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William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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  1. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    So called “classical music” is an acquired taste. There is great stuff there; but most people have to, at first, listen patiently in order to be able to hear it.

    Rock isn’t as limited, harmonically, or in any way, as its critics make it out to be. It’s mediocre pop stars who limit themselves. Keith Emerson, for crying out loud, incorporates all this stuff into his music. But even simpler rock — like Beatles, the Stones — if you listen carefully to the voicings of of their chord patterns and arrangements, there is some really cool nuanced stuff there, along with great melodies. A top 40 band with lead sheets can reproduce the great melodies, but they tend to miss the nuance.

    Or I think of someone like Jeff Beck and what he gets out of the guitar. There’s as much profound nuance there as in a Wagnerian Opera.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Jon Rowe
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      says:

      “Rock isn’t as limited, harmonically, or in any way, as its critics make it out to be.”

      This is one reason why I didn’t use the word ‘rock’ once in the post. I also managed to avoid saying ‘classical,’ for different reasons. My worry isn’t so much that there aren’t any sophisticated musicians working in the pop idiom (clearly, there are); it’s that the critics wouldn’t know the difference. For example, I looked through a bunch of reviews of Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz to see if any pop critics had anything to say about his more compositionally adventurous moments in “Too Much” and “I Want to Be Well,” but I was out of luck.

      I remember reading once that someone gave pianist Glenn Gould a Beatles record, and his only comment was that their voice leading was bad.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        “and his only comment was that their voice leading was bad.”

        Heh. Yeah if your ear is used to Bach level status on voice leading, that’s bound to be a first reaction. Likewise a Barry Manilow style abrupt change in key without “transitional” chords will sound “not correct.” And all those parallel fifths in heavy metal.

        That’s what happens when you isolate yourself in an island (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with it).

        You can break the rules and still have it sound cool if you let yourself off the island.

        I think the problem with orchestral music came after the late Romantics. The modernists seem to be melodically challenged. But some swear if you leave the island Schoenberg has some really great singable stuff. Personally I don’t hear it. I don’t go past Bartok. Ives is even too out there for me at times.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        William, how did I ever miss post? Suffice it to say, I love Beethoven more than life itself. And the Eroica just happened be my musical burning bush—the second movement, marche funebre, one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, an aperture to a musical universe of eternal, heartbreaking beauty, this was Beethoven, close to complete deafness, defying his damnable fate, shaking the earth with his godly powers, his tumultuous irrepressible soul–the Eroica was Herr Beethoven’s arrival, his landing, his launching pad–this was music that so far and away different from anything that had been written before–the opening Eb chords followed by arpeggiated Eb melody so simple yet so incomprehensibly unique in symphonic literature. This was the piece of music that made me maniacally learn the Eroica Variations Op. 35—divine ecstasy! I just adore this man’s music—and the third movement of the Op. 109 piano sonata is proof that God HAS to exist! It’s revelatory, so far, far, heavenly reaching and longing for God–an utterly enraptured state of being is reached! As close to an empirical proof of God’s existence as anything that has ever existed. Alles liebe, lieber Beethoven!Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Heidegger
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          says:

          Actually, the Glenn Gould quote was, “Hey Jude, is the ugliest pretty song ever written.”Report

          • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Heidegger
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            says:

            Thanks for the quotation and the Beethoven recommendations.

            I have listened to much more of Bach’s music than Beethoven’s, and so I get passionate about Johann Sebastian — not that I’m making a quality judgment, just that counterpoint appeals directly to my mathematical mind. So much to learn!Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to William Brafford
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              says:

              You’re very welcome, William. We are definitely musical kindred spirits. The Big Fella, JSBach, is nothing short of the nucleus of the musical universe. The Well-Tempered Clavier is my bible–not too long ago, picked up a recording of the WTC Bk. 2 performed by Edward Aldwell–AHHH, Ausgezeichnet! The best I’ve ever heard–GET IT! I don’t know of a single day in the last thirty years where I didn’t hear Bach at some point. And the Goldberg Variations…..Nirvanna. It’s almost impossible to believe a human mind could conceive something so exquisitely beautiful. A beauty that is tireless and boundless. It’s effect can never be diluted no matter how many times it’s heard. I’d be happy to burn you a copy of the WTC if you’d like. (Just picked up a copy of the Goldbergs played on the classical guitar–mind blowingly great!!)Report

  2. Avatar D.A. Ridgely
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    says:

    Unlike Mr. Rowe, I wouldn’t know the circle of fifths from a fifth of Old Circular Saw and our tastes in music differ significantly. Mark Twain famously quipped that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds, but I’m with Mr. Rowe on that one. The only good time to listen to Wagner is on your deathbed, as few things are more likely to make death look like a welcome alternative.

    However, I’d say that much classical music is readily accessible even if a novice listener cannot appreciate it with the same depth of understanding as someone who has formally studied music. Certainly that is true of much Baroque music as well as much of the Romantic music frequently scoffed by music snobs (e.g., Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto). Sadly, however, the average person is no longer exposed to much of this music except in snippets as background movie music.

    Too often forgotten in classical versus popular music debates is jazz, which truly is one of America’s greatest contributions to civilization. There are, to be sure, those who have pushed Rock well beyond its I-IV-V comfort zone, but I’d put John Coltrane or half a dozen other jazz giants up against Emerson, Beck, etc. Which is not to say they are not fantastic musicians. They are. But in terms of musical sophistication and, well, genius, late 40s to mid 60s jazz has little, if any serious competition from other genres of popular music.

    All this said, de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that jazz.Report

    • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to D.A. Ridgely
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      says:

      There’s certainly great stuff in jazz. A jazz virtuoso tends to have mastered his instrument better than a rock virtuoso. For me, it’s more a matter of style. Steve Morse and Pat Metheny can both play really fast clean lines that the rest of us can’t. Harmonically, though, Metheny operates at a higher level. But I still prefer to listen to Morse. That’s my cup of tea.Report

  3. Avatar Jon Rowe
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    says:

    This is from a guitar virtuoso (as virtuous-tic a rock guitarist you could imagine) friend of mine on Facebook.

    “heard on the radio, today, that Kanye West is a ‘musical genius’. Has humankind really become that stupid that we refer to talentless hacks who’s only concern is making money as ‘musical geniuses’?

    “In other news, i’m now officially considering myself a nuclear engineer because i played the video game Fallout 3.”Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Jon Rowe
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      says:

      Kanye West is very good at doing what rap producers do, so “talentless hack” might be a little much… but to call him a musical genius is to misunderstand both music and genius.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to William Brafford
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        says:

        I didn’t let my FB friend know this: I don’t like KW much at all — but he’s still better at writing melodies than my guitar virtuoso friend. And being able to write a good singable melody, even if it’s superficial like those of Def Leppard or Poison or Barry Manilow is a far far more valuable (and harder — perhaps impossible — to learn!) talent.Report

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