impactante para cualquier audiencia de  principios del siglo XX , incluso a Hitler quien disfrutó la ópera como joven en 1907. No obstante resulta demasiado fácil proponer que Strauss se alió con la Alemania nazi por su necesidad de proteger a toda su familia contra el genocidio. Se encontró en una situación desagradable, e hizo lo necesario para permanecer fiel a la música y a su familia: un baile de necesidades entre el deseo del gobierno nazi de promover una música pura y corriente a la vez un compositor genuinamente alemán que ya había sobrevivido a muchos cambios del gobierno y simplemente quería seguir viviendo en su tierra natal.

Aunque se puede decir que ambos compositores seguían el camino musical romántico de Wagner, solo Strauss mantuvo  relaciones cercanas con Alemania mientras que Mahler tenía que soportar una vida nómada entre Praga, Budapest, Viena, y Nueva York, entre otros sitios. Por su parte Strauss aprovechó su posición en el Tercer Reich con el propósito de proteger la música de Mahler y otros judíos como Mendelssohn. A final sus trayectorias se separan tanto por sus géneros musicales como el rumbo que tomaron sus vidas y sus patrocinadores. De hecho cada uno promocionaba la música del otro como directores. Los veo como dos músicos separados por el antisemitismo con propósitos musicales muy similares. Mahler comentó sobre sus carreras musicales que “excavamos en lados opuestos de la misma montaña”. A final, los dos se encontraron en el centro.

Selección bibliográfica

Gustav Mahler.  (en castellano e inglés)

Alex Ross.  El ruido eterno: escuchar al siglo XX a través de su música.  Barcelona, Seix Barral, 2009.

Richard Strauss.  (en castellano e inglés)