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Andrei Strizek is a doctoral musicology student at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign. He holds an assistantship at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, in the Events office, where he advances all of the School of Music concerts and several Marquee performances.

Andrei is an active performer, and is in demand as a music director and keyboardist for many musical theatre productions.

He earned his Bachelor's of Music Education from UW-Eau Claire in 2005, after studying with Dr Jerry Young, Dr Mark Heidel, Dr Randal Dickerson, and Dr Donald Patterson, and his Master's of Music Education from the University of Illinois in 2011.

He holds a wide range of interests, from musical theatre to jazz and popular music history to aesthetics, from the use of technology in education to audience development.

Please contact Andrei if you have any questions, comments or suggestions!

Read here for a full bio, or download Andrei's CV.

Entries in Carl Wilson (2)

Monday
Mar212011

NPR Music's Guilty Pleasures

For the past few weeks NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog has been running a series on “Guilty Pleasures,” interviewing regular contributors about music they are “embarrassed to love.”

The stated premise is commendable:

Over the years, friends and acquaintances who know my passion for music have asked, "So, what are you listening to these days?"

It's tempting to respond with something like, "Oh, I'm back in one of my big Mahler phases again." It sounds impressive and it's easier than admitting to what I might be really listening to — which could indeed be Mahler, but could just as likely be some schlocky pop band.

There's pressure on classical people to: a) never admit liking pop music and b) always maintain distinguished taste in classical music itself. Conversely, lovers of pop, rock and other genres might feel bashful about a secret love of Beethoven. So here's where I'm throwing all of these hang-ups out the window — and I invite you to do the same.

Yet, in actuality, the premise of this series seems to be that there are the Great Composers, the ones we all know: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mozart, etc. And there are the lesser composers, the ones who have been brushed aside by music history (or music history classes) or who have – heaven forbid – become popular with a large audience, mainly for their inclusion on concert programs as crowd-pleasing encores, on a “pops” concert, or a “greatest hits” compilation CD.

At least, that’s how it appears to me. In many ways, this is understandable. Many academically trained musicians learn this in music schools and conservatories. As Bruno Nettl writes (in Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Reflections on Schools of Music),

In the conversational rhetoric of the Music Building, “great” refers mainly to the largest works. It is no coincidence that in one of the few books about the concept of musical masterworks the first two works mentioned are Don Giovanni and Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung.

and

The great composer-deities are obviously present. Their inscribed names adorn the building inside and out, six master (four of them German) instructing students assembled for weekly convocations in the auditorium that all important issues of music reside within a 150-year span and nothing else is needed – this is the great music. (He is directly referencing Smith Music Hall at the University of Illinois, but this can be seen in institutions across the country.)

Having this background, it’s understandable that someone might think of Strauss, Rachmaninov, or Tchaikovsky as a guilty pleasure. They’re popular composers, and have traditionally been frowned upon by classical music institutions.

We all have guilty pleasures. It is beyond my scope here to examine why we have guilty pleasures, or what makes us consider them “guilty.” But I strongly recommend reading Carl Wilson’s fantastic book Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste and watching his interview on The Colbert Report:

 

 

He doesn't come away with a newfound love for Celine Dion, and neither did I after reading the book (and listening to her), but he has great insight into the notions behind our musical tastes and pleasures.

It can be a blow to our egos and senses of musical taste if we are to hear that a respected individual finds music that we enjoy is treated with the impression that it's not supposed to be worthy of enjoyment. Personally, I went through that journey with the music of Gershwin (among others), that wasn’t uprooted until I took a semester-long seminar on him (corresponding blog post here), and I regret the missed time spent listening to, performing, and appreciating Gershwin's music.

I think many people in the classical music world agree that we want that music to be spread to as many people as possible. But can we do that do that by making people feel guilty about enjoying Copland, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Vivaldi, or Strauss? Are people really embarassed by listening to those composers?

The artists who regularly post on NPR's blog, and the blog itself, overall do a great job of expanding audience's education. I’m grateful that NPR started a classical music blog (much as I am for their jazz and indie pop blogs). But they missed the mark with the guilty pleasure series. The "behind-the-scenes" view we get from conductors, composers and performers is great; the out-dated mode of thinking behind this needs to be reexamined.

Monday
Oct042010

My Strange Love With Gershwin*: Introduction

I have a dirty secret to share: I like the music of George Gershwin. In fact, I greatly enjoy and admire his music. This is something it's taken a while for me to admit, largely helped in the past month or so by taking a course on him and his music.

Gershwin was one of the first "classical" composers I actively listened to, enjoyed and, basically, devoured. Some time in middle school I got an RCA Victor collection of his music.  His main classical works, save from Porgy & Bess, were in heavy rotation on my playlist: Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Cuban Overture. At the time I didn't know much about Gershwin other than that he wrote jazz music for the concert stage, and that something about his music was exciting.

As my tastes changed in high school, I stopped listening to him, aside from a brief period when I learned his Second Prelude for Piano. I played and listened to some of his tunes that became jazz standards, and liked the Miles Davis/Gil Evans recording of Porgy and Bess (but truth be told, I liked Sketches of Spain more).

As I developed as a musician I became more elitist, though, and slowly frowned upon Gershwin and his music. I would attend an orchestra concert with An American in Paris on the program and get upset that they were wasting time on that piece - it wasn't even a pops concert! Why bother playing Gershwin?

Carl Wilson, summing up a mammoth research study by Pierre Bourdieu in Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, writes:

As with money, cultural and social capital's value depends on scarcity, on knowing what others don't.

It's a reaction typically seen as coming from the indie-rock scene but common to nearly all of us at some point. Everyone knew Gershwin, and I was above that: I was a maturing musician who appreciated the finer points of Ellington and Evans (Gil and Bill) among others.

So I stayed away from the vast majority of his music for at least five years - but probably more like nine or ten. I'm only now starting to re-appreciate what the "naive" Andrei felt years ago.

Who was Gershwin? If nothing else, he was an enigma. Was he a jazzer? A man of the musical theatre? A Tin Pan Alley composer and song-plugger? A modern, cutting-edge classical composer, or one who's music was entrenched in late-Romantic schlock?

Gershwin was popular, that's for sure, which is partly why he was disdained in the 1920s and 30s. Contemporary composers such as Virgil Thomson & Aaron Copland, at least initially, were some of the harshest critics of Gershwin (though truth be told this could have been partly out of jealousy and trying to minimize Gershwin's stature, and they both later reconsidered their notions of Gershwin's music):

The real drama of the piece is the spectacle of Gershwin wrestling with his medium, and the exciting thing is that after all those years the writing of music is still not a routine thing to him ... With a libretto that should never have been accepted on a subject that should never have been chosen, a man who should never have attempted it has written a work that is of some power and importance. - Virgil Thomson about "Porgy and Bess"

Gershwin was indeed a man of the theatre, perhaps more than his other compositional and musical interests. Yet a lot of his music was considered jazz in the 1920s, he wrote "classical" works, and wrote what is nowadays considered one of the finest American operas. His music wasn't boundary-less, but it did meld several elements that were common in his time, ranging from Ragtime to Debussy.

Gershwin wasn't as well-trained in composition as other contemporaries were (but more than peers like Irving Berlin). He never studied with Boulanger in Paris, like Copland did, and this led some to believe that he was a natural talent, but couldn't accomplish much since he didn't have proper training.

Gershwin was a force in American music, and still is. As a way to process my thoughts on Gershwin, a way to hep me practice my writing and expand on things talked about in class and through my readings and research, I'm going to be writing a series of posts about Gershwin and his music. I don't have a set schedule for them, or a set list of topics, but I hope to touch on several different aspects of his career, from the theatre to the concert hall.

I don't want to leave this post without any examples of Gershwin's music - more will be forthcoming, but at this point I want to leave you with a recording of Gershwin playing one of his most popular songs, Someone to Watch Over Me. This was recorded in 1926, the year it premiered in the show Oh, Kay!

 Did I mention that Gershwin was a fine pianist?

 

(*Bonus points if you can figure out where I pulled the title of these posts from.)