Pandora Radio

Pandora radio has up until now been something I just sort of enjoyed, thought was cool, whatever. We’ve used it on long car trips with the kids to keep everyone entertained. I’ve tried putting it on at work, but every channel I’ve tried (choral radio, symphonic radio, Brahms radio, etc.) has been the kind of thing I had trouble concentrating to; I tend to start listening to the music instead of doing whatever work I am supposed to be doing. (I should have known; it happens all the time, and that’s why I seldom just “listen” to music of any kind. I find it too distracting.)

Then I made a “new age” station.  I could concentrate quite easily to it, but it got really annoying after a while. (Also not surprising; that’s why I seldom listen to new age music.) Just one shade better than white noise. Or maybe not the one shade better. White noise seldom makes me roll my eyes.

I kept trying. Celtic Women radio? Cloying as hell. (My best friend loves them. I keep trying, but it doesn’t quite take.) Beth Nielsen Chapman radio? Pretty, but then they keep sticking Fiona Apple and Sheryl Crow and other much more mainstream artists in there, and if I’d wanted them I would have had a station with their name. And distracting. Bach radio? Ten times worse than Brahms or Beethoven; it makes me think too much. Palestrina radio? Getting closer…

Then, just for the hell of it, I created the Eric Whitacre Radio Station. I think I’m in heaven. They keep throwing me, mixed in with Whitacre’s music, some Part, a little Lauridsen, a Durufle (which I found a little odd; it stuck out like a sore thumb, albeit a lovely one), and even some Russian Orthodox music.

For one thing, I can listen to most of this stuff without getting too distracted, as long as they stay with the slower pieces.  Whitacre and Lauridsen, especially, have that sort of slow harmonic rhythm, whatever else is going on, that at least for me it doesn’t pull the brain too far unless the brain chooses to be pulled.  On the other hand, it’s gloriously beautiful music, so it pulls me only at brief moments, and then I can go back to writing or copying or whatever.  A lot of music is of the squishy-twentieth-century-tonal music variety that’s been very popular for years, that Very English Many Non-Chord Tones Ethereal Transcendent stuff. (And the more English it sounds, the more likely that it was written by an American.) And then there will be this moment of sublimity tossed out at you, like a selection from the Rose Ensemble’s “Fire of the Soul” recording of 17th century Russian and Polish music.

For another thing, and perhaps far more important–it never occurred to me that Pandora could be a fabulous way to familiarize myself with some of the huge portions of the choral repertory I just have sort of missed in the years I’ve spend doing nothing but Catholic sacred music. The recordings.  The ensembles.  The other conductors.

I’ve discovered the Schola Cantorum of San Francisco through these randomly selected pieces Pandora has thrown at me, singing gorgeously enough that I went to find their website–only to discover that their artistic director is an old friend from grad school.  (I can’t say I’m surprised–he was stellar twenty years ago, there’s no reason he would be anything but twenty years more stellar now.) Several other lovely ensembles, too. And familiarizing myself with Whitacre’s work, which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to sing myself. And several very fine pieces by composers I’ve never heard of.

I’m enjoying this…

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