This weekend I’ve been at the Canadian Music Educators’ Association conference at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, participating in some sessions as an extra player for the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble. The conference’s special guest was Frank Ticheli, who is well-known for his wind band music. He led a conducting masterclass and a seminar on his own compositions.
To my surprise, Ticheli is an excellent conductor. Bad conductors seem to cluster around the wind band world, perhaps because so many of them are school teachers for whom subtlety of gesture is not an important consideration. But Ticheli has an astounding fluidity of gesture, he doesn’t belabour his points, and even when his conducting strays from beat patterns it never becomes so absract as to be useless (many fourth-rate conductors will do this, and they will inevitably refer to it as “being musical”). At the very least, you always get a clear one. The group’s balance and articulation improved considerably when he was demonstrating.
Many people in music have no particular interest in being educators. But Ticheli is actually a gifted teacher; he always seems to know what to say to diffuse anxiety and gently lead students to conclusions through Socratic dialogue. He also has the rare ability to discreetly shut down stupid questions or to reinterpret them as better ones.
I was pleased to learn the story behind his “Loch Lomond” arrangement, which conflates the Scottish tune with “Danny Boy” at the climactic final statement. Apparently this is not due to American ignorance of world geography, as I had uncharitably thought, but was a discovery Ticheli had made while noodling at the piano—the two tunes fit together exactly. The cultural implications of juxtaposing the quintessentially Scottish song with the quintessentially Irish one occurred to him only after he had written it down and considered its contrapuntal implications. He called the band director who had commissioned the piece, who informed him that most Scots thought “Danny Boy” was a Scottish tune anyway, so it stayed in.
The final session was with some beet-red jerkoff in a purple jacket who rambled on about his method of teaching for eighty minutes and had the workshop band play for the last ten. The presentation was an ungrammatical string of the platitudes that are so easily accepted in the music world: inspiration, air support, no two notes the same, always make the phrase go somewhere, respect what the composer created. Some of it, like “style is more important than volume,” was pure gibberish.
The difference between him and Ticheli was staggering. Ticheli is an artist with a keen sense of how he does what he does and how to teach it to others. The second presenter rattled off load of bullshit, and blowhards like this are the reason Canadian music education is a joke and Canada is largely a musical backwater.
Speaking of which, it took us a long time to get ahold of our parts for the workshops, which probably explains some of the second presenter’s rambling. We did three sessions and at all of them there was some trouble in distribution of parts—and it was more or less the same music for all three sessions! This is music that every band teacher has: all the organizers, many of the audience members, and most of the players. It’s literally a matter of someone bringing a small stack of papers with them, but it just didn’t get done. And we were asked to sort parts at the end and assist in teardown. All this for what is allegedly a professional conference. Very amateur hour.
In other news, I was surprised to find myself with a little extra cash, so I stopped off at Nerman’s Books for some things that have been on my list for a while.
Rendezvous With Rama and Shakespeare’s Planet are both covered in C. N. Manlove’s book Science Fiction: Ten Explorations. I’ve read a little Clarke with mixed feelings, and never read anything by Simak, but Manlove’s essays have me tentatively convinced. Interestingly, the hardcover of Shakespeare’s Planet was cheaper than the paperback. I feel like I ripped someone off.
Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is by Samuel R. Delany, an author I’ve been distantly interested in for a while, though so far I’ve only read his novella Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. I have it on good authority that this is a good one, and if I’m lucky it might even have some weird coprophagic gay sex!
The Hugo Winners, vol. 3, is just another collection of short stories. I’m on a short fiction kick right now, bouncing back and forth between Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, The Treasury of American Short Stories, and my Norton anthology. This collection covers a period in the 1970s and looks to include a mix from George R. R. Martin to Harlan Ellison. It includes at least one story that’s a widely anthologized classic by Ursula K. Le Guin.
What Might Have Been and Houses Without Doors were the freebies. Nerman’s gives away a certain number of bargain books with purchases above a certain price, and I was forced to choose from a not very appealing set of options. Peter Straub is an author I’ve at least heard of, so that book popped out at me, and What Might Have Been appears to be a collection of alternate-history short fiction.
Not that I have any time to read right now. I’m halfway through two books as it is, and this weekend I’m copy-editing a long issue of the Manitoban and picking up my brother from the airport, in addition to everything else.