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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Frans Bruggen (1934-2014)

[Watercolor by Norman Perryman]

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was a very young teenager (I was babysitting) quite vividly, because I turned on the television to find this lively Dutchman playing solo recorder music on WGBH, a station that would later become a PBS station.

I got to meet Frans Bruggen backstage after he played a recital in New York in 1980, and hoped that I would get a chance, some day, to learn to play the recorder well and possibly study with him.  I never made it to the Netherlands, but I did become a recorder player.

We all owe so much to Frans Bruggen.  He is responsible for a huge chunk of the mid-20th-Century revival of Baroque and Renaissance music, and inspired (mostly through his students) a lot of 20th and 21st repertoire for the instrument.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Radio Silence

It might be a while before I put up another music-related post because I am overwhelmed with communications with family and friends in the aftermath of an auto accident my brother Marshall had this past Thursday. He is in critical condition with injuries to his brain.  Yesterday, after seeing him in the hospital, we drove to Horse Cave, Kentucky to remove the contents from the vehicle he was driving. Today I am trying to alleviate worry with as much hope as I can muster. People do recover from such accidents, and he is under excellent care.

He came to visit last summer, and Michael filmed us playing some Stamitz:

I have been posting news about Marshall on Facebook (which is where his closest friends communicate).  If you look me up on Facebook you can read the posts I make there (I keep them public).

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Where Nicolas Slonimsky Lived

This is the building (295 Beacon Street in Boston) where Nicolas Slonimsky lived from the 1920s until 1964.

And here's his post-1964 house on Wilshire Boulevard in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles (near UCLA):

Here's the 98-year-old Nicolas Slonimsky in front of his childhood home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I got the above pictures from a television show about him called "A Touch of Genius."

Monday, August 04, 2014

Harissa Revisited

Given the number of people who like to talk (and read) about food versus the number of people who like to talk about music, it does not surprise me that one of the most popular posts on this blog has to do with a condiment recipe I invented out of necessity.

I decided to make "Easy Harissa" the other night, just to see if it was as good as I remembered. I found it a bit too salty, so I adjusted the recipe) a bit.

The only problem with having Harissa around is that you will want to put it on EVERYTHING: eggs, salads, toast, vegetables, sandwiches, you name it. It can take over your life.

Montanari Gigue

You probably haven't heard of Antonio Maria Montanari (1676-1737) because none of his music has ever been published (it is, however, available to download from the IMSLP). Montanari was a teacher of Johann Georg Pisendel, who was a contemporary (and friend) of Johan Sebastian Bach. Montanari's D minor Sonata has three movements for violin and continuo, and this last utterly charming final movement is for violin alone. I hope you like it as much as I do.

[You'll need to click the image in order to see all of it, but then the image should fill up the whole screen.]

[A couple of the B flats should be naturalized; you'll know immediately which ones.]

Of Johann Pisendel's 26 known pieces, only a few have been published, and only one (his Sonata in A minor for violin alone) has made it into a remote corner of the violin repertoire.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Beautiful Popper Requiem

There is so much music (and so much love) that happens here that it can't be properly put into any kind of a box (like a computer). Please ignore the moments when the camera microphone can't quite process what is going on, and enjoy hearing how beautifully this most beautiful piece of multiple cello music can be played.

The cellists are Braden McConnell, Gabriel Martins, and Susan Moses; and the pianist is Kati Gleiser.

Friday, August 01, 2014

"The Soundtrack of Life"

Around ten years ago I heard an interview with a somewhat-successful 20ish pop-music singer (who did major in "legit" vocal music in college). Someone in the audience posed the question, "What is music?" Without hesitating for a second she replied, "The soundtrack of life."

Now that I think about it, I find something odd about that response. I have music going on in my head all the time, but it is not a soundtrack. It does not telegraph to me what I should be feeling about any of the non-musical things I experience. If anything the music in my head is repetitive and incomplete, and seems to have a life of its own.

My young friend didn't make the "soundtrack" idea up. It apparently originated with Dick Clark, who also gave us "I don't make culture. I sell it," and "I don't set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them." There you have it.

What is music, then?

Damned if I know. I'm also not really sure where it is. I used to know a whole lot about music, but the more I learn the more baffled I become. I am always in awe when it moves me, because I have no idea why it does.

[I'm slowly making my way through the Bach Well-tempered Clavier this summer, one Prelude and Fugue at a time. Today it was the absolutely astounding E-flat set from the first book, and tomorrow's fare has six flats. Listening to someone else play them is fine, but getting into the water and trying to--figuratively, of course--swim to the other side of the pool without drowning is another story.]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't try this at home!

In the early 1930s Nicolas Slonimsky stayed at home to take care of his baby daughter Electra while his wife, Dorothy Adlow, was writing art columns for the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Slonimsky would speak Latin to his daughter at home. To ask for milk he taught her "Da mini lac," and he taught her the Latin names of the items in their household. He sang her to sleep with songs in Latin, and when it came to teaching her music, she learned the Latin names of the pitches as well as the modes. When she entered school she announced to her father that other kids didn't speak Latin at home.

[I can't find extensive biographical information on Adlow in the usual internet places, but you can read about her on this page].

Slonimsky tried to condition Electra to like dissonant music, and in Perfect Pitch he quotes a story that Henry Cowell was fond of telling:
When Electra would demand a bottle, I would sit down at the piano and play a Chopin nocturne, completely ignoring her screams. I would allow for a pause, and then play on the piano Schoenberg's Opus 33a, which opens with a dodecaphonic succession of three highly dissonant chords. I would then rush in to give Electra her bottle. Her features would relax, her crying would cease, and she would suck contentedly. This was to establish a conditioned reflex in favor of dissonant music.
Electra did eventually survive her unusual childhood. Here's an interview with her that might be of interest, and another which is much more personal, and certainly would be of interest to anyone who has read (or is reading, or is planning to read) Perfect Pitch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Preparing Music

A headline in the musical blogosphere tells us that our obvious problem is that there is too much classical music. If you were to magically remove electronically-generated music from the world, there would not be too much. There would probably not be enough to satisfy and entertain all the people who have come to enjoy music as part of their daily lives. People would have to go about making it themselves and with their families and friends. People would really learn to appreciate the people who have talent and ability, and really learn to understand all that goes into becoming a professional musician. People would have to go out of their way to arrange to have concerts in their communities, and would have to hire musicians to liven up celebrations.

[I know that I am communicating through an automated medium, and that I have learned a great deal about music through automated media, but lately, unless I am listening to recordings to review or watching a movie that has a musical soundtrack, I mostly "consume" music that I generate myself (either alone or with friends), or hear played in real time.]

I know that I am not alone when I mention that I enjoy eating good food. I enjoy eating food that I make myself, and I enjoy eating food that other people make for me. I really enjoy eating in restaurants, particularly when I can eat food that I would have difficulty making at home. Since I re-entered the world of the omnivore, every single meal is a celebration.

A few days ago I discovered a podcast called The Splendid Table, where the brilliant host Lynne Rossetto Kasper talks about food with people who grow it, cook it, and write about it. She also answers call-in questions from listeners, and gives them terrific ideas about what to make and how to prepare food. She often does it on the spot.

[Yes. I know that it is through the gift of automation that I can take this podcast on my walk with me.]

While listening to one of Ms. Kasper's podcasts today it occurred to me that if people thought about food the way they think about music, very few people would be interested in preparing food themselves. They would occasionally to restaurants (good ones and not-so-good ones) but mostly they would buy ready-made meals to eat at home.

If people asked questions about music the way they ask questions about food, with the intention of going home and "making it" themselves, we might have a very different kind of musical culture. It would be a culture where nobody would be in a position to say that there is too much classical music (or any other kind of music).