Thursday, December 8, 2011

I’ll Be Bach – I Catch Up on My Childhood through Music Theory

One of the big reasons for this blog is for me to keep active in my retirement. I think it is natural to seek meaning in one’s life when approaching the end of it. My retirement project is quite extensive. I want to be expressive of my thoughts and opinions. I want to fix up my Alfa (or find some kind of convertible that doesn’t need fixin’ up).  And the thing I have been telling people for years: “When I retire I want to go back to school and major in music.”

My band director at Sioux City Central High School was Robert Brooks (no photo available). I played alto sax in band and oboe in orchestra.  He approached me about majoring in music after the senior winter orchestra concert, in which I played really well the oboe solo on Bali Hai from South Pacific. But I wanted to be an economist (before I understood that it involved math). And there was a ninth grade girl who played oboe better than I. I didn’t believe that I had the talent for music. And I didn’t like to practice, and still don’t.

So I look back to when I was 10 or 11 years old and took 2 or 3 years of piano lessons. I didn’t like my teacher. She was a perfectionist and wouldn’t tolerate wrong notes. This made me so anxious I could not play. Even though I loved music and wanted to play, I quit.

I still have the music book I was studying when I quit: A Little Treasury of Classics, Vol. IV. I can play several of the pieces by Purcell, Chopin, and Bach, with frustrating hesitation. One piece, a Bouree by JS Bach really intrigued me. What were the chords? What made the chord progressions so interesting? How did it get from here to there? What made it sound the way it did? What made it work?

So now with three semesters of music theory under my belt (no, they are not there, but somewhere!) I took an entire day of Thanksgiving weekend to find answers to my questions. Here is my analysis, which pleased my professor, but me even more.
I discovered a modulation from e minor to G major and back again. I found lots of overlapping ii-V7-I progressions, which I am used to in popular songs. I found a number of unusual chords, called secondary dominants. It is very satisfying to me, to have some understanding of music.

Now on to transcribing Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky from orchestra to symphonic band....


Gary Davis said...

Wow! I am very impressed. I'm flirting with music theory in my summer barbershop camps at Missouri Western in St. Joseph, MO. My professor is a Ph.D. in composition and theory who's now teaching in a community college in Spokane. That means he is one heck of a good teacher. It's really fun to learn this stuff from somebody who's still excited about it and who can explain it so that it makes sense. I am way behind you, RevSax, but I'm headed in the same direction. Thanks for the inspiration!

Reverend Sax said...

When I was 18 I wasn't sure that music was a proper intellectual pursuit. I wuz wrong.