Category Archives: Music

On Tonal Stability and White Fragility: Music Theory’s Gift to the Right


1. Introduction:  Who is Heinrich Schenker?

I’ve been asked by a few people to say something about Phillip Ewell’s article which is roiling the field of Music Theory-nominally my field, something I’ll say something more about later.

Of course, the overwhelming majority who read this blog will have no idea about any of this or have even heard of the major figure in the field against whom Ewell is directing his attacks, Heinrich Schenker. To give you an idea, the folllowing passage Ewell cites in his text should be taken as extreme but by no means unrepresentative of Schenker’s views.

“Hitler’s historical service, of having got rid of Marxism, is something that posterity (including the French, English, and all those who have profited from transgressing against Germany) will celebrate with no less gratitude than the great deeds of the greatest Germans! If only the man were born to music who would similarly get rid of the musical Marxists; that would require that the masses were more in touch with our intrinsically eccentric art, which is something that, however, is and must remain a contradiction in terms. ‘Art’ and ‘the masses’ have never belonged together and never will belong together. And where would one find the huge numbers of musical ‘brownshirts’ that would be needed to hunt down the musical Marxists?”

Continue reading On Tonal Stability and White Fragility: Music Theory’s Gift to the Right

Who Am I?

John Halle

Pianist and composer John Halle’s musical career began in the late 1970s as a jazz musician in San Francisco where he performed with Eddie Henderson, Sonny Stitt, Mark Levine, Freddie Hubbard and many others. He has also performed works by Bach, Beethoven, Ravel and Debussy in Berkeley, New York, Cambridge in solo recitals as well accompanying for his wife, the violinist and violist Marka Gustavsson and his son Benjamin, a double bass player.

A widely performed composer, he is a founding member of the composers collective Common Sense. Halle’s recent works include Amen Choruses, released on violinist Julie Rosenfeld’s Grammy nominated New Music for Violin and Piano, the critically acclaimed Sphere(’s) for the Friction Quartet and, most recently, Street Music for the Mana Sax Quartet. 

A prolific writer on music, politics, and culture, his work has appeared in Current Affairs, Jacobin, New Politics and the New Haven Register.

Halle recently retired from an academic career which included faculty positions at Yale and the Bard College Conservatory of Music. In this capacity, he taught some of the younger generation’s most celebrated composers including winners of the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Awards.

He is currently embarked on a fifteen city tour where he will present and discuss his own works for solo piano as well as works by Bach Debussy and Errol Garner.


Hi everyone,

Here is information for my ultra low budget, DIY, grassroots, (anti)social media enabled whistle stop tour. The question marks indicate cities I will be passing through but where I have yet to arrange a performance venue. If you’d like to help me out by sponsoring me, it’s not hard. All I need is a space (a small hall or medium to largish living room) and a decent piano-preferably in tune (which I’ll pay for). Let’s talk.

If you are in these areas and would like to attend, let me know and I’ll provide you with more information.
(Contact me at halle AT bard DOT edu for more info).

Jan 29: Bronx NY
Feb 1: Syracuse NY (Fundraiser for Bernie Sanders)
Feb 2: Buffalo NY
Feb 4: Cleveland OH/Ann Arbor MI ?
Feb 5: Chicago (house concert)
Feb 6: Chicago: University Illinois, Chicago
Feb 9: Boulder CO Muse Performance Space w/clarinetist, composer Conor Abbott Brown (premier of new work)
Feb 11: Salt Lake City
Feb 14: San Francisco Center for New Music sponsored by the Common Sense Composers Collective
w/ Mana and Friction Quartets/Conor Brown/Bob Kenmotsu
Feb 15: Santa Rosa CA
Feb 16: Sebastopol CA Community Church
Feb 17: Piedmont CA (Piedmont Gardens)
Feb 18: Berkeley CA
Feb 21: Los Angeles/Arcadia CA (Clarke Center)
Feb 23: Tucson AZ
Feb 25: Austin TX?
Feb 26: Little Rock AR?
Feb 28: Columbia MO/University of Missouri
Feb 29: Chicago ?
March 1: Morganstown WV
March 2: Washington, DC  ?
March 3: College Park Maryland/University of Maryland
March 4: NYC /Philadelphia
March 5: Home
March 21: Olive, NY Library Piano Plus Series w/Mana Quartet

Burning Down the House: The Aesthetics of Self-Immolation



According to a recent article in New Music Box “The field of Western classical music  . . . suppresses Black and brown voices.”

By now,  the charge is more than a little familiar to those in the business.

What makes it somewhat relevant to those outside of it is the comparison with this recent news item which I will quote in its entirety:

An Ohio jury on Friday slapped Oberlin College with an $11.2 million damages penalty for siding with three black students who had claimed they were victims of racial profiling after they were caught shoplifting in 2016, a report said.

The liberal arts college must pay the massive compensatory damages award to the family-owned Gibson’s Bakery, where the three students had been arrested for attempting to steal or buy alcohol with a false ID.

The arrests were met with massive protests by students and faculty at the school.

During the protests, the Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, drew up a flyer, claiming Gibson’s had a history of racial profiling, the Chronicle-Telegram reported.

The flyer also urged students to boycott the bakery, the Chronicle-Telegram reported.

The students pleaded guilty to the attempted theft in 2017 and admitted in court they were not racially profiled.

The $11.2 million award could triple in a hearing next week on punitive damages, according to the report.


Continue reading Burning Down the House: The Aesthetics of Self-Immolation

Amen Choruses (2016) for Violin and Piano

Julie Rosenfeld and John Halle


Julie Rosenfeld (violin); Peter Miyamoto (piano) ALBANY 1717 

amen.choruses.recording - Score

Download the score:

Amen Choruses/piano
Download the violin part:
Amen Choruses/violin


Amen Choruses . . .  starts off as a free-wheeling exploration of a jazz gesture, with the repetitions of fragments at first hinting at that idea of “post-Minimalism.” It is more complex than that, though. A glorious, and fun, stream of consciousness on the “Amen Cadence” is heard at the end of gospel or soul jazz classics of the 1950s; a central darkening, with the violin musing over subterranean piano grumblings, offers contrast. Rosenfeld’s stopping is impeccable, as is, compositionally, the structuring of the piece, which leads us with seeming inevitability up hill and down dale.

Performing Arts Review:

John Halle’s Amen Choruses (2016)is immediately accessible to the listener, a gauzy jazz temperament lending subtle, gospel ambiance to its uplifting mission,

American Record Guide:

John Halle’s Amen Choruses is summertime Americana at its best: sumptuous and laidback, with plenty of blue notes and dapper swagger.


Area Man Turns 60. Will No Longer Tell People What to Do


Area Man Turns 60. Will No Longer Tell People What to Do


3/24/19 12:30 PM

Red Hook, NY—Declaring that upon reaching the age of sixty he would no longer tell people what to do, Bard College Conservatory Music Theory Professor John Halle announced an event to ambivalently commemorate the occasion.  Others are invited to join him.

The event will take place at the Bito Auditorium of Bard Conservatory at 12:30 P.M  (Please note: TIME CHANGE!) on March 24th.   Attendees are invited to a reception at his house in Red Hook beginning at approximately 3 PM.

Former and current students, colleagues, friends and acquaintances are encouraged to participate by contributing a performance of a piece of their own or others, readings of 19thcentury anarchist tracts, obscure monographs on the philosophy of language or epistemology. Also welcomed are polemics attacking or defending the core premises of Halle’s politics and aesthetics, insofar as these are understood.

A selection of Halle’s works from 1982 to 2019 will be performed by Halle at the event.

These will include Invisible Hand (1996), a quintet, featuring trumpeter Hugo Moreno, alto saxist Adam Siegel, bassist Nick Edwards and percussionist David Stevens.   Two solo piano works will follow, Standard Deviations I (1983) and Towerology (2019) written for Halle’s colleague and friend composer Joan Tower,  Then, two ragtime pieces Rozology (2002) and Bookend (2011) will display  the talents of violinist Matthew Woodard and violist Marka Gustavsson.  The final piece,  Many Returns (2005) will feature Marka and the violinist Helen Baille.

Asked why he will no longer tell people what to do, Halle responded, “because there are better ways of getting things done.”

He (and Marka and Ben) hope to see you all.

(RSVP to [email protected]).



Sanders, “Disgusting” and “Pushy”. I am “Scum”: A Pulitzer Winner Speaks

My continuing support for the policies associated with Bernie Sanders and the movement which developed from his campaign is known to most of my acquaintances.

Nor is it lost on me that many of them disagree with me, something which occasionally becomes apparent when we comment on each other’s Facebook threads.

One instance occurred yesterday, provoked by a friend (a real “meat space” as opposed to virtual friend) having circulated on Facebook the long standing criticism that Sanders’s support is limited to whites. I took issue in a comment posting results from a recent Gallup poll.

As the numbers indicate, the reality is the exact opposite of what my friend and other Sanders detractors assume to be the case: Sanders is overwhelmingly popular with non-white voters and only marginally popular with whites.

My making this observation provoked some pushback from another commenter-a friend of my friend. Typical of much internet discourse, he didn’t dispute the data presented in my post (which consisted only of that), but simply issued a one word dismissal of Sanders as “disgusting.”

I responded by reposting the same word including underneath it pictures of Sanders getting arrested at a civil rights demonstration in the early sixties


and that of Clinton (this commenter’s preferred candidate in 2016) appearing at Donald Trump’s wedding.

 “not disgusting”

The discussion devolved from there, as might be expected, ultimately leading to the commenter characterizing Sanders as “pushy” for delivering his own state of the union response (as he has done for the past three years).

For a child of a holocaust survivor that set off alarm bells.
“A pushy jew,” I commented. “Charming.”

Unsurprisingly this resulted in a freak out and his blocking of me, though not before his referring to me as “scum,” a designation I welcomed coming from a self-identified antisemite.


Two comments on this exchange seem worth making.

First, the poster in question was not, unlike myself, a random internet nobody but someone who would be uncontroversially characterized as a media elite. Indeed, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner, having been employed for many years at the Washington Post among other prestigious outlets.

This should not come as a surprise: mainstream, corporate media contempt, indeed, sheer hatred for Sanders has been obvious since his 2016 campaign began to pick up steam, anyone not recognizing it by this point being willfully blind. So universal is the hatred for Sanders among the elite media class that the poster simply assumed that he could issue his one word attack and receive universal approval in the comment thread. When I failed to deliver it, he referred to me as not being “house broken.”

Again, that’s an entirely accurate description, one which I proudly accept-I may put it on my tombstone. And that brings me to the second point which is that the individual’s work is as a classical music critic and here again, we shouldn’t be surprised. This is, after all, the musical genre most closely associated with social, economic and cultural elites. That they fear and disdain the political figure directly targeting the system through which they accumulate wealth and privilege and who threatens their ability to exercise it is a virtual law of political physics.

While it’s not pleasant to have to confront the venom which they can be counted on to spew in unguarded moments, it’s useful for them to reveal the intensity of their hatred and for all of us to recognize the interests they serve.

Fred Lerdahl’s Achievement

Introduction to Fred Lerdahl:
Tonal Space, Text Setting, and Musical Narrative

Schoff Memorial Lecture Series

Columbia University

November 26, 2018

As he mentioned in last week’s Schoff lecture, Fred’s magnum opus, the Generative Theory of Tonal Music (or GTTM) had its roots in Bernstein’s Harvard Norton Lectures of 1973 later published as The Unanswered Question. Bernstein was a celebrity, perhaps the last which classical music was able to produce, so these were major cultural and intellectual events. I attended along with Fred and his eventual collaborator on GTTM Ray Jackendoff and probably several thousand others.

I was 14 at the time and while I didn’t know Fred, I did know Ray who, as an MIT graduate student in my father’s department, assumed the status of something like a cousin, as many did, routinely joining us for meals and celebrating holidays with us. An accomplished clarinetist and active freelancer in and around Boston, Ray’s performances of Stravinsky Three Pieces for solo clarinet were revelatory for me as was his post-performance discussion of the perceptual ambiguities resulting from the shifting meters and how performers can choose to resolve these-or not.

Given that some of my initial exposure to sophisticated ideas about music came from a linguist, it makes sense that my initial understanding of linguistics would be channeled by Bernstein through music. Bernstein’s command of the field was significantly impoverished, as many, including Ray and my father, noted at the time.  But it did at least invoke some of the core vocabulary and, most importantly, managed to communicate something which is to this day not well understood: that long standing mysteries about the nature of language were finally being addressed or at least coherently formulated in the hallways of MIT building 20.

Continue reading Fred Lerdahl’s Achievement