Tew Update

November 2014 The annual Tew report on travel and celebrations, projects and pets.

January to June The New Year started with Laura’s right foot fifth metatarsal fracture experienced last December 15 in Hamburg, Germany. Although the healing process took months, the actual event wasn’t so bad according to both German and American doctors. Nevertheless, she limped around, complained, couldn’t drive, and yet managed to stay nearly on top of things, including first-quarter tax preparation for low incomes and seniors at Smith Senior Center. By May, she was on the mend, and her small strawberry bed yielded a bountiful eight quarts.

Chris, meanwhile, worked nonstop on music, scores and parts, in preparation for the June recording sessions in Bratislava, Slovakia. Decades of work came down to two weeks with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra and the largest organ available in Eastern Europe, then nearly two more weeks in the editing studio with the technical crew. Our walk-up apartment was centrally located in Old Town with ambulatory access to concerts, operas, and dance, all a part of the annual Bratislava Music Festival which brings in groups from regional cities and countries for an amazing repertory. Highlights of our stay included a train trip to Kosice and a road trip to the Carnuntum Roman ruin and reconstructed village. Our thanks to Peter, David, Carolina, Martin, Jan, Anton, Jane, Aaron, and the US Embassy staff.

July to November Eastern Music Festival continues to be an annual joy, five weeks of nightly concerts. The two student orchestras and the faculty Festival Orchestra have never been better. Maestro Schwartz was masterful. We were pleased that when the season came to a close in August, cellist and conductor Eduardo Vargas was able to spend a few weeks at our house before returning to Bolivia. Our salute to EMF’s Stephanie Cordick, who is retiring in December.

Chris got back to the music in August, working in Thomas Rowan’s The Sound Lab in Greensboro to ready the files for uploading and production. We took a week in September to hang out in the mountains near Boone, NC so that we could chart a path through the maze of Discmaker, CDBaby, and Amazon. Decisions, decisions. The beauty of the Blue Ridge and fun with Susan/Nigel were just the inspiration we needed to launch. Finally Chris was ready to upload artwork and music files, and set a release date, all the while wondering if this was really going to happen. Three Mutts Music, in tribute to our dogs, Heywood, Lili, and Latte, has its first two albums: American Reflections and Light and Shadow, the music of Christopher C Tew, disc one and two, 140 minutes of harmony and melodies.

What’s Next It has been a pivotal year for us. We have found time to visit friends in Michigan and family in New Hampshire. We have celebrated births and weddings, shared losses, and commiserated the politics of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Chris has delved back into his passion for WWII scale models, and he is keeping a steady stream of letters flowing to the News & Record whenever a voice for reason, science, and fairness is needed. Laura has taken a more active part in Master Gardening and the Greensboro branches of AAUW and LWV.

We wish you a just and more tolerant New Year..

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Form, Shape, and Continuity

I tend to work in traditional forms: sonata-allegro (the first movement of most symphonies and sonatas and many concert overtures, containing an exposition with at least two melodies in contrasting keys, a development of elements from those melodies, and a recapitulation that repeats the melodies in the home key); rondo (the fast concluding movement of many symphonies, especially those of Haydn and Mozart, with one main melody that is repeated between several contrasting melodies); song form (the slow movement of many symphonies and sonatas, with a beginning melody, a contrasting melody, and a repeat of the beginning melody); and minuet/scherzo (the third movement of many symphonies and sometimes present in sonatas, with a beginning section in two parts, a contrasting middle section in two parts, and a repeat of the two-part beginning that is usually shorter. Sometimes the scherzo is expanded to five sections instead of three).

These forms usually provide sufficient variety for my musical ideas – traditional forms for traditional ideas. More importantly, they provide control and restraint. Since I use recognizable melodies and motives, these forms insure that the material is presented in an understandable, orderly manner and with enough repetition to become familiar.

On occasion I reverse the order of the recapitulation’s melodies in a sonata-allegro composition. Often I incorporate motives from an initial melody in subsequent sections or develop motives through basic variation in subsequent sections. Perhaps too often I insert additional development passages that expand later sections or transfer motives from early movements to subsequent movements.

I dislike hearing and try to avoid writing episodic music, discontinuous music that stops and starts without transitions or obvious purpose, music that has no clear connection between passages.

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Influences and a Few General Thoughts on Music

Over the past 60 years I have listened to a lot of the usual DWGs: Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Brahms, and R. Strauss; the mostly German creators of the Top 100 pieces of concert music and the leaders in chamber music composition. I’ve also listened a lot to Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Respighi, Vaughan Williams, Orff, Shostakovich, and Myoshi. Having played viola in many of these masters’ works, I hold them in my fingers as well as my mental ears.

I have a deep love of American chamber and concert music, including that by George W. Chadwick, Randall Thompson, Robert Ward, Howard Hanson, William Grant Still, Alan Hovhaness, and Samuel Barber. I hesitate to list living composers beyond Peter Schickele because there has not been enough time for their quality work to be separated from the dross. I regret that so much of the recent music I hear is exceptionally unmemorable, but maybe that’s just my ears and tastes showing their limitations. Time will tell.

I’ve also enjoyed—and continue to enjoy— the music of Los Kjarcas, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jethro Tull, Renaissance, The Rasmus, Richard O’Brien, Alan Menken, Ennio Morricone, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Jay Chattaway, and Michael Giacchino, and there are several other film and TV composers who have done outstanding scores. Given the condition of underlining actions and emotions rather than continuously being at the forefront of a listener’s attention, much film and TV music impresses me as frequently rising to very high standards. Some of it is truly outstanding symphonic writing.

I divide music into three categories: pieces I gained from and am glad to have heard; pieces I found enjoyable enough and wouldn’t mind hearing again; and pieces I found a waste of my time and whose one hearing was more than enough. From the first I mentally revisit their positive aspects and hope to improve my work. From the the second I hope to learn how to entertain even when I can’t enlighten. From the third I hope to learn what to avoid. With these considerations in mind, all opportunities to hear music are valuable..

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Day One

As you might guess from the Home Page, two of my primary interests are music and science. While it’s not so hard for me to write something about a science topic or the unfortunate state of science education in the USA today, writing about music is another, more difficult, matter. Composers write music because words are inadequate or inappropriate to communicate their thoughts, so writing words about music is often futile or, about as often, presumptuous.

I am frequently reminded by program notes that there are precious few living composers who explain their work well. Some will tell the listener that their music cures various of mankind’s emotional or physical ills or explains mathematical quandaries or is a guide to the moral universe or evokes profound spiritual insight or answers Douglas Adams’s question once and for all. Other composers provide musical jargon about style, content, and form that is as meaningless to today’s concert goer as is the most obtuse of scientific jargon.

As a composer of modest talent, I don’t aspire to the former explanations, and I usually understand the futility of the latter. I do understand what I like and don’t like in music. I will try to explain what I like and why I like it, and I will try not to preach on what I don’t like – that should be obvious enough from my music.

My music is generally lyrical and melody centered. By melody I mean what the person in the street would recognize as a “tune,” even though that tune has to be flexible enough for development, expansion, contraction, transformation, and exploration. When done well, my melodies are memorable and singable, at least with one’s inner ear. My melodies usually fit their harmonies rather than fight against them. Composers often speak of motives, short portions of melodies, and I like playing with motives. Typical concert goers will hear any piece of my music one time: I hope that they’ll carry away a bit of melody to enjoy at a later date.

My music uses mostly standard triads, chords based on thirds, that are usually the same chords as one hears in popular music, traditional church music, and folk songs, and most concert music through the first three quarters or so of the 19th century. Sometimes I use these chords in different, non-traditional, ways, and sometimes I add tones within or extra thirds atop the basic triad. When my music goes beyond basic triads into more complex harmonies or  passages with uncertain tonal foundations, the context usually prepares the listener. Sections of prolonged dissonance are almost always set at a tolerable level that ultimately finds a consonant resolution or ends up disguising the dissonance. Rarely do I use dissonance for its shock value—rarely, not never!

I sometimes wish that my music was more rhythmically driven, but it is seldom so—I try to improve. I think that my use of rhythm maintains the listener’s interest and moves the music forward.  Instances do exist for toe tapping and head nodding, and syncopation and other off-accent devices sometimes catch listeners by surprise. I have never understood the phrase “tyranny of the bar line.” If  regular rhythms become boring or bothersome, that’s what mixed time signatures are for. Otherwise, a regularity of  meter can create a mood of ritual and incantation, being more primal and magical than tyrannical..

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