Monday, December 31, 2012

The colorized version...

A couple of weeks ago I posted a preview version of a piece I played for Christmas. With the sanctuary being re-carpeted  I, the displaced organist, sneaked over to one of our other facilities, and recorded the piece on our second-string, out-of-tune piano. Was it good for you, too?

Today, may I present the "colorized" version of what was then a black and white performance. It is the last of a set of twelve "Noels" by 18th century French composer Claude-Louis Daquin. First I'll re-post the not-ready-for-prime-time piano version (gasp) so you'll be stunned by the transformation :-)

Daquin: Noel XII on the piano

And now, what you have all been waiting for this overlong fortnight, on the organ, in its full glory, and possibly (see Monday's post) registered correctly! (or not) Here it comes....wait for it....

Daquin: Noel XII, "le suisse" on the organ

Hearing the same piece from different angles can lead to some interesting discoveries. I hope that's the case here--though I do personally find the piece repetitive and realize that hearing it twice is only going to aggravate that situation if your ears are telling you the same thing. But beyond the apparent repetition of the same tune, Daquin's piece is also evolving. If we realize that Daquin was basically using this piece as a chance to show his skill as an organist (imagine a human being with a desire to show off! how odd....) the piece begins to make dramatic sense. First he plays the tune more simply, and then the fireworks being to unfold.

Actually, the Noel I posed on Monday does a much better job of this. It begins with a jaunty little tune with a built in Baroque contrast between loud and soft, and then, exactly one minute in, the tune is repeated, but now it has three notes in the space of two. This second verse is followed by a third strain (1:41) which is just the same thing we heard at the beginning. After that, (2:05) the organist really lets his fingers run riot, particularly in the left hand. You can imagine the people listening holding their breath and wondering if his hands were going to fall off. In our day and age we are spoiled by so much virtuosity that the effect may not be nearly so great, but imagine when this sort of thing was rare.

Then again, I am often approached by persons after a concert whose first comment is that they didn't think anybody's fingers could move so fast, so there you go....

I probably ought to make a video of this sometime you so get a better idea of what I'm talking about, but for now, the organist (as in most churches) is hidden from view. Anyhow, here is the 7th noel again so you can hear the gradual evolution from pretty tune to time-to-melt-the-plastic-off-the-keys-and-prove-that-I-am-Lord-master-of-the-organ-playing-universe time.

Daquin: Noel VII

See you next year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Look what I got you for Christmas...a faux pax!

I've heard it said that "nothing is as over as Christmas." Despite that, and despite the fact that it is already December 28th, it is still Christmas on this blog. There are two reasons for that. One is that now that the Christmas rush is over, all (but one of) the concerts, productions, church services, parties, and so forth, I can relax and feel a bit of peace on my own bit of earth. I am calling it "musician's Christmas"--it's kind of like Boxing Day except I plan to give it about a week (I'll still be working, but I'm going to stare at the Christmas tree a lot and knock back some egg nog) and it hasn't started yet.

The other reason, which our hurried culture has forgotten about, is that Christmas used to start on the 25th (of December, not October) and last 12 days, through January 6th. Thus, there actually were 12 days of Christmas (not 280) and by my count, we're only on the fourth day.

This past summer I discovered twelve delightful little organ pieces by an 18th century French composer named Daquin (pinch your nose and say "da--caaahhhh"). If I'd really been industrious and planned ahead, I could have played one each day for twelve days. Did anybody request a set of French Noels for Christmas? Oh well, you can put them on your list for next year.

One of the two I've so far committed to the wax cylinder is number seven, a delightful little number that, as soon as I heard it back in July, I promptly downloaded from everybody's favorite public domain resource ( and rushed out to learn and record so it would be ready during the Christmas madness. One small problem. Or a large one, depending on your makeup.

I was never trained formally as an organist, and have only recently learned a lot of things I would have learned in school if I had been an organist instead of (or in addition to) a pianist. One of these involves the fascinating subject of registration. The organ, unlike practically any other instrument, allows the player to use, or not use, many different groups of pipes which make different sounds, either alone, or in combination. This means the organ can really sound like a variety of instruments on demand. And it helps to have a little imagination and a good ear for those times when the composer hasn't left any clues as to how you should, or might wish to, employ all of those colors. It would be like staring at a symphonic score in which the composer left all the notes, but didn't tell us which instruments should play what. It makes sort of a difference, you know?

Now very often you get to (or have to) make these sorts of decisions yourself, within certain stylistic limits sets by the time and place of the music. And then there are limits set by tradition, which is the most difficult thing to master because it isn't written down anywhere, and written evidence often contradicts it. For instance, you read through a song that is to be played "Adagio" (very slow) and when you get to rehearsal you find out the singer wants to take it at more of what you would consider "allegro moderato" (moderately fast) because they are primarily concerned with getting all the way through a phrase without running out of breath. I call it "singer's adagio" and it is much quicker than instrumentalist adagio. It is just one of a million things you just learn by doing it because it isn't written down anywhere and nobody tells you about it.

As it happens, those French Baroque composers were pretty picky about what you could and could not do regarding organ registration. This summer I read a very interesting (:cough::geek::) 300-page book about organ registration, and while most of it involved suggestions, historical guesses, and general directives based on a few writings from organists and listings of what sorts of things they had available on their organs, when you got to the section on French Baroque music it suddenly got very detailed and left no room for guessing.

In my hurry to get the piece ready (I think either recorded it the same day or the day after I first saw it) you might say I didn't exactly read the instructions. Still, I liked the piece well enough that I didn't really let that bother me, for a few hours:

Daquin: Noel VII (with a very horrible registrational wrongness perpetrated by yours truly)

After I brought it home I thought I would find somebody else's record on the interwebs to see what they'd done with the music and that was when le sheet hit le fan.

Some organ student had posted a recording of this and the first comment that had been left was "ummm..nice registration." To which the student responded, "what was wrong with it?" but apparently the assailants (there were actually two of them) preferred snark to information, so neither the student nor I found out what the matter was. Then I went to my music dictionary. Now, the french term "Gran Jeu" means "full organ." But when the French Baroque composers wrote "full organ" they meant "without mixture stops." Sort of full, but not technically everything.

Mixture stops are interesting. A mixture is a group of pipes banded together, usually 3, 4, or 5. If you play a C, the stop will also play a G using a different group of pipes, and possibly an E using yet another group, perhaps an octave higher C, and so on--the recipe varies depending on the makeup of the stop itself. The stops are usually high-pitched, and the additional notes are quiet enough that it doesn't sound like a chord organ, (where you can distinctly hear a full chord when you play one note) but rather it has a shimmering, bright sound that gives the organ its full grandeur when used in combination with all the other stops. However, instead of this brilliant sound, what these fellows seemed to prefer (the composers) was the nasally sound of reeds (hold your nose and say "hahaha"). This is what I learned in time to make the second recording, a mere six months later when I got around to it right before Christmas.

Daquin: Noel VII

You might not notice a great deal of difference if you've got low-end speakers or are listening through your computer's external speaker. Also, the change effects the loud parts. The soft ones are mostly the same. On the other hand, if you are in the mood, you can play one of those games where you try to spot a handful of differences between two versions of the same thing. One may be faster, or the touch is different, or the dynamics are different, or...whatever.

As for the registrational change, is this a picky detail, or not? Being a composer myself, perhaps, I am more disposed to try to respect what the originator of the music wanted me to do with it, even if it takes more time and effort to find out. I am also a product of a conservatory, where I was schooled in the idea of taking the composer's directions seriously. That doesn't necessarily mean cramping your creativity, although I'll admit this group of composers seems to have been much more set in their ways than I would be. There is another angle here, though, and that is the behavior of the fellows who decided to criticize the student who dared to post the piece on Youtube. There is merit in pointing out a mistake, and I hope to have the grace to accept such correction whenever it is offered to me. But you don't have to be a jerk about it.

Meanwhile, between those two recordings stands half a year, summer and winter, and even a change in sanctuary carpet. Boy, you can really hear the bright orangeness of the carpet in the first recording, can't you? And the light grey, by contrast, sounds...well, it's hard to put my finger on it, but wow.

p.s. I'm kidding. Nobody can hear the color of the carpet on a recording. Some of you are too easy.   :)   Merry 4th day of Christmas

p.p.s. Anybody notice that last sentence is missing a period?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

In a few hours, the Christmas Eve marathon will begin at my church. Services at 5, 7 and 11. Rehearsals with the band, the choir, several soloists, myself (!), and my student, and, after the rush of humanity that comes through our doors at 5 and 7 for the roughly 90 minute services, a quick trip home for Christmas Eve dinner--shocking how the atmosphere changes all of the sudden--and then, when we get back to church, feeling a bit frayed, wondering if we can do this all again, the most peaceful service of the night. There is an air of beautiful exhaustion waiting for us at the end! We wrap around midnight and I end up watching Christmas movies until 2 a.m. because I can't get to sleep (I'm too tired for that). I wouldn't trade it. But it's probably a good thing that it doesn't come more often.

Oh, the things we do so we can light candles and sing Silent Night. All the running around, the stress, the sermons reminding us that those things aren't really important, then rushing to the mall again anyway. All the parties and the concerts and the seasonal festivities of one sort and another: whew! we're almost there. Silent night and the candles are just around the corner. And if that isn't your thing (or your religion)  Merry Christmas nevertheless. You can translate it however you want so it comes out peace, joy, hope, and love. And ixnay on the crazy stressful rushing around-nay.

My Christmas present to you this year is a curious little piece by Samuel Wesley, based on a curious little carol you don't hear much anymore called "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman." Notice it's not "God rest ye, Merry Gentleman." I think that has something to do with the kind of rest involved, and not that the gentleperson was merry to start with.

The piece is actually called "The Christmas Carol Varied as a Rondo for the Piano Forte." Wish you'd thought of that, don't you? Sorry, it's taken.

Despite the piece's strange little title, it is a nice bit of music. The title, I fear, sounds a little bit like an academic paper. Actually, as all my academically inclined friends know, it really needs a colon. As in the formula: Pizazz-filled shorter Title, colon, longer and far drearier but exhaustively descriptive subtitle. So the piece, as an academic paper, might read as follows:

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman: The Christmas Carol Varied as a Rondo for [the new fangled] Piano Forte [sic]

I'm afraid the reason for this semi-scientific titling might have something to do with a musician's attempt to legitimize their craft in jolly old mercantile England by making it sound like music was an enterprise for the mind, and the high-minded, not just some silly old stuff for making idle people merry.  That sort of thing has had a long history. Samuel did, in fact, have a rough time keeping on with music, given his father Charles' attitude toward it, which was pretty much the standard attitude of the time and place of persons of standing, namely, that music was a frivolous activity, unworthy of a gentleman. This was also not the time to suggest that music might have something to do with the feelings, so playing up the compositional techniques involved (variations on the tune) or the was the piece was constructed (as a rondo) might seem to give it some legitimacy  If you are not impressed by this, then clearly you are the wrong audience. But the music may move you all the same. It isn't really a rondo anyway, and the variations of the tune don't in any way resemble a set of standard variations on a tune. Instead, it is really a kind of run-on, stream-of-consciousness fantasy on the carol. And, for all the running around it does, there are moments of peace, and joy, and...well, you get the idea. I'll be playing it tonight at the 7 and 11 o'clock services. If you can't hear it live, you can listen to the piece via the link below, wherever you are this Christmas Eve, and if you and I never meet, God rest ye merry, whomever you are. Merry Christmas.

Samuel Wesley: The Christmas Carol Varied as a Rondo for the Piano Forte
("God Rest ye Merry, Gentleman")

Friday, December 21, 2012

A little Light on a dark day

This isn't the last time you'll hear me on this blog or elsewhere saying that a church musician needs to be flexible. But that virtue was made all the more necessary in the case of Jan Peterszoon Sweelinck.

As I told my congregation in October, Sweelinck grew up in Catholic Amsterdam in the late 16th century. He was mentored by a Catholic priest and then given the post of organist at the "Old Church." A year later, the Protestants came to town.

They didn't just set up shop across the street and try to compete with the Catholics for spiritual customers. Instead, they took over the church, and the town, and required everyone to become Protestants...or else.

At least they didn't smash the organ. One of the things Protestants liked to do in those years after the Reformation was destroy anything that they associated with Catholicism, which pretty much included all vestiges of art and music. Somehow they made it a short trip from Luther's 95 Theses,  which complained about the church's literal selling of absolution for money, to the Regulatory Principle, which said that if it wasn't expressly spelled out in the New Testament, it wasn't acceptable in worship. Since there is nothing about pipe organs in the New Testament, these were out.

It didn't take the leadership in Amsterdam to figure out that there might be a small problem with this zealous approach. The congregation was expected to learn a whole raft of new hymns, and, being average churchgoing types, they weren't likely to pick up on them really quickly unless somebody played them through for them a few times so they could listen to them. So Sweelinck got the job of playing the new hymns for the congregation--before the service began. And, while he was at it, he made brilliant compositions out of them, which seemed to be tolerable to the relatively enlightened Protestants of Amsterdam.

What's curious about the piece I'm going to play for you today, however, is that it is based on a Catholic chant. Did Sweelinck write this prior to the Protestant takeover? Or was it later, because it reflected something of his artistic heritage and he wanted to do it (in which case, was it never heard in his church?) I pose the question, but I don't know the answer. However, if you haven't visited's Godmusic page this week, here is what I told my congregation about the music:

Our theme for Advent this year is "light," which is why this selection was chosen. However, it is not "liturgically correct:" the detailed procedures of the Catholic church required that this ancient chant be sung at  Compline during Lent. Compline is the last "office" of the day, when the monks are getting ready for bed, which may explain why it parts of it read like a sinister ancestor of the child's prayer "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." The text begins amiably enough: "Christ, who art the light and day, You drive away the darkness of night, You are called the light of light, For you proclaim the blessed light." Later the prayer asks to keep us free from sin and not to let "the enemy snatch us away" while we sleep as well as to keep our souls awake and vigilant. The hymn concludes with a doxology of praise to God. Sweelinck has set three verses of the chant, for the second of which I am employing the trombone stop on the pedal to bring out the melody; the third uses full organ.

Sweelinck: Christe qui lux et dies (Christ, who is the light and day)

It seemed an appropriate selection for this blog, on the shortest day of the year, and the longest night, December 21st, the Winter Solstice

Merry Solstice. May some light shine in our darkness. I'll see you on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2012

More scary organ music for the holidays

Today I was going to play you some familiar Christmas carols on the piano. However, I didn't manage to record them before the workers started replacing the sanctuary carpet (see Friday's post) and as of today they are still working. They've made good progress and might finish up today, and with any luck the organ will be put back in place tomorrow, along with the piano. But it seems the carols will have to wait for next year. There are an awful lot of them that ought to be played more, particularly as, for every concert, church event, and service, we seem to sing the same three or four. I think I've played "O Come, All Ye Faithful" at least a half-a-dozen times already and we've still got a week to go before the big day.

So for today you're stuck with something else you may not have heard before, an organ piece by Michael Praetorius, from early 17th century Germany. I recorded the piece back in July (note to organists: it is a good idea to record/practice your Christmas music in the summer) which is the only reason I can post it now.  For me, the piece is not new. I first played it on Christmas Day 2005, when Christmas was on a Sunday. We had four Christmas Eve services that year, and I played about 26 verses of Silent Night. I also remember trying to nail down all the Christmas music while flying out to Baltimore for my oral defense--I was finishing up my degree that year, my first in Illinois. It snowed a couple of days before I had to fly, prompting concern over whether I was going to be able to get there on time, and it snowed in Baltimore that afternoon as well, after it was all over. I also played the piece on the day after Christmas (a Sunday) in 2010. It might be my favorite of Mr. Praetorius' organ pieces.

Funny--the first time I recorded the piece, in 2005, I remember some workers coming into the sanctuary and loudly dropping a stack of lumber right near the end of the piece! It's hard to listen to the present recording without hearing it in my mind. Fortunately for your peace of mind, this recording is lumber-free. I hope you are having an enjoyable holiday season, and that Mr. Praetorius is able to contribute to it. The chant on which it is based shows up in slow motion in the bass, where it is hard to hear, but you know what? Just enjoy the sounds and the festivity and don't worry about it.

Here it is:   Michael Praetorius:  Summo Parenti Gloria

p.s. The Christmas show is up at hour of organ music for the holidays. Enjoy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Silentium Hydraulus

The organ in transit
The organ at Faith UMC has fallen silent this week. The reason for it is that we are re-carpeting the sanctuary, which required the console to be moved. The pipes are all still there and in working order, and the console itself is still there, and still connected, I think, but I dare not risk turning it on. It is a foot or so off the ground on a dolly, and the pedal board is disconnected. Quite a Christmas present for the organist, don't you think?

But as far as the church is concerned, there wasn't going to be any organ music this week anyway. That's because we will all gather in the Worship and Life Center (our "Contemporary" worship facility) for an all-church drama, with music from the band, the adult and the children's choirs, the congregation, and the actors in the play. We do this every year the third week of advent. Combine this with the week before, in which the choir at our 10:30 service sings a full program, and there are two weeks each Advent in which I don't play any solo music for piano and organ. Oh, I play plenty of other music. I accompany the choir, and I play for the band and the choirs and the soloists for the drama. It's not like I get the week off. But it does change things up a little. And it got me thinking about some of the customs of the church.

In the Catholic church, there appears to be a longstanding directive either against playing the organ altogether during Advent, or restricting its use. I don't know very much about this, but I have come across it in some historical contexts. It was so, for instance, at St. Mary's in Lubeck, Germany, where one Dietrich Buxtehude was the organist. Mr. Buxtehude had quite a reputation as an organist, so much so that a young fellow named Bach walked 250 miles to hear him play in November of 1705. He stayed during the entire Advent and Christmas seasons and didn't get home until February.

What did Bach stay for so long? Probably to hear a special series of concerts that Buxtehude arranged for Advent. Since organ music wasn't allowed during the service in Lubeck, that freed him up to play concerts in the evenings, which was allowed. That was, evidently, one way of getting around the regulation, more or less.

There is no getting around Faith's present silentium organum, however, and, except for the problem of being able to prepare the music for Christmas, I am not sure it is an entirely bad thing. It does, after all, free up some of my time when I am in the midst of everybody's Christmas program to not worry so much about practicing anything for the services. I'm not sure that was what was on the mind of the folks who issued the directive in the first place, though. So what is the point of it?

Well, according to the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" as of 2002:

"In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord."

In other words, don't rush the build-up. There are similar rules in places like the Musica Sacram of 1967 (which I assume lays down all sorts of rules for the music of the Catholic Church in general):

"The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead."

Here is what I suspect is the thinking behind all this: seasons like Advent and Lent are times for sober contemplation, for penitence, for modesty, for sparseness, in order to think about our sinful natures and be still and thoughtful and so that the seasons of Christmas and Easter spring forth that much more abundantly. Instrumental music, and organ music in particular, signifies richness, fullness, joy, exuberance, and is therefore better withheld until a more festive time, such as Christmas itself, when the peals of the organ will make our praise that much more pronounced. Having to do without for a period will discipline us not to expect everything without being grateful for it, and having it return will make us that much more thankful.

I haven't asked any Catholics about it, but that seems to be the idea. And, honestly, in a society that can't wait for anything, in which Christmas--not Advent, but Christmas--starts in October and won't stop until you buy everything in the store twice--such discipline seems badly needed, and likely to remain drastically out of step with our culture.

On the other hand, such liturgical purity also means that you don't get to sing all of that wonderful Christmas music until Christmas day itself, and only on that one day, unless we go back to the medieval custom of celebrating 12 days of Christmas rather than merely singing about it. In the Protestant church there are fights every year over whether or not we ought to be singing Christmas music during Advent. I haven't heard anyone suggest we cut back on our organ playing. 

That doesn't solve my present dilemma,  however, which is how to prepare for Christmas. Fortunately, back in July I came across some delightful carols by a French Baroque composer named Claude-Louis Daquin which use the pedals very little or not at all. For Christmas Eve I plan to play the last of these, known as the "Swiss Carol." It exudes a curious, minor key joy. But what to do without an organ to play it on? Not only that, but our Steinway piano, also in residence in our North Sanctuary, is in a pile of stuff in the choir loft that looks like a rummage sale is about to take place. 

There's a Steinway in there somewhere.

So the wily organist retires to the Worship and Life Center where sits our Yamaha, unfortunately out of tune, but nevertheless willing to be played. And while the present recording does not meet his standards, both for the condition of the piano and the fact that he only started the piece yesterday so it still has some performances issues to be worked out, it does give us an interesting opportunity. You can preview the piece, 10 days before Christmas Eve, in less than its full glory. Think of it as a kind of black and white before the full color of the various organ stops is applied, the shout of the reeds, the tang of the cornet combination, the alternation of the various choirs, the throb of the trombone stop on the occasional bass note in the pedal. It also gives us a chance to ask, what is the music anyway? Is the instrumental color a critical element or not? How differently will the piece strike me when I hear it played at a different dynamic on a different instrument?

No looking up the organ version on Youtube or somewhere. Wait until Christmas. If you can.

Daquin: Noel XII, "Suisse"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kellemes Karácsonyt! part two (that's Merry Christmas in Hungarian, by the way)

As I've mentioned before, I'm a bit of an explorer, even at Christmas, and like to find new things to play. Last week I presented the first set of Bela Bartok's Romanian Christmas Carols, which I had just learned. I thought it might be a little bit of a stretch for all of us, who tend to expect familiar music particularly at Christmas. But since I didn't hear any complaints (he says with a sly smile, noting that nobody ever posts comments on this blog) I'm going to forge ahead with the sequel, for which you will not have to wait until December 2013 (take that, Peter Jackson!). If you aren't much of a fan of Bartok or his take on Romanian peasantry and its music, you needn't suffer any longer: there are only two sets of these carols, so after this week it's on to something else!

This second set is longer--still ten carols, but they take a bit longer to play. Mostly they are a little slower and more introspective than the first set. Bartok also brings the sixth carol back for a brief reprise after the seventh; he has discovered another harmonic guise for it, and wants us to hear it both ways. It is a strange and interesting carol. Despite Bartok's "Many Moods" he remembers at the end to give us a celebratory finish.

My favorite carol from the first set is the seventh; but the ninth carol from the second is so cheerfully festive I might have a new favorite. I also can't stop thinking about the sixth one. What is your favorite?

Bartok, Bela: Romanian Christmas Carols, set two

The timings at the start of each carol so you don't have to count while you listen:
#2--0:52, #3--1:28, #4--2:09, #5--3:05, #6--3:46, #7--4:52, #6b--5:18, #8--5:52, #9--6:31, #10--6:57

While we're at, I'll re-post the first set with a similar key:
Bartok, Bela: Romanian Christmas Carols, set one
#2--0:30, #3--0:44, #4--1:14, #5--1:29, #6--1:53, #7--2:22, #8--3:02, #9--3:42, #10--4:01

Of course, you don't have to like any of them. You might even have a least favorite. I was trying to think of mine, but the problem is they grow on you with time, so that I can't remember which ones I didn't care for before I started working on them. I've grown fond of them all, even though I still have favorites. Are these new to you like they were to me?

Friday, December 7, 2012

The hymn tune with the funny name (you know, that one!)

The church calendar and I may have gotten off to a rocky start with you all last week when I posted a rather severe piece that had us thinking about the Apocalypse, which is exactly what was called for in the assigned lectionary scripture reading for that week each year and might strike some people as a rather odd way to start off the season of  Christmas (which it isn't, according to the church calendar).

This week we're going to do a 180. I'm not playing anything at the organ; the choir is doing their annual service of song, so I'm going to post what I actually played in church last week; the previous blog contained music I actually played back in 2008 (and recorded in 2011). Last week's rendering was a piece by 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams based on a hymn tune called "Hyfrydol" which I think is supposed to be pronounced with a couple of short y's, but sounds pretty strange either way. Hymn tunes often do--sometime I think I'll hold a contest for the strangest hymn tune you know of. In the meantime you can prepare for it by scouring your hymnbook for suitable candidates: if you are a United Methodist the tune name is in all caps in the lower right hand corner of the page.

The tune Hyfrydol is paired, in our hymnbook, with the text for "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" which is what makes it appropriate for Advent. Here's how it goes.

The catch is that Mr. Vaughan-Williams seems to think you would have a lot of patience. In his piece, the tune proceeds apace.

You might have noticed that it is a bit slower. But at least it is in the upper voice, so it won't be so hard to distinguish for the rest of the texture. And what a texture it is.

I mentioned in the bulletin notes from last week that the composer had a taste for "spicy harmonies." At the risk of kicking over a rather large can of worms in only my second church-related blog post, I've been pondering the relationship between his rather unorthodox harmonies and the way he colored outside the lines in his personal beliefs. You see, although he wrote a good deal of sacred music and even edited some very important hymnals for the Church of England, he was apparently, at least privately, an atheist. That's not really all that unusual. I can think of at least a few prominent composer of English sacred literature (one still living) who didn't exactly buy what the church was selling. Now one of the major themes of the church (particularly in England, where the church has been enmeshed with the state for several centuries) is authority. And on top of that, the church tends to be a very conservative, tradition-bound institution, in which creative, innovative, and otherwise unusual or forward-thinking persons proceed with great difficultly, or leave. Now our good composer has left us a piece that, for all its studied pomp and solemnity, does have moments which suggest its composer was exploring the world of the possible, rather than the tried, when it came to harmony, expanding its vocabulary, finding new things to say, as gifted composers generally do. The piece is in this regard a good marriage between the new and old. Someone said of Vaughan Williams' music, "One is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new."  Now suggesting that Vaughan Williams' atheism has anything at all to do with his penchant for out-of-the-box harmonies is a stretch, but then, on the flip side, it's the sort of argument church types have been making for centuries in their writings, many of which, when they mention music at all, are intended to reign in their willful musicians who wrote music that was too complicated, too different, and who liked to experiment. "Devilish discords" and that sort of thing, you know. Of course God only likes dignified, solemn, and above all, tame sorts of music. (Does he live in a harmonically sealed environment?) Unfortunately, some of us organists do enjoy the occasional unlicensed sonic protuberance, if only to relish its resolution all the more.  Whatever Mr. Vaughan Williams' thoughts on all this, beside the "Three "Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes" (of which this is the third; I posted the second a couple of weeks ago) there are only a handful of other organ pieces. Of course, he wasn't an organist. All the same, he doesn't seem to have been very interested in writing for it, either.

In any event, if you like unusual harmonic digressions, there are some places near the end of the piece of particular interest. If you don't, you'll find yourself turning your nose up around 3:31, where there are six chords in a row all of Mr. Vaughan William's special vintage. My favorite, though, occurs at 4:13, right before the final ascent.


Vaughan Williams: Prelude on "Hyfrydol"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kellemes Karácsonyt!

Merry Christmas!

Over on the Friday, church-music-related side of the blog it's still Advent, a four week period leading up to Christmas (which is 12 days long!) but here on the secular side of the blog as we all know the Christmas season is about three-quarters over already, having started sometime in September. So I'm actually very late in acknowledging this. My apologies. And hohoho.

I have what might be considered a bad habit at Christmastime, which is to find and learn some new music every year. One reason for it is that it helps keep me from getting bored playing and listening to only and always the same music every year, and it also helps to set each Christmas apart from the ones that preceded it. Then, when I approach the music in following years I can recall the year and the Christmas in which I learned it. Although at this point many Christmases have pretty much receded into a vague mush of half-remembrances, and only a few still stand out. I suspect it is like this for most of us.

Another interesting thing about the new music is that it is sometimes from different cultures and reminds me that Christmas is a holiday that has been celebrated by a whole lot of people over a wide span of time and space. Which is were today's selection comes in.

Bela Bartok liked to do a little field research. He would go out into rural Romania and collect folk songs. The  group of 10 very short pieces you are about to hear were (are?) sung by children in Romania in the 19th century. I don't know anything more about them yet.

If you are getting bored with Jingle Bells already this might be your thing. (I'll also be posting a Christmas program, in about a week, over at the mother website,, consisting of an hour of organ music you might not normally hear at Christmas.)  On the other hand, it does collide with one of the more important requirements that people have of music in general, and particularly at Christmas. It isn't familiar.

The funny thing about traditions, though, is that they all start somewhere. If you listen to this a few times this season, box it away (don't worry, I'll store it for you) and get it out again next year it may become a part of your Christmas. In which case we can share in this process, and this tradition, together. You'll be including the children of 19th Century Romania in your Christmas, too.

True, for those of us in the United States of the 21st century, these don't really sound much like Christmas Carols. But if you listen carefully, you might start to hear sleigh bells.

Bartok, Bela: Romanian Christmas Carols (1st set)

p.s. Actually, I started to hear them, too. While I was practicing for the recording, Christmas wreaths were being hung in our sanctuary, and you could hear the bells jingle. As I got to the final chord I had an idea for a little sleigh bell obbligato. So I switched on the microphone and my assistant accompanied me on this last carol. In the end, this version wound up on the cutting room floor because my favorite take was at a faster tempo then the one we did, and tacking it on the end of the other nine carols done in this fashion would have taken the air out of the climax. But who doesn't enjoy a good bonus feature now and then? So here's one of the outtakes....

With bells on...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Get your warm fuzzies someplace else!

I'm going to start blogging on Fridays as well, starting in Advent (which is a really bright idea for a church organist. We've got hardly anything to do until after Christmas).

Friday's blog will deal with music for the church, so if you'd prefer not to read about or hear music for the (Methodist) Christian Church, don't read the blog on Fridays. On Mondays I don't plan to post any religious music at all. That's my thin wall between church blog and state blog.

I'm not planning to get into any heavy theological matters on Friday, either, though. But I'm not going to completely avoid the topic. You're welcome to participate regardless of your background or your thoughts or beliefs. To paraphrase the old slogan of the Methodist Church: Open minds, open blogs. Y'all come on in and make yourselves comfy.

Now then...the first week of Advent (cue scary music).

Look, I realize this isn't going to make a great first impression, but the prescribed readings for the first week of the four week period of Advent which leads up to Christmas (and is also the first week of the church year) are not exactly what you'd call the most cozy. Given the whole business with the Mayan prophecies about the end of the world in three weeks (with attendant media frenzy), what better time to introduce dire predictions about the end of the world? And that's exactly what those readings are about. Repent! Gird your loins! The end is near! Better be on your best behavior, you know?

Historically, some very large sections of the church have, on the first (and subsequent) Sunday(s) of Advent, made it a time for sober reflection, including Bach's church in Leipzig, Germany. Which would explain why the selection you are about to hear does not, in any remote way, even vaguely resemble "Jingle Bells." Or "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Or "Sleigh Ride."  There. You've been warned.

It is based on an ancient chant called "Come, Savior of the Nations." Unfortunately my budget doesn't allow me to have a team of monks on stand-by, so I've recorded the chant on the organ the way it proceeds in Bach's piece, but you get the idea:

 Veni Redemptor Gentium  (that's what the boys call it in Latin)*

*note: this version has had one note consistently altered from the original, and is more rhythmic. You might call it the 17th century German Protestant version of the 12th century(?) chant. The text goes back to the 4th.

Now one of the tricks about listening to a piece by Mr. Bach is that once everything gets going at once, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly to be listening for. In this case I've given you the melody of the chant so you'll recognize it when it goes by. And don't worry about finding it in the maze of simultaneous voices. It isn't subtle. It doesn't sneak up on you (kind of like the great and terrible day of the Lord).

The first phrase will appear, loudly, with tuba stops in the pedals (the bass), about 40 seconds or so into the music, once the upper three voices have all made their appearance, one at a time. This will be followed by a period in which the pedal will take a short rest. In about 15 or 20 seconds, a second phrase will thunder forth. I've turned the volume down on the recording but I still don't recommend being too close to your speaker. Lather, rinse, repeat, until all four phrases have completed, which only takes a couple of minutes. If it takes you a few times to figure out how the whole thing works, just listen to it again. It'll be here.

Meanwhile I'm going to go put on sackcloth and mope around the house for a bit.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland   by J. S. Bach  (BWV661a if you're into that sort of thing)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Coldness and Darkness

I'd like to introduce you to the Sibelius Piano Sonata. It's not that often played and I haven't noticed any good performances of it on the web, so if you've not heard of it get in line. Once again, for any locals who were at my concert last year in which I played the Alkan Grand Sonata, also a very rarely played piece, I don't have any t-shirts for you saying you've heard it. But the Sibelius is its own reward.

It's also not all that time-consuming for a piano sonata. I'm only going to play the first movement today. Since this is the first time I've played a piece called "sonata" on this blog, I'm going to conveniently side-step all the fun intricacies of what that means and simply make a couple of suggestions. The first is that you listen broadly.

Jean Sibelius: Piano Sonata in F, first movement: molto allegro (very fast)

Sibelius' piece starts off with a jubilant, dance-like tune, which kicks off a whole series of little musical ideas that might sound like birds, or bells, or more dancing, and which build to two rapturous climaxes--climaxi? climae? Anyhow, the second one is bigger than the first, and when we come down off that mountain we hear three sets of chords repeated three times--thrice three. Section one takes just under two minutes.

Section two is much more melancholy and/or passionate than the first. It goes into several minor keys, and gets more subdued as it goes along. Near the end, you are hearing the two ends of the piano with nothing in between--a very lonely, thin sound. But it is actually a hint of the opening tune coming back, and after a rush of scales, the opening dance returns (4:34), and the third section of the piece is largely a repeat of the opening section, although it is a little richer and more complicated than it was the first time, possibly for having had the experience of passing through the second section. It ends exuberantly.

Now at this point most musical commentary would suggest that you listen for this theme or that theme and how the composer cleverly turns it upside down in the second part of the development--which we can try another time, but for today all I'm really interested in is having you notice how the piece slowly makes its way from light to darkness to light. This isn't at all how a textbook would suggest that a composer put together a sonata and it is really Sibelius' unique personal contribution. It's also rather appropriate for the last week in November.

Here in the northern hemisphere the earth is getting colder, and darkness is settling in at about 4:30 in the afternoon here in Illinois. It seems as though we are very much in the middle section of this piano sonata.

Further, if you use your imagination you might hear, in addition to possible bird calls or tolling bells or rhythmic tunes that make you want to dance as I mentioned above, rushing scales that sound like a fierce north wind or crashing waves or other elements of the natural world.

While I'm sidestepping major musical issues I should mention that the idea that you should listen for things like wind and waves in a piece of music is kind of on the outs with the musical establishment; it is considered pretty superficial listening, and composers aren't supposed to engage in that sort of thing either. But more about that another time. Meanwhile, I think we can justify that sort of listening partly because Sibelius tended to think that way while many other composers did not, and because while you are listening for local phenomenon like birds and bells you are also listening to the long-term unfolding of the piece, which takes more sophisticated listening, so I ought to be able to keep my license with the musical establishment on that basis--we'll see.

I first heard this piece on a record one day at the school library when I randomly pulled it off a shelf and made a discovery. It made enough of an impression that I wanted to listen to it a second time. Which is all you can really ask of a new piece of music, that it intrigue you enough that you want to allow it time to grow on you, and to really start to figure out what it is about, because with most composers of merit it is going to take several listens to really get into the heart of the music anyhow. The question is are you game for another listen?

Jean Sibelius: Piano Sonata in F, first movement: molto allegro (very fast)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reverse Listening

A little while ago, I played Ralph Vaughan-William's Prelude on Rhosymedre in church and someone commented that she hadn't heard the hymn tune part of it before and found it interesting. That's because I happened to point out that it's based on a particular hymn tune and sang a bit of it (which I will not do for you today--aren't you lucky.)

If you're not familiar with this piece, you should just listen to it. It's lovely. Actually, that's a bad pun, but...oh, just listen to it.

Vaughan-Williams: Prelude on Rhosymedre

Even if you've heard this piece before--it's actually achieved a bit of notoriety in the church organ literature, which I realize does not put it up there with the theme from the James Bond movies in terms of recognition but is still something--you may not have noticed the main melody. Which seems, odd, right? I mean, you'd think that would be the first thing you'd notice. But probably the part you are most likely to whistle is the part right in the beginning. You know, this part. It turns out not really to be the main attraction, technically speaking.

Vaughan-Williams's piece is actually based on a hymn tune. Hymn tunes are often given interesting names, like Duke Street and Erie and Runs Like the Wind (actually, that's probably a race horse), in part because people often used to sing different sets of words to the same tune and the author of one was not likely to be the composer of the other. This particular tune is called "Rhosymedre" which is why it's a Prelude [based] ON Rhosymedre. It has an alternate name as well, which is "lovely." Bad pun revealed. (c.f. three paragraphs ago)

Here's how the hymn tune goes, as an instrumental.

Now if you have the time to go back and listen again, you'll notice a couple of things. One is that the tune doesn't make its grand entrance for 30 seconds into the piece, and another is that it is louder and slower than the other stuff. And, given that first characteristic, you may be kicking yourself for not noticing it before. It's the loud part, after all. But then, it is also slower than the stuff Mr. Vaughan-Williams wrote to go around it, and just as our eyes tend to focus on action, our ears do as well. We also aren't really into waiting 30 seconds. If it's that important it should show up right way.

And besides all that, Vaughan-Williams did wrote a very nice little bit of music, which is why he has a pretty good reputation over a half-century since he died. The hymn tune, on the other hand, was written by--uh...

Actually, it was written by a Mr. J. D. Edwards, which fact Vaughan-Williams kindly notes in the score. It is his tune, after all, even if it is not all that exciting. But it is a nice tune. Rather lovely, wouldn't you say?

There are, in fact, a whole lot of pieces of music in which this sort of thing happens, particularly organ music, and also particularly church music. One of the most famous is one by a Mr. Bach which happens to start out like this, but is in fact based on a hymn tune which begins like this. Bach's contribution is more attractive musically, and again, is more recognizable. The man or woman on the street just might recognize the first part, but would be hard pressed to come up with the second part. And yet that second part is actually the hymn that the congregation was supposed to sing. And, let's face it, it would be a challenge to sing the swirl of notes Bach came up with for the instruments to play over top of it.

Anyhow, while the faster parts get all the attention, it isn't a bad idea to listen for the other things going on in a piece of music. Sometimes they turn out not to be so significant after all. Sometimes they are actually what inspired the composer in the first place.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Onward and up--well, not this time, actually...

I felt like just having a little fun today, so if you're in a similar mood, this is for you. It's a bit of Joplin. I've been thinking about having a go at some Jelly Roll Morton, actually, but probably won't get around to it until after Christmas. At the moment, just not being sick and too busy is a good start. So let's have a bit of Joplinesque cheer...

(Click here to make noise come out of your computer!)

The piece is called "The Cascades" and it is exactly halfway through the Joplin catalog. If you don't mind one nerdy observation, since I spent a month in 2009 working my way through the first half of Joplin's rags, I find this one interesting for one particular reason. The ideas are great, the tunes, the rhythms, are catchy, and, by the way, the second part of the piece, a little over a minute and a half in, when the 'trombones' come in in the left hand--that's the trickiest thing Joplin ever wrote, I think--but if you're a composer you know that after a while, cranking out piece after piece, you struggle not to keep doing the same thing. And for Joplin, it wasn't easy to stay fresh, since rags have a pretty set formula. The odd thing here isn't that there are four sections, all of which repeat (and each, conveniently 45 seconds long in the recording!): no, what's odd is that, after the first two parts, it's time to change keys. Nothing new there. But for some reason, Joplin decides not to go where ragtime composers nearly always go, which is four steps up; instead he decides to go one step DOWN. What made him do that, I wonder?

Here's what I mean. I'll play you about four seconds of the first part, and fade into a little bit of part three....
It's not that much lower, so don't worry too much if you can't hear it.

The Cascades was actually a sort of man-made waterfall at year-young world's exhibition in 1904. It was built right outside the festival hall, and apparently Joplin, whose music was played there, wrote the music as a kind of tie-in. Did he conceive the strange modulation in response to the idea of falling water?

Kind of far-fetched, isn't it? Maybe, after 21 rags he was just trying to find something different. And, since, as far as I know, he didn't do it again, maybe he figured it was the kind of eccentricity you only did once.

But you know, if you listen to it all the way through, you probably won't even notice it. That's how smoothly he constructs this little transition passage.

Boy, you never know when a composer is doing something truly strange and making it sound like no big deal at all. You just can't trust these folks, can you? wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Keep Singing

A few months ago we lost a friend to cancer. There was really no way to be able to attend the memorial service--it was on the east coast and I had duties several states west, but one morning as I was in the middle of a little surge of compositional activity for other reasons it occurred to me to try to set one of his favorite songs for piano and send it along as an mp3 file that could be played during the service. Eventually, some of us gathered in Illinois to celebrate his life and the piece was played there as well.

I don't generally work that fast, but the piece was written in one day and recorded the next. Actually, as I listen to it now I think I could play it much better, given a little time to sort out what is actually going on musically--giving my mind and my fingers time to let it ripen, so to speak. But I've been too sick to practice for the last couple of weeks so you're stuck with the original version!

The piece is based on a folk song, "How Can I Keep from Singing." The day it was written, Pete Seeger, who has become identified with the piece, was a guest on The Colbert Report, which I happened to see. And, when I looked up the piece on Wikipedia (where else?) it turned out the lyrics were first published on that same day in August, exactly 144 years earlier.Odd, that.

One of the things that makes the piece tricky is that in addition to the tune itself there is another, faster melody, bubbling along in the same hand, crossing the tune over and back, continually singing, running without growing weary...

When the tune itself temporarily disappears there is a melancholy section in e minor...remember, this is for a memorial service. But there is something else before the end, before it all fades away into silence. Maybe it will speak to you. Or not.

In any case, yesterday at our church we remembered those who had passed on in the last year (on All Saints Sunday this is customary throughout large portions of the Christian world). We do so by lighting little candles for the departed when we go up for communion. I was, as usual, busy playing the piano and could not light a candle. So this is my candle.

Rest in peace, Howard.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tickling the Ivories

It has become rather popular to assert at the end of a movie (perhaps because it is a legal requirement?) that "no animals were harmed in the making of this film."

As it happens, our friendly neighborhood Steinway B, site of most of the piano recordings you'll hear on this blog, turns 101 this year, which means it is old enough to have ivory keys. But since the elephant that gave its tusks for our sadistic musical enterprise has long since passed from this earth I can tell you that no animal was harmed during the actual playing of today's musical selection. I am, however, tickling ivory.

That turns out to be especially relevant with regard to the second part (theme) of the piece. Today's piece is short--perfect if you've got places to go. It would be shorter if I didn't repeat both sections.

The first section is 30 seconds long. If you break it down into its component parts, the first of these is only eight seconds long. Don't blink your ears, you'll miss it.

But it's the second part of that first section that has my attention. The first could, almost, maybe, function like a melody. If it were slower maybe you could sing a bit of it before it gets too difficult. After a slight pause (these are important) we are treated to a finger-flexing whirl of notes, up and down the short range of the octave. Now I am not given as much as some are to feats of pianistic derring-do, trying to impress people with flash and dazzle. It works, though. People are always interested in watching how fast a pianist's fingers move.

Still, I don't mind having some fun. Like a lot of instances of high density in the notes-per-square measure variety, this part doesn't really have much to say musically except "see how fast I can go." But it all goes by pretty quickly. Even faster, given that this section is broken up by a curious little musical phrase, in a minor key, that seems to ask midway (as I do) "is this alright? or is something wrong here?"

But as usual, after that unsettling bit of questioning our motives, the answer turns out to be "Yes! Everything is fine, here! And I am moving my fingers very fast and having a good time!" No great metaphysical questions on the state of humankind. In fact, it only took three seconds to ask the question, so if your ears blink, you'll miss that part, too.

You'll get to hear this fun little sequence four times by the end. That 30 second portion repeats; then the second section, which contains a little more wandering away from home (but maybe just around the block) returns to do the same thing, this time in the home key. And you'll hear all of that over again, too.

The piece comes from an early Haydn piano sonata (the fourth movement) and is marked "Allegro molto" (very fast). Whether Haydn himself, or anybody living in the 18th century, would have played it as fast as many of us do today is a good question. It's not as though people weren't spellbound by an accomplished virtuoso back then. On the other hand, notions of speed may have been quite different. And besides, you wouldn't want your wig to come off!

It probably took you as long to read this as it is going to take to listen to the music, so listen to it again whenever you're in the mood. Have a great rest of your day.

Haydn: Sonata in G: Allegro molto

p.s. for pianists out there, this is the fourth movement of Sonata no. 13 (Landon numbers) or 6 (if you're using Hoboken numbers, like my Dover edition)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Secret Knowledge

Good morning. What if I told you I had an elixir to keep you young and vibrant for three easy installments of $29.95? Or that I'd throw in a couple of pills to regrow your hair and a garden hoe that doubled as a Swiss Army knife and had a built in Television and internet access? Now what would you pay for all that?

It isn't just physical objects that are subject to that sort of incredible sales pitch; we mortals can do the same thing with knowledge. In fact, what got me thinking about all that is a set of three curious little pieces by their even more curious creator, Erik Satie. They are called Gnossiennes, which was a title quite unheard of in the piano literature until Mr. Satie made it up. Can you imagine somebody just making up a word like that? (::cough:: Pianonoise)

Now there are two theories about what this word means. One is that it is a reference to a secret society known as the Gnostics. Originally an early form of Christianity which stressed being able to acquire a secret knowledge known only to its practitioners (and only after a period of study and earning the requisite privileges), it was considered heretical by the orthodox church, which tried to stamp it out, though it went underground. Some minds have always considered it attractive, which is why we find it again in 19th century France. Satie himself seems to have belonged to such a group at one point. Usually they clustered around a charismatic leader who knew things others didn't. The root Gnos- means knowledge.

The other theory is that it is actually a reference to an ancient city on the island of Crete (Knossos) which had been the site of several excavations shortly before the pieces were written.

Satie doesn't let us in on which theory is correct. In fact, he is pretty tight lipped about a lot of things, including how seriously to take what he's written, musical and otherwise. But, if you stick with me (the charismatic leader) I can tell you a few things that you probably don't know (secret knowledge) about these fascinating little pieces.

There are several interesting directions in the score. I'm not really supposed to tell you about those, but I think I'll let a few slip. While most composers have helpful hints about manners of expression or speed or dynamics, Satie's directions read like you are having a piano lesson with a Picasso painting. One of my favorite instructions from Mr. Satie is to play "like a nightingale with a toothache" (that's in another piece we'll get to some other time). At one point in the Gnossiennes the direction is to play a passage "very shiny," and in another place "with the tip of your thought." One passage in the last of the three pieces is to be played as though "very lost." I'll leave you to guess which one. .....

Then there are the tempo instructions. With most composers it would some variation on slow or fast or in between. And indeed, the first and third of the set are simply marked "slow." But the second one translates to "with astonishment." I wonder if that's the only piece that's ever been marked that way.

For some minds, this kind of approach only presents confusion, or is at best considered childish nonsense.  Give us some practical instruction! How loud? How Fast? Should I speed up, or slow down? Emphasize certain notes? ...Things I can get behind. But to "postulate within yourself"--how do you do that? And can any passage of music really be played "with great kindness?" Far from practical, many of these markings seem to inhabit a parallel universe, and could not possibly be carried out in any way that would affect the musical interpretation. Or can they?

Gnossienne 1
Gnossienne 2
Gnossienne 3

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why So Serious?

I hope your Monday is going well. If it's not, say, if it's too dignified, here's something that might help. It's a piece by Mozart, a set of variations on a children's tune. It was originally written for the piano but I've committed sacrilege by playing it on the organ. The whole thing happened rather suddenly when I was seated at the organ the other day and someone told me about a wedding in which the couple asked that this piece be played for their recessional. Kind of an unusual choice, I thought, and promptly started trying out different combinations of organ stops on the various variations to see what kinds of things one could do with such a piece. The recessional is actually going to be played on the piano, but I still had to have my fun. So did Mozart, apparently.

Mozart could be quite a serious fellow, at times, but he could also be the patron saint of composers with ridiculous senses of humor. He was also known to enjoy bathroom humor. There, I've said it, ok?! The great Wolfgang Amadeus liked fart jokes. (Boy, this blog is going downhill fast.) If you are similarly inclined, you can skip directly to variation ten.

The other eleven variations aren't bad, either. I've actually grown to like number 11 because, being the obligatory slow and expressive variation, it has such an ennobling character, yet all the while we know what theme he's developing... Anyway, have a listen. What's your favorite variation? And, do you think they'll take away my musician's license for this?

Mozart: Variations on "Ah, vous, dirai je maman" for piano, as played on the organ by yours truly
Variation 1
Variation 2
Variation 3
Variation 4
Variation 5
Variation 6
Variation 7
Variation 8
Variation 9
Variation 10
Variation 11
Variation 12