31 August 2012

A list

Since a year ago today, I have...

  • Moved from New York to California.
  • Assistant directed, stage managed, and composed incidental music for a world premiere in Hollywood.
  • Written scores for three children's shows.
  • Formed a doo-wop group.
  • Acted in two shows.
  • Voiced the main character in an animated short film.
  • Co-produced a show.
  • Done background work for a feature film and a television promotion.
  • Written scores for a short film and a web series.
  • Celebrated my one year anniversary.
  • Music directed at a theatre camp.
  • Sung with a chorale.
  • Applied for a bunch of jobs.
  • Auditioned for a bunch of people.
  • Gone to Disneyland and Universal Studios more than once.
  • Met some great people.
  • Visited New York twice.
  • Used my passport for the first time.
  • Lived.

27 June 2012

Work in Progress

Even though I am living in California now, my roots are in New York, where a little theatre group I planted nine years ago is trying to do a big thing: become a recognized non-profit. To help do that, we've launched this Indiegogo campaign. Every little bit helps (you can give as little as one dollar) and goes directly towards the show and the legal fees. Help make Work in Progress Productions a "sure thing!"

28 May 2012

Peace on Memorial Day

The first official Decoration Day (the forerunner of Memorial Day) was celebrated on May 30, 1868, to commemorate fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The date was chosen specifically because there had been no battle fought on that day. Therefore, it was a day of peace in more than one sense. Since that day, there have been many conflicts and many more fallen soldiers. But we still remember them—all of them—as having been protectors of this country and, occasionally, what she stands for. Today, give them your peace.

27 May 2012

25 May 2012

My Letter in Newsday

How surprised was I to find I had been published in today's Newsday (the Long Island, New York, newspaper)! My letter was originally addressed to Dr. Allan Gerstenlauer, the superintendent of Longwood Central School District, where recently a student was suspended (it was later reversed) for creating an anti-bullying video. While the video was filled with errors in spelling and grammar, its message is clear and strong: bullying is wrong, and bullying is preventable. Here is the full letter that I sent to both Dr. Gerstenlauer and Newsday.


23 May 2012

Dr. Allan Gerstenlauer, Superintendent
Longwood Central School District
35 Yaphank-Middle Island Road
Middle Island, NY 11953

Dear Dr. Gerstenlauer,

As a graduate of Longwood Schools, you can imagine my surprise when I happened past a television this morning in southern California and saw my alma mater in the news. I am proud of my schooling, but I am sad to say my pride was hurt today when I heard about student Jessica Barba and her pending suspension over an anti-bullying film she put together for a school project. I must relate to you my support for Miss Barba and her project, and I would ask that you consider well what suspending her over this project would mean for Longwood and for our society as a whole.

My experience has caused me to be very attuned to news about bullying in our communities and the world. I toured in Theatre Three's Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project for three years, going to schools on Long Island, in New York City, and in Connecticut, talking directly to students, teachers, parents, and administration about the bullying problem and what can be done to alleviate it. Certainly as a student in Longwood Schools I experienced bullying first-hand. I can tell you that Miss Barba's project hit the nail on the head. This is what bullying does to students, to human beings.

To find that a student at my high school was doing such a remarkable, such a poignant and vital project about bullying, and then to find that student being threatened with suspension over it has made me question the authorities under which I had studied. How can a school district bully a student out of her free speech rights, especially and ironically when that free speech is being used to talk about bullying? How can a school combat bullying without talking about it? To say that Miss Barba's project caused a disruption in the school is, I believe, specious at best. The disruption was there before Miss Barba started her project. It is she who is bringing the disruption to light, challenging others to talk about and deal with the very real and dangerous problem of bullying.

Kevin F. Story
Longwood Class of 2003

17 May 2012

And then it was spring

I just wanted to let you know about this:

Godspell is coming this very weekend to Glendale Presbyterian Church. It's an exciting production, filled with wonderful people and spectacular music. You should come! Click the image for more information.

11 March 2012

Scherzo – The Musical Joke

There are moments in life we never forget, those times we use as checkpoints when looking at the past. These can range in size from huge, epic act breaks, to small, seemingly mundane plot points. As we reach back into that nebulous thing we all have called memory, we often compare when things happened to these benchmarks. “We bought the car after mom died,” for example. Or, “The last time I had poison ivy, we played that game of Scrabble where so-and-so played 'quizzical' for umpteen points.”

What does this, you wonder, have to do with music?

Well, nothing, really. It's just that I'm about to describe one of those small, seemingly mundane plot points.

When I was a student at Boston University (According to one of my professors, for me “being a student [was] an extra-curricular activity.”), I had the good fortune to sing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in the school's Symphonic Chorus. One day, rehearsing part of the dies irae section, I happened to be sitting next to Bob Mollicone, an incredibly excellent musician. He was singing second tenor, and I was singing first. It was early on in the rehearsal process, so we were pretty much sight-reading. We got to the end of the section where the tenors sing “Oro supplex et acclinis quasi cinis,” which Britten had decided to score in parallel major seconds. Like this:
When the music stopped, Bob and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our conductor, the great Dr. Ann Howard Jones, looked over at us in her Iowan, no-nonsense way. She had a great sense of humor, but always liked to keep rehearsal moving. (This insistent decorum was nearly undermined when the Boston Red Sox were in the World Series where they finally “reversed the curse.” She tasked certain members of the chorus to wear radios and raise their hands when something important happened, or give hand signal score updates.)

“Is everything all right over there?” she said.

“Yes. Sorry,” I replied, then added something like “The parallel major seconds... It's just funny.”

She moved on quickly, but it did make me wonder. What makes music funny? Obviously, music with funny words is usually regarded as funny, but what about music without words, or where the words are serious? Why did this passage in a sober work like the War Requiem give Bob and me the giggles?

Around the same time, I composed my first rag. It actually took me almost a year to finish, and when I did, I wondered if it wasn't just ripped from my father's rags. (He has written a number of rags that, to my knowledge, have never been recorded or published, including a humorous one about past presidential hopeful Hubert H. Humphrey.) Before I started writing it, I knew I would name it “The Rich 4 Rag,” after my residence hall and floor. It's a jolly piece, as rags are.

I should say, for the uninitiated and the curious, that ragtime was a music form popular at the turn of the twentieth century. Its most popular composer was Scott Joplin, who standardized the form and also wrote waltzes, marches, and songs. The usual rag form is AABBACCDD, with an optional introduction at the beginning and optional interlude (usually four bars) between the third A and the first C, but there is much flexibility from piece to piece. Joplin's rags include “The Maple Leaf Rag,” “The Entertainer,” and “Elite Syncopations.”

With “The Rich 4 Rag,” I wasn't necessarily searching for the kind of musical humor that had Bob and me rolling over the Britten. I was just trying to prove that I could write in form, much like a poet might try penning a sonnet, or a filmmaker might try using film (odd, that). When it was finally done and I played it through for some friends, I was surprised to find they all laughed together at a certain chord in the minor key section. It went against everything I expected. Minor keys are usually associated with anything but laughter (although seeing Urinetown changed my perspective on this; the show is filled with minor key songs, yet it is absurdly hilarious).

Perhaps it is absurdity that is the humor of music. Thinking back to Britten's parallel major seconds for a second, I am reminded of the joke my father would play when coming to a new house to teach piano. I'm sure it's an old joke; it seems like the kind of thing Mozart would do to torment his patrons. The owner would almost always make a comment about how well-tuned (or, usually, not) it was—I thought the joke was especially funny if the piano had been tuned recently. My father would say, “Well, let's see,” and proceed to play a C major scale in one hand and a C-sharp major scale in the other. “Sounds pretty good!” he'd say, grinning, as his new young student gripped his ears and howled with laughter. In case you're wondering, it sounds like this:

In this case, the player's words and actions help the humor. Consider, in macrocosm, the work of such musical humorists as Victor Borge and Peter Schickele (and his alter-ego P.D.Q. Bach). Prof. Schickele uses two kinds of musical humor, the “accidental” (not truly accidental, as the humor here is planned, just made to seem accidental) and the intentional. They are both, in their own ways, absurd. In P.D.Q. Bach's “Art of the Ground Round” (a play on J.S. Bach's work about fugues), accidental humor is achieved when two singers, involved in a seemingly innocuous dramatic scene, end up overlapping lines to produce the phrase “Look up her dress.” Others of his work, the more “intentionally” funny bits, include pieces like Eine Kleine Nichtmusik (a play on Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or “A Little Night Music”—P.D.Q.'s piece means “A Little Not Music”), where the melody is besot with references to a vast number of other pieces, including Sousa marches, mariachi music, and so on. In this case, a little previous musical knowledge is imperative to understanding the comedy. Otherwise, it's just another piece of music.

And I almost forgot to mention Spike Jones (and his City Slickers), whose prolific use of unorthodox instruments and noises to make music gave him a lot of work in Warner Bros. cartoons. He was a parodist, perhaps the first, as well as a writer of original funny songs, such as “There's a Fly on My Music” and “Der F├╝hrer's Face.” But I digress.

Music has a way of making us feel a certain way, and I think to break down music, you find those harmonies and melodies each evoke something different inside us. A certain chord in a certain song gives us an immediate sense of loneliness, or warmth, or love. Consider the songs you love to listen to—putting aside the words, if there are any, what moments speak to you? Even if you don't know what chords or what or couldn't find a B-flat to save your life, you can probably identify how certain pieces of music feel. I wonder if we all feel similar things when we hear certain things, if music can be a shared emotional experience as well as an auditory one. This is what I'm getting at about the humor of music. If everyone in a room laughs at the same time to a certain chord, there must be something deeper going on.

I was going to leave you with a recording of “The Rich 4 Rag” so you could make your own judgments about what's funny and what's not, but it's been a while since I've played it and it takes a bit of getting used to. So, instead, I leave you with another rag, this one the score for a silent short film. Is the music funny by itself, or does it need the film to be funny? (Or, is it just not funny at all?) Thoughts on this or anything, I'd love to hear from you.

A Looney in a Straight Jacket (2007)

01 March 2012

Fun with Musical Mnemonics

Everyone who has ever taken a music class probably remembers the following: In treble clef, the lines are Every Good Boy Does Fine, and the spaces spell F-A-C-E. In bass clef, the lines are Great Big Dogs Fight Animals, and the spaces are All Cows Eat Grass. As one ventures further into the realm of music-making, one discovers a new clef; a clef that takes the guise of several different note arrangements, depending on where it is placed on the staff. It's this funky guy right here:

The C-Clef

If it's centered around the middle line, it's known as an alto clef. If it's around the second line down, it's called a tenor clef. Fun, right? To my knowledge, after much searching, there are no standard mnemonics for these clefs. Therefore, invent!

For alto clef, I suggest you Forget Alto Clef Ever Got made. (That's the lines.) If that ticks the altos off, just remember that Girls of Beauty Delight in Flowers make up the spaces between.

In regards to the tenor, look at his lines and remark about his Dashing F-A-C-E. You can also remind him that Elegant Guys Bathe Daily are the spaces. (Those tenors!)

Have something better than my poor attempts? Do tell!

20 February 2012

On Presidents Day

Today we in America have a holiday that is not so much marked by a celebration of the leaders of this country; rather, it has become a time to sell cars and clothing. Both Washington and Lincoln were born on or around this date, depending on when it falls (Feb 22 and 14, respectively), noted as the greatest presidents we have ever had in our history. While there are many other presidents to celebrate on this day (the Roosevelts, for example), there are others to hang one's head about, or to give the American pause. (Nixon comes to mind.)

More intriguing, perhaps, to travel to the realm of speculation, is the list of "should have been" presidents. It might be of interest to consider, for example, how the entire office of President might have been different had Benjamin Franklin been our first instead of Washington. Or if Alexander Hamilton might have been allowed to serve. (The clause in the Constitution forbidding foreign-born presidents is certainly a good concept, but there are those that argue the clause was championed by Hamilton's opponents.) What if women's suffrage had not taken so long to be accepted, let alone adopted? Certainly Eleanor Roosevelt seemed as adept at the job as her husband, and surely there might have been others before or since more capable than, say, Ulysses Grant, whose administration was fraught with corruption. What if slavery had not gripped this country so tightly? How might the presidency of Frederick Douglass changed the country?

We are finally reaching that time of universal equality in America, and former barriers to the presidency are being broken down with relative ease. Unfortunately, our media-fueled culture is reducing our leaders into talking heads, with wisdom and courage being replaced with sound bites and "chutzpa." So, too, is our culture changing from a nation of listeners and thinkers to a nation of shouters and gamblers. No one speaks softly and carries a big stick anymore; it's all loud talkers flailing tiny, annoying sticks.

So, this Presidents Day, amid the shopping, say a little prayer for the future. Lord knows America needs it.

16 February 2012

Something new

As I will be turning The Jolly Bard into an online literary "zine," this will now be the home of my personal ramblings, musings, and bemusements, should anyone else find them interesting.

What I'm hoping to do with The Jolly Bard is twofold. One, I will begin accepting submissions within the next month. These will be mostly fiction, some poetry, and a few non-fiction pieces that fit into the storytelling motif (in other words, no reviews or op-ed pieces). Over the year, I hope to publish something new and interesting frequently, maybe daily, which will lead to the second goal, The Jolly Bard's Best of 20xx. This will be an annual publication in book or magazine form (and corresponding e- form) putting together the most read stories and poems from the entire year.

That is, at least, the plan for now. Stay tuned...

12 February 2012

A musical realization

My apologies for the following overly music-nerdiness, as well as to my good friend Matthew Tobin, who probably put this sort of thing in my head in the first place. (Incidentally, be on the look out for a new blog by Tobin on the topic of music transcending genre, with far less technical jargon.)

My wife and I sat down at a local Mexican establishment for some much needed midday sustenance. Feeling a bit scholarly for a moment, I began to analyze the canned background music: Spanish-language pop. The first song was a standard four-chord song with the progression 1-6-4-5. It got me to wondering whether there were names for songs using similarly functioning chords. That standard four-chord arrangement is what I usually call the "Magic Changes," after the song from Grease which spells out exactly how the song is composed and the effect it has on its narrator, an unnamed listener.

The next song that came on was a three-chorder with the main progression 1-5-2-5. It uses a standard classical cadence (ii V I), which began a conversation about Pachelbel's Canon as its own type of song. To refresh, that progression is (to use classical analysis) I V vi iii IV I IV V. I posited that these "standard progressions" could be found throughout concert and popular music. Then I made the startling discovery that the progression in Pachelbel's Canon was directly related to the verses in The Eagles' "Hotel California." My wife's eyes began to glaze over.

In order to prove my point, I began writing chords and numbers on the back of our receipt. I began with Pachelbel.


Then I said, "Now, check out 'Hotel California.'"


I stared at these figures for a short while. They didn't add up the way I thought they did, in my head. Sure, there are similarities, but I wanted a match. Then it really dawned on me. Check this out.

The comparison has to do with how the chords function. So, I re-analyzed "Hotel California" using Roman numerals.


I'm aware that "secondary subdominants" isn't really a thing, BUT, in this case, each group of two chords FUNCTIONS as mini plagal cadences. (That is, IV to I.) I must note that the relationship between i and V also functions this way. Looking back at the Canon, I searched for an answer. Maybe, I thought, that vi chord functions differently. Thus:

D: I V iv/iii iii IV I IV V

A series of plagals ending with a strong IV to V cadencing into the next phrase. "Aha!" I said in a manner not unlike Archimedes discovering volumetric displacement. The chords are not exactly the same, but how they function relative to each other is.

This discovery led my wife to roll her eyes and ask if we could go. And go we did, me proud of my accomplishment and her wondering if anything good would be on TV later.

(I should note that my wife is actually very musical; she's just not much into theory. I don't blame her. As a side note to this side note, at this particular establishment, a man at the soda fountain asked me if she was my wife, then told me she was very pretty. I said, "Thanks! Well, I think so." That scored me some points.)

So, I ask the Internet populace, what does your ear say? Have you found songs with the same or similar progressions, or songs that sound the same or have similar melodies? Have a bone to pick about my pompously in-depth analysis? Do tell!

09 February 2012

Audio: Edward's Lab Partner

Check this out: Now you can work out to me reading my short story "Edward's Lab Partner." (If you want. Or just listen here.)

Edward's Lab Partner (mp3)

Read "Edward's Lab Partner" here.