Monday, May 16, 2016

Report for the Four Seasons Reading Club

I feel so very fortunate to be married to a "literary professional" (now retired from teaching college). I'm also fortunate that he has kept a list of the books we read during the 2015-2016 season. We began calling ourselves the "Vacation Reading Club," then the "Summer Reading Club," and then when summer turned to fall, we settled into the "Four Seasons Reading Club." By the organization of the musical year you could say that we are now entering our second season.

We sit together just about every day after lunch (sometimes we read at other times, and between books we take a day off), me with a pot of tea, and Michael with a cup of coffee, and we read an average of 20 pages. We take good advantage of our local university library (and sometimes our not-so-local bookseller) so that we have two copies of each book. We often remark on the exact same sentences or paragraphs, and we both crave more Willa Cather once we finish one of her novels.

(We both read other books in addition to our FSRC books.)

Here's the list of what we have read together during the last twelve months, as well as a list of what we have abandoned. We always vote on whether to abandon a book, and we almost always agree. I enjoyed Our Mutual Friend more than Michael did, but to me it seemed like a random collection of character studies, perhaps of people who he "fleshed out" but didn't use in any of his previous books. Michael has also read a lot more Dickens than I have, so I kind of have a Dickens deficit that should be remedied.

Completed Books:

Herman Meville, Moby-Dick

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady , Death Comes for the Archbishop ,The Old Beauty and Others

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory ; Ada

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

Robert Walser, The Tanners , trans. Susan Bernofsky

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis , trans. Susan Bernofsky

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Robert Walser, Fairy Tales , trans. Daniele Pantano and James Reidel

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark , Lucy Gayheart , Alexander’s Bridge , Shadows on the Rock

Abandoned books:

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Get Your Way

I'm removing the specifics here, but this report of the progress of a recent important meeting really makes me angry.
1. Have a secret meeting to change the ____________ rules at the last minute to favor one ________ and give the chair unlimited power without appeal.

2. "Pass" the rules even though you don't have a quorum.

3. At the ____________ make a motion to make those permanent and use the rules to blatantly override the voice vote with no division of the house and no appeal.

4. Use those rules to push through any motion you want while openly ignoring legitimate motions and petitions from the floor.

5. When you discover you've still lost the _________ by over 30 ___________ disqualify 64 ________ and declare your ___________ the winner.

6. Once again use your specially created rules to ram through a motion to accept the count ignoring the no vote from the floor.

7. Ignore motions from the floor to remove the chair. Send the chair up to rapidly "pass" several items of business ignoring an overwhelming no vote.

8. Adjourn the meeting with no motion or vote.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ruskay's Postcard

A few years ago I made this post about Ruskay's, the iconic restaurant on Columbus Avenue, where I used to spend my Monday nights playing solo flute music.

I finally found my cherished copy of the postcard that the owners used to give to favored guests. The name of the restaurant is not identified, but the photographer, Alan McCord, is. I hope that this post finds its way to people who remember Ruskay's.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Greens and Eggs

If you love poached eggs, but don't feel confident about the poaching part, and you love greens, I have the breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) for you. I have been making this for a couple of weeks now, and this morning I decided to document the process to share here.

I use a mixture of pungent greens: mustard, kale, turnip, and who knows what else. This mixture is always satisfying. The mix of flavors (sweet, bitter, spicy) is so interesting that I don't feel the need to add salt (though I have used salt, onion, pepper, and garlic on occasion).

Fill a non-stick pot (that you can cover) with greens.

Cook on high heat with a little bit of olive oil until the greens turn bright green.

Carefully slide in the eggs, turn the heat to medium, and cover.

Cook until the tops of the eggs are no longer transparent (2 to 4 minutes--I never keep track).

Using a flexible spatula, slide the contents of the pot onto a plate, and there you have it!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Song of the Lark for Viola and Piano

Michael and I have been spending a lot of quality time with Willa Cather's novels. The Song of the Lark is one that I just had to comment on musically, and in the form of a piece for viola and piano (like I did with A Lost Lady). The 1884 Jules Breton painting above, called "Song of the Lark," makes an appearance in the novel. Cather had a close relationship with the painting while it was a relatively new piece of art, and she used a silhouette based on it for the cover of the first edition of the novel. My piece draws inspiration from both the novel and the painting.

Here's a computer-generated recording you can listen to, and here's the page in the IMSLP where you can get the music.

You might notice that there's a phrase from Edvard Grieg's "Tak for Dit Råd" in the piece. It was one of the pieces that Thea Kronborg, the singer (and main character) in Cather's novel sang. You can hear Kirsten Flagstad sing it below. I like to imagine that Flagstad's type of voice might have been a model for Cather's character's voice.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Proud to be Part of Ben's Musical Family

You can read the whole articlehere, on the Harvard Graduate School of Education website.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dvorak Sonatina Opus 100 Transcription for String Orchestra

Just in time for spring! Yesterday I finished my complete string orchestra transcription of Dvorak's Opus 100 Sonatina (originally written for violin and piano), and I spent today assembling a PDF of the score and parts. It's now in the IMSLP for your string orchestra pleasure. My inspiration was the delightful Quintet, Opus 77 and the "American" String Quartet.

You can get the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dvorak-Singing Birds

Actually it's not the birds that sing Dvorak, it's their songs that made their way into Dvorak's music. Anyway the sounds of Dvorak motives coming from the birds outside of my window this morning, and an email message from a member of the Stadstreicher Ober-Ramstadt helped get me out of a period of creative funk. This person told me that her ensemble has enjoyed playing the transcription of the first movement of the Dvorak Opus 100 Violin Sonata that I made for string orchestra, and is wondering about the other movements.

I started working on the second movement last June, and stopped when I came to a problem that I thought was unsolvable. This morning I managed to solve the problem, and am happily at work. I intend to finish the remaining movements in the next month. I give partial credit to that bird. I am very grateful for the IMSLP for the ability to reach musicians everywhere who want music to play, and for the ability to have contact with them.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Country Musician, City Musician

I have been thinking a lot about this passage from Willa Cather's Lucy Gayheart. Lucy is having a conversation with her piano teacher about a young man from her small rural town her teacher hoped she would marry. They are in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century:
"You are mistaken, Mr. Auerbach. That is only a friendship."

"Maybe so. But I wouldn't be sorry to see it come to something else. In the musical profession there are many disappointments. A nice house and garden in a little town, with money enough not to worry, a family--that's the best life."

"You think so because you live in a city. Family life in a little town is pretty deadly. It's being planted in the earth, like one of your carrots there. I'd rather be pulled up and thrown away."

Auerbach shook his head. "No, you wouldn't. I've heard young people talk like that before. You will learn that to live is the first thing."

Lucy asked him if there were not more than one way of living.

"Not for a girl like you, Lucy; you are too kind. Even for women with great talent and great ambition--I don't know. Some have good success, but I don't envy them."

The next morning, when Lucy opened the windows in the studio and looked across at the Lake, she told herself that she wasn't going out to the Auerbachs' any more. It dampened her spirits. He was a heavy, thorough, German music-teacher, and there he stopped.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thrills and Trills

It is so easy to forget to count when trilling, playing measured sixteenth notes written in this kind of "code,"

or playing tremolo passages on a stringed instrument. Perhaps it is because it seems as if the arm, hand, and fingers could be trusted to do the counting for you. But, as I tell my students, fingers are not smart. They don't have brains (unlike the arms of an octopus, which can function individually, even if severed from the body).

The tremolo action on a stringed instrument is kind of similar to the trilling action a wind instrument. The moving finger can take all our attention, leaving the brain to have to work harder to figure on which beat we happen to be playing.

[This brings to mind the image of our son Ben's first trills on the cello. He unconsciously moved his tongue as well as his finger.]

Interested in octopuses? Here's an interesting scientific video about octopus behavior. Here is an octopus opening a jar, and here's a video of an octopus escaping from a jar.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Passing Thoughts about Passover

It is impossible to get Matzo in our small town. We have to drive an hour to a small city to buy it. I remember the Passover about 20 years ago when we found the Matzo supplies depleted in the city, so I tried my hand at making Matzo myself. It was through doing this that I came to understand that the stories about the Jews of Egypt not being able to wait to leave until their bread rose couldn't be correct. The whole point of making Matzo is to do it quickly enough so that the dough doesn't rise. You prick it all over so that the moisture escapes quickly in the oven. This is hard to do in a modern midwestern kitchen with nothing but a rolling pin and a fork. A few "loaves" came out well, but for the most part it was truly the bread of affliction.

Yesterday I was out and about in the city in search of a sheep shank for a seder plate. I went up to a the meat counter in a grocery store and asked if they had any sheep shanks. The woman behind the counter said, "You mean seder bones?" She asked me how many I wanted, and gave me two at no charge. Wow.

The day before I saw a few large legs of lamb in the meat department of an in-town grocery store, and I remember thinking that lamb would be great to make for a seder, except for the fact that it was a leg of lamb, and there was no way of knowing if it was a front or a back leg. Hind legs would be inappropriate for a seder.

Yesterday, with my free sheep shanks in hand, I started thinking about the fact that those bones come from intact legs of lamb, and are then rendered boneless by the grocery-store butchers because their customers prefer boneless leg of lamb.

My father once explained to me that Shtetls in Russia and Poland needed to be established within walking distance (or carting distance) of decent-sized cities so that the Shtetl butchers could sell the hindquarters of their animals. The inhabitants of their villages would, of course, not eat hindquarters because of Kosher laws.

Yesterday's adventure in the city reminded me of that kind of relationship, though twisted around a bit. People who celebrate Passover need to obtain shank bones for their seder plates, and butchers in the city who want to sell boneless legs of lamb are happy to give away the bones.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Willa Cather on the Artistic Nature of Childhood

From Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark
"A child's attitude towards everything is an artist's attitude. I am more or less of an artist now, but then I was nothing else."
(Spoken by the character Thea Kronborg.) Any musician who has not read this book has a real treat waiting for them.

Saturday, April 09, 2016


It is so interesting to look at the county-by-county reporting giving the details for today's caucus in Wyoming. There are many instances on the democratic side where only two people showed up to caucus. One person caucused for Sanders and the other caucused for Clinton. One county had ten on either side.

[Michael, who just read this post, tells me that those numbers represent delegates and not numbers of voters, but I still like to entertain the image I offer in the next paragraph.]

I envision middle-aged married (or not married) couples going out to caucus, with the women heading to the Clinton side of the room and the men heading to the Sanders side of the room. Or we could have middle-aged couples where the men head for the Hills and the women feel the Bern.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Technologists Missing the Point about Art

The data-driven innovators over at The Next Rembrandt have a short film that describes their project to generate a "brand new" Rembrandt portrait based on data they generated from portraits he painted. Watching the film made me feel physically sick. I was also not impressed with the result. It reminds me of computer-generated "classical" music.