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Somebody of Note

This series, Black Ties and Tea Parties, will focus on the type of music normally abhorred by sports fans: Classical music. Call it stodgy, call it boring, call it whatever you like. However, it is the foundation of all music today. Without Classical music, there would be no Rock, or Country, or Jazz, or Pop, or even Rap. Classical music is arguably the most lyrical and complex music today; just listening to the blending between horns, woodwinds, strings, and violins makes one wonder how in the world a single man could orchestrate that.

 I have two very simple rules for all those reading this:

1) Please check out the links to the videos, and allow yourself to be enlightened.

2) If you dislike classical music with a passion, please don't post disparaging comments here. Love classical for what it is, don't hate it for what it isn't.

Each volume, I will profile two or three classical or classical-style pieces. One or two will likely be fairly well-known, one will not.

Without any further ado, my first piece to listen to:

1) Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius

Sibelius was, predictably, a Finnish composer, and this piece is often called his masterpiece. Born in 1865 in Finland, he was firmly set in the later Romantic period of music, and his pieces definitely reflect that. His set of seven symphonies were intended by him to develop his ideas, primarily that of Finnish National Identity. Finlandia is not one of these symphonies, however; it was originally composed for a protest against increasing Russian censorship in 1899. In Finland, though, it has evolved into much more than that; the central section of the peace had words written for it and has become a secondary national anthem.

You may notice on this blog that I am, admittedly, biased towards Eastern European melodies. The reason for that is simple. I may be a percussionist now, but I used to play the French Horn. Eastern European melodies typically have fuller, brassier sounds, with more tension and building. To a brass player like me, this is very appealing. Finlandia is a classic example.

The piece gets you from the beginning with the almost pulse-like low brass and pounding tympani. This is a classic hook, and was especially present during the Romantic period. From the very first note, tension is building. The tympani causes you to tremble in anticipation, and there is very rarely a bad place for a trombone or tuba.

After the brass and a brief interlude with the flutes and oboes, the pulsing and rolling continues. Only this time, the strings take over. The tune very gradually speeds up, yet always seems controlled and the tension is always present. As the tune gets louder and louder, the intensity builds and builds and then... it stops.

Some might see that as a disappointment. I see that as perfect. Picture you're climbing a mountain. You climb higher and higher, pull forth with that adrenaline boost at the end, and then look in front of you and see the freshest, most perfect little spring you have ever seen. Ladies and gentlemen, the Finlandia Hymn.

It is such a tender, beautiful piece of music. To me, it speaks of redemption and the pure beauty of Finland. To me, the rarity of the section is the ultimate solution for the latent tension previous. It truly says Finland to me.

At the end, it's sped up a little, but ends with a beautiful loud chord. The only thing spoiling this for me is the overzealous conductor, Sakari Oramo. Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.

2) Persis, by James L. Hosay

I'll be honest, I definitely would not have heard of this piece had I not been playing it in my school's Concert band. Despite the non-orchestral instrumentation, it is a treat to listen to for purists and novices alike.

This song features a lot of trumpet playing, as well as lot of percussion. Both add to a song; the trumpets give it a truly regal sound that is befitting of the style of piece. The plot vaguely concerns a traveller falling in love with a Persian princess, and then running away from the guards.

The most special part about Persis is how it truly puts you there. You feel every run, every kiss, every parting touch. Whether fast or slow, everything flows together in perfect harmony and conjures up the exact images that Hosay intended.

Personally, I quite enjoy the final part of the piece: the "chase scene". You feel the rush of the speed and the chase, yet at the same time feel the wistful longing of the composer's hero. I have yet to see another piece just like it.

Both of these songs bring you a different part of the world, and both conjure up very strong images of that location. It is a wonder to hear the big brass in both pieces, along with the pounding tension and natural beauty. Whether Finland or Persia, Sibelius or Hosay, both hit the spot.


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