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#1681347 - 05/20/11 02:32 AM Listening to the music of Steve Chandler
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Promising myself an evening to listen to the selected compositions of Iowa composer Steve Chandler from his page: http://composersforum.ning.com/profile/SteveChandler
proved quite rewarding on many levels.

Not knowing at all what to expect, I listened to all these pieces at least twice and decided to make a few comments. This is the kind of concentration I enjoy doing and I hope it suits Steve and those who will hear (and perhaps play) his music too.

Most of the music was for the piano, played very well too, on I guess his Estonia 190 (6'3”) grand piano, but he might just as well have played them on his very good source sampling synthesizer. The rest are compositions for a larger ensemble, performed by a good source sampling synthesizer similar to mine (which unlike Steve, I never use much any more).

When one first hears music by someone new, one of the things that happens, not necessarily a good thing, is to try and associate the new music with some other music you might have heard before. The positive thing about this approach is that one feels more secure about listening, informed listening, like trying to find recognizable objects in abstract paintings. The negative thing about this approach is that one usually has too quickly pidgin-holed the music and this doesn't allow the instantaneous reception on an immediate emotional level that the music deserves. But let's be honest, to some extent it can't be helped. It's what we all do, try and associate the unfamiliar with the familiar. Otherwise what would we do but allow the unforeseen to drive us crazy. All of this music wears well, as they say with repeated listening.

Sure some of the pieces have formal names which imply some formal association with older music by the same technical names; in this case names like Consolation, Melody, Rhapsody, Prelude and Fugue, Waltz, Toccata. But as was the case with older or other music with these names and his many other pieces with more programmatic names, Steve's music shares some features with other composers' styles. Which ones? Well, a solid American tradition in composition that reminds me frankly of music for patriotic documentaries or “official” sounding American music to go with important events vies with older classical elements in a kind of floating harmonic inconclusiveness that reminds of, believe it or not, Olivier Messiaen. My strongest criticism as a composer is that I hear far too many major seventh chords and associated harmonies. Otherwise Steve is a credible and talented composer, which for a pianist / composer like myself means that his work is something I would consider trying to learn to play myself. After hearing it, I hope others feel that way too.

Let's take the symphonic music first. Ominosity is a brief piece, the kind of thing for the opening of a suspenseful dramatic move with something military about it. A really unique idea of using an electric guitar as an element should be extended in a future piece where it might solo against the other traditional orchestral choirs.

Yesterday is history has many passages that remind of Stravinsky and others. There's a little canonical writing too. The tensions are marked with percussive and brass choir effects like gallant fanfares, again the stuff of “official” sounding music that somehow got twisted a little and maybe someone is laughing at it as well, sort of like happens in much of Ives' works. The use of ambivalent harmonies, plucked strings, chimes, horn calls and other effects gives great colour to this piece. Perhaps older music is being parodied, or compared with real historical events by association. In any case, I'm actually more impressed (and liking it) than with much else that I've heard. One imagines as a listener that one can grab it, but then it sort of morphs into something else that's puzzling and evokes a kind of traditional American nostalgia.

Tomorrow is a Mystery, a theme floats around, framed by percussive and brass elements, a line is taken by a pipe organ? Then the cellos take up something “folksy” sounding that is picked up by the violins, stronger percussive and brass crash in, nice effect, others follow in a procession that leads to inconclusive and perhaps perilous hanging strings, then a break into more subtle introspective woodwind episodes, taken up by the brass, just as easily dropped, then crash boom. Here we are in mid-America symphonic episode land, perhaps canon or fugue, certainly good counterpoint, but the emotions are always changing and lead to inconclusive situations, cool perhaps and “official” but overlaid by a typically American orchestral sound in glowing but again inconclusive harmonic territories. This is the kind of piece to really demonstrate the colours a symphony orchestra can produce. Most of the effects are quite pleasing too, which is saying quite a lot actually. But the inconclusiveness of the harmonies will keep most audiences guessing as I did, just what's going on. You might think this is again music for some pseudo-scary drama or perhaps a docudrama about some famous person or historical event. Believe it or not, Steve might consider doing another shorter piece than this, that uses a symphonic band rather than a string symphony orchestra, with fewer effects. Try and limit it to ten minutes and it might even sell well. Just an idea.

Today is a Gift is a theme and variations or rhapsody on the theme of Old Hundred, We Thank Thee Now Our God, I think it's a traditional Lutheran hymn, though everyone uses it now. Steve uses this theme again in an earlier synth version. The two settings are like his versions of America the Beautiful with the embedded Battle Hymn of the Republic. They remind of the floating inconclusive harmonic leading employed by Messien and others. Both Steve's versions of this are good and should not be discarded but somehow merged into a larger piece. Anyway that's my idea.

Steve's piano music is similar to his orchestral music in that one hears the same floating inconclusive harmonic leading in unpredictable and unexpected directions. But it's also true that after a few times, it begins to sound predictable, not a bad thing either, because part of this music we call “classical” (such a stupid label because it no longer is what it never was; we don't really know what the Greeks and Romans were listening to during the “classical” era) is that as a prepared / educated audience, we are expecting to be able to remember and emotionally or cognitively respond, to accept into ourselves that to which we are listening. This is how pieces, and music, gets into the standard repertoire.

Thus we are treated to a floating harmonic rendition of America the Beautiful with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a very nice arrangement, but one that is harmonically inconclusive à la Messiaen, though others have done it too. The two themes overlap in a powerful, for Americans, clash and combination of nostalgic associations; perhaps the present beauty of the country along with a reminder that the nation went through a terrible struggle during what's called the American Civil War to get where we are today. The emotional power of this inconclusive harmonizing is to cast a little doubt as to whether we have achieved America the Beautiful or not.

Spring Hop is a theme and variations on a syncopated melody with haunting almost sinister harmonies that again are made to float around inconclusive tone centres. A variety of styles were used to treat the same melody. I liked Steve's definite style of rendering this piece, though were I to do it, I would make the distinctions between variations even more pronounced, but that's just me. I like this piece a lot (but I liked all of Steve's music to some degree). It always made me think of tone leading where you didn't expect it to go, kind of like recalcitrance of mind; you expect something but no, it goes somewhere else.

Consolation is a consolation (lol) in ¾ time that has a nice effect to console all right, in a modern sort of way that is easy to hear and understand. But Steve, try it a shade slower and with even more concentration on each sound from your piano and it would come off much better. Think really slow dancing. Consolations take time to get the person consoled, time to really release every tension.

Melody is a mellow ¾ time piece that's sort of like an American style Ballade after Chopin or Brahms. Steve could slow this one down by a hair and it would become more powerful.

Prelude and Fugue in g minor pairs a wistfully sad sounding prelude with a fugue you think might run in normal harmonic paths, but by this time you almost expect Steve to challenge your hearing by twisting the fugue into his preference for the floating harmonic inconclusiveness he enjoys using and sure enough that's just what happens. He plays this stuff very well too.

Then we come to maybe my favourite of all of them, Steve's Rhapsody. He plays it straight, I doubt I would. I'd concentrate on articulating each little turn and fold in it, just putting on more pressure with each phrase. The main theme is tantalising and the pianistic effects are strenuous without being over the top. Harmonically we're dealing with the same palate as before, but here the effects are more varied and suggestive of wider emotional ranges that I'd like to see other pianists explore (why not me?). I like the way it ends too.

Wobbly Waltz is a ¾ time piece that's again played pretty straight and occasionally reminds of Joplin meeting Messiaen somewhere in Iowa. I'd like Steve to play this one a tad slower too.

Steve's Toccata is based on a few elements that are worked through various processes and produce the effect of running through floating and jagged textures. This probably is something more difficult to play, but it all is and Steve certainly plays very well.

Another of my favourites is Steve's very moving In Such A Small Place. Think elegies, dark private memories one might just as well like not recalling, deeply disturbing emotional tensions, great sadness, inconsolable loss. There is an attempt to answer all this with that “official” sound of “it will be all right” but the melody returns and says, “no, it will never be all right.” This my friends is emotional realism, not phony romanticism, and this is what our music is truly all about!

Tender7 is what I'd consider calling an impromptu. It has all the usual Steve Chandler elements, is deeply introspective and energetic by turns. Again, Steve could play it a little slower with more effort toward turning each and every piano sound to full advantage, but he still plays it well.

Anyway folks, Steve Chandler is a real composer. This is what one looks and sounds like. He has developed a distinctive style, has obviously applied serious study to his craft and his output, even if this were all of it, is remarkable and revealing. Two of these piano pieces I would even consider as masterpieces worth the serious inclusion into more repertoires. What do you think Steve?
David Burton's Blog

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#1681352 - 05/20/11 02:37 AM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
Nikolas Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 6491
Loc: UK
First of, having 'met' Steve online, only through PW I can safely say that he's a great guy! And a great composer... smile

Other than that I'm very jealous of this huge review, which I promise to read later on, once I find some time...

#1681465 - 05/20/11 08:47 AM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
Steve Chandler Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 3218
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
Hi Dave,

I only have a moment, but let me say a huge thank you for your kindness. Your private message promising to listen to all of my music was a pleasant surprise. To wake up on a Friday morning and find this is a surprise that will take some time to wrap my mind around. At this time all I can say is PM me an email address and I'll send a PDF of my piano pieces. Thanks again for your kind words and I'll make some time later today to say more.

#1681539 - 05/20/11 11:00 AM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Will do, Steve and thanks!
David Burton's Blog

#1681541 - 05/20/11 11:02 AM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: Nikolas]
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
I'm very jealous of this huge review, which I promise to read later on, once I find some time...

Ah, don't worry, you may be next!
David Burton's Blog

#1681687 - 05/20/11 04:53 PM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
Steve Chandler Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 3218
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
OK, it's been a busy day, but I'd like to respond more fully. First of all I can't thank Dave Burton enough. There was no promise of compensation, he decided on his own to listen and comment. To me that says a lot about Dave because that's a lot to listen to and he didn't skimp on words. I very much appreciate his generosity.

Regarding the performances, there are two instruments represented here, my Estonia (Small Place and Tender7), and the Post Musical Instruments Bosendorfer 290 (a sampled instrument). The performances on my Estonia were recordings of my playing, but it's best takes spliced together. The other pieces were sequenced in Logic (old version for PC) and the samples rendered in Gigastudio 3. The performances are again me playing, but highly edited. The point being that my expertise is not in performing my own works. I can play all of my piano pieces, but I'm still in the process of learning Spring Hop. To bottom line it I certainly do hope that others will be interested in learning my pieces and a PDF is available to anyone who asks (for a limited time).

One thing that continually amazes me is the diversity of response to my music. Another poster here at PW requested my music and read through them all and decided which were his favorites and of course those aren't the same ones Dave liked the most. This person's preferences were Tender7 (best of the bunch to him) and Wobbly Waltz (and maybe the Tocatta). Obviously he preferred the thornier stuff, though he found the Rhapsody (if I can paraphrase) gratuitously virtuosic. I guess great minds DON'T always think alike. I appreciated that he liked any of them and took the time to learn those and even performed them.

Most of my pieces have a story behind them, but I find that most listeners are more interested in making up their own drama than hearing what I was thinking about. Over the years I've become very OK with that. I do put the inspiration information in my the performance notes for my music. So request the PDF if you want to read all about it. Otherwise listen and make up whatever story pleases you. I'm just glad my music seems to inspire dramatic thoughts.

Regarding the performances, they are what they are. I continue to practice most of these pieces and have at least played through all of them. I generally play them slower than the recordings, more by necessity than by choice.

It sounds to me like Dave liked Spring Hop and Rhapsody the most, and maybe add In Such a Small Place to that. These are some favorites of mine as well, though I honestly love them all. Composing is not something I find easy and I need good reason (or inspiration) to put mechanical pencil to paper. The last of these pieces I composed was Consolation and that's just because I thought the collection needed a balm for the soul after In Such a Small Place.

Dave, again thank you so much for your generosity. You've truly humbled me.

Edited by Steve Chandler (05/20/11 06:24 PM)

#1681692 - 05/20/11 05:03 PM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
beet31425 Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 4169
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Hey Steve--

Following David's link, I've taken a listen to some of your stuff. So far just "Ominosity" and "America the Beautiful". Both pieces are just fantastic.

In "Ominosity" I particularly like the rich harmonic language about a minute in, after the drum roll. Some of those chords made me scrunch up my face. That's a good thing.

I thought there was enough material there to justify a much longer work.

In "America the Beautiful" I particularly liked-- all of it, really. I've heard mediocre settings of known songs to interesting harmonies before-- people should listen to this recording to hear how it's done. Uncle Charlie Ives would have been proud. (Although he might have said "more dissonance, Steve!" smile .)

I'm looking forward to hearing the rest.

Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann

#1681864 - 05/20/11 11:43 PM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York

Well Steve, I'm listening to your music right now, the Rhapsody. I can't enough of it. I have some definite ideas on how I would play it and don't think very much of it lies outside my capabilities. LOL, I have to admit that the electronic sampling of a Bosendorfer 290 does sound authentic. I'm taking a growing liking to Tender7 as well.

Responding publicly to Steve's post as to what I've written here for him, and everyone else, on the eve of my 60th birthday too, Steve spoke of my generosity. O, I think we should all be as generous as we can. We're all in this together.

Going back many years now on this forum and in person in many venues available to me, sharing my experiences with you, having met some remarkable people who happen to be associated with pianos, people like Irving and Sara Faust, Carl Demler and Darrell Fandrich, and just recently Eric Johnson, I've been posting here and building my blog largely in service to music and pianism. It's about the only thing I really believe in sharing with any kind of honest zeal.

Steve says his expertise is not in performing his own works, but to my ears he sounds awfully convincing to me. Even more so the more I listen. He says he's still learning Spring Hop. I can hardly wait to see the music in front of me. Steve said he'd do this for a limited time, implied free of charge. I honestly intend to pay him something. It's only right and just. The fact is that I would have to do the same as I am also a composer, and so would all of you who write music. So I should instead be commending Steve for his generosity. But I'm honestly right now, LOL, “enraptured” by his piano music. (Sorry, you know with the end of the world as we know it set for my birthday, I just couldn't help it. A little Haydn in me!)

Steve said some things about his music that I can also attest to as a composer, and yes I too am OK with that, have to be. Every music has a story behind it, no matter what the composer decides to call it. For the second movement of my third piano sonata, I wrote an elegy for a great American industrial engineer I barely knew but was impressed with, as a soul, who just as suddenly passed away, and I happened to be moved at that time to write it.

It's not always necessary to know what the stories are either. One of the wonders of this art form we adore as music, is that we can make of it whatever resonates in ourselves, and to the extent that is transferable it becomes universal. Yes, I would very much like to perform Steve's music. But, that's to come. First I have to master it. It will express dramatic thoughts, but emotional realism. I also like to play with authority, if that gives you an idea of where I'm coming from. The Rhapsody!

Listening again to Spring Hop and nope, composing is not something I find easy to do either. I'm exactly the same as Steve here; I need good reason (or inspiration) to put notes into my scoring software often from hen scratchings I have on manuscript paper. But once I got up at 4 am with ideas in my head that were irresistible. I didn't know exactly what I was hearing in my mind until I decided to render it as a sonata for flute and piano in the odd key of B major. It took me three days of white heat to get it all down. That's often what happens when I write anything.

Best to all,
David Burton's Blog

#1683073 - 05/23/11 12:50 PM Re: Listening to the music of Steve Chandler [Re: David Burton]
Steve Chandler Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 3218
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
Jason, I'm glad you enjoyed America is Beautiful.

David, you're a very interesting character and you know some greats in the piano field. FWIW I bought my Estonia from Irving's son in-law, Ori.

When it comes to the challenge of composing my problem is that I'm my own worst critic. Every moment of every piece gets questioned. (where were you on the night of the 13th?) But seriously, I go over pieces with a fine toothed comb. Then as I learn the piano pieces I find things I want to do better. For example in Spring Hop you'll find in the music I sent you bars 92-95 are different from the recording (hopefully better). I used to wonder about the many variations in many of Bach's works, no longer. If you take the time to learn Spring Hop please let me know if you prefer C or Cb at that same spot. I couldn't make up my mind and so offered the Cb as an option. In the context of the piece it's a tiny detail, but for me every detail counts.

As for your Sonata, you like to make life difficult for flutists by writing in B major. Did you think about going up a half step to the much easier key of C?


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