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Classical Notes: March 14, 2007 Archive

A slice of musical Pi

Posted at 6:59 AM on March 14, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

It was almost exactly twenty years ago when I was visiting my friend Miklos in Budapest. Miklos is a mathematician, and a great lover of music, and when I came over to his apartment he had a copy of Bach's Two-Part Inventions sitting open on his piano. He picked it up and said, "John, isn't that beautiful...it's mathematics!"

Today March 14th...3/14... is "Pi Day," so called because the date expresses the beginning of the magical number that apparently is a a world without end (amen). Pi is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, it's the number that starts 3.14159....and just keeps going.

Pi Day is being celebrated worldwide by a certain type of person (aka "geek") who finds numbers and ratios not only exciting, but, believe it or not, beautiful..

Math and music have a close relationship (since they're both binary--duh!!) and it's no surprise that somebody has used Pi in his composing. You can read and hear more in a Science News piece called "Sound -Byte Math Music."

And then there's "Pi Diddy" who does a Pi rap (I kid you not!). Of course, you'll want to sing about Pi later this year, so he's got some carols like this:

Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
You're truly transcendental.
Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
You're physical and mental.
You stretch the bounds...of all we know,
And tell our circles where to go
Oh, number Pi, Oh, number Pi
Your digits are so gentle.

Ravinius Interruptus?

Posted at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The latest noise scourge of the classical concert isn't cell phones, nor a swarm of locusts -- though that's getting closer.

The Ravinia Music Festival has revised its summer concert schedule because of the buzz created by cicadas, known for their loud hum, and their 17-year life cycle which brings them back en masse and in force this June. Several outdoor concerts will move indoors, and the Chicago Symphony's Ravinia season is pushed back to July 6, by which time the chirping critters should cease. Otherwise, says Ravinia president Welz Kauffman, the subtleties of the music ‘would get completely lost and drowned out”

Ravinia is no stranger to noise. From the New York Times a few years ago:

The Ravinia Festival north of Chicago owes its very existence to the railroad tracks it straddles, and to their onetime owner, the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railroad, which opened Ravinia in 1904 as an amusement park to attract more passengers. Several decades and rail companies later, Ravinia was "where the Chicago Symphony spends the summer." It is said that James C. Petrillo, as president of the American Federation of Musicians, got the trains to stop while the great Heifetz fiddled. Other notables fared less well. The suave and witty maestro Thomas Beecham conducted the Chicago Symphony in the summer of 1940, and declared Ravinia "the only railway station with a resident orchestra." He never returned.

BTW, noise concerns over the return of the cicadas are no exaggeration. We had the 17-year cicadas in Cincinnati in 1987. At their peak, I noticed while house-cleaning that the cicadas were so loud you could hear them above the noise of the vacuum cleaner! Amazing creatures.

Standing and Clapping

Posted at 1:05 PM on March 14, 2007 by Rex Levang

Audience members were on their feet last Friday at Orchestra Hall, but not for the usual reason.

One of the pieces on the Minnesota Orchestra's New York-themed program was a section of John Cage's "Living Room Music" -- a percussion piece played on ordinary objects one might find in a living room: a table, a newspaper, and so on. To set the scene, four well-upholstered armchairs were set up on a corner of the Orchestra Hall stage. Unfortunately that corner was invisible to some of the people sitting in the side boxes -- but by dint of standing up, they were able to get a full view. (It was a Casual Classics concert, after all.)

The Cage was followed by Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," which is indeed scored simply for clapping hands. The clapping that followed, from the audience, felt more enthusiastic than some of the obligatory Standing O's I've experienced.