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The Artwork of Bernard Arnest

My father, Bernard Arnest (1917-1986) was a notable painter in his lifetime: a student of Boardman Robinson at the Broadmoor Art Academy and later at the Fine Arts Center, a student of Henry Varnum Poor, youthful winner of a Guggenheim fellowship, war artist for the U.S. Army, and teacher at the University of Minnesota and later at Colorado College, where he was long-time art department head. His reputation has waned in the years since his death, largely due to family inertia, but with the recent passing of his wife, Barbara Arnest, his heirs are determined to get his work more visible to the public.

And so I’m happy to announce the creation of a facebook page devoted to his art: The Artwork of Bernard Arnest. My father had the misfortune of being sincerely eclectic, so it is difficult to characterize his painting; but if you take a few minutes to look at the site’s images, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks for reading!

Bernard Arnest Signals, Orange:Black 36x27 oil:masonite

Signals, Orange/Black, 36×27, Oil on masonite

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This Blog Has Moved

The (very occasional, and I’ve pretty much given up promising myself to be more diligent about writing more) posts are now found at the main millionmonkeys.us site.

Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations

Now that I’ve been eliminated from the Rocky Mountain Amateur Piano Competition, I have time to post about the repertoire I prepared. What follows are my classroom notes on Copland’s Piano Variations, which I played for the preliminary round. As lecture notes, they’re sometimes cryptic, and there are many fragmentary thoughts that will repay your attention if you check the score, honest. Feel free to borrow any of this, including the chart, though of course credit the author …

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Jazz in the Garden Tonight

plus some thoughts on recording

I’m part of a largish group playing at tonight’s Jazz in the Garden, the summer concert series at Grace Episcopal Church. The other musicians come from the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs; the program features a few classic jazz tunes and a piece of mine, but is anchored by a trio of marvelous jazz-influenced classical pieces: Milhaud’s La création du monde, Martinů’s La Revue de Cuisine, and Stravinsky’s Ragtime for Eleven Instruments.

Monday’s rehearsal prompted some thoughts about recording. Overall, of course, it’s been a good thing. Our views of how Chopin or Liszt played piano must always contain a heaping dose of speculation; in contrast, we have some idea of how Busoni played, a very good idea of Rachmaninoff’s unique approach to interpretation, and for good or ill, Stravinsky’s own interpretations of nearly all his works. (For most of his life Stravinsky denied that interpretation was even necessary, but in his old age admitted – with a hint of despair – that he now heard some pieces differently than he had when he’d composed them.)

But recording has tangible downsides that we ignore at our peril, of which I’ll mention just three. First, recording changes the relationship between the listener and the performer: We rarely listen to a recording with the same level of concentration that we bring to a live performance, for the simple reason that, deep down, we know we don’t have to. We can always hear it again.

Second, recording has changed the way we play: An interpretation vivid enough to make a powerful impression the first time often sounds exaggerated on repeated hearings, with the result that interpretations have become smaller-scaled over the last century. This makes them less accessible to non-experts, contributing to the shrinking of the audience for classical music.

Third, and the point of this post, some pieces – such as Milhaud’s Creation du Monde – respond better to recording than others. Creation du Monde needs a crowd to come alive, even if it’s only the crowd of performers. The climaxes conjure images of a particularly raucous party – a party you might like to attend once in your life, or perhaps twice if you were fortunate enough to survive the first one; but definitely not a party you would want in your house. A recording of Creation du Monde fundamentally misrepresents the piece’s spirit.

Near the end of Creation du Monde is a brief drum break. In years of hearing recordings it had never jumped out as anything special, but at Monday’s rehearsal it had me laughing out loud. La Creation du Monde live is a wondrous thing, and I hope people avail themselves of this rare opportunity.

(By the way, if you find the piece occasionally reminding you of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, consider this Mind-Boggling Factoid: Creation du Monde was composed first.)

  • What: Jazz in the Garden, featuring musicians from The Chamber Orchestra of the Springs plus me
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 28
  • Where: Grace Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St. (Corner of N. Tejon and Monument), Colorado Springs 
  • Free – Picnics Welcome – Blankets and Lawn Chairs Encouraged – Beverages Available

Devil in My Pants

I have a script and everything for an, I hope, amusing video of this song, but I’m so lazy that I decided to post this slide-show version for now. The song has its genesis in the title, which I was amazed not to find used as the hook in any song. (There a “The Devil’s in My Pants,” but I don’t think it’s as good.) Once I had that line, the sea of tom-toms – which is really the song’s focus – was the obvious next step, and a lot of fun to realize.

Mostly I write music for real orchestras, or at least music that could be played by real orchestras. But it’s also stimulating to create music specifically for recordings, because of the possibility of creating imaginary spaces. The elements in the music for “I Am Nikola Tesla” swooped around the listener; aside from one bit of the chorus, the elements in “Devil in My Pants” don’t move, but each instrument occupies its own acoustic space in the mix, from completely close and unprocessed to drowning in reverb and effects. There’s no practical way to perform the song live, at least not as it’s conceived.

Suite from “I Am Nikola Tesla”

The Suite from I Am Nikola Tesla is now online at youtube. It contains most of the music from Theatreworks (Colorado Springs)’ 2010 production of the original play by Murray Ross and cast members Michael Cobb (Tesla), Sammie Joe Kinnett (Luke), Ludmila Bokievsky (Andjela), Bob Nash (Rex), and Margaret Kasahara (Izzy).

The play centers around Luke, a talented and troubled young man who is perhaps visited by the spirit of the great inventor. Since Tesla’s most far-reaching legacy is alternating current, I made the music mostly out of one of alternating current’s most common and irritating by-products: 60-cycle hum, which here is processed and transposed in many ways. The exceptions are a pair of imitation Balkan folk songs and three brief sound effects: Flapping wings, a thunderclap, and some Tesla-coil crackle.

I didn’t get around to doing this earlier because I was intimidated by the challenge of reducing the original four tracks to two. This turned out to be not as difficult as I feared – and the stereo mix sounds fine as long as you’re one of the six-billion-or-so people who never heard the multi-channel version. The suite includes a lot of music that didn’t make it into the play, and I’m very happy with the overall shape.

Everyman on the Bus

Theatreworks’ Everyman on the Bus opens tonight. In the final scene, the fabulous Judeth Shay Burns appears as an angel singing a short piece I composed for Everyman’s ascent to heaven. The show promises to be, at the very least, unforgettable, as the audience is ferried around Colorado Springs on a bus to various settings.

The music is as heavenly as I could make it. The first half is chantlike and modal, with Judy accompanied only by high tremolo violins and a Burmese bell. The second half is orchestral and rhapsodic, with short motifs passed around contrapuntally to create a shimmering, ethereal sound.

The play opens tonight and runs through March 17. Tickets (available at the above link) are in short supply, but maybe not as short as it looks on the Theatreworks website – when I checked for availability on Wednesday, it said SOLD OUT from top to bottom, but when I called the box office at 255-3232 there were seats remaining.

–Mark