The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

G is for Gregorian Chant

Blogging A to ZThe Blogging A-to-Z challenge now takes you back about 1,100 years to the beginnings of Western music: Gregorian chant.

Simple plainchants go back before people generally wrote music down. In the late 9th and early 10th centuries—around the time of Pope Gregory I—we start to find some of the earliest written examples of simple monophonic chants.

Some remained part of general liturgical music well into the 18th and 19th centuries, like this example:

Here it begins a performance of the second movement of Mozart's "Great" Mass in c-minor in 2011:

If you have studied music theory, you have written your own ersatz plainchants, because the unit immediately following would introduce you to counterpoint. On Friday I discussed the ultimate expression of counterpoint, the fugue; today I'm going to back up a ways and just show how two lines of music can work together.

The simplest variety, first-species counterpoint, takes a chant (called a cantus firmus, literally a "solid song") and adds another line above or below that begins and ends in perfect consonance. Here's a cantus firmus:

To create a first-species counterpoint, I just need to follow a couple of rules, and voilà:

What does this have to do with Gregorian chant? Well, going from chant to polyphony happened something like that. For centuries the Catholic Church forbade polyphony. Then someone passed the pope a perfect fifth at a party, and he tried it a little, and pretty soon churches all over Christendom had this kind of counterpoint going on. It wasn't quite as simple or formal as music theory pedagogy would suggest, but it did lead ultimately to the polyphonic music we know today.

Come back tomorrow to learn what happens when you add a third voice to a composition.

F is for Fugue

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will discuss a form of music that, sadly, doesn't turn up much anymore. I say "sadly" because the fugue is one of the most intricate and difficult-to-write musical forms, but also one of the most satisfying when done well—and no one did it better than old J.S. Bach.

At its most basic, a fugue takes a short musical subject and tosses it around two or more voices in counterpoint; that is, each musical line (voice) stands on its own as a melody, but the melodies combine to form a more complex whole.

Take this two-bar subject:

Now listen to what Bach does with it:

Let's dig into what actually happens in there.

First we hear the two-bar theme, followed the second voice with the same two-bar theme starting on the dominant note. But notice the first voice keeps going, and then the two voices play off each other with bits of the theme. Then a few bars later, the third voice enters on the tonic again, and we're off to the races.

The fugue returns to the theme several times in each of the voices: in the relative major at bar 11, then at the relative major's own dominant at 13, before returning to C minor at 21. Between these Bach inserts episodes, where the voices interact without returning to the theme. Or so the German would have you believe! Because it's there, sometimes in pieces, at half-speed, upside down, and backwards.

Finally the lowest voice enters boldly with the theme for the last time, after which it hangs out on a tonic pedal while the upper two voices let the theme become the final cadence of the fugue. (Bonus points if you noticed the German sixth in bar 30.)

Bach wrote 48 fugues in his two-volume Well Tempered Clavier, which was sort of a product launch for something so technical I'm coming back to it on the 26th. He also wrote The Art of the Fugue, which is exactly what it says on the tin, and countless other fugues as parts of longer works. Mozart, who loved Bach's music more than almost everyone alive in the 1780s, tried his hand at a few. One of his best is in the 4th movement of the Solemn Vespers of the Confessor, K339, "Laudate pueri Dominum" (Psalm 113, "Blessed be the servants of the Lord", complete with yet another cool example of a German sixth in the "amen" bit at the end).

For really hard-core fugueing, check out Morzart's massive choral fugue in the "Cum Sancto Spiritu" movement of his Mass in c-minor, K427, or Handel's "Amen" fugue that ends Messiah. (And, of course, you must hear the Apollo Chorus perform this fugue from memory next December.)

Note that A-to-Z posts run Monday through Saturday, so come back Monday for the G post. Or check back over the weekend for my usual politics, weather, and the dog.

E is for "Ethnic" sixth chords

Blogging A to ZOne problem with the Blogging A-to-Z challenge becomes obvious when you try to cover a field like music theory that has concepts building on other concepts. You wind up posting things out of order.

Today, for example, I'll cover a somewhat esoteric bit of harmony that I find interesting and difficult, but that the previous four posts could not possibly have prepared anyone for if they have just started studying music theory: augmented sixth chords.

I'm joking that anyone would call them "ethic" sixth chords, but they do have specific names that apparently have nothing to do with their origins: the Italian, French, and German sixths.

All three flavors have an augmented sixth within them that resolves chromatically to a perfect octave. Generally, they stand in for V7 of V chords, and drive to half-cadences which can then resolve normally. Plus, they create a really cool tension in a harmonic progression, but like saffron or truffle, composers have used them sparingly.

The Italian variety is the simplest, functioning as a iv chord:

The French sixth adds a Romantic sound and functions more as ii/V:

And the German sixth really lays it on, so much that voice leading rules demand it usually resolve in two steps. It works as a V7 chord and can resolve to V or I:

The University of Puget Sound has a wonderful page of examples in real life.

D is for Deceptive Cadence

Blogging A to ZToday in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, I've used a bit of sleight-of-hand to sneak in a discussion of a large topic by highlighting one example of it.

A cadence resolves or pauses a musical phrase. The simplest cadence, called the authentic cadence, uses only the 1st and 5th notes of the scale:

You have a C major chord, followed by a G major chord, ending in a C major chord: tonic, dominant, tonic; I-V-I. (If you need a refresher on what those terms mean, read Monday's post.)

The second-most-common cadence shows up a lot in church music. Technically called the plagal cadence, it won't surprise you to learn people often call it the "amen cadence:"

Only the second chord has changed, from G to F; the progression is now tonic, subdominant, tonic (I-IV-I).

Music theory has identified probably a dozen or so other cadences, but let's take a look at one more common one, the deceptive cadence. It deceives you by setting up an authentic cadence (I-V-I) but instead of landing back on the tonic, it resolves to the submediant, giving us I-V-vi:

The deceptive cadence pauses, but doesn't resolve completely; it wants to go on, kind of like the semicolon that paused this sentence. So let's resolve it:

See? All resolved. (And for those keeping score [ah, ha ha] at home, the analysis is essentially I-V-vi; ii-V-I, with some passing notes interspersed. I'll explain how some of this works next Tuesday.)

C is for Clef

Blogging A to ZToday in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge we'll take a look at clefs.

Yesterday I introduced the concept of a bass line, but skimmed over how that gets written down. Let's take another look at it:

Take a look at the first symbols on each line. The top one is called the "treble" or G clef:

It's actually a highly-stylized letter G. Notice how it wraps itself around the second line up from the bottom, which is the G line. Thus the name.

The bottom line starts with this symbol, called the "bass" or F clef:

It targets the second line from the top, which is the F line. The top line of that clef is the A below middle C, which is one octave and half the sound frequency of the A on the second space of the treble clef.

Then there's this guy:

This is called the "Alto" clef, which is the most commonly seen of five C clefs. (The others are the "Soprano," "Mezzo-soprano," "Tenor," and "Baritone" clefs.) Unless you play the viola or various wind instruments, you won't see these very often. The C clefs wrap themselves around middle C, which is the imaginary line running between the treble and bass clefs.

The result is that these two A-major scales are exactly identical:

(On Friday the 12th, I'll explain the magic happening right after the clefs that makes these A major and not A minor.)

B is for Bass

Blogging A to ZYesterday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post introduced the four principal scales used to create melodies in Western music for the past five or six centuries. Today I want to talk about the opposite of a melody: the bass line.

Take this familiar melody:

It's pleasant enough, but a little thin. It needs...more. So let's add a bass line below the melody, just using the notes C and G:

Hey! It's almost music now!

So what's going on here? Without going too much into how harmony works (the topic for next Tuesday), all I've done is add a few Cs and Gs to the lower line. (We'll get into clefs tomorrow; for now, the bottom line is played lower than the upper line, and they meet at the aptly-named middle C, which is the note floating on its own little shelf above the lower line.)

This works because the 1st and 5th notes of a scale (the tonic and dominant) are the most important. A lot of bass lines, particularly in popular music, just emphasize these notes. Listen to the bass line in Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion:" it only hits the tonic, and keeps hitting it, through the whole song.

Or take Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4." The bass line just repeats the dominant through the tonic notes of the descending D-minor scale (A, G, F, E, D) over and over again. (This is called an ostinato bass.)

As a bonus, I had a little fun with the "London Bridge" example, which I'll probably come back to later this month. Enjoy:

Park #28 (an improvement on #12)

When I started the 30-Park Geas in 2008, I didn't expect it would take more than 11 years. Yet here we are. And in that time, both of New York's baseball teams got new stadia, making the 30-Park Geas a 32-Park Geas before I got halfway done.

Well, this season, I'm finishing it. And wow, it's off to an inauspicious start.

Today's game between the Orioles and Yankees at *New* Yankee Stadium didn't start for 3 hours and 15 minutes past its scheduled first pitch because it's March. A cold front pushed through this morning with a nice, gentle monsoon. So the few dozen of us who remained in the park around 3:45 this afternoon let out a whoop of joy when this happened:

The joy lasted through the home team giving up 3 in the top of the first, and continued until they stopped beer sales at 5pm—in the 2nd inning. Apparently people had been there drinking since 10am, and Major League Baseball has a limit on day-drinking of 30 beers per person.

The Yankees eventually lost to the Orioles 7-5. The lost to the Orioles the last time I saw them play at home, too, though that was in *Old* Yankee Stadium. Glad the new digs worked out for them.

I did get to try a local Bronx IPA, for $16, which is a price that effectively limited my own beer consumption to two for the game. That, and I couldn't feel my fingers.

But hey, the Yankees did play baseball, and I did visit the park, and it's a pretty good park:

But the thing about a cold front is, sure, it gets rid of the rain and dampness, but it also sometimes drives the temperature from 17°C to 3°C in just a few hours. So with no more $16 beers for sale, the temperature falling to what I call "Chicago in May," and the home team trailing 4-0 in the second, I decided to cut my losses and return to Manhattan. After a really tasty bowl of ramen, I hopped the 4 train to Brooklyn and walked over the bridge:

Back home tomorrow, then resuming the Geas on Friday April 19th in Arlington, Texas, where I expect the beer quality will keep me sober on the merits but at least I won't freeze my fingers off.

And hey! The A-to-Z Challenge starts tomorrow. I've already got the first 6 posts ready to fire at noon UTC (7am Chicago time) each day. I hope you enjoy it.