Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Circus Vibes - from "Scenes without Words"

"Circus Vibes" on YouTube.

I've always loved chamber music and wouldn't dream of passing up an opportunity to write for the classic ensembles.

"Scenes without Words" is about four descriptive pieces for three instruments -  each one named after something popular, or at least theatrical, the exception being "Carl Churning Rides Again".  (Please don't ask.  I can't even fully explain the reference. It's title seemed right, yet impulsive - but nonetheless intuitive.  Whatever..)

 The 3rd piece"A Homage Nina Simone" has been premiered via YouTube with visuals I selected and edited.  Consequently, its title is self-evident.

So too with "Circus Vibes" (no. 1), which found its title when I realized one of the early themes resembled "Entry of the Gladiators" (also known as "Thunder and Blazes").

Once again, the performers are:

Piano: Warren Helms
Violin: Amy Hamilton-Soto
Cello: Amy Butler Visscher

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Homage Nina Simone

  A Homage Nina Simone


"a Homage Nina Simone" is the third of four chamber pieces I've written, grouped under the title "Scenes without Words". Others pieces include  1. "Circus Vibes", 2. "Dickens and Nelly" and 4. "Carl Churning Rides Again".

"Homage" was titled after I had begun its composition, inspired by the versatility of Nina Simone, the African American artist and civil rights activist. She began her musical life as a classical pianist and singer of church gospel music, followed by folk, blues, and  later jazz and popular music

The work attempts to suggest that sense of eclecticism.


Piano: Warren Helms
Violin: Amy Hamilton-Soto
Cello: Amy Butler Visscher

I can be contacted at Charlie@charlesgreenbergmusic.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Categorical Reasons Why Wrong Notes Occur in Piano Recitals.

While sharing a few beers with my buddy Louis C. Monteverdi  a couple of weeks ago, we started (somewhat ruefully), discussing the phenomena of wrong notes in classical piano playing.  

Now, please keep in mind, we’re discussing the great classical piano repertoire - by and of the masters.  Perfect, peerless, and at times, ludicrously difficult stuff that is nonetheless, very well-known and highly well-thought of. 

“Very well known” despite decades– nay centuries!- of tumultuously tortured renditions. As the night wore on,  Louis and I formulated that each and every great piece is itself accompanied in a parallel universe, a meta-layer, a Superman Bizzaro World, if you will – by its wrong-note doppelganger; a desperate twin of perfectly formulated wrong notes.  

Why does this have to happen?  Do we need background checks before the average Joe can even purchase a piano?  But given the Jerry Lee lewis factor, maybe it’s just a question of better securing the printed music.

But I digress.  Somewhere between the Tequilas and the Buffalo-Wings, Louis and I ultimately came up with Five Categorical Reasons Why Wrong Notes Occur in Piano Recitals. (By the way, to make things sporting, we decided to exclude rampant performance nerves and memory lapses).

  1.  “The Flub!  The flub is the fart-in-church, so to speak. It’s unpredictable and indiscriminate.  The greatest pianists know it well- and the much lesser ones could give a flying flub. In other words, “flubs happen”. 
  2. The Learned Wrong Note” This doesn’t happen on the fly (as with “The Flub”). This is much more organic, attributable to poor training and a potentially lethal build-up of ear wax.  “Can’t you hear that’s wrong?”, the pianist coach might say.  But then there are very early recordings of “great” pianists who evidently adopted wrong notes as part of their own unique styles and interpretations.  Not to call anyone out in particular, but check out the first decade of 20th century piano recordings (or rolls) of Vladimir de Pachmann.
  3. "The Risk Taker” Yes, not all tempos are created equal. You were all set to perform Chopin’s  Ballad in G minor, ‘all set’ that is, until you decided you would kick butt in the coda by bombastically and exponentially making it so fast you finally wished they had prematurely closed  the curtains and turned off the lights.  Aww, and it was your last piece on the program!  Well, there goes your encore of that sweet little – and oh so much easier - Schubert, Moments Musicaux.
  4. "The Technically Outmatched” The cliché is, “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”.  And then there’s” 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.  But if the masterwork is a heavy weight- and you’re a welter weight- then it’s best to wait- and come fight another day.
  5. “Out-of-Focus” No, this is not about memory lapses.  This is about your parents, your significant other, or the old geezer who dozed off – all sitting in the first row.  And don’t forget the cell phone lady who’s really distracting you.  I mean, for god’s sake!  You’re trying to barrel through the piano transcription of Stravinsky’s” Petrushka’ and she’s playing Words with Friends.  Damn, there goes another marred dissonance!

You really suck, cellphone lady.  You really suck!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Trump is GOP's Cosmic Comeuppance

Donald Trump, whose unbelievably well attended campaign stops have morphed into his own brand of group therapy (How wonderful am I? C’mon, everyone, count the ways!), is dangerously close to becoming the Republican presidential nominee, handily losing the general election to Hilary Clinton and giving the GOP a richly deserved, cosmic comeuppance.

And I say this at the risk of Trump turning my neighborhood into a Scottish golf course.

Finally  - Trump’s primary opponents, who have long since known better (which still excludes a few), are tepidly stepping up to the political plate and hitting back some carelessly pitched soft balls Trump has let fly about Muslim  national registries and  9/11 fantasy celebrations.   

Well, good for them.

But you still have to wonder where any of these people were in 2012 when Trump decided (as a potential GOP presidential candidate), it was in his best political interests to go after the Muslim-in-Chief. 

A validated Hawaiian birth certificate?  A verified certificate of live birth?  No credible evidence to prove Obama was born in Kenya?  “I’m prepared to take the president at his word”, John Boehner magnanimously intoned, helping to propagate a talking-point that would side-step the question, keep the right-wing base delusionally happy, and enable fellow Republicans to commit a sin of omission in order to maintain a perceived political advantage.   

Let’s be clear, if  there ever was a remote chance Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and an illegal occupant of the White House, the Republican congress would have relentlessly investigated, impeached and then double-dared President Joe Biden to pardon the disgraced, ex-president in order to avoid excessive jail time.  And they would have been right to do so.  

That’s what so galling about Trump’s superficial and self-serving exploitation of an explosive, constitutional crisis. 

In fairness to Trump (and you have to “treat” Trump “fairly” lest he run a third-party candidacy), he did not originate birtherism  or the birther movement.  

And yet, even though he thoroughly discredited himself four years ago from being taken seriously as a presidential candidate today- here he is again.  This time, however, instead of Obama who was more than his match, he’s putting  his reckless and hateful hands around every minority group that might enable his campaign  For Trump, brown is the new black.

In 2012, the GOP enabled Trump by not calling him out on the bizarre,  birther nonsense.  2016 is their chance to make amends and save their political hides.  

Unless, of course, they prefer to watch the next Democratic administration from outside that “great big, beautiful wall”.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Romance and Scandal of Dickens & Nelly

Dickens & Nelly, a New Musical. 
 Books/lyrics by Barbara Zinn Krieger; music by Charlie Greenberg

 In 1858, Charles Dickens’ affair with Nelly Ternan, (the actress more than 25 years his junior), had become public enough to compel Dickens to publish a denial:  

I most solemnly declare, then -- and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name -- that all the lately whispered rumors touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as willfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth".

In the new musical “Dickens & Nelly”, this spirited defense of Dickens’ integrity and Nelly’s virtue is dramatized during a confrontation in London’s Anatheum Club.  Having mocked Dickens for trying to hide his affair, authors, including hypocritical Willkie Collins (“I do as I please with both my women”), Anthony Trollope, George Wills and William Makepeace Thackeray are excoriated by an enraged Dickens.  Dickens’ words soar in a new musical theater piece that understands there’s rarely as much heated and continuous passion as there is in an illicit love affair.

Dickens is a control freak.  He orchestrates the affair through selective confidants and a mastering of train schedules. Exploiting his prodigious fame, charm, and the vacuum created by an absent father figure, he seductively isolates Nelly (the youngest of three sisters in a theatrical family), from her siblings and mother.  To protect his reputation, he surreptitiously moves Nelly from location to location over a period of 13 years, adopting an alias for them both.   

But, Dickens loses control.  His wife discovers the affair, Nelly becomes pregnant, and the train crashes - with both Dickens and Nelly onboard.

Ultimately, Nelly rejects victimization and reinvents herself, while never compromising her past love for Dickens.  In fact, she is a survivor of a love affair that didn’t publicly begin to see the light of day till the mid 1930s – 20 years after her death.

Dickens & Nelly will receive a staged reading under the musical direction of Warren Helms

Location: Black Box Theater @ William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Date: Sunday, April 19th @6:00PM
Admission: Free  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

5 Tips for Overcoming those Pesky Piano Performance Anxieties

This is a guest blog by the less than legendary, Louis C. Monteverdi

As a pianist performing regularly in front of live audiences (well, at least they claim to be), I still struggle with hand jitters, wrong notes, inaccurate rhythms and sudden sonorities of unknown origin. 

While I know of no real remedies or telethon-type activities related to alleviating this aggravating affliction of unaccountable nerves, I can offer the following five tips in the hope that they may prove useful in times of classical piano’s annoying nuances. 

  • TIP #1: Come Early Before the performance

Avoid increasing your stress level by leaving sufficient time for a preparatory period of relaxation. Relax, compose your thoughts and slowly exercise your fingers with unrelated abstract, technical studies till you have achieved a certain comfortable level of digital dexterity.  

  •  TIP #2: Completely Ignore Tip #1

Don’t come early, fool!  That will only make you even more uptight by creating a misguided sense of importance about the whole stuffy business. Better to come a little late. Have a couple of smokes, a couple of beers.  Too bad, if people get pissed off and decide to leave because it’s already 8:15PM.  Screw ‘em!  Keep repeating to yourself “Screw ‘em. It’s just not that important”.  Relax; the whole thing’s just this side of being a complete waste of everybody’s time. 

  •  TIP #3:  Disrespect the Composer.  Does he think he’s better than you!!? 

 Screw Beethoven, the ugly son-of-a-bitch. Clearly, the guy was never successful enough to afford a facial or get a decent haircut. What’s that, lady, I was hitting wrong notes?  What do you expect, the guy was frickin’ deaf when he wrote this damn thing!  Give me a break!

  • TIP #4: Make Sure the Piano is in an acceptable  State of Disrepair

Sure I’m nervous.  Wouldn’t you be if you had to perform on this reject from a down-market Salvation Army post?  I mean, I might have warmed up, but I ran out of time while I was Gorilla Gluing  all the broken keys back on, for cryin’ out loud!

  • TIP #5   Just Go Play Cocktail Piano

Find a restaurant with a big room full of noisy people whose voices bounce off a carpet-less, slate floor, utterly drowning out the sound of your dwarf baby-grand with zero amplification. All that’s missing is a black cape and hood - and a Lone Ranger mask.  Then you can be nervous all you want. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Scott Joplin’s “Euphonic Sounds” vs. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Freakish” - - Classical Aspirations vs. Modern Accommodation

Scott Joplin

Jelly Roll Morton

We celebrate both Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton as American originals and classicists. Joplin (1867-1917), as the “King” of classical ragtime composers and Morton (1890-1941), as a progenitor of what has come to be considered early jazz, both as composer/arranger and (thankfully),  recorded performer.    

Joplin was a classicist in the most traditional and technical sense.   His piano writing adhered to European music theory practices in harmony, voice leading and compositional form.  (For example, there’s little difference between the highly, formulaic musical structure of Joplin rags and Sousa marches: AA/BB/A/CC/DD). 

The magnificent results of Joplin’s’ genius was his blending  of European classicism and African American derived folk melodies -  both inextricably bound to  a uniquely  subtle and sophisticated binary, ragtime syncopation.  (On occasion, there is even an early suggestion of blue-notes  - flatted 3rds, 5ths - but these are always supported by conventional harmonies or quickly resolved as non-harmonic tones).    

 “Euphonic’s Sounds” (1909),  comes from a particularly rich year of Joplin rag composition. It also coincides with the beginning of Joplin’s obsession to write his grand, ragtime opera, “Treemonisha".   By 1907, Joplin had moved to New York City in order to be in a more compatiblle cultural environment that might artistically and financially support a staging of “Treemonisha”.

All this is to say,   if you’re familiar with Joplin as the composer of “Maple Leaf Rag”, “Easy Winners” and “The Entertainer” – you may well be surprised by Euphonic Sounds' very ambitious and surprising composition.

Clearly, Euphonic Sounds is a rag. It adheres to Joplin’s (and generally), classical ragtime's consistent use of sequential  16-bar strains.  Certainly, its 4-bar intro and first theme sound fairly much like business as usual.

The second theme, however, is where the traditional ragtime wheels come off, and even the initiated may think they’re losing count.  Yes, there are plenty of two-bar repetitions as befitting Joplin’s 16-bar strains, but in “Euphonic Sounds”; they serve an entirely different purpose.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the arch-typical second-strain of  Joplin’s 1908 rag, “Fig Leaf”.

Here, the 16 bars strain conforms to 2, clearly defined -8 bar segments, divided into 4-bar phrases with clear thematic reiteration:

2nd Strain: “Fig Leaf”

----------- 16 bars ------------

1st half:  4+4: 2nd half: 4+4)

 Conversely, and quite atypically, “Euphonic Sounds'” second strain creates a 16-bar, through-composed arc, whose melodic material evolves through several jarring modulations, reaching a highly romantic climax at bar 13:

Additionally, as Rudi Blesh and others have noted, there is a suspension of the traditional bass-note-chord construct, a hall mark of not only ragtime in general, but upcoming stride piano playing.  

Stride pianist, James P. Johnson (for one), cited “Euphonic Sounds” for its modernism.  But while mind reading should never pass for scholarship, was Joplin’s rebellious  2nd strain  in Euphonic Sounds  more focused on expanding his concept of ragtime into another form of classical music, or  even so-called, serious modern music?  

And what was Jelly Roll Morton thinking when he imposed the descending, parallel  voicings  of disorienting  dominant 9th chords in 1929’s “Freakish”?  

Was Morton, on the cusp of being passe, thinking of cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke’s 1926 foray into impressionism called “In a Mist” (played quite well, actually, by Bix on piano)?  Or, was he simply  trying to say,  Don’t tell me, I get this modern stuff!”  And if he did get it, he may well have signaled  he didn’t much care for it my calling his composition “Freakish”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love “Freakish”, and thanks to the most excellent transcriptions of James Dapogny (in this case, transcribed from Morton’s 1938 Smithsonian recordings with Alan Lomax,  at a more relaxed,  “Don’t tell me, I get this swing-thing” tempo),  I very much enjoy playing it.

But was Morton trying to sound modern, or was he mocking it?   After all, Morton’s  “Freakish” conceit was about juxtaposing the dominant  9th   chord sonorities with more and longer sections based on more like ragtime-like lyricism and harmonies.

But for Morton, "Freakish" was another tune of many in his club date and recording career. Joplin’s Euphonic Sounds  might have been a 16 bar cry for a different kind of recognition.