Friday, December 8, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas music past, part two (finale)

I've been sharing some personal memories of the music I've assembled for the holiday season that you can hear all this month on Pianonoise Radio. All of the recordings date from before our move to Pittsburgh, my cancer, and my job change. I have started to make recordings again, and some of them have begun finding their way to the web; however, it will probably be next year before I add any of them to the holiday program.

We left off right before the Liszt piece, "The Shepherds at the Manger" which is a little thing based on the tune "In Dulci Jubilo." I discovered its existence while reading a forum question posed by a piano teacher who was trying to find some "Christian" music for piano that he could stand, and while the efforts of the various (probably non-Christian) parties involved to find something classical and church-appropriate was fairly amusing, there were some suggestions that bordered on useful--at least this little guy could come in handy at Christmas. However, my efforts to record it were racked by even greater comedy, as you can read here. I think it may be one of my favorite blog posts.

The two books of Bartok carols were recorded the same year, the year that our church sanctuary got new carpet in the middle of Advent, which made things difficult, since in the busiest season of the year I didn't have access to the organ for nearly two weeks. Recording was also difficult since the better piano was also buried under a pile of debris for the duration. I managed to hack out this recording in such a hurry I think I might have only had one day to learn the piece, which accounts for a couple of mis-readings and one place where I left out a line of one of the carols! I still like the recording, though. Bartok gives me something very different to listen to during this most hackneyed of musical months, though I suppose the rest of the populace would rather listen to the same popular songs and occasional carols all the time. Oh well, it is my website, and you can skip it if you want. I like it, anyway, and since familiarity is nine tenths of the law in music, you probably will too if you listen to it a few times. Unfortunately I can't find the words to any of the carols.

Call it OCD if you will, or just rampant creativity, but the Tunder Canzona comes with special features, such as being able to hear it from different locations. I've explained it all in this blog.

Listening to the meditative beauty of Bach's next version of "Now Come, Savior of the Nations" it is hard to believe that I spent several minutes before the recording desperately trying to kill a grasshopper. It was hiding under one of the windows of the sanctuary and it would not shut up so that I could record in peace. Eventually it did, which is good; I never did find it. If the title seems a little familiar it is because it is based on an ancient advent hymn and Bach himself wrote four organ settings of the same hymn. This one is the most often played by a mile, being so peaceful. I'll be playing it next week in church for what I think is the third time. I try not to repeat selections very often which is why the last time I played it during a Christmas season was 2008. The present recording I think comes from 2011 and was made during the summer (hence the grasshopper). This is often the best time to record Christmas music as I am much too busy in December.

If we go back into the eons of time; that is, to my teenage years--I had a tradition of Christmas improvisations. I would take several carols, and make up my own arrangements of them in front of a tape recorder. They ranged from melancholy to ridiculous. I do less of that now, but one year, after continuing to struggle with the shrinkage of time during the holidays, I revived the practice, and several of the remaining pieces are improvisations. The good news is that after years of practice I can make up something on the spot that sounds reasonably close to a printed composition. The bad news is I was trying to sneak it in between rehearsals and concerts, and wasn't always at my best. I think five of these were made at once one morning just before a staff Christmas lunch. I've since written some of the them out for further use and even played one on Christmas eve from the (partially completed) score (not enough time!). Some of the meanderings and hesitations will disappear then. I also find improvisations can be a good starting point for an actual composition later--provided I can remember them, or happen to record them, which isn't likely except at Christmas. If you take delight in the "authenticity" that is the actual unfiltered moment of inspiration, then these last pieces are for you. I'll be bringing my recorded to church this year too, to capture the moment. I'll also be going back to some of the music I played during my college years, and graduate school, to remind myself of more Christmases past.

The funny, the bizarre, and the annoying, all are part of the history of these recordings, but while these words may give you a back stage glance into the messy reality that is a life in music, it is the music itself, evocative of peace, love, hope and joy, as well as melancholy, drama, and wonder--this is my Christmas present to you. This year and every year at this time as we examine ourselves we reckon with and see more clearly our passage through the portal of time. The music will be here next year too, I hope, but with some additions from this next chapter of my life, which is just beginning, in the building at the bottom of the page. Have a Merry Christmas, and if you don't celebrate Christmas (or even if you do), may you have peace, joy and love.

Michael Hammer

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas music past

These notes concern music from the Pianonoise Holiday program for 2017 which  you can access right here at Pianonoise Radio! Happy listening.

For a lot of people an important way to relate to music is through memory--what was on the radio at a key moment in their lives, for example, or a special song that takes them back. As a musician I am not immune to this. Although I relate to music on many levels, most of which have more directly to do with the music itself, over time many of the pieces I play also have a part to play in the soundtrack of memory. This is especially true of the Christmas music, some of which gives me an excuse to relate some favorite anecdotes, some strange, some hilarious--well, perhaps. Or at least mildly amusing. It's really up to you...

The 2017 holiday program begins with a setting of "Now we sing of Christmas"--a piano piece far more modest that the vast, difficult Dupre organ setting I keep meaning to get around to each year. But even that was two years in the making. Like most of the pieces you are about to hear, this was recorded during my years in Illinois, during which the Christmas season was so busy that I sometimes only had time to jot down ideas for compositions while running down the hall between rehearsals. Thus, I began the piece one year, and, at about the 56 second mark, when I get to the bottom of that run, that's the following year when I picked the piece up again and finished it one evening in a lounge at a nearby church in a spare half hour (a luxury!). Good times.

I don't know when exactly I decided to pair it with a charming little piece by Edvard Grieg that has nothing whatever to do with Christmas, but I think it turned out well. It seems to be in the same spirit.

The organ piece that follows (Invitation) was recorded on an organ in need of repair (and soon to get some), which a tonic G that wouldn't sound. You can read about the hilarity of that recording sesson here.

I like to go hunting all over the world, and one fellow in Lithuania has an organ blog on whose sight I often get ideas. As a sight reading exercise he once posted something from a Croatian composer I'd never heard of, and although I didn't care for that piece particularly, I went on IMSLP and discovered four delightful little Pastorales that I played for Christmas in 2016.

The Bartok Carols came over the radio once when I was out Christmas shopping. Several years later I recorded them myself, complete with an outtake that featured some jingling bells.

By the way, regarding organ repair, I used to have fun with the playback system--the pipes didn't care whether I was playing them live or had pre-recorded the music. I would often record a performance at the console on the playback system and only later get out the microphones to capture what I had played earlier with my digital recorder, letting the organ play my performance back for benefit of the microphones. Thus, in one of the two Pastorales (the one in C)  that I didn't include in the program (but you can find on the mp3 Index page under Pintaric), the custodian is actually running the vacuum cleaner while I am recording my performance at the console (but not during the actual through the air recording which was done later) and in the one in Bb that you are listening to I didn't have time to make all the necessary stop changes so while the sound was being fed to the microphone I posed as my own organ assistant and pushed in and pulled out the stop knobs as needed while the the organ played--this is like playing a duet with your past self (which I have also done).

I enjoy musical detective work but I had a heckuva time tracking down the music for Samuel Wesley's strange and interesting digressions on the old carol" God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman." Eventually I found a professor in Maryland who had recorded the music, emailed him to ask where I could find it, and he kindly sent me a copy. It was from a volume that was no longer in print. A year later I found myself at a table in my own church next to the musicologist who had edited the volume! If only I had known sooner I could have saved a little geography.

I'm going to skip the next three pieces except to mention that the Marteau was written in quite a hurry and recorded before an unrelated concert.

The Gigue fugue is called that because there is quite a lot of delicious dancing about in the pedals. About a third of the way through the recording I discovered that one of my shoes had come untied, which made for a rather uncomfortable two minutes--but I went ahead and finished it anyhow. I usually do a few takes, but the runner up (or was it slightly better) featured someone dressed as Santa coming into the sanctuary with bells ringing loudly and basically wrecking the end of the recording (which I never let on; I mean, it was Father Christmas, after all).

Gottschalk's Cradle Song reminds me of Christmas Eve 2010 which might just be the best one ever, with a foot of snow outside and easily the best Christmas present I ever gave my father (or perhaps anyone)--for a more expanded version go here. During the Gottschalk prelude you could have heard a pin drop which is unusual for any audience, particularly at the start of a church service, and a downright miracle with a sanctuary full (300?) of families for what I always thought of as a pretty zooey 7:00 service. It was less miraculous, but just as special, at the 11pm candlelight service later on.

I've been playing the Bach Pastorale on and off ever since my first church appointment as a teenager, at a little church in the burbs a college friend called  the "Fisher Price" church because of its size and primary color scheme. It had been a tradition of the former organist, who referred to the organ there as "the eight-rank wonder."  I've graduated to bigger things of course but next week I'll be playing a concert out of town that isn't much larger (a 9-rank Wicks). Small organs can be charming if they have a pleasant complement of stops. I'm looking forward to it.

I sense your attention is waning (or mine is) so I'll save the remaining commentary for next time.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Talk about gratitude

I've come across a lot of different personality types in my journey across life, as I'm sure have you. Some are pretty negative about the way they see life, feeling continually shat upon and thinking that everybody else has it easy and they don't. This seems like a majority opinion. There are varieties of hall-full/half-empty combinations, and some folks who aren't so easy to categorize because they seem to change their ideas once in a while. And then there are a very few people who are not only quite positive about what they think life can be and what they can get out of it, but they spread that joy to everyone around them and cause improved performance and improved attitude from everyone with whom they come in contact; they are liked by virtually everybody. I've had to privilege to know a few of these people. When they are in the room everyone else seems to be able to ride on their encouragement like a wave or warm themselves in the rays of their sun.

Have you ever wondered how they got that way?

I'm not talking about Pollyannaesque denial of reality, either. These folks seem to be pretty grounded in gritty practicality, too--it's not that they don't know what stinkers we all are, it's that they know how to steer the other way and in the process get us all to go there as well, at least for a while.

While I was in chemo I experienced a pretty wild ride on waves of despair and exuberance. Every time I got intentionally poisoned for 5 days in a row things got really ugly for a week or so and then, right near the end of a cycle I'd slowly come out of it and feel my body roar back to life.  I'd try to eat everything in sight to put back the several pounds I'd lost, and resume community with the people I couldn't see while I was under the waves. As we were in the middle of a move to another state, I was saying farewell to the people I'd know for the last decade and also leaving my jobs. Those days were full of major occasions like last concerts, church services, and a graduation. These were occasions that would have felt epic under normal circumstances but now they felt enormous. If you ever wanted to experience huge waves of gratitude for being alive this is one way to experience it. Not that I'd recommend it.

It occurred to me to wonder whether whether this sort of experience wasn't in the biography of every larger-than-life optimist; dark days that had given rise to a great victory; personal struggle with demons vanquished and a sense that everything afterward is a privilege that never lets up. I wondered if it would change me.

I don't think it has, really. After the chemicals wore off and life resumed some sort of normality the soaring movie music began to fade. However, as I explained to a friend who asked, there are two addendum to note here: one is that, well before cancer struck I had a sense that I wasn't going to live forever, that life is fleeting, time is precious, and if you have something to do you'd better do it and not dilly around because you never know. The other was that life is a gift and being able to do what I do is awesome. I would bound up the stairs to the sanctuary every morning looking forward to the practice ahead, know that it would eventually get difficult and onerous but that I'd emerge with a new swath of music in my head and heart and loving the process, or at least the results. So the two cliches were already in place: I wasn't taking life for granted anyhow, and I was motivated by both the joy and the scarcity. Thus, not only do I not detect a huge change in outlook, I'm not sure there was much room to go in the that direction. But I may have gotten even more focused and more gratitudinous (sorry, but how do you make that a noun?)*.

Still, it's possible that there has been some change. A larger-than-life friend I talked to after the treatments thought the experience might change my music. Only recently I've begun to noticed a compositional shift taking effect, and I don't know where all of its roots lie. Perhaps.  I also seem to have registered as a friendly, positive person among my new associates in my new environment. It is somewhat of a surprise to be told that, but then I had been working at it.

Which is basically my point this morning. Outsiders to music tend to think--and share with those of us who are practitioners--that some of us were just 'born with it' and that it just 'comes naturally' as you shake the magic notes out of your fingers. Those of us on the inside know how much hard work is involved: thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, thing building upon thing until sometimes it actually is pretty easy, but you have to go a long way to get there. And sometimes it is still very very hard. Why should it be any different with attitudes?

The mysterious alchemy that goes into great achievement is not so easy to define. Surely there is some native talent for whatever we do. Then there is opportunity, which may be defined as the experiences we have that allow us to grow, some of which may be unpleasant. Then there is the daily work to take what we have and see what we can do with it. It is only the last of these that is under our control, and for that good reason is the one on which achievers tend to focus while others get caught up lauding the other two.

I can, of course, feel lucky to be in possession of the first two: grateful, if you like. And then spurred on to respond to those gifts by adding one of my own: saying yes to them in real time. And my readers can respond in at least two ways as well: as a feel good piece about the joy of life or having a positive attitude or something else we all knew already but enjoyed having affirmed, can work to make these things (in the phraseology of Wallace Stevens) your "gradual possession." Not something you have to jealously guard or fear the loss of, but something you can joyfully give away.

*Grateful. But that isn't as much fun.

Friday, November 17, 2017

In the Midst of Life...

"At the midpoint of life's journey, I found myself in a dark forest, for the clear path was lost"
                                                               ---Dante, Inferno (prologue)

I like to plan ahead whenever possible, and since 90 seems like a good life span, I thought, when approaching 45, that I should plan for a concert which I planned to call the "halftime show." Some wags might point out that there is no guarantee that I would have gotten that right; perhaps I would be enjoying myself too much at 90 and decide to live longer, but in such a case I had a ready answer for them, borrowed from the world of sport: "sudden death overtime."

That would have gotten a mirthful response had I gotten to opine that into a microphone at the planned but ungiven concert, but, as it happens, I was a little busy trying to fend off an early end to the festivities. Cancer struck.

It was one of the better kinds, if you are planning on getting it. Rare, but no more a friend of chemotherapy than was its host. The thing did as promised, and melted away, which was good, because when we found it it was the size of a small football in my chest, trying its best to exercise eminent domain on my heart and lungs. I couldn't take a regular breath, and my exercise regimen was going from Marathon to Couch, which is backwards.

I spent the better part of March 2016 preparing for an early grave, and then, when the diagnosis came, trying to deal with a very aggressive program of chemotherapy, designed for getting rid of large tumors in no uncertain terms, for those with lots of life ahead of them if only they can survive being poisoned for a few months.

I have spent most of my life fearing chemotherapy out of the corner of my mind. I've heard nasty things about it; I hoped that some of those miraculous advances in cancer treatment that we keep hearing about would have taken hold if and when it got to me. But alas, no.

There are many side effects which I now know from experience. Every system in your body is turned upside down. You can't sleep because you have to evacuate fluid every hour; also because some of the pills to take care of the nausea make you very restless and others very sleepy so that you are generally both at once. You can't tell if you are hungry, so you just have to guess, force it down, and if it comes back up you were wrong. Then there is pain in your bones, your chest, your muscles, and, if you are as lucky as I was, you can't stand light and have to keep your eyes tightly shut for days at a time while you lie there, unable to pass the time with a screen of some sort.

The bulk of that turmoil ended over a year ago, and I've written about it on another blog. My rehashing it here is simply to serve as notice as to why it has been so long since my last confession blog and to further explain why, for the next month or so I plan to blog only on Fridays, and then in a largely autobiographical manner, as if I have some catching up to do before deciding when to attempt to return to what this blog was originally designed to do--share piano music on Mondays, help musicians on Wednesdays, and discuss organs and church music on Fridays. It still seems a bit daunting as I write this, but I'm feeling better now, and I've been fairly productive lately, so...perhaps. One of the surprises may have been how long it has taken me to fully recover, and how many times I thought I was back on my feet only to find a couple of months later that I was more recovered than the time before which retroactively meant I wasn't in as good shape as I thought I was. This time, I thought, I'm Really recovered!

In the middle of all the muddle we moved so my wife could take up new employment in another city, which meant I had to leave my jobs and community and start over. I'm still working on it. Next time I will probably talk about Pittsburgh.

Pianonoise the website has had a rebirth as well. I will update that on Fridays also. It has a calendar of events (I have just had two concerts and two more are coming up this semester), a weekly recording, which for now involves recycling of a lot of material (31 hours) generated in Illinois, with the promise of more to come from Pittsburgh in the new year, and links to various articles, new and old, and of course, this blog.

It will be good to share life and music with you again.

Friday, July 15, 2016

just checking in

This has been, if you've been reading the blog for a while, an odd semester.

Back in March I was diagnosed with cancer, which, as I mentioned in The Temerity of a Tumor, might well require an interruption in this blog. And well it did. Fortunately it was a type of cancer that is not likely to require such an interruption--or early termination--in my life itself.

After experiencing nearly every drug-related side effect, including one very rare one that messed with my vision (severe photophobia) and another with my hearing (which seems to be temporary) it was pretty clear I wasn't going to be up to my usual schedule. And what good days there were I spent updating folks about my condition on a special cancer-related blog. This didn't leave much time or energy for this one, although there have been a few entries between now and then.

Typically about this time of the year I take time off of this blog for the summer months, and, considering I am just beginning to feel normal again after what might, if I'm lucky be my last treatment, it could be a chance to get back into the blog. Or it could be a chance to rest.

I'm choosing to rest. Also, we've moved in the middle of all this, and I need to start looking for jobs and meeting people and resuming life in my new environment.

As I write this, I haven't had the tests yet that will hopefully pronounce me cured of this, so my struggle isn't actually over. I'll know that in a few weeks. In the meantime, I am updating the homepage of itself, every Tuesday, with a different recording and several articles. And new recordings continue to come in every week, through the 1st of August, when I'll be taking a break from them, too. They all date from before the cancer, but hadn't been released yet. That's what can be gained from working ahead.

Anyhow, I hope you are in good health and are having a pleasant summer (or winter, depending on where you are). Regardless of what happens in a few weeks, I plan to see you in the fall, most likely around the 1st of October. Let's enjoy this thing called music while we live and breathe.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sin, sin, sin!

The following is Pianonoise's first, and so far only, book review:

There are two images to take note of on the back of Steve Shoemakers' new book, "A Sin a Week" (Mayhaven Publishing). One shows a heavily bearded, stern looking preacher who could have led an 1890s temperance rally, railing against the dangers of demon rum. The other shows him, less bearded, sitting at home, eating an entire bowl of frosting, licking the spoon. Does he preach? Sometimes. Does he have a wicked sense of humor? Sometimes. And there is plenty of subtle wisdom in between.

A good example of that is the poem that begins the book, "Lie." Steve's titles are usually what we can safely assume are the particular sins being addressed. What we can't always safely assume is whether these are things to avoid or not. As the prologue puts it, these are [poems] "for folks with the inclination to sin and ability to do wrong, but who have run out of bad ideas." Surely not, Steve? A preacher actually encouraging us to go wrong? But in the opening strophes we get a kind of apologia for sin. And not the cloven hoofed, oh come on, everybody's doing it variety of defense, or some version of I've got it coming to me, which we could all see coming a mile away, and know with our superior moral compasses just had to be something good people wouldn't do, but a much more sinister, snake-in-the-garden kind of argument. Riffs on the theme: this will actually be good for other people, not just for selfish you. If you want to love your neighbor, and who shouldn't, wouldn't you want to lie if it will make everybody feel better about themselves? We lose our innocence only later in the poem when we realize that that could also mean everybody else is telling little white lies to us, too. That just isn't right!

A more telling adumbration of this goodness-of-sin argument is the justification of greed in the 7th poem. The speaker beings by complaining that somebody else got something they should have, too, but inversely ("I don't want too much, I just want my fair share.") It is hard not to hear the voice of Lucy van Pelt exclaiming "All I want is what's coming to me! All I want is my fair share!" But then Steve adds one word to take it out of its self-centered orbit: "Equality." It's all about justice, now, isn't it? Are you sure that's a bad thing? Or is it just self-justifying rhetoric? C. S. Lewis said that he was never less sure about a doctrine of the faith than after he had just defended it in his own words and thoughts.

Not that all the poems are subtle. When it comes to themes like televangelists, ambitious politicians, or conformity, the poems are solidly in the don't-try-this-at-home camp. The author doesn't need to work very hard to have this reader nodding along comfortably, and they do at least provide a contrast with the other poems, which, although they aren't in themselves the more interesting of the bunch, do keep us off balance as to whether or not we really want to try, or not try, a particular sin. Being uncertain about the advisability of a given sin encourages us to think.

The book doesn't actually call these selections "poems," as the author has pointed out in a radio interview, and often they neither rhyme, nor show the kind of metric discipline one might expect from a poem. Some of them have a mostly prosey quality. But there are times when a poetic technique shines through, and despite what you may have assumed in English class, this can shed light on the poem's meaning, as well. Poem nine is called "Follow" and involves a curious rhyming technique. Twice the poem devolves to near slogans. "Have faith. Do not pass or brake" it exhorts. Only faith doesn't quite rhyme with brake, does it? (it's a vowel rhyme, I guess). And later "Follow the leader. Peace comes from trust and order." Another pair (leader/order) that doesn't quite rhyme. Which makes us just uncomfortable enough to wonder, should we really be following this leader after all? It seems like a smooth ride--slogans always do, and it is often because they rhyme. But in the realm of the not-quite, we have to pause. And, of course, the sarcasm makes it a bit more obvious. This is supposed to be a sin, but if it wasn't at least a little inviting, why the need to warn away from it? Or have the curiosity to indulge?

Which brings up the work of illustrator T. Brian Kelly. Often Kelly can simply take something from the poem literally to make it humorous, as he does here with the last line ("decisions pass as easily as fence posts") showing a line of people, heads buried in newspapers, sitting side-saddle on a fence in a long line. Generally he follows something from the poem pretty closely, which is often startling enough, unless the poem itself takes an obvious line on whether or not we should view this sin with moral outrage or more ambiguity. A few of the sins even double as religious practices. But then, how we react to the sins may themselves be sins. In one poem, Steve describes a neighbor's car in detail, without apparent jealousy, until the last line, when he sniffs in regard to the high powered headlights that his neighbor leaves on even during the day "when the sun is shining you can't even see them." There are several poems about cars, and one of my favorite lines in the book is the exhortation that concludes the preceding poem to "shoot the tires relentlessly. " It's the relentlessly that gets me. Often it's just that one word that turns a poem into something great. 

Visitors to Steve's Facebook page know about his penchant for limericks, which makes it all the more curious that he saves the form for the last poem in the collection. The limerick trips along in its rhythmically hypnotic way, perfect for traipsing along happily on the road to hell (and, happily, more book sales!), which is, after all, paved with good intentions. It might take a preacher to get us to think about where we're going and whether or not we ought to change course before we regret it. Most preachers would attack the problem with righteous fury, fulminating against a long list of things not to do. Steve's method is to get down and wade in there with us. With humor, insight, and a lot of questioning, these poems have more to them than meets the initial eye. Steve has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and does not have a lot of time with us. He has complained that this group of poems is "not much for a life's work." But besides the decades of pastoral care, the lives he's touched, the good he's done in his community, and countless things that one person won't even know, this slender volume, finally published after 25 years, contains a lot more than a word count. A good poem presents a lot in concentrated form. These poems are short--rarely more than a page (in fact, only one requires you to turn one; another is less than  a word long). But even some of our greatest poets (T. S. Eliot comes to mind) published very little. Although epics have been written in meter, just as often the reader is left with few words and much to think about, inviting continual engagement with the same poem or poems. Send for a copy--you'll want to keep it on a near shelf. For future reference. Just in case you can't kick the sin thing after a mere 12 months--or you don't want to.

A Sin a week is published by Mayhaven publishing, and is available from or by writing to Mayhaven publishing, P. O, Box 557, Mahomet, IL 61853

Monday, May 23, 2016

out for a walk -- be back changed

Two composers went for a walk.

This isn't a joke. It just sounds like the setup for a joke. Let me tell it to you first.

The composers names were Johannes Brahms and Gustave Mahler. Mahler was a strapping youth full of energy and the standard cocktail of arrogance and assurance that comes with not having had your abilities tested sufficiently in the real world. Brahms was near the end of his life. He had accomplished much but he was naturally skeptical about the direction music was taking now that he had had his own battles and won many of them. He had his ideas about music and had naturally disagreed with most of this contemporaries, most of whose music he didn't like, but now that the next generation was exploring innovations he had fresh reason to be unhappy about it. After all, in his day, music had been good. Everything had been better. Now he was old, and dying, and ready to complain about it.

They crossed a bridge, and Mahler pointed excitedly to the stream flowing by. He told the old master that it was the future of music, flowing past; time to catch it before it went by. He seemed to imply that it was headed for a glorious future on its way to an ocean of possibility.

Brahms acidly replied that nobody knew that it might simply flow into a bog.

 Most of us of us take walks for exercise. Few of us, I imagine, think of anything as serious as the future of our professions, or of the direction of human society, at least in any deep way. It depends on whether we ponder issues like this in general, of course, in which case a walk is a great way to do it, but besides the creative activity of our inner lives, it helps to have a walking partner who can engage one in a stimulating conversation or two.

The walk of these two composers illustrates more than just the battle between the new and the old, or that everyone has something to worry about. It should be a reminder to us of how uncritically we often swallow music. That is, if we swallow it at all. Most of our species doesn't listen to much music that is called "classical" to start with. The term is mostly there, it seems, to be a wall to safely hide the contents behind, out of the way of the folks who aren't ready for the challenge.

But if you go to the museum, the concert hall, the gallery, switch on the radio or television, pop in a recording, you experience something of that vast stream of human thought that has been going on in musical form for centuries. A plethora of traditions, ideas, philosophies, many of which fought bitterly against each other as contemporaries, vying for supremacy, others that rebelled against the traditions of the previous generations, or struggled valiantly to uphold them in the face of changing tides of fashion, or tried to synthesize what they found valuable in each. National styles fought battles by proxy, or envious rulers imported foreign influences and allowed themselves to be conquered in music by foes whose adjacent borders they would defend to the last breath militarily. It is a long, constantly inviting, constantly evolving, ever surprising story.

And yet, if you go to an art museum and don't read the plaques on the wall, or to a concert hall, and don't notice the program notes, or learn something about the persons and societies behind the production of the music, you miss all that. You miss the argument, and from a distance, it can all look peaceful, which might be how you'd like it to be. But you won't really know.

In this short series, we've gone out for a few walks. We've sampled a bit of the late Medieval, the German Baroque on piano and organ, and even a bit from a 20th century impressionist. And all because we went for a walk. And noticed a few things along the way.

If you missed the first four installments in the "Walking tour", here they are: