Sol's Music

I roam along, I sing a song
And I'm so happy while I'm singing
Music is a most outstanding pleasure to me
Jon Hendricks

Some outrageous percentage of my life is spent either making or listening to music.

I play bassoon in the St. Clair Community College Symphonic Band. I also annually play with the St. Clair Theatre Guild Pit Orchestra, a position that has left me remarkably proficient at Reed 5 transposition. I'm also rehearsing every few months with a new bassoon quartet. We don't have a name yet.

Picture of trio

Here's a little snippet of me playing on "Adeste Fidelis". It's supposed to be a clarinet trio; Deb and Dian (from the North Oakland Concert Band) are playing the first two parts on bass clarinet, and I'm playing the third on bassoon. We used to all play in the Oakland University Concert Band, but as far as I know, none of us are with them anymore.

After a decade or two of twiddling around, in 1999 I got serious about playing the whistle. I purchased a nice Water Weasel and started practicing. Now I've got a rapidly growing collection of whistles, plus an ever-expanding set of memorized whistle tunes. More importantly, I've a bunch of wonderful new friends. Musicians are great.

Since 2000 I've been going to Goderich's Celtic College, where Loretto Reid showed me just what an insanely great whistle player can do. (I wrote up descriptions of my visits in 2000 and 2001.)

There are lots of great resources on the web for Irish musicians. JC's Tune Finder can get you an ABC for almost any tune you know a standard name for. Alan Ng has indexed zillions of albums tune by tune at The Fiddler's Companion has invaluable information on the history of tunes.

This used to say, "I play piano when there aren't many people listening." But I've played quite a few church services in the last two years, so I'm playing both piano and organ in public again. Scary.

I also played keyboards with a silly little group called Secret Logos. We were a basement band, and now we haven't played together for years, so I guess it's officially dead. Sigh.

For "classical" music, my tastes run to romantics. Beethoven got everything off to a good start, and Brahms, Nielson, Sibelius, and others kept it interesting. I've just started listening to Mahler, enjoying his 2nd and 9th.

On the other hand, I'm a big fan of traditional music in its many guises. Percy Grainger turned it into the greatest music ever written for band. Fairport Convention give it a rock and country sensibility. Boiled in Lead kicks it over the edge into really heavy and weird sounding stuff, borrowing from a lot more traditions than most, whereas Tempest is just straight ahead hard rocking folk. Steve Tilston makes songs which feel traditional, only better. Our local group in this vein is Celtic Offspring, who are just across the river from my home town and north a few miles. Up north, it's Song of the Lakes. Great resources are Dirty Linen, the Digital Tradition, and Rockin' World.

The latest thing seems to be so-called Celtic music, with bands like Capercaillie and Altan. However, for my money, the best of them is Lunasa; they weld traditional music to a smashing acoustic rhythm section. Following close behind come Old Blind Dogs and A Crowd of Bold Sharemen. Going back in time, Donal Lunny seems to be the person to watch; he was in both the Bothy Band and Moving Hearts.

On the rock side of existence, Queen is clearly the greatest band ever. They had four songwriters, each capable of providing enough great songs for the average good band. They had a spectacular lead singer and brilliant guitarist. They had enough humor to give the needed light touch and essential variety, but they had pomp and glory too. And they had lush vocal harmonies. A Night at the Opera is my favorite, with its great "'39" and "Love of My Life".

Close second and exact opposite is Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson, the heart and soul of Tull, is my favorite songwriter and a wicked flute player. Songs from the Wood is their classic. (By the way, I should mention that Dave Pegg and Maart Allcock were in both Tull and Fairport, which is just plain cool.)

A distant third comes Rush, with cool tunes and Kiplingesque lyrics. And I guess I should mention Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, and Jellyfish.

Never content to settle with just a few forms of something, I've lately started listening to a lot of jazz. Glenn Miller's band was a sort of late '30's equivalent of Queen. A few years later, Dave Brubeck produced the quintessential cool, intellectual California jazz.

But it's the vocalese of Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks that has really got me excited these days. (Briefly, it's the art of putting words to recorded instrumental improvisations and then singing them. The link has more info.) The greatest modern singers of this form are The Manhattan Transfer.

As you might suppose from my "vocal harmonies" comment above, I sometimes take that a bit too far and listen to a cappella music. After college, my favorite local group was Desperate Measures but they went and folded on me. I got briefly interested in Wayne State's Ultrasounds, but they didn't have a web page last time I checked and I've no good way of figuring out when they're performing, or even if they're still together. I've completely lost touch with local groups like Amazin' Blue, but I'm very fond of the first album of the California-based +4db.

I also have a great love for musical theatre. Just to name drop, my favorite shows are Porgy and Bess, My Fair Lady, Evita, West Side Story, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, and Man of La Mancha, in roughly that order.

I can't believe I forgot to mention PDQ Bach the first time I did this. Not only is he the funniest thing ever to hit classical music, but his alter ego, Prof. Peter Schickele, is a fellow bassoon player. (Not to mention the composer of "Last Tango in Bayreuth", considered by many to be one of the finest bassoon quartet tangos based on themes of Richard Wagner.)

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