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.

Happy 90th Birthday to Bernard Zaslav!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Eine Kleine April Fool's Music

For your Miller's Dancing pleasure:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere.

I simply can't tell you how enjoyable it is reading Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark so I'll just share a paragraph here:
Of this feeling Thea had never spoken to any human being until that day when she told Harsanyi that "there had always been—something." Hitherto she had felt but one obligation toward it—secrecy; to protect it even from herself. She had always believed that by doing all that was required of her by her family, her teachers, her pupils, she kept that part of herself from being caught up in the meshes of common things. She took it for granted that some day, when she was older, she would know a great deal more about it. It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere. It was moving to meet her and she was moving to meet it. That meeting awaited her, just as surely as, for the poor girl in the seat behind her, there awaited a hole in the earth, already dug.
You can read the whole novel on Project Gutenberg.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Excellent Recording of Marshall's Third Viola Sonata by Daniele Colombo

My brother has a true champion of his music in the Italian violinist/violist Daniele Colombo. It makes me and my family so proud to hear his music played so beautifully and so thoughtfully (not to mention impeccably). I can only imagine how happy this would make him if he were still alive.

Marshall Fine (1956-2014) - Sonata no.3 for Unaccompanied Viola op.121 (2011-12)

I. Obsequy
II. Rap-Fugue (03:17)
III. Rhapsody (07:29)
IV. Moto Perpetuo (13:25)

Daniele Colombo, viola

[Roma, AG Studios, 25-3-2016
Sound Engineer: Pierangeli Ambroselli]

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Space Around Us When We Play

I just returned from a few well-deserved days of vacation in Los Angeles away from playing or even thinking about playing, but when our daughter showed me and Michael a yoga-influenced exercise yesterday that involved a series of movements that raise awareness of the experience of right and left balance, I immediately thought of how the exercises could be applied to violin and viola playing.

A good 24 hours occupied by travel and sleep (sometimes at the same time) passed between the exercise we did and the time I finally picked up my viola back in Illinois. I closed my eyes (I didn't feel like changing into music glasses) and experienced a totally new kind of spacial relationship with my instrument. I will attempt to describe it here.

[It felt as if I were in a dream state having some kind of "vision." I'm writing about here to share, but I'm also writing about it so that I don't forget it!]

While I was playing the Bach G major Prelude I thought of my bow arm traveling along the circumference of a pie chart.

The A string was the yellow 10%, the blue 10% corresponded to the D String, the Green to the G string, and the red to the C string. This all makes perfect sense, and shouldn't be news to any string player reading this. What came as kind of a revelation to me is that my pie chart image was a not-very-thick disc, and that the circumference of the pie chart changed with where in the bow I happened to be. This gave the shape of each of the wedges a new kind of meaning for me.

Then I realized that I so often think of the "where" of my bow as being the "where" of my hand, when, in fact, the "where" of the bow goes both right (towards my hand) and left, towards the mysterious and exciting space that surrounds the tip of the bow on the "other side" of the wheel.

The core of my body (my heart and breathing mechanism) are at the very center of the wheel. I often give my students the image of a fulcrum on a teeter-totter to think of the bow on the string, but the image of a disk or wheel is so much more intense and useful because the space is solid and filled in.

So often as a flute player I thought of projecting my sound either forward or upward. I tried to imagine my sound going to other places in the room by focusing my eyes on different objects, but it always seemed directional, as if there were a dotted line connecting my mouth to the object. It was also very difficult to sustain attention on projecting towards different objects, because it was all something that happened in my imagination. I could sustain attention on it when playing long tones, but not when playing music when there was counting to be done and accidentals to pay attention to. All the "action" in flute playing happens on the right, so the mysterious area to the left is often left unexplored, particularly while practicing.

It IS really different with a string instrument. The movements that cut into in the surrounding space are the very things that make the sound.

I'll go practice now . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bach and Serendipity

Michael and I just returned from an extremely satisfying concert of Bach played by Richard Goode. He played a couple of Preludes and Fugues from the second book of the WTC, all the Sinfonias, the Fifth French Suite, the C minor Partita, and the Italian Concerto. His encore was the Serenade from the B-flat Partita.

The concert made us both very happy.

On the way home Michael asked me how I thought Richard Goode compared to Angela Hewitt. It's hard for me to compare pianists unless I hear them play the same repertoire.

We eventually turned on the car radio, and would you believe that the Italian Concerto was playing? We got to hear nearly the whole thing. The pianist? Angela Hewitt!

And both of us preferred the way Richard Goode played the Italian Concerto this evening to the way Angela Hewitt played it on her recording.