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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

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October 21, 2005

Noble Accents

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

My response to the music making of eighth blackbird feels a lot like my affection for them—intense and multilayered—so it’s hard to tease apart just one strand of our Saint Paul Sunday experiences with them here.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these six is the soundworld they charted for themselves in the first place, now almost a decade ago. It makes perfect sense to me that they took their name from stanzas by Wallace Stevens, a poet who carved realms of new possibility out of the apparently depleted material he’d inherited.

Putting this week’s show together was itself a little like composing, maybe even a little more like choreography. Wherever eighth blackbird goes, it hauls a vast complement of percussion instruments. Once they’re arranged, Matt Duvall stands in the heart of them like a sorcerer in a magic wood, beckoning sounds at the precisely right moments, regardless of the contortions it puts him through. But Matt’s not the only athlete/poet in the bunch—each of the others channels the ensemble's demanding repertoire with physical as well emotional artistry. And for this program’s final work, "Split Horizon," composer David Schober joins Lisa at the piano, occasionally darting behind her to smash a bass drum.

You won’t see this clockwork interaction on the radio, of course, but you’ll hear, among other miracles, the beauty of inflections and the beauty of innuendoes.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at October 21, 2005 4:22 PM



PS: You can read the complete text of Wallace Stevens's poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, along with audio selections of Thomas Albert's composition 'Thirteen Ways' performed by eighth blackbird here:


By Vaughn Ormseth at October 22, 2005 12:53 PM


I was on the way to a wedding gig today (oct 23rd), when I tuned in to st. paul sunday. I had to pull the car over and give my total attention to 8th black bird. It's very rare to hear modern music performed at the highest level. Every aspect covered: Scores, players and recording engineers! Great to know that living composers have such powerful and articulate allies!

ps- i was late to the gig, but what a way to go!

By john at October 23, 2005 9:32 PM


My own take on the music 8th Blackbird plays is that is has no legs. I doubt it will survive the period surrounding its immediate creation and likely will have no lasting place in the canon of 20th and 21st century works. Is this stuff going to be played in a hundred years? Who knows, but I doubt it. Very little of it speaks to the soul. Mostly these pieces are compositional tricks that may puzzle or startle when first heard, but that's all they do. An outlandish joke does the same.

That said, I did like one piece on today's program: the final piece, written by one of the members. I detected influences of Shostakovich and Messien.

For listeners who want to hear "new" music, only recently discovered, I suggest you get the CD just released of Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane. Recorded in '57 at Carnegie Hall and only discovered at the Library of Congress this year, it's a masterpiece. The music rolls, flys, soars, and speaks to your heart and delights your soul. Simply, it makes you happy to be alive.

John Niesyn

By John Niesyn at October 23, 2005 10:21 PM


Saint Paul Sunday is one of my favorite shows, but the Eighth Blackbird was over-the-top exciting. I hope we hear more. Daniel Kellog is a composer that is someone to watch carefully. He was in Sioux Falls a couple of weeks ago and will return in January I think--maybe it is an opportunity for SPS to do a feature of his work.

By Alan Bender at October 25, 2005 9:08 AM


I just saw Niesyn's comment when I posted and I aggree with his comment about the work of John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk, although I don't think it precludes any future success of Eighth Blackbird and Dan Kellogg.

Coltrane is a strong influence on my poetry. Using words interactions like an instrumentals instead of as a lyric.

By Alan Bender at October 25, 2005 9:19 AM


Thank you for such a great show dedicated to new music. I am a professional musician and thus realize that I might have specialized tastes, but new music is TERRIBLY under represented on air. Eighth Blackbird is AMAZING!! I knew Nick (the cellist) from youth orchestra and it's great to see him and the group doing so well.

I disagree with Mr. Niesyn's analysis of the works being a series of compositional tricks and the music not speaking to the soul. I've played plenty of new music, and listened to tons more. While at first the sounds may seem odd or downright ugly, some may say the same about some of Coltrane's later solos. But with more exposure, one develops a listening vocabulary and greater depth of understanding for the musical soundscapes of these works or of a particular style. Personally, I was memorized by Chen Yi's work which spoke directly to my soul.

The greatest thing about this show, besides the IMMACULATE playing by eighth blackbird, is that they discussed and explained what was going on - giving the listener the possibility of a deeper understanding. Fantastic job to all!

Listening from Portland, Maine.

By Yasmin Craig at October 25, 2005 8:57 PM


Thank you all very much for your wonderful comments--knowing that what we're doing is having an impact is what keeps us going.

Yasmin: Great to hear from you---I definitely remember you! I googled you---glad to see you're doing well in Portland, and your time in Turkey sounds pretty amazing. Hope to see you at a concert soon!

Nicholas Photinos,
eighth blackbird

By Nicholas Photinos at November 8, 2005 10:40 AM


Just read people's comments and feel compelled to add the P.O.V. of a non-professional musician & casual classical listener. This is the ONLY new "classical" music I have heard that I even get, much less respond emotionally to. By "new" I guess I mean post-Bartok. 8th Blackbird's music is certainly at times puzzling and startling and strange, but WONDERFULLY so. I can hear their love for this music in the way they play it. Maybe it "has no legs", but it sure has somethin'!

By Forest McDonald at May 31, 2006 9:26 AM