Rag Time and Classical Music Fusion

The other night I heard something pretty interesting on the Music Choice channel. I was listening to the Light Classical stuff because, let’s face it, I’m a real lightweight when it comes to knowing anything about music, much less the classical genre.

It reminded me of a time long ago when my mother tried to teach me how to play our old upright piano. She always complained that it was out of tune, always promised that she would get it tuned and never did. It didn’t matter. I never learned a thing but the middle C note, which I poked with my right thumb.

And then I heard a selection that sounded like the composer was poking fun at classical music. The piece was titled “A Symphonic Nightmare: Desecration Rag No. 2.” Somebody said it was actually “An Operatic Nightmare: Desecration Rag No. 2.” I don’t know that it makes a difference what you call it. I thought it was comical and I had fun listening to it.

In order to confuse me further, I found listed on the Library of Congress a recording entitled, “An operatic nightmare.” And, I found a piece called Desecration (Rag-Humoreske). They all sound different, but all of the pieces are by a composer named Felix Arndt.

Further, Wikipedia says Arndt is best known for his composition “Nola,” which he wrote for his fiancée Nola Locke (later his wife.” It’s sometimes thought to be the first example of the novelty ragtime genre. Classical music does have a funny bone.

Music Beat

We listen to the Music Choice Channel almost every night on our TV. I know that must sound odd, listening to a music channel on television. What makes it more interesting are the biographical sketches. The Light Classical Channel bios occasionally have typos and word usage oddities as well as eyebrow raising facts:

Mozart’s full name was Johannes Chrysostomas Wolfgangus Theophilus “Bud” Mozart.

Frederic Chopin is not pronounced “Choppin” as in his well-known tune “I’m Choppin’ Onions in My Stew and Crying Over Losing You.”

Edvard Grieg was taught the violin by Ole Bull, which is a lot of bull since, at least in Iowa, bulls go “mooooo” and chase red bandanas.

Antonin Dvorak spent a summer in Spillville, Iowa in 1893 where he drank beer and toppled into the Turkey River.

Riveting stuff like that is usual for the Music Choice Light Classical Channel. On the other hand, some months ago, I heard a song called “The Penguin” by somebody named Raymond Scott. I looked him up today and he was a jazz composer and Music Choice must have misfiled him.

I can’t really make fun of his bio because it’s eccentric enough by itself. His music ended up in a lot of cartoons, but he didn’t do that on purpose. Scott sold the publishing rights to his work to Warner Bros. Music in 1943. The music director at that time was Carl Stalling, who used a lot of Scott’s compositions in cartoons, such as Looney Tunes and many others.

Raymond Scott wasn’t even his real name. He looked it up in a phone book and used it partly because it sounded cool. The other reason is more complicated. His real name was Harry Warnow and he was playing piano in a radio orchestra conducted by his brother, Mark in the 1930s. The band started playing Harry’s off-beat compositions and, in order to avoid the appearance of nepotism, Harry adopted the new name.

Scott also invented electronic musical instruments, and after a while, he spent most of his time doing that, working with engineers on many inventions.

I haven’t heard him on the Light Classical Channel for a long while now. Maybe Music Choice finally got him filed to the Jazz Channel.

Music Can Heal

Here’s another post on music. This one got started while watching Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival 2019 last night on the Iowa Public Broadcasting Service channel. It’s great pizza and beer music. It was the fifth event of its kind since it got started in 2004. Part of the profits go to support the substance abuse treatment center in Antigua, founded by Clapton. Although inpatient treatment programs are currently suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual intensive outpatient treatment program is available.

I don’t mean to belittle Crossroads with the pizza and beer remark. I’m leading up to something and there is nothing wrong with enjoying music of any kind along with pizza and beer. Clapton and Peter Frampton did a superb job doing an old Beatles’ tune, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Clapton did the original guitar solo on that one, which I didn’t know. Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt rocked out Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken.” Many of the artists were older than me (I’m no spring chicken although they are definitely not retired). However, a newcomer, Lianne La Havas, delivered an outstanding cover of “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” originally sung by Dionne Warwick, later by Aretha Franklin.

It was great fun listening to these old songs. Most of them, except for “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” did tend to remind me of all the trouble going on in the world now, including the pandemic, political vitriol, and violence. Come to think of it, we could all use a little prayer right now.

I thought about posting the YouTube videos of a few of the Crossroads Festival songs. But I noticed that one of the YouTubers carried a large number of deleted videos, possibly due to copyright infringement issues, and they’re relatively recent. I figured the posted videos might not last long.

This brings me to an old (meaning much older than the 1960s) classical work I heard recently, “Vaughn Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” I saw it on the Light Classical cable music channel I wrote about a couple of days ago, the one about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

This one actually woke me up while I was sleeping on the couch. I frequently fall asleep to most classical music, partly because it helps me relax. However, the Vaughn Williams Fantasia didn’t just calm me—it also energized me. I’ve heard about the quality of music that can do that for people, but I was a bit skeptical. I have since looked for YouTube versions of the work, trying to find the same one I heard on the cable music channel.

I’m pretty sure I found it. It’s the one recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra (London, UK) just last month, October 2020. I’ve listened to a couple of other highly praised recordings you can hear from a YouTuber called 2ndviolinist. One was by the Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Boyd Neel in 1936. The other was done by the Halle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli in 1946. Both are widely thought of as masterpieces.

The Philharmonia Orchestra players are all spaced at least 6 feet apart, adhering to the social distancing required to reduce transmission of COVID-19. If I close my eyes (or even if I don’t), this doesn’t make me nervous as I listen to the oceanic sonority of the music itself. Many comments about the recording attest to the beauty of the piece, making it a soothing treasure in our troubled times.

I’m less worried about the possibility of the video ever being deleted. I felt the same way about the one by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. It isn’t just because they’re old and copyright issues may be less of an issue. It’s more because they’re probably universally viewed as vital for healing our souls. At least I hope so.

Grab a pizza and a beer—and enjoy music that heals.

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