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November 16, 1999
If Thou Havest Ears...

Cycle 2, Day 7
Temp: 97.7
Cervical Mucus: Nothing
Cervix: Firm, closed, low

I defend my thesis tomorrow. Pistols at nine in the AM. Frankly, the prospect has me peeing in my pants. Supposedly, it's no big deal here at Bowling Green for composition students, but I still remember Eric's defense. He had to have three profs on his committee: one from composition (his private teacher, Dr. Beall, naturally), one from music theory, and one from music history. The three were allowed to pelt him with questions about anything and everything from their respective disciplines. He did quite well up until the final question, coming from Dr. Beall, who had previously been the "easy" one. Dr. Beall said, "You've done great. Now, if you could...name me three American composers, under the age of thirty-five, and briefly characterize their styles."

It's the age requirement that's the tricky part. Most of us don't earn a "name" until well past thirty-five. I think it would have been "cheating" to name his fellow classmates, too.

I have only two committee members, which probably wasn't wise; if one of them had been hit by a bus or hit with the Plague, I'd be up a tree without a ladder right now. But they're both healthy, and probably thirsting for my blood right now.

Like I said, defenses around here aren't supposed to be so tough. It's mainly about the piece I wrote, and I've been living with it for two years, so I'm somewhat familiar with the topic, if you catch my meaning. The tricky part, to my mind, is going to be my bibliography. Dr. Shrude, my advisor, is big on composers knowing their lit, so she makes a big deal about it for the bibliography and the defense. One of my fellow grad students was hit with a Joan Tower piece and asked how it had influenced his own thesis. To my knowledge, he had barely listened to the piece, let alone "felt its influence."

So I'm sitting here, listening to the works on my bibliography on auto-repeat, one by one. Currently I'm on Charles Ives' setting of Psalm 90. It's a wonderful work, and one I'm not likely to blank on, as I sang it last year. If you know the Psalm in question, you know that it's David at his most bipolar, with alternating verses talking about "angry God" versus "relatively benevolent God." Ives set the verses in either loud, harsh settings or softer, almost tonal settings, depending on their character. It was amusing to see some of the audience members settling down into a calmer verse, only to be jarred by that "strange, modern stuff" on the next verse.

Oh, by the way, that "strange, modern stuff" is what I myself write, most of the time. I think I was one of the few people in the choir for whom this piece was a personal favorite.

Shall I tell you what else is on the agenda for listening this afternoon?

Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
God, I hope they don't ask me about this one, because all I've done is listening; there's been no deeper score study done here. Perhaps later this afternoon...
Alban Berg's Funf Orchesterlieder.
This one really deserves more of my attention, not only because Berg is one of my absolute favorite composers. During a meeting of all the grad students working on degrees in composition, we came up with a list of pieces all grad students must know, and this was my contribution. I've got a sneaking suspicion that it may show up tomorrow.
Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.
Oh. My. God. Britten is my absolute favorite composer, and this is just one of his masterpieces. This man knew how to handle a choir, and it's because of him that I'm a devotee of the genre in the first place. If you don't believe me, though, go ask Rob.
John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1, "Of Rage and Rememberance."
For those who know the piece, you know why I have it here. For those who don't, GO LISTEN. The popular name of this piece is "The AIDS Symphony;" Corigliano dedicated themes from this work to close friends of his who passed away from AIDS complications, memorializing them in music. The result is a tragic, extremely moving work of art that brings me to tears almost every time I hear it. Even if you didn't know the story of the music, though, you'd still be impressed; it's a solid piece.
Paul Hindemith's Six Chansons.
Okay, other musicians can get their snickers at me here. I like Hindemith; there, I've said it. So what if all his pieces sound alike? So what if he's (god forbid) conservative? These songs are so well crafted, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't in awe of him. Besides, if Danny Elfman can rip off Hindemith's Mathis der Maler to make the "Batman" theme, then I can certainly be influenced by Hindemith in my own work.
Witold Lutoslawski's Lacrimosa.
Dr. Shrude's idea, not mine. Again, one I'm going to have to study some more later today.
Arvo Part's Magnificat.
Lovely. Brilliant. His clarity of harmony and melody is something I need to emulate when I start getting too complicated. Great to listen to when you have a headache, too.
Krzysztof Penderecki's Stabat Mater.
As complicated as Part is simple. Lots of "crunchy" harmonies and hugely difficult lines; it gives me hope, because if there's a choir that could sing that, then there's got to be a choir who can sing my little ol' thesis.
Maurice Ravel's La Valse.
Again, one of those that I managed to get added to everybody's list in the name of well-roundedness. He's the master of orchestration. I need to go back and see if I can find any similarities between our pieces.
Joseph Schwantner's Aftertones of Infinity.
I wasn't the only grad student adding pieces to other people's bibliographies. This one is courtesy of my buddy Kurt, who knows the lit better than anybody on this planet. Thanks, Kurt. God, I hope she doesn't ask me about this one...
And last, but certainly not least, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.
I hope there's not a soul out there who hasn't heard this one somewhere by now.

Apologies for anybody completely bored out of their gourd by now. If you're not a fan of classical music, I know the above doesn't in the least bit interest you. Ah, use it to cheat on a "Music Appreciation" paper.



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