Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More Thanksgiving Music

Here's one more Thanksgiving arrangement that can be played with violin and viola or any combination of treble and bass instruments. You can download a PDF to print here. I wish a wonderful day of Thanksgiving to everyone who visits here!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Music

Most people know this traditional Thanksgiving Hymn as "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," but the piece was originally called "St. George's, Windsor," and was written by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893) who was the organist there. It works very well as a duet for violin and viola.

You can click on the images for a larger view, and a PDF will soon be available on this page of the IMSLP. Here's a note about the piece from the Psalter Hymnal Handbook
George J. Elvey (PHH 48) composed ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR as a setting for James Montgomery's text "Hark! The Song of Jubilee," with which it was published in Edward H. Thorne's Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1858). The tune has been associated with Alford's text since publication of the hymn in the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR is named after the chapel in Windsor, England, where Elvey was organist for forty-seven years.

This serviceable Victorian tune is held together by the rhythmic motive of the opening phrase. Sing the opening stanzas in parts, but sing the prayer of stanza 4 in unison. Use of the descant by C. S. Lang (PHH 253) with stanza 4 may suggest a foretaste of heaven's glory.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Some Cookies

I haven't posted a recipe for a while, so in honor of the upcoming food holiday I'm sharing the recipe for the very best batch of oatmeal raisin cookies I have made to date. I futz around a little with the recipe each time I make them, and after a few months of making them at least once a week, I hit cookie perfection tonight. These cookies are not too sweet, not greasy in the least, very satisfying, and actually probably healthy to eat. [The photo makes them look a lot bigger than they actually are: the wooden board is only about 6 inches long.]

People who have come here from Michael's blog will certainly get the reference in the title, but for those who have found their way to this post by other means, you can get some context here. But don't forget to come back for the recipe!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Find two mixing bowls, a set of measuring cups, and a set of measuring spoons.

Cream 1/2 stick of softened unsalted butter with 3/4 cup brown sugar. Add 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract.

In another bowl mix 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Mix the dry ingredients together and add them to the creamed mixture above. Once everything is incorporated, add 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not the quick-cooking kind) and 1 cup of raisins.

The real secret to cookie baking is using the right pan. The right pan is made by USA Pans. Mine is called a "Half Sheet Pan," but it is pretty much the same as the jelly roll pan in the link above. You flip it upside down and use the bottom as a cookie sheet. I also just noticed that they now have an actual dedicated cookie sheet in their inventory, which I bet is just as good as their half sheet pan.

Make tablespoon-sized balls and flatten them out onto the un-greased cookie sheet. I aim for getting 20 onto one cookie sheet, which is about half the batch, and then I put the remaining dough in a covered container, which I pop into the refrigerator to bake in a couple of days. Or the next day.

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes. Take them out of the oven, but leave them on the cookie sheet for a minute or two. Then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. They will be crispy in about five minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before storing them in a covered container.

Here's a final noble portrait:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Musical Intelligence and School Music Programs

In this article for the new (just up today) magazine CreateSir Anthony Seldon writes about the value of music for children in state schools:
Research shows that self-discipline is a better predictor of success in life than IQ tests – and it has further shown that good character and resilience can be taught at schools, with lifelong benefits. Work at the University of Birmingham Jubilee Centre for Character and Values shows that an undue emphasis on exam passes robs young people of the broad education that schools should be providing.

The argument has been put succinctly by the distinguished educationalist Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard. He says the question that schools should ask is ‘not, how intelligent is this child, but rather, how is this child intelligent?’
As much as I appreciate school music programs, I really believe that it is the teachers and not the programs that make all the difference. Like general education programs in colleges, musical education programs often attract students who are adequate at applying methods to what they teach once the find themselves in school positions, but some are not necessarily good teachers. I have seen too many music teachers make school musical activities uninteresting and even annoying. I have also seen teachers who are excellent musicians themselves turn neglected abused music programs around.

Studying music, particularly the classical kind, is not a way out of economic poverty. Someone who practices like crazy in high school and sets out to make a living in music these days has a good shot at life at or below the poverty level unless s/he acquires the skills necessary to get a day job to support a musical habit. On the other hand someone who has private lessons from a good (and affordable) teacher can bring the values of musical experience into adult life while following a non-professional or semi-professional musical path.

Like everything else in the business of education, what matters most is the ability of the individual teacher to reach the individual student. It can happen in a classroom or in a private studio. This is a slow and steady process that involves commitment on both sides. It is also something that cannot be quantified in any way, because success is different for every single student.

Some students have a lot of intelligence, but they don't pay attention to what they need to do physically on the instrument in order to make a beautiful sound. Some students make lovely sounds, but have difficulty with rhythm. Some students have difficulty opening up emotionally through music. Some students don't have the patience to listen to themselves. Some students don't practice. Some students practice, but hold a lot of tension in their hands. Some students have good enough ears to get away with not reading music. Some students read music well, but have a difficult time thinking beyond the notes and rhythms.

The journey is different for every musician at every stage of the game.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Empowering Musical Thought for the Day

There's much that I cannot control in the world, but I know that when I am practicing I have the ability to control the beginning (including the when and how) of every single note I play, as long as I pay attention and take the time and care to do so.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Russian Music for Viola and Piano Concert November 16th

It's not just Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) who is "neither fish nor fowl." Everyone here has influences from outside of Russia's borders. Even Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) who was born in Kiev, died in Moscow, and spent his entire career in Russia, became immersed with the folk music traditions from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The four Preludes for piano (from Opus 30) are right at home (or perhaps would be better to say appropriately far from home) in this cosmopolitan program.

Alexander Winkler (1865-1935) was born in Besançon, a city near the German border of France, studied law and piano at the University of Kharkiv, and taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He wrote his Viola Sonata in 1902, and dedicated it to Auguste Joung. The final movement is a set of musically-cosmopolitan variations on a song in Breton, a Celtic language spoken in the lower part of Brittany, near the region where Winkler was born.

Paul Juon (1872-1940) was born in Moscow to Swiss parents. After studying with Arensky and Taneyev at the Moscow Conservatory, he left Russia to study in Berlin. He wrote his F minor Sonata, Opus 82 for clarinet and piano in 1923 and dedicated it to the clarinetist Ernst Orlich, who served as the University Rector at the Berlin Technical High School. He probably made the viola transcription for his own use.

Most people who read this blog live far away from Charleston, Illinois, but anyone within driving distance (or walking distance) is welcome to come! We plan to make a recording, so if you can't come would like to hear something from the concert, just let me know.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Supreme State of Bow

Remember the Smothers Brothers and the "Supreme State of Yo?" This video below is set at the right place, just in case this state is new to you.

I have experienced the trance-like state that sets in when I am in the Supreme State of Mow (while mowing the yard, something I actually enjoy, as long as I'm not mowing up hill). When I practice scales or Bach in the morning, I find myself immersed in the Supreme State of Bow.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Rehearsal Rules

"I never trust rules that tell me never to do something." This came blurting out of my mouth during a rehearsal today, and I thought I'd share the sweet irony.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People

I just came across a great book in PDF form by Toby Rush that explains the ways of means of musical notation, harmony, counterpoint, modes, and the forms used in the common practice period. This book is witty, but it is also correct, complete, and straightforward. I'm planning to use these pages with my violin students, and I thought I would share them here.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Meet the Composer II

A while ago I made a post about WQXR's Q2 Podcast called Meet the Composer, and now that I have listened to a few episodes beyond the interview with Caroline Shaw, I'm starting to have issues. I could stew about these issues, or I could write about them. I choose to write.

Nadia Sirota, the host of the show, is a far better violist than I am, and a far better radio host than I was during my time on the air (broadcasting 40 miles in all directions from a college station in a small town in downstate Illinois during the last century). I certainly appreciate what she is doing for the composers she works with in New York, and for new music in general, but I fear that the music she presents on this particular program (at least this year) sounds kind of the same to me. It seems that everything I have heard so far (with few exceptions) is minimalist in nature, and much of the string music seems to exploit the natural harmonic series.

I listened to a great deal of new music when I was a teenager in the 1970s. My first opera was Wozzeck. The first piece I sang in a professional chorus was Stravinsky's Canticum Sacrum. I have a special fondness for the sound of 12-tone music because it reminds me of Tanglewood, where I spent summer after summer attending the Fromm Festival concerts. I wanted to be a composer during the 1970s, but I knew that writing in the 12-tone idiom was not any kind of true expression of who I happened to be. I had no interest in electronics, and never wanted to use rock music as the basis of the music I imagined writing (like my brother Marshall did). As much as I would like to have embraced it, I found minimalist music repetitive and boring. I wanted to write music that meant something to me, and I wanted to write music that would be as moving to me as the music that I loved from the whole of the history of notated music. I couldn't wait for minimalism to die out. By the time I turned 40 I had lots and lots of music to write, so I just started writing.

When I was in my 20s I thought I knew a lot about music. A lot of people thought I knew a lot about music. Through working at the radio station and reading scores and scores of books about music I learned more about music. I eventually learned that I knew very little, and that my narrow-minded views were ridiculous. Perhaps they still are.

I don't believe I really started to learn about music until I reached my 40s and started writing music seriously. Now that I am 55 I feel like a kid in a candy store, because with the hopes of a career behind me, I have the leisure to keep learning new things about music. My experience of music is far deeper than it was when I was in my 20s and 30s, and my understanding of how important it is to get from one note to the next in a meaningful way sometimes yields real results. Sometimes I get, whether writing or playing, from one note to the next in a way that I feel is a true expression of how the music should go.

I do hope that Nadia Sirota ventures out of the envelope she has drawn around her new radio program and finds composers of note (no pun intended) who write in ways that don't simply reflect her personal love of extended techniques, minimalism, the harmonic series, and their spectral sisters. There are a whole lot of people in her parents' generation (like me) and even in her grandparents' generation who are indeed interested in hearing interviews with living composers who write in other ways, even in traditional ways.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Noonday Witch (for Halloween)

When I hosted a radio program that ended at noon, this was my usual selection for the last quarter hour on October 31.

Here's the score.

Here's a synopsis of the story (courtesy of a good Wikipedia article)

A mother warns her son that if he does not behave she will summon the Noon Witch to take him away. He does not behave, and the witch arrives at the stroke of noon. The witch, described as a horrible creature, demands the child. The mother, terrified that the witch has actually come, grabs her son, and the witch begins chasing them. Finally the mother faints, grasping her child. Later that day, the father arrives home, and finds his wife passed out with the dead body of their son in her arms. The mother had accidentally smothered their child, while protecting him from the witch. The story ends with the family's lament over the terrible event.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weighing in on Suzuki

The latest discussions about whether or not Shinichi Suzuki fictionalized his credentials as a violinist make more sense after watching this film clip:

Here's the blog post that started the current ruckus, and a response from 2013 to O'Connor's earlier blog post.

I should mention that there are many excellent alternatives to the Suzuki method, and there are excellent ones that are available for free in the IMSLP. I have always believed that it is the teacher and not the method that makes for a successful musical experience.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rant on Immortality

My mother, who painted the above watercolor, is very much alive, but she no longer paints because she can no longer see. When I told her that I wanted to put her paintings on a blog so that her friends and acquaintances could see her work, she remarked that she wasn't able to get much money for the paintings she sold because she was a living artist. I wonder why is it that after someone dies their work becomes more valuable. It is because there is a finite end to their output? My mother's finite end to her work came when she could no longer see lines and colors, but I believe talking about her work with people enriches her life as well as the lives of people who are able to see it.

Why is it that people so often wait until someone is no longer alive to voice appreciation for a body of work, be it musical, literary, or artistic? Much of our human culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of some kind of afterlife and/or some kind of immortality, but not being a person who believes in an afterlife or immortality, I know that will not derive any pleasure or benefit from having a posthumous career. Many people struggle to get their work known beyond a small circle of friends, but more often than not it isn't until an obituary hits the newspapers or the internet that people in the "outside world" pay attention.

Writing music is only part of music making. A piece of music, no matter who wrote it (or Whom) only comes alive when people play it. A good composer tries to make an interpretation inevitable through the writing, but the composer's input really stops once the music is notated and distributed or published. A piece of music is a gift to musicians of future generations, but once the composer's life is over s/he will never know where it is played, or by whom.

Recordings give an illusion that a person who is no longer alive is somehow present. The larger the musical personality, the more convincing the illusion will be. But it is still an illusion. Recordings give the illusion that someone who is alive but not within earshot is present. Writing is similar. I still find it miraculous that someone's "voice" can be transmitted into another person's head centuries upon centuries after the writer put pen to paper (or knife to tablet). A writer can also transmit his or her written voice instantly to just about anywhere in the world.

A visual artist can capture an image (moving or still) of a time that can never be revisited, but it is just an illusion because no time can be revisited. We move on and unconsciously filter our memories so that we have room for new thoughts. We need visual art to remind us of where we have been, or not been.

All we really have is the present, and we can use the powerful tools of communication we wear on our faces and carry in our pockets to communicate with people we care about in real time. I think that it is important to celebrate the work of the living. They (and we, as long as I am here) are trying to make the present matter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Using a Product Logo as a Teaching Tool

My violin students need to be constantly reminded to keep their left arms under the violin while they are playing. Today, while I was (once again) reminding a pre-teen student to keep her arm under, I noticed that all her clothes had the "Under Armour" logo on them. I drew it in her music to remind her to keep her arm under. Under Armour = Arm Under.

We both laughed. I told her that I would share this idea with other violin teachers on line, so here it is. Remember that you read it here first!

Friday, October 17, 2014


While I was slowly and carefully playing through the last of Bach's English Suites until a few minutes ago, I kept thinking about how many rules of counterpoint Bach breaks, and how often he breaks them. Then it occurred to me that Fux (1660-1741), the guy who wrote the rules of counterpoint as we know them, may have predated Bach by a generation, but he didn't write his Gradus Ad Parnassum until 1725, and by the time Bach could have even gotten his hands on a copy he could no longer see.

I have nothing against Fux. I cut several sets of teeth on Gradus Ad Parnassum. I just had a sudden realization about Bach today, and appreciate his deviations from what is to be expected even more than I did yesterday.