Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Polyphony

A bewigged quartet of musicians I drew for my pals at the good ol’ Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh some years ago. Did Alcuin have any idea his invention would eventually come to this?

It wasn’t long before musicians figured out they could use notation to write several tunes into the same song: tunes that harmonize with or play against the main tune and enrich it. This is called polyphony.

Alcuin’s invention makes it possible to write fugues and symphonies and operas with parts for an entire orchestra of musical instruments and many human voices. Other cultures nowadays may write and perform symphonies, but they couldn’t do it without Alcuin and Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.

Here are a couple of quick explanations of how musical notation works:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN41d7Txcq0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFaKNR7eeJk
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/dec/17/polyphonic-music-fragment-origins-rewritten
Mediæval music manuscripts are a lovely combination of lettering and notes. https://sites.google.com/a/umich.edu/from-tablet-to-tablet/final-projects/music-in-medieval-manuscripts
https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=44459
Here are the Mediæval Bæbes to show us what the Middle Ages sounded like—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXrdfTSLWCY
Likewise Carlo Gesualdo (he’s the composer; I can’t find who performed the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday in this recording)—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjXQeuO0fLw
You sure can’t beat the Tallis Scholars—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4VoKso5ERI
Girls could play the game, too. In the 1100s, divinely-inspired Sister Hildegard von Bingen created this music—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YTOiJ-zjP0
Eventually (ad 1700s—see the sketch above) we got Johanne Sebastian Bach writing stuff like this. I believe the bottom staff has the main tune while the top staff has all the deedle-deedle-deedle (I don’t know how to read music so maybe a musically-literate reader can help me out): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCL5Zvnt0TU
A couple centuries later—you can hear and see the different lines of music played here, in Khachaturian’s gorgeous adagio from Spartacus (this piece brings me to tears every time): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXsDsLHasWo
Here’s what 20th-century New York City sounded like. This is a 1940s Hollywood recreation of the 1924 debut of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, but that sure looks like Paul Whiteman at the podium. The piano plays the main tune; the orchestra plays the variations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAuTouBhN5k

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

The Big River

The Erie Canal opened travel east-west from New York City to the Great Lakes, Ohio and the American MidWest. What if you wanted to travel north or south? Further west, there was a ready-made natural waterway for travel north-south: the Mississippi River. From Minnesota, The Mississippi flows through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where she empties into the Gulf of Mexico. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania you can travel the Ohio River to the Mississippi (as Lewis & Clark did). Likewise, you can start from North Dakota and take the Missouri River to the Mississippi. The Arkansas and Tennessee Rivers also feed the Mississippi.

One big difference between a river and a canal: a canal doesn’t have a current. The Mississippi River flows south, so for a long time most of the travel on it was southbound. Poling your boat north against the current is nearly impossible. Probably teams of animals or humans—slaves—were harnessed to a cable and struggled along a towpath to ‘tote that barge’ northward. It was exhausting, backbreaking labor.

Mississippi River


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barge_Haulers_on_the_Volga
Paul Robeson—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s
William Warfield—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSzYRo9j7YM

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Twelfth Night

Once again I had the honor of creating an image for Pittsburgh Public Theater‘s season brochure. For Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, designer Paul Schifino asked me to focus first on the title lettering rather than images from the play.

I generated a bunch of rough sketches, first fooling around with different lettering styles. We added elements of the story to the type, like a pair of yellow stockings and roses. One character sends another a forged love-note and I used that motif in one of the treatments. The client picked out two favorites and I drew two tight sketches based on those. I created separate components for the winning image: lettering was done in ink on a light box and the notepaper and roses were painted as another piece.

You can find the entire 2016/2017 season brochure here. Twelfth Night is on pages 8/9.

A great old truck

My friend Tim is a landscaper in Mars, Pa, and owns this wonderful 1950s Ford truck.  It still runs but needs a bit of, ah, cosmetic repair in one or two spots.  Yes, that’s a fender in the bed.  I confess: I covet it and would love to have one of my own someday. 

Tim’s truck found its way into Peter Spit A Seed At Sue.  Here it is with a guy selling watermelons out of the back.  The street is Stanton Avenue in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood where I used to live.

Chaos in Market Square

From Peter Spit A Seed At Sue, a painting in progress:

I’ve set the scene in Pittsburgh’s Market Square.  If you look closely you’ll see the location photos I shot.  I used them to help me design a setting that would be recognizable from a variety of different vantage points.  The pie-wielding mayor is a caricature of Mrs Dittman, the principal of Allen Road Elementary School while I attended.