One of the things George Ives asked the young Charlie to do was to sing very famous melodies while he accompanied him in a totally different key. He had to hold his own. In this experiment, stretch your own ears by singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in one key while the pianist plays it in another.
George Ives was Danbury’s bandmaster, and he was always trying quirky new musical ideas. One of the most famous was an extreme version of his piano experiments. He had two bands march toward each other, playing different songs in different keys and tempos just so he could hear what would happen when they collided… In this experiment, see for yourself how it sounds when the two different marches collide.
“Father had a kind of natural interest in sounds of every kind, everywhere, known or unknown, measured “as such” or not, and this led him into positions or situations that made some of the townspeople call him a crank…” One of the "crank-like" things George Ives would do was to play his cornet from different spots on the pond, exploring the relationship between distance and sound. This experiment recreates his experiment, playing with the sound of a band on shore and a lone trumpeter playing Taps.
A church organist for many years, Ives was impressed by the power of a simple hymn, especially when sung by a chorus of untrained voices. "I remember, when I was a boy," he said, "when things like … 'The Shining Shore'… and the like were sung by thousands of 'let out' souls. There was power and exaltation in these great conclaves of sound from humanity…"
Ives portrayed his memories as a jumble of seemingly independent sounds, riffs, and tunes, all layered on top of each other. "I wrote this," Ives said of The Fourth of July, "feeling free to remember local things etc., and put in as many feelings and rhythms as I wanted to put together. And I did what I wanted to, quite sure that the thing would never be played, and perhaps could never be played…"
Like his father, Charles liked to replicate the natural way that sound occurred. One of his favorite techniques was to place one or two instruments apart from the rest of the orchestra, as if to capture a fleeting thought from the recesses of one's memory. According to Ives, these instruments "should always be kept at a much lower intensity than the other parts, standing in the background as a kind of shadow to the others…"
“—not memoirs—no one but the President of a nice Bank or a Golf Club, or a dead Prime Minister, can write ‘memoirs’. Many of these things are of no interest to anyone but a stray and distant cousin or so—or to me—sometimes.”
To George Ives, real music was made when people sang. He loved their enthusiasm, and he didn't care that they didn't always hit the pitches just right. One of his favorite experiments was to play a tune on glasses filled with just the right amount of water to make those "inbetween" tones. In this experiment, create your own "inbetween" tones. See how they change the feeling of the tune.
Growing up as the son of a bandleader, Charles Ives was always surrounded by music. He learned early on the power of popular tunes to bring back thoughts of people, places, events, even feelings. One of his favorite techniques was to quote bits of tunes his audience would know to evoke the memories they shared. But many found the way he quoted them quite shocking.