Paul Cantrell’s music blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
all free to listen to, download, and share.

Last June, an extraordinary thunderstorm ripped through my fair city, leaving half a million without power and downing an astonishing number of beautiful old trees.

On my daily walk to the coffee shop, a tall tree lay across 34th Street, door-sized chunks of sidewalk split like a drawbridge over the gaping hole where its dangling roots once ran. The top of its canopy, previously the domain of birds, insects, and exceptionally brave squirrels, was half-flattened against the asphalt just shy of the yellow center line. I walked up to it, and touched my finger to leaves that had never before felt human hands. They were still firm and green, and remained so for many days.

When a tree falls, it lives on long after its death is sealed.

Watching the Minnesota Orchestra, I cannot shake the feeling that this tree fell many months ago, and we are now watching it die slowly on the asphalt. The roots are in the air. The trunk is horizontal. Neither hard-headed problem solving nor gracious diplomacy nor righteous indignation can undo what is done. I am an optimist, sometimes to the point of absurdity, but today my heart tells me that there is nothing for us to do but grieve.

I’m starting up a new composer organization, The New Ruckus. The mission statement says it best:

We are composers, improvisers, sound artists, and songwriters. Our mission is to help each other achieve a sense of purpose and satisfaction in our musical lives, by providing moral support and practical help in creating our work, getting it heard, and making personal connections through it.

We specifically focus on non-selective activities that benefit the whole composer community: nothing we do is judged, juried, curated or auditioned. Our programs are either open to all, or first come first served. If we do it for anyone, we do it for everyone.

There are lots of organizations doing a great job of mustering resources and funneling them into music, but The New Ruckus’s exclusive focus on mutual support and community building is … well, like the name says, it’s new!

Get yourself on The New Ruckus mailing list to stay in the loop. We’re cooking up some exciting programs.

Tucked into today’s encouraging tidbits of news about the Twin Cities orchestras is one telling detail. The MN Orchestra board wants to restore the organization’s mission statement to its former proper state (they removed the word “orchestra” last year, if you can believe it), but “with two changes to emphasize community service and financial stability.” In that proposal is laid bare the philosophical chasm that originally lead to this fiasco.

The words “financial stability” do not belong in any arts organization’s mission statement. Financial stability is a means, not an end. The music is the mission.

During hurricane Sandy, I tweeted (yes, I have a Twitter account; can you believe it?) about how wonderful it is that pianos still work when the power is out. Turns out that while I was thinking it, one In the Hands listener was living it. I will let him tell his story in his own words:

Since we last emailed.... we were hit with Hurricane Sandy. (I live in Jersey City NJ just outside of NYC). If you followed the news... we were basically in a war zone out here without power, heat, phone, internet for a week... with miliatary coming in and out with trucks, water and food. We have two cats who basically became our personal heaters at night.

As the lockout of Minnesota’s two world-class orchestras continues, I’ve given a lot of thought to the dilemma. A credible outside perspective is hard to find, and we’re left in a “he said / she said” back and forth between management and musicians. Listening to it all, I believe them both on their key points: yes, an organization that is drawing heavily from its endowment cannot last — and yes, the proposed cuts would be an artistic kneecapping for the orchestras.

I’ve thought hard, and I’ve made up my mind. To accept the financial status quo is to doom the orchestras to a slow death — but to accept the proposed cuts is to kill them now. I wish the orchestras could last forever in their current state. But if that cannot be, if it comes right down to it and we are truly forced to choose, the orchestras should draw down their endowments. I’d rather have 10 more years of great music than 100 years of mediocrity.

The Broken Mirror of Memory is now released! (Fanfare!) And the best place to get it is straight from the artist. (That’s me!)

In this episode is one track from the new album. This is part 2; you heard part 1 in the last episode.

The bass clarinet has a kind of talking quality throughout part 2 that involves some unusual sounds you might not have heard before. You’ll hear a few bends and microtonal adjustments, and in many spots, Pat actually sings through the body of the instrument while playing. This does not produce two distinct notes as you might expect; instead, the voice and reed combine in a strange and beautiful way. You’ll also hear some damped notes in the piano, where I touch the end of the string while the hammer strikes. In the mixing process, I used a whole bunch of techniques to accentuate all these strange sounds, and make them even a bit more strange and emotionally immediate.

The point of all of these effects — beside just that they’re cool — is not to stand strikingly apart from the rest of the music, but to integrate with it. I always list Jimi Hendrix as one of my big influences, which sometimes gets strange looks, but I mean it. One of things he did so well was to take what we might call “extended technique” and make it feel not extended at all, but perfectly integrated into the musical expression, utterly a part of the syntax.

I was after some of that in part 2. I was also thinking of some traditional Bulgarian singing where vocal ornaments and strange uses of the voice meld perfectly into captivating sinewy melodies.

Coming out of the tense entanglement of part 1 into a vast, abstract, empty space, here is:

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2
Pat O’Keefe, bass clarinet
Paul Cantrell, piano

The equilibrium the music finds at the end of part 2, after all that wrestling, opens the door for the big emotional pivot that begins part 3.

If you’d like to hear the whole piece, you can stream a preview, and hopefully get yourself a copy, from my humble online store. Download, CD, and scores all available. What’s posted on this site is the mid-quality MP3 I use for the podcast, but I assure you, hearing the full-quality version on good speakers is a whole different experience.

My heartfelt thanks to everybody on Kickstarter who made this possible. I can’t tell you what it means to be able to release this recording.