Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Accidental Archivist: a Ramble

By first week of August it became clear to me that I would no longer be teaching music appreciation at Lake Land College. The single course that I had left did not have enough students to warrant the meagre salary that I made as an adjunct. I could see that this lack of interest in music appreciation was not going to turn around, so I took the plunge and purged my file cabinet of music appreciation course notes. I thought it would be nice to use the space for something useful.

On August 9th I got the call about my brother's accident, and on the 10th Michael and I found ourselves in Horse Cave Kentucky emptying my mother's belongings and Marshall's belongings into our car. Marshall's mission was to remove our mother's paintings and family stuff from her apartment so that when the time comes to sell it we won't have to worry about getting things out in a hurry. Marshall did this all with our mother's blessing (she is in a care facility), and he told her that he wanted to arrange for her paintings to be exhibited. My thought was to use the photographs our mother took of her work (which she had previously given to Marshall) to make a blog.

Perhaps I inherited the gene for archiving from my mother. Before she lost her vision her files were beautifully organized. After she lost her vision all that organization was worthless. She is proud of her work as an artist, and took pains to preserve it while she could. In the set of slides she gave Marshall was also the work that she had sold.

I spent the endless days of Marshall's stay in Intensive Care going through letters and photos, and I distributed photos digitally to family members. I also went through Marshall's laptop and extracted PDF files from his Sibelius files, which I put into the IMSLP. It is oddly ironic (perhaps the height of irony, considering the circumstances) that in July a violist friend who is getting her doctorate in library science asked me about the idea of doing her dissertation on my music. I suggested that it might be more interesting to do something about our family, and I told her about Marshall's claim to being the second most prolific writer of viola music (Rolla is the first). Then there's my father; I'm always interested in getting people who don't know him to realize what a great player and musical thinker he is. My friend changed her plan, and opted instead for an admirable project concerning the viola music that people had written for Emanuel Vardi.

I became Marshall's archivist, at least for the music that was available to me digitally. I hope that some real archivists will take care of his manuscripts and make them available as PDF files in the IMSLP.

I am in the process of archiving my mother's work. I have photographed the paintings Marshall had in the van he was driving, along with paintings that we had hanging on our walls (which I have replaced with paintings of hers that I hadn't seen before). You can see all her work here. Some of her paintings are really nice, but all of them show her love of painting, and I enjoy seeing that love. I am grateful that I am "wired" to derive feelings of love from works of art and pieces of music. Archiving and sharing our mother's work has helped me through a lot of grief.

Tonight I take the overnight train to Memphis for Marshall's memorial service, and I will be bringing back more family stuff, including that box of slides of all my mother's work, which I will digitize and add to her blog.

Where am I in all of this? For more than a month I have felt like the center of a wheel, constantly reaching out in all directions. It has helped in some ways to expend my energy outward during this time of fresh grief, but ultimately it is emotionally unhealthy for a creative person to get into the habit of living through others. Unlike a real archivist, the work of archiving does not give me pleasure.

One thing has lead to another in our household, and I have been using the time I would be preparing classes and teaching to do some serious house cleaning (yes, it is a bit obsessive). The other day I spied a box in one closet marked "Elaine's Pre-1988 Files." The box contained an accordion file full of letters from friends I corresponded with during my years in Austria, Hong Kong, Boston, and my first years here in Illinois. There were hundreds of letters. I didn't organize them, but I did store them safely in high-quality plastic. There were other pieces of a life I hadn't thought about in a long time in that box as well.

Now I have finally started organizing my music. I did it once, back in 1985 when we moved to Illinois. I made some wooden window boxes with file hangers in them, and that's where I kept my music. A few years later we bought a nice big legal-sized file cabinet, and I blindly transferred those files to the cabinet. After I knew I would no longer be practicing my flute music (which I gave away), I organized my violin music in that file cabinet, but during the past 20 years my music has migrated into various camps all over the house. My father's music was still in the plastic crates I used to move it from Newton to Illinois. Too much of my music sat everywhere, and in various stages of disorder.

I love thinking about the fact that one of these days it will no longer be in disorder. I love the fact that once this is over I will have a clear path to get on with my real work, cleaning up intonation and articulation, and getting rid of wrong notes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Orange Crate Art is Ten Years Old!

Happy 10th Birthday, Orange Crate Art!

Michael's wonderfully entertaining and often informative blog began ten years ago today.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The WTC and Me: My First Journey Through Both Books

Sometime during my childhood my father bought a Henle Edition of both books of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. I imagine he bought it in England because its price was indicated in pounds, and I believe it was used because there is handwriting in it that doesn't look like it belongs to anyone in our family.

My younger brother Richard studied piano all through his childhood, and these books were always on the piano. My older brother Marshall claimed one of the fugues as his "own" (the E minor in the second book), so I picked the D minor Fugue from the second book as "mine." I plunked it out as well as I could at the time: my eyes bouncing between the music and my fingers. Richard didn't do much in the way of piano playing after he graduated from high school, so his music went into the music room of my father's house, which is in the basement.

The basement flooded in 1979, and I believe that the water damage on the covers happened as a result of that flood:

A few years ago my father told me that I could have whatever music I wanted from the basement, so, in addition to tons of chamber music, I loaded a few boxes with a lot of my brother's piano music. After my slow journey through Richard's books of Haydn, Mozart, some Chopin, and some Beethoven, I decided it was time to go through the Well-Tempered Clavier from beginning to end. I started sometime in June, and I finished this evening. It was a profound experience, and before I turn around and start the whole thing again, I thought I'd mark the event with some observations.

My friend Danny Morganstern is reading Jan Swafford's new book about Beethoven (I'm waiting until I can get my hands on a library copy). Beethoven's teacher, according to Swafford, was from Leipzig. He taught Beethoven to play the piano using the WTC so that Beethoven would be able to play in every key. That is sound teaching. That's kind of what I thought I would get out of it too, but I learned through experience that one of Bach's points seems to be to leave the home key as many times as possible, and go off into adventurous places before returning to the home key in extremely clever and highly rewarding ways. Double sharps abound even in keys that don't have many sharps in their key signatures. Every one of the 48 Preludes and Fugues is unique.

I think that Bach wrote these preludes and fugues to offer possibilities in music that were not part of the normal musical practices of the day. Most non-keyboard instruments were severely restricted in their key possibilities, even after tempered tuning was invented. The majority of pieces for violin, with or without keyboard from the 17th and 18th centuries (and even in the 19th, but that's past Bach's time) are in keys that stay within three or four flats and sharps. Wind music from Bach's time is also quite restricted. Three flats is pushing it for clear intonation and fast fingering on the baroque flute, and music with three sharps is both difficult to finger and get in tune on the alto recorder. I do not play the baroque versions of other wind instruments, but I imagine that without keys (or with just minimal keys) they suffer the same difficulties as the flute and the recorder. In this work Bach got gave himself the chance to explore the strange new musical worlds (and there are moments that are pretty strange) that happen in between the keys that all the rest of the world lives in.

My first journey through the WTC was filled with all sorts of emotional highs and lows. While we were all waiting to see if Marshall would survive his accident, I was near the end of the first book. The B-minor Prelude and Fugue that ends Book One is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written (even by the standards of its WTC company). Playing it helped me a great deal. By the time I reached the E-minor Fugue in the second book, my brother was no longer alive. It was difficult for me to play it. It was difficult because it is difficult, it was difficult because it was Marshall's "property," and it was difficult because my experience with Marshall as my brother was now something that could only exist in memory. It will still always be "his fugue."

I'm hoping that my next journey through the WTC will offer fewer reasons to seek out Bach for solace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sid Caesar "plays" the Grieg Piano Concerto

Part of the charm of this is the way Caesar responds to the musical shenanigans of Earl Wild, the pianist who is actually doing the playing, and the audience's response.

Friday, September 05, 2014

How to be a Successful Chamber Musician in the 21st Century

From a chamber music coaching session given by a very prominent (and very successful) 21st-century musician:
“Anything that sounds like melody, make it rhythmic; anything that sounds like harmony, make it rhythmic . . . anything that sounds rhythmic, make it melodic. Contradict all the traditional roles that any one of you may have.”
That just about sums it up.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

So much information, so little guidance

I was discussing the relative merits of the IMSLP with my non-computer-using father, and he pointed out that from what he has seen (i.e. what I have shown him), it has long lists of composers without any means of distinguishing the quality of one from the quality of the other. The library is excellent for looking up pieces by composers you already know or finding pieces for a particular instrumentation or from a particular country, but separating the great from the good in the IMSLP does indeed take considerable time, considerable knowledge, and considerable skill. Like any physical library, you really don't know what you have unless you remove a book from a shelf and begin to read.

Unlike a dipping into a physical library of books, reading music is a specialized skill. Consider the plight of a person fluent in a Germanic or Romance language or two being asked to separate the great from the good (or the lousy) in a library that only had books in Asian languages. That is akin to the plight of a person who is unable to read music trying to evaluate what s/he finds in the IMSLP.

The ability to separate the great from the good (and the good from the lousy) really requires a person to play pieces of music in real time. Keyboard music and songs with keyboard accompaniment can be played and evaluated by a single person, but many pieces can only really be evaluated by getting a group of people together and reading the music. That requires logistics, as well as the "carrot" of something wonderful like Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, or Schubert to get the most out of the experience of actually playing together.

I have found some great music in the IMSLP. I have tried to get people interested in music I have found in the IMSLP by way of my blog, or by telling friends about it. Some people follow through, and some people do not. I have a feeling that some people see no hurry to follow through because they understand that the music will always be available from anywhere for free. Sometimes not being in a hurry translates into never getting around to it.

I am very lucky that my pianist friend, John David, loves to read through lesser-known pieces he finds on the ISMLP (and through interlibrary loan). He has always been interested in off-the-beaten-path music, so the IMSLP is a perfect playground for him. We get a particular kick out of performing our "finds" for dozens of people who marvel at the fact that they never knew about any of the composers we "dig up" (with the press of a button or two).

There's the huge amount of new music being written every day, the difficulty of finding places to play (with a decent piano) and audiences to play for, and the dearth of musically-literate journalists to write honestly about what they hear increases the effort of playing new music. Dedicated music journalists (reviewers), along with publishers (from the days when publishers were the main way music was distributed), were the trusted musical "gatekeepers." I'm not exactly sure who the "gatekeepers" are these days, but I have observed that they are often associated with "legitimate" publications, both online and in print. When I say (or really write) something as a reviewer for the American Record Guide (and I have had several CD reviews in every issue during the last 25 or so years), people tend to pay attention. When I write something as the keeper of this blog (which will be ten years old in February), people tend to think of me as a potential buyer for one of their products or services.

Now that we have this unheard of amount of musical material at our fingertips (literally), and we have more people than ever with the technical ability to play it, we need more in the way of specialized music education to help organize it, and more people willing to devote resources towards performing it. But reality rears its ugly head, and college classes in music appreciation are being eliminated because students are not interested in spending their time and money learning about music that doesn't matter to them already. Those who do have an interest in such things will just have to learn on their own.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Surprise Bonbons from California!

There's more to Sonoma County than wine. The young people there make good music. What a treat it was to find this on YouTube!

California Summer Music 2014 Chamber Music Finale
Sonoma State University - Green Music Center
Noah L. and Darius Soo Hoo, Violins,
Sean O., Cello]

Monday, September 01, 2014

Marshall Fine's Musical Assumptions

As I learned music, I gradually observed that my experiments with alternate key levels and hierarchies, as basis for my own handling of tonalities and even tone-rows, lent themselves better to triple periods than double. It appears that I may have discovered a basic new truth, which all these examples demonstrate: that just as double periodicity was necessary to accommodate music based on an ascendant tonic and dominant (or dominant-substitute), triple or greater periodicity is the new wineskin for the fresh wine, music of expanded tonality and rhythmic scope. The chances are excellent that a phrase of modern music, that on the surface appears to lead nowhere due to a "free-flowing" character, or otherwise lies uncertainly or ambiguously, will come clean when considered a multiple period.

-- from Marshall Fine's Phrasing Handbook
I am very impressed with my brother's Phrasing Handbook because of the concise way he contextualizes music from the Middle Ages through the 21st century. It is 77 pages long, carefully written, and makes a great deal of sense.

My brother did have the sharpest ears I ever encountered, even in a family full of people with absolute pitch (our mother, our maternal grandmother, our paternal grandfather, and two brothers), and near absolute pitch (our father). I did not inherit absolute pitch (and boy did I try to develop it). I really felt somewhat handicapped as a child because of my lack of absolute pitch. The very young Marshall, when asked, could play anything he happened to have heard on the piano: even something as complicated as the opening of Tristan. It was truly astounding.

It is really rare to read a contemporary "take" on music history from the standpoint of someone who hears at such a high level. Too much scholarly writing approaches music history from the intellectual side rather than from the practical side.

I think that this handbook might really be helpful to people who want to understand something about the "why" of phrasing.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Getting Better"

This is today's picture on my mother's art blog. She made it in 1992, and I imagine that the title "Getting Better" refers to her watercolor technique. But it also has a lot of personal meaning for me right now, and I imagine that it might have meaning for other people as well. Grief is a complicated process that seems to happen in dreams as well as in waking private dialogue (or, more correctly, monologue). But I am getting better, and my family is getting better.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It Brings Me to My Happy Place

I had a magical day in Mattoon, Illinois, today. While waiting for some work to be done on our car, I went to the local mall and visited the new fabric store for the first time. What a pleasure it is to go into a store where everyone there is just brimming with possible ways of expressing themselves. It is a brand new store, so most of the people were there were also in it for the first time.

I sat down at a table covered with pattern books and remarked to the person sitting across from me (a woman around my mother's age) how nice it was to be in such a place, and to have it in town. Then we began talking about anything and everything for about two hours (it turns out that her late husband was a local band director, and she had been to our last Summer Strings concert). She drove me to my arranged coffee rendezvous (which was brief, but lovely), and then I went to play for a class of fourth graders at a local elementary school.

It was an exceptionally bright and engaged class of kids. I talked about the viola and played them some Bach. Then I opened the floor for questions, which turned immediately into requests: cowboy songs, songs from movies, themes from video games, Beatles tunes, and Christmas carols. They sang along, and some kids even got up and danced.

One girl asked me if I knew anything from Sleeping Beauty, so I played her the Waltz. After I was finished she said, "That brings me to my happy place, and I didn't even know I had a happy place."

Them's fightin' words.

Isn't that what it's all about?

I paid a little homage to my brother too. I read in a Facebook post from one of his colleagues that once during a demonstration of range on the instruments in a string quartet, Marshall went from the viola's open C string all the way into the upper reaches of the A string, far above where the fingerboard ends. I did that today. The kids loved it. One kid even gasped.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Mother's Art

My mother started to paint seriously around the time that she lost the ability to play the flute, and she stopped doing artwork when she lost the ability to see (I wrote a post about it in 2006). Rather than have it sit in her closets for nobody to see, my brother and I thought it best to bring our mother's paintings and drawings to Memphis (where he lived) so that they could remain safe within our family. The car my brother was driving on August 7th was carrying our mother's artwork.

Michael and I brought the paintings and other family items along with Marshall's laptop computer back from Kentucky (where the accident happened) to Illinois, and I spent much of the terrible two weeks that followed looking at albums of family pictures, our mother's scrapbooks, and our mother's artwork.

As a way to help our family and people close to our family with healing, I started a new blog with photographs of my mother's artwork. I'm adding a few pictures every day. You can see her work here:

June Fine's Paintings and Drawings

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Regarding Grief and Regarding Marshall

The modern way of computer-assisted grief is surreal. Because so many of my brother's friends communicate by way of Facebook, I found (and still find) myself in a state of having to deal with something that is deeply personal and deeply complicated in a public way. The constant stream of kind thoughts and carefully worded messages of condolence have helped me to feel very far from alone, so some of the attention has been most welcome.

I have also been stung by the occasional unintentional violation of boundaries by people I do not know. Everyone's family has its specific ways of relating to one another, and when a family is in the "public eye" of the community of musicians, perhaps people assume the right to have sudden intimacies because of the intimacy of a shared musical bond with someone who has died.

I wrote a "note" on my Facebook page so that people who do not know me might be able to understand something about my relationship with my brother Marshall. Here are some excerpts:

Growing up with Marshall Fine as my big brother was not always fun. He was indeed a musical savant as a child, and I was (of course) terribly jealous of his supernatural musical gifts (and they were supernatural). He truly did have the most accurate of musical ears and a great intellectual understanding of form and function in music.

He had serious social difficulties as a child and as a young adult, and it pleases me a great deal to know that he had such a large community of people who really valued what he did as a composer, a violist, a violinist, and as a conductor.

My relationship with Marshall was always riddled with sibling rivalry (Mom did like him best). We did not spend much time together as children, and when he was home (he went to a special-needs boarding school) life was difficult for everybody.

After we grew up we would sometimes go years, and sometimes go decades without seeing one another. I can count on one hand the number of times we have seen one another since he left Boston for Atlanta in the late 70s or early 80s.

We spent the past decade in (rare) phone and (less rare) e-mail contact, and during the past year we worked together helping our (blind and disabled) mother get out of her basement apartment and into a care facility. Our communications over these things had their difficulties, but the difficulties were challenges from the outside our family: people who acted in ways that gave our mother a great deal of grief and difficulty (don't get me started).

I was always bothered by Marshall's elevated image of himself and a whole slew of other things not worth going into here, but in his last six months I also got to know him as a person with a good heart. Perhaps my greatest feeling of grief comes from the fact that I felt that our relationship as brother and sister had really started to have some meaning, and then it was suddenly cut off.

For those people who never knew Marshall, he was indeed as brilliant a person as his friends present him to be. I joined Facebook last year because someone who played at a music festival with Marshall told me that he was on Facebook. I was indeed surprised when I "friended" him how many people loved and admired him. It does me proud as a sister to know that Marshall found his place in Memphis and that he had devoted friends.
Last night I got out Marshall's laptop computer (which I removed from the wrecked car he had been driving), and I sorted through the compositions I found on it. I converted his Sibelius files into PDF files, made a page for him on the IMSLP, and have started uploading his music. My father has manuscript copies of Marshall's violin and viola music that haven't been engraved. We will arrange to have those manuscripts scanned.

Marshall's music, like his personality, is intimidating. I spent much of my young childhood under the shadow of Marshall's enormous ego and intellectual brilliance, and the experience of going through his music puts me right back into "Marshall's sister" mode, something I don't remember feeling since I was a young teenager.

I began my professional musical life doing different things from the things that Marshall did, and now I find myself doing the exact same things that he did, only with a very different musical personality and a different purpose. I am learning through first-hand experience that musical ego does reach far beyond the grave, and it is strangely healing to be able to keep that musical ego available for musicians to enjoy (or fear) even through Marshall is no longer among the living.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshall Fine (1956-2014)

This a very sad time for our family and for Marshall's many friends, colleagues, and students. Memories of Marshall (which are ALWAYS interesting and colorful) are welcome in the comments.