by Anne Carlini
|Title – Secular Rituals
Artist – Wayne Alpern
For those not in the know, Secular Rituals — recurrent patterns of normative behavior imposing order and form upon the abyss, celebrating the regulated, the named, and the explained — create the illusion of purpose and meaning in our lives.
These routines conceal the “made-up-ness” of culture, its malleability and alterability. Through formality and repetition, they seek to convince us the cosmos, or some small part of it, is orderly and explicable.
They help us navigate the rough and tumble of everyday life, the whimsicality of choice, and the multiplicities of daily contradictions.
Secular Rituals veil the ultimate disorder, the non-order, which is the unconceptualized, unformed chaos underlying existence. Lurking beneath this confident clarity is the secret fear we might encounter ourselves making up our own reality. We may come to recognize truth as our arbitrary construct, invented by mortals.
Like dramas on the stage of life, these unconscious patterns epitomize the artificiality of convention, yet paradoxically they are designed to perpetuate it. Music, like all Secular Rituals, perhaps the most distilled, is precisely such a dream: the illusion of form against indeterminacy.
Wayne Alpern is a New York City composer, arranger, and scholar who integrates popular and jazz idioms with classical techniques and repertoire to create a sophisticated contemporary style of cross-genre, or even post-genre music.
After years of composing complex new music, he embraced his personal history and indigenous musical culture and fused them with his classical background and training.
His work includes numerous jazz arrangements, string quartets, woodwind and brass quintets, mixed ensembles, pieces for string orchestra, and several piano works.
His brand new album, Secular Rituals (out now) continues to celebrate his skills at composing and performing, for here on this new recording all instruments are performed by Alpern.
The tracks, all composed and performed by Alpern, open with the translucent energies of Utopia and the manic, yet controlled drum track Victims of Venom, and then comes the ’80s-esque, synth-laden atmosphere of Millennium, the diaphanous gossamer of Schenker’s Dream, and then we get the funky beats and Eastern rhythms of Gomoa Fetta brought forth.
The album continues onward with one of my own personal favorites, the at times delicately thin, at others ready to burst forth tones of Brave Art, which is itself followed by a flashback to those late night, smoky underground jazz clubs within the twinkling piano and percussional work of Sista Re, with the industrially effervescent Bach CmP and the ornateness of Afterglow are along next, the album rounding out on the static funk grooves of Triangularity, coming to a close on the Eastern-imbibed, lovingly swathed even, Vishvakarma.
Alpern’s innovative compositions, recompositions, and rearrangements have been performed and recorded by distinguished artists from diverse musical traditions. A native of Detroit immersed in the Motown sound, he studied at Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Yale University, and City University of New York, with additional work at Harvard, Juilliard, Wesleyan, and University of Pennsylvania.
His musical scholarship and theoretical expertise focuses on Schenkerian analysis and 20th-century music. He holds a law degree from Yale Law School and practiced civil litigation for nearly twenty years. He taught at Mannes College of Music, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and Cardozo Law School, worked at General Music Publishing, United Artists Music Publishing, and was Steve Reich’s editor.
He is President and owner of Henri Elkan Music Publishing, Inc. and a lifetime member of the Society for Music Theory and American Musicological Society. He has lectured extensively in North America, Europe, and Russia.
In his capacity as Founder and Director of the internationally acclaimed Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory, Alpern received the highly coveted Society for Music Theory Honorary Lifetime Membership Award recognizing his “substantial and longstanding accomplishments distinguishing the recipient and our discipline through his many good works on behalf of his fellow scholars and students of music theory for our collective benefit.”