In Wednesday’s seminar, we spoke about the opera we had seen the previous week. Now that I had seen the opera and had established my own opinions of it, I was excited to see what everyone else thought of it, and if we had similar opinions and observations. Like me, a lot of students were impressed with the music and how the music and dialogue went hand in hand. We began further discussion of how music, even without lyrics, can evoke such feeling and emotion in a person. We learned about how different note arrangements and different instruments can really portray an entire story by themselves. For example, a low bass instrument can create an ominous atmosphere, while a strings section can create an airy and peaceful atmosphere. Also, a bassoon can add a comical, whimsical touch.
When Professor Sirotta came into class and played us the composition by Brahm, I wrote down my reaction to every instrument I heard. The first clarinet riff that came in had a very “sneaky” sort of feel to it, and the harmonizing clarinet that came in after it felt slightly off of the scale that the first one one following, which definitely added to the sneaky aspect i felt. Various emotions were portrayed quickly after each other. When all the instruments came in, the song became happy and consonant, contrasting from the dissonant notes played right before it. Brahm experimented with dissonance to create a stressful and suspenseful atmosphere. When the flute comes in playing what sounded like a harmonic minor/egyptian scale, it reminded me a lot of a snake charmer song. This lesson showed me how powerful every single instrument is in a musical piece.
In class this Wednesday, we discussed our mixed impressions and opinions on the opera “Turandot”. I found myself to be in agreement with most of my classmates, that I enjoyed the music, stage display, and vocal capacity, but the language barrier limited my experience. The discussion of Lui’s role in the play was interesting. I learned it is a common theme of operas for woman to die without having too much impact on other characters. I found the dicussion about the quick exit of the orchestra to be amusing and relatable to when I used to play the sax in band for a long time.
During the second half of class we were visited by Prof. Sirotta. I really admired him for his intense passion for music. He seemed to get very caught up in it, and this made him more interesting to listen to. His recollection about his first musical experience was fascinating. To be able to remember something so long ago takes a very good memory and perhaps some ideal environmental memory ques. I wish I could remember my first musical experience. My parents did play a lot of Beatles for me as a kid but I can’t be too sure.
The process of creating his piece over many years on the computer, and using musical technology to create a symphony orchestra is pretty cool. Professor Sirotta’s discussion and demonstration of variation in music was also interesting and very relatable for me. As a guitarist, something I often do is take a riff I hear, play it several times, then make personal changes. The original chords are still used of course, and for the most part, the original melody can still be played over. The pieces by Brahm that he played for us were very good, and excellent examples of melodic variations. I particularly enjoyed the one with the timpani. I found myself tapping my foot, becomming engrossed in the music.
In class on Wednesday, we had a guest speaker who came in to talk to us about classical music and to also gave us a bit of an introduction for the philharmonic we will be attending this Sunday. Before he came in, we had a discussion on the opera we had seen the previous week. I enjoyed this part of the class because I was able to determine whether my peers had some of the same feelings or questions I had. Also, I was able to get some of my questions answered. Something I was glad to get clarified was Lui’s purpose of the play. When I raised this question in class, I was under the impression that Lui had no purpose due to the fact that nobody was paid attention to her or seemed effected by her death. Professor Kahan, along with some of my other classmates, opened my eyes to the possibility that she had a less obvius purpose. The character of Lui existed to make Turandot’s heart melt and without her, Turandot would probably not have realized that she wanted to be with Calaf. She also helped with the setting by communicating the view of servants/low class people in those days through her use of third person and her treatment in the play.
What I remember most about the second half of Wednesday’s class was how enthusiastic professor Sirotta was about what he was talking about. The love and excitement he has for music and the subject/inspiration of his symphony truly amazed and inspired me. I also enjoyed listening to his story about his first memory of music. At first this didn’t seem very impressive, but I then attempted to recall my earliest music memory and was unsuccessful. The fact that professor Sirotta was not only able to remember the song but practically every detail was actually very cool, and his decision to incorporate this memory into his present day work seemed nothing short of genius. This, along with all the time and effort it took him to put together this symphony, makes me more than happy to show up and support professor Sirotta this Sunday.
When Professor Sirotta played his piece for the class on Wednesday, I was reminded of the discussion we had a few minutes before about the cultural clichés that can be portrayed through music. Just like Liu’s music in “Turandot” had a distinct chinese sound, Professor Sirotta’s piece painted a picture in my mind of the small European shtetls where the Jewish people lived. The professor said that the words of Oyfn Pripotshok, the song on which his own piece is based, describes a Rabbi who is teaching young children the Hebrew alphabet. The Rabbi warns the children that they will experience pain and exiles, and they must strengthen themselves by these letters. The slow tune of the stringed instruments in “Fantasia Pripotshok” makes the piece sound like an old Jewish European song and seems to portray the culture of which the words of the song speak of. Then, amongst the low, slow violin sounds, Sirotta includes transitions that that have a different sound from the rest of the song. These periods of the piece incorporate instruments like the tambourine that do not sound like the Jewish European style. These musical transitions might be symbolizing the Jewish exiles of which the Rabbi spoke of, where the Jews had to leave their shtetl homes for other places and other cultures.
In class on Wednesday, October 10th, we talked about intervals, via a demonstration from Professor Kahan. We learned that an interval is the distance between notes. Seconds are dissonant, while thirds are used for harmonies. We also learned that fourths are used a lot in Chinese music, which was implemented in Turandot. In the opera, Puccini wrote two different styles of music. For Calaf’s parts, he wrote more Italian style music. However, for Liu’s parts, he implemented those fourths to create what he believed was a Chinese sound. I found it interesting learning about that after having seen such a good example of it live at the opera.
Later in the class, Professor Michael Sirotta came in to speak to us. One interesting thing he mentioned was his first musical memory. He told us about the first song he remembered hearing, and it got me thinking about what my first musical memory was. Honestly, though, I haven’t been able to remember it, but I found it fascinating that he was able to remember his. He then discussed his composition, Fantasia Pripetshok, and let us hear a short preview of it. I was truly impressed with his composition skills because of the fact that he was able to hear all of that in his head and transfer it onto paper as a musical score.
In seminar class on Wednesday, we discussed our thoughts from the opera. Several people brought up the singing and the set design, however, no one brought up anything about the music that was played. Professor Kahan explained that subconsciously, we associate certain groupings of musical notes, called intervals, to certain cultures. For example, a “fourth interval” is commonly associated with the Oriental culture, as it sounds the closest to Chinese music. Throughout the opera Turandot, Puccini used a lot of fourths in the melody of Liu’s pieces. This is an example of using music to invoke different perceptions.
For the second half of class, Professor Sirotta came in to discuss his piece, which will be premiered by the Staten Island Philharmonic on Sunday. To begin his lecture, he asked us to think of the first piece of music we heard when we were children. For him, it was a song called “Oyfn Pripetshik.” He heard his grandfather sing this song when he was a child as his grandfather cleaned the eggs to be delivered. This song resurfaced in Professor Sirotta’s life a couple of years ago when he was asked by the JCC to teach a musical program for seniors. He wanted to find an old folk song with musical value that would resonate with the seniors.
“Oyfn Pripetshik” is a Yiddish folk song composed by Mark Warshowsky in the late 1800’s. Warshowsky was a lawyer in the Ukraine who had an affinity for his language. The song begins with a rabbi teaching young children the Hebrew alphabet around a fire. Later in the song, the rabbi tells the children, in a rough translation, “When you grow older children, you will know all too well of the tears that lie in every letter, more than time will tell. When you children will bear the exile and bravery is exhausted, may you derive strength from these letters, look at them again.” The strong heritage and history in this song makes it one of the most popular Jewish folk songs. It is often called the Second Jewish National Anthem.
Professor Sirotta then explained that composers enshrine the works of famous composers by taking an old piece of music and writing a new tune, creating a different variation of the same piece. Professor Kahan chimed in and said that this would often be a test of performers and composers ability, to see if they could take a famous and loved piece and make a newer or better piece. This is exactly what Professor Sirotta has done with “Oyfn Pripetshik.” While preserving the original melody, he added a brief introduction and a few variations. I look forward to hearing his completed piece performed by the Staten Island Philharmonic.
On Wednesday’s class, we began by discussing our recent adventure to go see Turandot. One particular aspect of this discussion that interested me was the purpose of Liu. At first, I was unsure of why she was a part of the play, but then it made sense when we talked about it. Liu’s purpose was to be an example of what true love really was, and she melted the heart of Turandot so that Turandot and Calaf could live happily ever after. We also discussed the stereotypes in music. Certain types of music can be labeled as “Chinese” which is racist. I admit that when I listen to certain types of music, I relate them to different nationalities, which is wrong and ignorant of me to do.
Professor Sirotta came in to talk to us about music. Professor Sirotta is a well-known composer who just created his first symphonic orchestra piece that will very shortly be given its world premiere. The symphony is called Fantasia Pripetshok. In class he discussed with us his inspiration for his work, which I found very interesting. His inspiration was the first piece of music that he ever heard called OYFN PriPetshok, a Jewish folk song. He described to us how one day he played this piece and it reminded him of his first childhood memory of hearing music. I think that is an amazing feat to remember ones first memory of music and after putting some thought into it, I am disappointed to know that I can not think of a very first time that I heard music.
Just before class ended, Professor Sirotta played a small piece from his symphony. This was a fantastic piece. When I listened to it, I felt like I was going on a journey as the music underwent many transitions. I was very impressed by his piece and it made me more interested in going to see the Philharmonic on Sunday.
Today in seminar we were asked the question, “What was your first musical memory?” An intriguing thought, although I can’t honestly say that I have an answer. James said that his first musical memory would most likely be something from Fantasia or some other Disney film, interestingly enough I just recently observed while watching for the first time Disney’s newest princess movie ‘The Princess and the Frog’, just how much music is a part of these classic childhood films, but I digress. Based off of stories I have heard about me as a child I would imagine that my first musical experience would be along the same lines. According to my family members I would sit in front of the TV watching Fantasia and rocking back and forth before I could walk. Additionally there are videos of me at two years old playing with a basket of my mother’s tea candles listening to Mozart in the background. I would consider this one of my earliest musical experiences, but I do not recall that day other than what I have observed on film. So the question remains…what is my first musical memory. I don’t think I have one. Music has surrounded me my entire life, that to pinpoint a singular experience and song would be difficult.
I would however venture to say that one of my earliest musical memories is driving in the car with my parents listening to Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you”. It was part of a collection of songs which were labeled, “The Greatest Hits” As I’ve gotten older I’ve maintained an affinity towards all of the songs in this collection, yet Stevie’s song is my personal favorite. I remember asking my mother to repeat the song over and over for the entire ride, so much so that “Again! Again!” has become a joke within my family about my childhood obsession with this song.
Aldous Huxley said that “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is Music.” I agree.
When we started class today, we spoke about the music in Turandot. We spoked about how the music was very Italian but, in Liu’s scenes and during transitional scenes, Puccini hinted faux-Chinese motifs. I realized Liu’s aria was different from the rest of the music but I didn’t think that it was very Chinese and it wasn’t meant to be. I went into the opera knowing that they were representing a story but not trying to reenact it. I think opera is about telling a story not trying to get every detail exact. I feel that opera is more about the story and not so much about where or when the particular story is supposed to take place.
My mother and I, as I have mentioned, will be seeing Aida later next month. I went on Youtube to listen to a few songs from the opera and from what I have listened to, there are hints of faux-Egyptian music (there are hints of generalized snake charming music). It is done in a similar fashion to how Puccini hinted at Chinese motifs or Bizet hinted at Spanish motifs. It doesn’t consume the whole song but, if you listen attentively, you can hear it.
I quite enjoyed Professor Sirotta’s visit. I found it very interesting that he was able to remember his first musical experience and that led him to create the piece we’ll be hearing on Sunday. I found the history of the piece interesting as well, how he began working on it in 1992 on the computer, actually started and finished the score in 1998, and in 2010 voiced the piece and made a full computer orchestra recording. I think it’s amazing that he stuck with the song for that long and he still wants to revise some parts after all these years.
During Wednesday’s seminar, we were presented with the opportunity to discuss the opera, “Turandot”, as well as meet Professor Sirrota. With Professor Kahan, we talked about everyones various perspectives, and answered any unresolved questions about the opera. During the opera I was very fascinated by how much power the conductors had, and how well they orchestrated the whole event. Elisa pointed out how the entire orchestra left the play much before they could be recognized for their stunning performance. We also talked about how servants were traditionally given no worth, and as a result they thought very little of themselves. The professor pointed out something that I never thought about during the opera, the librettos have to put in a substantial amount of effort to match the script to the specific time frame that the play would take place during. I noticed during the opera how even the music had a chinese flare. She explained it was because they were all played in the fourths intervals. I was amazed to learn how different perspectives regarding different races resulted in certain music being played when they came on stage.
During the second half of class, we were joined by our renowned guest speaker, Professor Sirrota. He told a delightful story of he became inspired to write such an incredible piece. It all started with an epiphany he had eighteen years ago, when he was almost instantly able to recall the first time he heard a musical piece. He was able to remember an old childhood memory of a man singing a song to some children, and it later went on to become a brave anthem for the people of Israel. The variations of the songs were quite interesting to hear, it was my first time listening to these tunes. I like how they are so gentle on the ears, and the harmony is very serene. His piece is a set of variations that he explained go on the “benjamin britain model”, its melody and harmonic possibilities showed great different combinations. He taught us how we could detect the repetitions in the variations, and how the other instruments came together. He doesn’t have a theme at the beginning, but then a theme emerges from the introduction.
Learning about all these elements in music served as a very good introduction to the Staten Island Philharmonic that I will be attending on Sunday. Now I am confident that attending this performance will be a memorable experience, one that I will remember for years to come.