Seminar Class 10/10/12

On Wednesday, class began with a discussion on our feelings and thoughts on the opera Turandot. Overall we all as a class liked the opera. It was something different that most of us have never experienced before. Many of us especially liked the costumes and scenery of the opera for they were both very extravagant. In class we also discussed the types of music throughout the opera. The two types of music that were played in the opera were Italian-like and Chinese-like. Some music sounded Italian because it was an Italian opera written by an Italian man. Some music sounded Chinese because the setting of the play was in China and was about a Chinese empress named Turandot. The muiscians achieved this Chinese-like music by including a lot of fourth notes.

During the second half of the class, Michael Sirotta came to talk about his experience with music. Professor Sirotta is a world known musician who just created his first orchestral symphony, that of which we will as a class attend on Sunday afternoon. Professor Sirotta first discussed his first experience with music. He remembered what was his first piece of music that he ever encountered. This song was Oyfn Pripetshok, a traditional Jewish folk song. It is so popular in the Jewish community that it is also known as the second Jewish national anthem. He remembered his grandfather singing this song when he was a little boy. As a result of this great memory, he made this song the basis for his first orchestral symphony. Professor Sirotta also talked about his experience and his past with music. He discussed why variation was so important in music and how the composer knows what instruments to use to get a certain emotion or variation.

Having Professor Sirotta come to our seminar class to talk about his orchestral symphony made me more interested in attended the Philharmonic on Sunday. I now understand how difficult his job is as a conductor and will appreciate his performance more than I would have in the past. I know that seeing this performance will be a great experience.

10/10/12 Discuss Turandot/Michael Sirotta – Guest Speaker

Yesterday’s seminar class began with us discussing the opera, “Turandot,” as a whole and giving each of our inputs, explaining the positives and negatives, as well as what we felt was good and bad. I greatly appreciated discussing the “minor character”, Liu and her role holistically in the opera. But, I didn’t really quite understand why her death was barely paid attention too, however at the same token it made the man more emotionally appealing to Turandot. Being this opera was the first one I ever attended, I was amazed at the scenery and the discipline the conductor must have for his/her orchestra.
The next part of class was a change of pace because I, along with the rest of the class were introduced to a man named, Michael Sirotta, who has traveled all over the world and wrote music from instruments all over the world. Thankfully, the Internet has brought this ever-expanding source of music so easily into our lives. On Sunday, Professor Sirotta is having his newly-written orchestral composition displayed at the Staten Island Philharmonic, and our class is lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend such an empowering and breathtaking show. This particular piece explores musically a Jewish folk song by Mark Warshawsky, who was a lawyer in the Ukraine, and created Yiddish tunes. I was completely unaware that the alphabet used for Yiddish is in fact the Hebrew language.
I found it so interesting how Professor Sirotta’s first musical memory was so vivid and remembered exactly where, when, and what exactly it was. It just shows me, that it greatly influenced his future and this memory will be forever embedded into his brain. This song that he listened to when he was only five years old was “Ofyn Pripetshok,” better known as the second Jewish national anthem. I was shocked when I heard that statement, because I didn’t really understand how it fits into the category of being a national anthem. This piece is about a Rabbi who teaches small children the Hebrew alphabet, but out of no where the Rabbi hits you in the gut emotionally, by saying that he hopes his students will realize the tears that exist in all the letters in the alphabet, and more importantly, gain the strength to go about each day.
After Professor Sirotta finished discussing why he chose this particular piece to display at the musical gathering on Sunday, he provided us with two different variations of the composer, Johannes Brahms with and without the orchestra. He made it clear to us that, in the 20th century, composers still wanted to do variations and themes, but didn’t want to follow the structure except for some phrases. Therefore, they made their own variations which us, as the audience, cant sing or recognize.
Michael’s piece is a set of variations, not exact phrases by phrase, but was more interested in the melody and harmonic possibilities, so he deconstructed the melody and put it back in different ways, creating introductions and themes emerging out of it. I am looking forward to attending my first Philharmonic and it’s very convenient that it’s held at the College of Staten Island.

Epiphany- 10/10

It was really difficult for me to come up with a topic for this response.  In my prior blog entries, there was always a topic or an idea that I wanted to write about.  Thankfully, while I was thinking about something to write, I had an epiphany.

During class, Professor Sirotta brought up something interesting before he gave his lecture about variations of music, his epiphany.  He spoke of his first memory of listening to music, back when he was five years old. The professor said that he remembered listening to an older family member sing a Jewish folk song.  In all honesty, I thought he was stretching the truth but just a few minutes before I started writing this response, I believed him.

While I was thinking about a topic for my response, I looked through my class notes and mentally ran down all my memories of the class.  I cannot say for sure but I believe my brain established some sort of a connection between Professor’s Sirotta’s talk about his epiphany and my own first memory of listening to music.  I visualized myself sitting on a floor and in front of a television with my back laying against the bottom portion of a couch. I was watching The Lion King, specifically the beginning part in which, Circle of Life, was playing.  I cannot recall exactly how old I was but the room I was in throughout the visualization was in my old Russian apartment.  I was probably either 5 or 6 years old, around the age the professor was in his epiphany.

I am so thankful for this response, it let me reminisce about a significant moment in my life.  Hopefully, the next response will have a similar outcome.

Stephanie Solanki, 10/10/12

In today’s class, we started off by discussing the opera. We discussed the “point” of Liu. I thought that the character of Liu was to contrast the character of Turandot. She was generous in her love, whereas Turandot made her suitors fight for her love. Liu was a foil for Turandot. Liu was faithful in how she was viewed in her society. She paid with her life for loving somebody.

Professor Kahan said that Western art is valorizes Western music, and every other music is secondary. Intervals are the distance between two notes. Fifths (intervals) denote “barbaric” music. Liu’s music has a lot of fourth intervals, which denotes the Chinese motif that is present in many Chinese musical pieces. Puccini inserted a lot of fourths into Liu’s part so that we can recognize it as Chinese music. Her character had to be introduced as Chinese to show where the opera took place. The composer has to make exoticism palatable for American audiences. I think this is so interesting. We’ve programmed our brains to know that a certain sound is to be linked to a certain culture. This is subconscious. It just shows the power music has over our brains, and how it can influence us to believe certain ideas.

Mr. Sirotta is a composer of a symphonic orchestral music. His latest piece is to be performed this Sunday, and I have the privilege to attend. Fantasia Pripetshok is based on a piece by Mark Warshovsky. He was creating Yiddish tunes. He composed many songs but never wrote them down until he met a writer who was writing about the struggles of the Jews. They suffered from bigotry and anti-Semitism. The song that Sirotta has chosen to make something of for a symphonic orchestra is by Mark Warshovsky called Oyfn Pripetshok. Rhythmically the tune doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. It’s a parable for the Jewish people. The tune doesn’t follow the strict rules of a square melody. The words of a song teach a lesson. It parallels the survival of a whole nations because of the message paired with a beautiful tune.  He wrote a score using a computer using recordings of music instruments; this technique is called voicing.

Sirotta chose to do variations of the melody in his piece. The themes-and-variations form have been used since the 18th century, used by composers like Johann Bach. One of the reasons for using this form is the composer will pick the melody from a preceding composer and do something in his or her own language with it. The tune is presented in the onset, and then the variations begin. The variations follow the basic tune. The same framework is used with the same basic chord progression harmonizing it.

Sirotta’s piece is a set of variations that is not an identical match. He deconstructed the melody. He was interested in the harmonies and the chord progressions. I loved hearing every piece he played. His own piece was very special because he played it on the piano first, then introduced the history, and then played his symphonic piece all put together. I think i’m going to love the concert on Sunday.

Different Types of Music / Michael Sirotta: 10/10/12

Today’s Seminar started with us discussing our thoughts and opinions of the opera Turandot, from last week.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, and we each had our own favorite particular aspects, whether it was the music, the sets, the costumes, the conductor, or the singing.  We did have a discussion about the purpose of the character Liu in the opera, because to most of us, she seemed like a pretty pointless servant girl character, who eventually died for someone who barely took the time to notice her.  This led to a discussion about how characters in a performance, especially an opera, often stay true to the societal standards of the time and place.  For example, Turandot was set in China hundreds of years ago, and in the Chinese culture of that period, servant girls were there simply for that – to be servants, and their personhood was essentially insignificant and worthless.  So when Liu killed herself out of love for the prince in the opera, to us, it seemed cruel and heartless, but to the other people in the opera and to audiences who saw the opera during the time it was set in, this was not unusual.  In fact, it was expected and accepted.

The conversation revolving around Liu and different acceptable societal roles led into another conversation about socially acceptable music.  Sometimes, music from other cultures can be used disrespectfully and can become a sort of cliché, for example the way we all know the stereotypical “Chinese music” that we learned from cartoons and movies.  This can be considered “racist” in certain contexts and uses.  Turandot is an opera that uses mostly Italian music, but there are hints of Chinese melodies and music, especially when Liu is singing.  This is NOT considered “racist.”  On the contrary, it fits into the story and the composer is introducing something exotic to American audiences like us.  Being an opera composer can be slightly difficult, as a composer has to try and achieve balance between introducing exoticism and not creating a story that is too exotic, and can be misunderstood or taken offensively.  I found this conversation interesting, since I had never even considered this musical aspect, aside from the fact that it was strange watching Turandot being performed in Italian when I knew that the setting was in China.

For the last hour of class, we had a guest speaker, Michael Sirotta.  He is a world-renowned composer and is in the Music Department at the College of Staten Island.  He has just completed his first major orchestral symphony, Fantasia Pripetshok, which will be premiered on Sunday, October 14 by the Staten Island Philharmonic.  Sirotta has always been a lover of music, but he discovered about eighteen years ago that he wanted to take a simple Jewish folksong, Oyfn Pripetshok, and use its simple tune and melody to create a symphonic masterpiece.  Oyfn Pripetshok is a folksong that opens with a description of a rabbi teaching his students the Hebrew alphabet and then uses that simple scene as they key to the national survival of the Jewish people throughout the centuries.  It is a beautiful song, and sometimes referred to as the “second Jewish national anthem.”

What Sirotta did was take Oyfn Pripetshok and create variations of the one tune in order to make it into a piece of music that could be played by an orchestra.  Once again, being a composer is a very difficult role because the composer has to be able to strike a balance between the type of music that is doable for the orchestra performers and the type of musical sound the composer wants to achieve.  This is all taken into account when creating a theme and variation of a tune or melody.  Creating a variation means that you take a tune of a piece of music that has been written and embellish upon it, make it more fancy and in a sense, more difficult to perform.  Usually, it will follow a pattern where the actual tune is played, then the first variation is slightly different, but you can still sing and hear the tune, and then the second variation is completely different, unrecognizable in comparison.  This was also quite interesting to me, because of course, I had heard classical symphonies before, but I had never realized that this is sometimes the pattern they follow.  To be honest, I listened to two symphonies over the weekend and thought them to be long and repetitive, which is what happens when a composer creates a variation of a simple tune.  Before we left class, we listened to a piece of Sirotta’s newest symphony, Fantasia Pripetshok.  It was a beautiful piece of music and from the short piece
I heard, actually appealed to me much more than the other symphonies I listened to this weekend.  I am looking forward to hearing this piece of music played live on Sunday by the Staten Island Philharmonic, and to expanding my mind to understand and enjoy yet another genre of music.

Ariana Z. 10/10/12 Michael Sirotta

Today’s seminar consisted of two parts. The first half was essentially our “debriefing” of our feelings about the Opera.  I was surprised to hear that, in fact, the box seats on our level of the balcony were considered to be “good” seats. Though they have more room and the presence of a table, I can honestly say that I would not have switched my seat from the family circle had I been offered one in the box. Professor Kahan stated that this was simply “opera” tradition and “in opera fashion” to have box seats. In this case I would, however, take comfort over tradition.

Another statement made in today’s class that I thought was interesting was that the character of “Liu” in Turandot came into question. Though I felt it disheartening that her death was almost skipped over, I must say that her character seemed to be needed in order to prove to Turandot that this man whom she hardly knows is capable of being loved by another so much that someone would take their life for his. I think it ultimately allowed Torandot’s heart to finally open up enough to let a man like Calif through.

The latter half of class was devoted to our guest spear, Michael Sirotta, whose orchestral composition will have its debut  at this weekend’s “Cultures in Harmony.” Professor Sirotta was a delight to listen to as he was truly passionate about his work. I especially enjoyed how he described the inspiration for his piece. It is amazing that one’s memory could go back so far as to when he was a child on his relative’s farm.  I thought it was interesting that the song “Ofyn Pripetshok” he knew as a child could have such strong meaning. Though the words were about a Rabi teaching little children the Hebrew alphabet… “See now little ones take it nice and slow” it also had a dark meaning; with words similar to saying “when you grow older…you will know the tears that come with every letter..” Professor Sirotta went on to state that this song could be , and for some is, considered the “second Jewish national anthem.” He even gave us a quick listen to what the class will be hearing on Sunday, and I must say that I am looking forward to the SI Philharmonic’s performance of the piece.