The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

L is for Legato

Blogging A to ZI don't always have time to write Blogging A-to-Z challenge posts ahead of time. This week I've had almost no free time until just now.

Today I'm going to slide into the topic of  markings. Music involves more than just the notes on the page; it's an artistic expression. Composers use a whole palette of markings and (usually Italian) words to convey to performers how to express the music.

Take this snippet of Bach's Invention #1 in C:

First, I should point out that Bach famously almost never added expression markings. In this example, I added a few to convey how I think someone should perform the Invention.

Start with the Italian at measure 1. The word "allegretto" above the staff indicates the tempo. It's a diminutive form of the word "allegre," which means happy; so allegretto means kind of happy. In practice it means a pretty quick tempo but not overly quick. "Allegro" (happy!) would be a little faster. Tempo markings range from "larghissimo" (really big and slow) to "prestissimo" (really fast). Classical FM has a good roundup of tempo terms.

The little "mf" under the staff is more Italian, but this time an abbreviation indicating how loudly to play. It stands for "mezzo forte," or middling-strong. Typical dynamic markings range from "piano" (quiet) to "forte" (loud), which helps explain why the instrument everyone knows and loves is called a pianoforte (because it can play both quietly and loudly).

The lines connecting the first 8 notes and the notes in measures 3 and 4 indicate phrases that should be played legato, or connected. Legato's opposite is staccato, from the verb stacciare, meaning to sift.

Finally, the little squiggle over the B in measure two is called a mordent, indicating a rapid articulation down from the B to an A and back. The little C next to it is a grace note, indicating that actually the mordent should start on the C. (Listen to the midi file for clarification.)

There are thousands of markings in musical scores that assist performers. But dynamics, tempo markings, phrase lines, and ornaments (mainly in Baroque music) are the most common.

Jallianwalh Bagh, 100 years later

One hundred years ago this hour (Sunday 13 April 1919, 17:37 HMT), Brig. General Reginald Dyer order his men to fire on 10,000 unarmed Indian civilians within an enclosed space from which they had no escape:

On the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of at least 10,000 men, women, and children gathered in an open space known as the Jallianwalla Bagh, which was nearly completely enclosed by walls and had only one exit. It is not clear how many people there were protesters who were defying the ban on public meetings and how many had come to the city from the surrounding region to celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival. Dyer and his soldiers arrived and sealed off the exit. Without warning, the troops opened fire on the crowd, reportedly shooting hundreds of rounds until they ran out of ammunition. It is not certain how many died in the bloodbath, but, according to one official report, an estimated 379 people were killed, and about 1,200 more were wounded. After they ceased firing, the troops immediately withdrew from the place, leaving behind the dead and wounded.

The shooting was followed by the proclamation of martial law in the Punjab that included public floggings and other humiliations. Indian outrage grew as news of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent. The Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood that he had received in 1915. Gandhi was initially hesitant to act, but he soon began organizing his first large-scale and sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaign, the noncooperation movement (1920–22), which thrust him to prominence in the Indian nationalist struggle.

The government of India ordered an investigation of the incident (the Hunter Commission), which in 1920 censured Dyer for his actions and ordered him to resign from the military. Reaction in Britain to the massacre was mixed, however. Many condemned Dyer’s actions—including Sir Winston Churchill, then secretary of war, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920—but the House of Lords praised Dyer and gave him a sword inscribed with the motto “Saviour of the Punjab.” In addition, a large fund was raised by Dyer’s sympathizers and presented to him. The Jallianwalla Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument.

At an inquest after the event, Dyer had no remorse for his actions, and volunteered that had he managed to get the tank he had with him into the square, he would have used its cannon to further attack the civilians.

Both the massacre and the inquest were dramatized in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won Best Picture that year.

The Commons debate about the incident that took place on 8 July 1920 offers some context for the current Commons debate about Brexit. Indeed, the massacre and its aftermath should put paid any notions that the United Kingdom has always stood up for human rights, even in the last century, or has a particular sensitivity to its own citizens who come from outside the British Isles.

In the debate, the Secretary of State for War, a Mr. Churchill of some repute, gave the view I should hope all Britons would have had:

If the road had not been so narrow, the machine guns and the armoured cars would have joined in. Finally, when the ammunition had reached the point that only enough remained to allow for the safe return of the troops, and after 379 persons, which is about the number gathered together in this Chamber to-day, had been killed, and when most certainly 1,200 or more had been wounded, the troops, at whom not even a stone had been thrown, swung round and marched away. I deeply regret to find myself in a difference of opinion from many of those with whom, on the general drift of the world's affairs at the present time, I feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but I do not think it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army, for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.

Reading through the debate, however, it almost seems as if Churchill were in the minority. He wasn't, but only because the less-racist MPs in the House at that moment largely kept quiet.

The thinking behind Dyer's mass murder led directly to the thinking behind Lord Louis Mountbatten's precipitous and disastrous withdrawal from India in 1947, whose principal consequence has been 72 years of nonstop hostilities between India and Pakistan. And it leads directly to Brexit.

Brew...stills? Take my money!

Brewpubs, but at distilleries and serving their own spirits, may be coming to Illinois:

Legislation approved Thursday by the Illinois House would license craft distillers similar to the way craft brewers are regulated, with the aim of giving a boost to the burgeoning community of artisan spirits makers in the state.

The bill, which still faces a vote in the Senate, would create a license that allows small distillers to self-distribute some product, removing a major hurdle for unknown brands trying get on store shelves, and another license that allows distillers to open up to three satellite locations where they can serve their house-made spirits as well as other alcohol in a pub environment.

The changes would allow craft distillers to build brand awareness and new revenue streams, helping them grow and encouraging new distillers to set up shop in the state, said Noelle DiPrizio, who co-owns Chicago Distilling in Logan Square.

FEW Spirits already has something like this in the form of a tasting room. But this would be a much more all-encompassing experience. I'm looking forward to it.

K is for Key

Blogging A to ZFor day 11 in this year's Blogging A-to-Z challenge, we take a look at keys. Not the ones on a musical instrument, but the ones on a staff sheet.

A key designates which scale the piece (or part of the piece) uses to establish its tonality. In this year's very first A-to-Z post, I showed you the four principal scales (major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor) that Western music uses most of the time. In that post, you may have noticed that the major scale had the notes C through C without any accidentals (sharps or flats), but the three minor scales all had flats in several places. That means the major scale was in the key of C major, and the minor scales were all in the key of C minor.

To avoid writing all those accidentals throughout the score, we can use a key signature, that essentially says "these sharps or flats run from here to the end (or the next time we change keys)." For example, here again is the C major scale:

And here again is the C natural minor scale, but this time with the proper key signature:

Also remember how every key has a relative key? That's easy to see with key signatures. Here's the A natural minor scale; note that its key signature is the same as its relative key, C major:

Though I might get some argument from some modern composers, generally you can have no more than 7 sharps or flats in a key signature. Each sharp or flat on a key signature takes the key up a fifth in what we call the "circle of fifths." Take a look at how that works. Here are the keys with flats in their signatures:

Start with C; up a fifth to G, up a fifth to D, etc. Now the flat side:

Start with C; but this time, down a fifth to F, down a fifth to Bb, etc. So it works the same way as sharps, but in the other direction.

Often pieces will change keys mid-stream; this is called a modulation. Here's a simple example from Bach in which he modulates several times, between C minor and its relative key, Eb major, with a clever modulation to F minor for a couple of bars. And here's a lampshaded example from Beethoven. (Listen to the whole Schickele clip. The first time I heard it I almost pissed myself laughing.)

Tonight is the Apollo Chorus annual benefit and cabaret, which I'm co-chairing, so tomorrow's A-to-Z might be slightly delayed.

J is for Jazz

Blogging A to ZNow that you know everything about harmony...oh, wait. Because regular old harmonies have nothing on jazz. So for today's Blogging A-to-Z challenge entry I'm going to lift up the curtain on some pretty wild stuff.

I'm actually not going to have a lot of musical examples today. I'm merely going to point you toward other places that do it better.

I will, however, draw your attention to the greatest jazz musician in history: Bach. He improvised the way that other people breathe. And he influenced modern jazz artists hundreds of years later. Just one example, Nina Simone. Listen to the fugue she injects about a minute in:

Or more recently, here's Donal Fox doing improvising on a Bach prelude:

The problem with this format is that jazz is a topic just as large as music theory. So if this post has done nothing more than gotten you to listen to a couple of jazz pieces, that's a success.

I is for Interval

Blogging A to ZToday I'm going to write about a topic that would have come second in any reasonable course on music theory. But in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, sometimes the cart does come before the ox. Because even though I've already shown you the German 6th chord, fugues, and a reasonable harmonization of a simple melody, today I'm going to show you intervals.

An interval is simply the distance between any two notes. If the distance is one note, we call that a second; two notes, a third; and so on, up to seven notes, which is an octave. (Two of the same notes are called a unison.)

For example, here are the intervals of the major scale:

In order, they are: unison, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, major 7th, and octave. Not surprisingly, the minor scale has minor intervals instead:

Now the intervals are unison, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 6th, minor 7th, and octave.

Interval training starts basic ear training. Musicians have to recognize intervals not only stacked like these two examples, but also played out. For example, here are a major 2nd, a minor 6th, and a perfect 4th played as a music teacher might do it:

How about a chart of all of the intervals, you say? OK:

Interval C to... Notation
Unison C U
Minor 2nd C#/Db m2
Major 2nd D M2
Minor 3rd D#/Eb m3
Major 3rd E M3
Perfect 4th F P4
Tritone F#/Gb Aug4/Dim5
Perfect 5th G P5
Minor 6th G#/Ab m6
Major 6th A M6
Minor 7th A#/Bb m7
Major 7th B M7
Octvave C U

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

H is for Harmony

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge entry builds on yesterday's by adding a third voice to a simple two-voice example to create harmony.

Simply put, harmony is any two notes sounded together. But in practice, harmony involves chords, which comprise groups of 3 or more notes sounded together.

Let's start with a recognizable melody:

Now I'll add a bass line, to give it a little more depth (and, for astute observers, outline the chord progression that we'll hear in step 3):

So there are implied harmonies in there, but let's flesh them out:

That harmony is simply I-I-IV-I, ii-(I6)-V7-I, which is about as simple as it gets.

But you can hear that once we have complete chords under the melody, it sounds a lot richer, and has more direction. And I'll address some of the techniques that make this particular progression work two weeks from Thursday.

Tomorrow: the post that should have gone second.

*The (I6) means even though the chord looks like a tonic chord, it's really behaving more like a passing chord. But hey, it's a simple harmonization of a children's melody.