Sunday, March 30, 2008

Strong Language

I just realized today that I have been using the word "aleatoric" improperly for many years. I looked it up in the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music and have Michael Kennedy to thank for the following definition of aleatory music (that I couldn't help sharing):
Aleatory music (from Lat. alea, dice; hence the throw of the dice for chance). Synonym for indeterminacy, i.e. mus. that cannot be predicted before perf. or mus. which was comp. through chance procedures (statistical or computerized). The adjective 'aleatoric' is a bastard word, to be avoided by those who care for language.

Gee. I'll never use that bastard word again.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A case for counting

If I correctly understand Dr. Taylor's explanation of the brain in her talk that I linked to in the last post, counting beats when you practice might make playing music an activity that encourages optimal use of both sides of the brain. Her discussion about the chatter that goes on in the left side of the brain explains why it is possible to let the mind wander and think about all sorts of "other things" when practicing and performing even complicated music. The right side of the brain takes care of the physical stuff and enjoys the present moment, so it might not notice that what I am playing might happen to be sloppy, rhythmically or otherwise; but the tape recorder does notice.

In order to make practicing more productive, I think that I will attempt to turn my chatter track into something useful, like always counting and subdividing beats, something I don't always remember to do when I think I know a piece of music well. Maybe it will help develop the left side of my brain a bit. I know that it will improve my playing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke

On this extraordinary talk, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor talks about a pure right brain experience she had as the result of a stroke. Her pure right brain experience sounds like what it feels like when I listen to late Beethoven.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unusual musical associations

I loved Harold and the Purple Crayon when I was a kid. I especially loved it because my father used to practice Berlioz's Harold in Italy a lot during the time that I first discovered Crockett Johnson's books about Harold's adventures. I imagined (actually I just knew) that the piece was about one of Harold's adventures with his purple crayon. The validity of my association might have been reinforced by some reference I might have heard to the Childe Harold. Of course Harold was a child. And he had a purple crayon with which he could draw the covers and go to sleep.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playing by the rules

I used to be one of those musicians who looked for rules that I could use to make my playing better. Since I was a flutist in my youth, baroque music made up most of my daily practicing, so the rules I tried to apply to my playing often came in the form of method books, many of which were written in the 18th century to dictate the idiosyncrasies of a particular musical style or to reflect an individual musician's idea of how to play musical phrases the way he (yes, all the treatise writers went by "he" during the baroque period) thought they should be played.

I still come across young people who like to apply "rules" to the interpretation of baroque music. It used to bother me to witness their insistence on a particular kind of musical behavior, but now I just kind of smile to myself and hope that these people will, one day, understand the applying any kind of across-the-board rule to any kind of musical interpretation is just part of the experience of a growing musician. Like other maladies of youth, it too will pass.

Not all rules are bad. Actually, there are a lot of technical rules that can be applied quite successfully in order to build an instrumental or vocal technique. On the violin these rules concern things like shifting properly (actually I think there is only one way of shifting properly and there are a lot of ways of shifting improperly, but this thought might be a result of my relative violinistic youth), counting beats accurately, and keeping fingers down during string crossings.

I cannot think of an interpretive musical rule I have learned that applies universally. There are no hard and fast rules concerning trills (and these are the first rules that people look for) because there are always exceptions. There are no rules regarding articulations, because music has all kinds of articulations, and they are used for all kinds of different reasons. A particular articulation that is well suited to the oboe may not be well suited to the violin. Therefore an oboe player would be more likely to write a treatise that favored oboe articulations to the kinds of articulations that are used in writing for the violin.

There are no hard and fast phrasing rules (for music of any period), because every phrase of music (worth playing) is unique and beautiful in its own way. Each phrase is a separate case, and each phrase can be interpreted in a multitude of equally correct ways, depending on the desire(s) and mood(s) of the person who is playing. Applying stress to one beat instead of another can be executed tastefully or non-tastefully. I have come to understand that interpretive musical rules do not guarantee excellent musical taste. They don't even guarantee good musical taste.

Some of the novice rule book players seem to believe that one set of rules applies for all "early" music. A set of early 17th-century French rules would sound kind of odd when applied to music from C.P.E. Bach's Hamburg, or Mozart's Vienna, yet there are people who seem to believe that somewhere there is a set of universal rules that tell the "way" to play all "early" music, no matter where it comes from. I hope that all of these people dig deeply enough in their early music studies to learn the folly of their relative youths and in so doing understand that all musical interpretation is subjective, creative, and personal, rather than uniform and formulaic.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

practice violin soul destroying

Someone found my blog yesterday by searching for those particular words, and I certainly hope that the person who was searching is now feeling better about practicing his or her instrument.

Practice, for me, is anything but soul destroying. It is actually an oasis from the other things in life that tend to depress me or make me angry, because when I am practicing I am in complete charge of my musical life. Nobody else matters. There is a solution to every problem, and when I find the solution it makes my soul feel good because it sounds good.

The problem comes for me when I put the fiddle down. It is then that I realize that other difficulties I have in my life don't have solutions in, literally, the palm of my hand. Living far away from the centers of musical life that nourished my youth is hard, even with the internet. Creating an active musical life where I live is hard because most of the time I am the one pedaling the bicycle, and much of the time doesn't seem to go anywhere. I have found that it is much harder work to try to make a musical life than it is to practice an instrument in order to be prepared for one.

For a composer, being out of sight seems now, more than ever, being out of mind. With the speed of communication, yesterday's news (and yesterday's performances of yesterday's music) seem to already be old before they even have a chance to "sink in." I would like to imagine that there are people somewhere (in other remote locations, perhaps?) who enjoy playing the music that I have written, but it is only rarely that I hear from anyone.

How I long for 19th-century St. Petersburg! How I long for the salons of Paris! How I long for the 19th-century opera culture in Italy! How I long for the cafes of 19th-century Vienna! Then I would be able to write music for people who would play it, discuss it, and criticize it! But then again, my participation as a composer would not have been taken seriously because of the fact that I am a woman. And those salons and institutions would be populated by a select few, and there is a great possibility that I wouldn't even be invited in. A Rastignac I am not.

It would be great if the internet could be a democratic and gender-neutral replacement for the salon, but that hasn't seemed to happen so far. Music is still something that needs to happen among real people in real time in order to do anything for the souls of those of us who write it, practice it, and perform it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Robert Dean Smith: True Heldentenor

I guess we usually think of a Heldentenor as a voice type, but what Robert Dean Smith did yesterday in the Metropolitan Opera Production of Tristan und Isolde puts different spin on the Helden aspect of the vocal fach. By coming in at the last minute and giving an excellent performance, Smith literally saved the production.

I wish that in his New York Times review, Steve Smith had elaborated on the number of difficulties that Robert Dean Smith had to contend with concerning this production. For Smith, knowing and singing the role was certainly the easiest part of his experience. Even though Steve Smith did not feel chemistry between Robert Dean Smith and Deborah Voigt, I certainly could. It was chemistry that was charged with adrenaline. It was chemistry charged with the act of artistic and professional survival. It was chemistry charged, no doubt, with trying to not lapse into the dramatic situations involved in Strauss' Frau ohne Schatten that he did in Chicago a couple of months ago with Voigt.

Voigt, who at this point was used to playing her Isolde to whatever Tristan happened to be wearing the costume and wig (Robert Dean Smith was #4), actually seemed pleased to have her new and highly able partner. With only one costume for Tristan, the transition was not terribly difficult for the costume people. Had Robert Dean Smith been a foot taller or 50 pounds heavier, they might have had a more difficult problem. I also imagine that they have access to good shoes in all sizes.

All the anxiety was laid to rest on Smith's shoulders. He had to learn all the blocking on the spot. The people in the movie house audience saw him (in the distance and from behind) being instructed back stage between the second and third act. There was no opportunity for any rehearsal with Voigt (who confirmed that in her backstage interview). There was no opportunity for any kind of rehearsal with the orchestra because they were performing Ernani the night before. I imagine that Smith was able to go over some of the piece with James Levine the night before, but most of the musical and dramatic interpretation on the part of Robert Dean Smith was done in performance. That might explain why some of the dramatic gestures that might have seemed "stock" to Steve Smith. There was no time for Robert Dean Smith to develop a Tristan role that would be as deep and as meaningful as Voigt's Isolde. His experience of her Isolde was happening in real time, and unlike the people in the audience, who could allow themselves to be "blown away," he had work to do.

This was a great moment for Smith. This was a great moment for the Met, which, with this disaster-ridden production that was going to be a live-broadcast video as well as audio production, was at its most visible. They proved, with the success of this Tristan to be, as a company, as heroic as its greatest operatic heroes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tristan and Isolde at the Savoy

Michael and I just returned from an afternoon of HD at the Met, something that we both expected to like, but ended up loving, especially because of the excellent video direction. I would love to write an insightful post about it, but I happened to find a post by Stephen Smolier that says everything I would say, so I'll do the smart thing and simply link to it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Audacity problems on a Mac

I have been spending my Spring Break trying to learn how to use my new MacBook computer, which I have found to be a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience.

The most difficult problem I have encountered has been with Audacity. On my Windows computer it was possible to record non-digital music through an "I" cable that I could string between my source (a mini-disc recorder, a cassette player, a turntable, an external microphone) and my computer. My windows computer, which did not have an internal microphone, automatically recognized the source in Audacity. The MacBook does not automatically recognize the new source, and I was not able to find a way to turn off the internal microphone.

I am really proud to have found a solution to the problem, and by posting it here I hope that I might save someone a bit of frustration.

If you encounter the problem of not being able to change the "default import source" (and you will on a mac), go to the "Audacity Preferences" listing in the Audacity menu, go to the "Audacity I/O" tab, and change the "device" to "Built-in output." You can also change the "Channels" from mono to stereo here.


Another annoying mac-audacity problem is not being able to export files in mp3 format. When using audacity, it simply can't be done on a mac. To get an mp3 you have to save your file as a .wav file, and use a program like Switch (there is a free version) to convert the .wav into an mp3.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Millennium Chamber Players

You never know when there is a professional reviewer (and I guess I can call myself that) in the house when you play a concert in a "remote" location. This particular concert was within walking distance from my downstate Illinois home, but was a three and a half hour drive south for this Chicago-based ensemble that specializes in playing new music. The concert was this ensemble's final performance of the season of this program, so I feel it my duty (and my pleasure) to write about it here.

The program was an unusual mix of very new music: two world premieres and one American premiere, a rarely-played chestnut from the 1960s, and a big 19th-century symphony played by a strong and mighty chamber-sized orchestra. The concert was free, the weather was lousy, and the audience was a nice mixture of university students, mature retired people, and university faculty.

Jonathon Kirk's Lost Bird Environment is a piece for string quartet (violin, viola, cello, and bass) and electronics. The basic pitch material is derived from the song of an extinct Hawaiian bird, and the string sounds are somehow (as if by magic) recycled as they are being played, and turned into a kind of second ensemble. It is impossible to really separate the electronic sounds from the natural sounds, and that, for me, is what gives the piece its austere beauty.

Sarah J. Ritch's Reinvention 1 is a classic miniminalist work that takes fragments from the Bach Goldberg Variations and divides the rendered material, among a handful of musicians, with some lyrical lines given to the oboe. Equally minimalist, but differently organized, is Carmel Raz's Snake, which was given its American premiere.

After all this minimalism came the Ligeti Cello Concerto, performed by cellist Victoria Bass. She had the unusual ability to understand and project the dramatic (and often introspective and extremely quiet) solo line in such a profound way that even a novice to new music (and there were many in the audience) could admire and feel the substance of the piece. Written in the middle 1960s, this is a work that has stunning orchestration for the winds and brass, and highly atypical writing for the small string section, as well as the soloist, who ends the piece with a cadenza that eventually dispenses with the bow and with sound altogether, leaving only movement. It was played in the spirit of a chamber work, where every note and every relationship is of utmost importance. It was really thrilling to hear doubling at the octave of highly atonal material being played at high speeds with such high accuracy. The "keep the audience on the edge of their seats" quality of the performance reflected a great deal of careful preparation, and a great deal of musical understanding from both the ensemble and its very fine conductor, Robert Katkov-Trevino.

The program ended with a performance of the Second Symphony of Robert Schumann. After the dramatic and unorthodox impact of the Ligeti, this big 19th-century Symphony seemed oddly common-practice. This symphony, with its highly-organized first movement, its thrilling Scherzo (played by a four-person first violin section that had the sound of a section twice its size), its sometimes Bachian and sometimes Schubertian Adagio (with absolutely gorgeous oboe solos played by Grace Hong), and its grand final movement, sounded perfectly balanced with a small string section consisting of only a single double bass, two cellos, three violas, three second violins, and four first violins.

It was an unusual pleasure to hear such a fine concert. I feel like I owe this ensemble my personal thanks. I am pretty sure that the rest of the people in the audience here in Charleston, Illinois feel the same way.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who wouldn't?

Patty posted an interesting quote today from Bryn Terfel. I know that I am not the only composer who would jump up in the air and turn backward summersalts if I had the opportunity to write an opera for him. I mean, who wouldn't? He is probably the finest baritone singer/actor around today.

The problem, I guess, is he is looking around in the wrong circles if he is looking for just someone to write an opera for him. He knows, of course, that if an "unknown" composer (or one who is not a household name) were to write something for him--even something really good, or even something great, it would probably never be produced by an opera house that could afford to pay his performing fee.

Such, I guess, is the way of the world.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Bruno Monsaingeon's Mademoiselle is a film that I believe every musician should watch. Made in honor of Nadia Boulanger's (1887-1979) 90th birthday, the film is mostly set in Boulanger's apartment. It was shot on a series of many "Wednesdays" (the day she held classes), where the people in the class (and now you and I) listen to her talk about music. This is a very early film for Monsaingeon, who asks Nadia Boulanger excellent (and difficult) questions, and gets excellent (and honest) responses. He also interviews Leonard Bernstein (in French), who knew her well, but didn't consider himself a member of the Boulangerie, as well as Igor Markevitch who studied with her for many years.

Additional treats include an interview with the very young (maybe he was 9 or 10) Emile Naoumoff, who we also get to hear play the Mozart C minor Fantasie, while Nadia Boulanger gives us a blow-by-blow harmonic analysis. There is also a performance Schumann's Davidsbundlertanse #6 played by Charles Fisk, that we get to hear after Boulanger teaches a class on its opening melody.

Some people who were studying music while Boulanger was alive have heard of, seen, or read Monsaingeon's Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger. Unfortunately the book seems to have slipped out of print, but copies can be found in used book stores and in the collections of many libraries across the country. Some of the film's text (what Nadia Boulanger says) is the same as the text of the book, but much is different.

Nadia Boulanger reminds me of what is important in music.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Music Appreciation Guide for the Perplexed

Anyone taking a college music appreciation course has probably figured out that "traditional methods" of study (i.e. staying up all night before an exam) do not always work. Simply memorizing lists of words, "foreign" names, and places doesn't mean much of anything when those words, names, and places (the bread and butter of Music Appreciation exams) are memorized without understanding their practical musical context.

Learning this material is difficult for many American students because European geography and European history are not usually part of the required high school curriculum, and when those courses are offered, they tend to concern war, religion, and politics rather than music and art.

Your Music Appreciation teacher is trying his or her best to provide you with a context. That is what the course is all about. Your teacher doesn't expect you to be an expert when you finish the class. S/he simply wants you to understand enough about music to continue to listen and to become part of the general audience for "classical music." It is unfortunate that college Music Appreciation classes have to have exams and that students need to be graded on their work, but that is the way the game is played.

Music Appreciation classes involve a lot of in-class listening. It is nearly impossible for novice listeners to take meaningful notes on a piece they are listening to for the first time, but it is possible to go to the library (my school has several sets of Music Appreciation textbook discs on reserve) and listen again. If you do it right after class on the same day, following along with the textbook listening guide, you will find that the music you hear will be familiar. Subsequent hearings with help you understand more about the structure of the music. It usually takes about three hearings (sometimes done on different days) for a new listener to be able to recognize a piece of music, but sometimes it takes four.

It is during that third or fourth hearing that you might want to make notes for yourself about what to listen for, should you find yourself in a position to have to identify the piece for an exam. You should notice the instrumentation of the piece, its language if the piece is vocal, the application of vocabulary words such as piano, forte, tutti, basso continuo, Alberti bass, counterpoint, homophony, etc. You could even make a note of certain traits of the particular composer you are listening to. If your professor makes on-line links (I use YouTube videos for my classes) of other music by the composers you are studying available to you, listen to them. See (and hear) if you can find a particular composer's voice in other music by him or her.

Repeat this for every piece on your study guide, and you will do well on the listening parts of your exams. If you wait to listen to the all the material until the night before an exam, you will probably not do very well. The stuff of a Music Appreciation class is music, and music exists only in time. There are no SparkNotes for pieces of music. Musical terms are meaningless unless they are applied to musical actions.

Here are a few basic guidelines for getting the most out of your class:

1. Go to class. It takes much more work (and much more time) to learn this stuff on your own.
2. Arrive on time.
3. Listen with full attention while you are in class, and then listen again on your own while following the listening guide.
4. Take notes during lectures.
5. Ask questions.
6. Do the reading assignments you are asked to do.
7. Take advantage of the free supplemental material available to you on line. Listen to the "classical" radio station(s) in your area and watch the Arts Channel on cable television. You should be able to find both of these rather easily.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Benefits of Being Classically Trained

I cringe when I hear the words "classically trained," especially when they refer to musicians. The idea of someone being a "classically trained" instrumentalist or vocalist implies that there is some kind of singular "classical training" connected with the instrument that he or she plays. The use of the verb "to train" also implies a kind of rigor that one would apply to athletes, animals, small children learning to use the toilet (and I don't even think that the word is appropriate for children), or what you do when you have a lock of hair that you want not to fall into your face, or you want to move your part from the left to the right. The idea of "classical training" implies that there is one "classical technique" that is used for "classical musicians," and that there is another kind of technique that used by everyone else.

There is something called "classical ballet training" which is a set of techniques that are used methodically in the process of building a "classically-trained" ballet dancer. It would be expected that a classically-trained ballet dancer would be able to perform a series of movements with a certain degree of strength, and those movements would be movements that a person without "classical training" would not be able to do. What would be parallel in music to this? Being able to play scales and arpeggios in all keys? Is that what playing music is all about?

In the case of performing musicians, it seems that the main reason for someone to call him or herself "classically-trained" is to make a contrast with someone who has only learned to play his or her instrument through playing music that is not "classical," but it is often used as a way of giving more cachet to they idea of having taken (and paid for) private lessons, or knowing how to read music. The term "training" implies the loftiest idea of private study: training at some kind of "classical" academy, at the hands of a "trainer," who demands serious applied discipline. Some teachers do demand discipline, but many don't, or they don't know how to teach students to develop self discipline.

Many of the good musicians I know have developed their techniques after a period of study, and usually it was study with a good teacher. Some have developed excellent technique in spite of having a teacher who was not very good. Some have done it without much help from a teacher at all. It is rare that a violin teacher would ever think of him or herself as a "trainer." Even Suzuki teachers, uniform as they try to be in their methods and materials, offer different perspectives, different senses of sound, slightly different ways of holding the violin and the bow (there is no right way because everyone's body is different), and a different sense from one another concerning the whys and wherefores of playing music.

My own violin "training" is not training at all. I practice. I learn what I can from whoever I can. I even learn from people I would never have the chance to meet, and I even learn from people who are no longer alive. I learn from people who don't even know that I am learning something from them. There is also a lot of great musicianship and technical strength to be found in the playing and singing of people who have never had any interest in playing "classical" music or "getting" "classical training."

I apply my own methods of practice to material that I choose to use to develop technique. I apply my own interpretations to the music that I play. I could never in a million years call myself a "classically-trained" violinist or violist, and my students could never in a million years think of what they are getting from me in lessons as "classical training." Sure, I encourage them to read music, have strong hand positions, play in tune, and think about the music they are playing as vehicles for expression, but it doesn't come from any "training."

Wouldn't it be nice to either eliminate the "I'm a classically-trained" this or that and substitute it with a phrase that is a bit more realistic?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Clara Rockmore plays Acrhon's Hebrew Melody

This deserves a post all its own. Make sure to watch and listen to the rest of the Rockmore performances on the sidebar. I know you will.


When I was a kid my father brought home a matrioshka doll from his Boston Symphony Chamber Players tour of Russia during the late 1960s. I never thought that there would ever be an actual musical use for such a doll until a few minutes ago when I encountered this blog post by Matthew Whittall. Here is another performance that is a rather odd meeting of musical worlds.

Here is a lovely "old school" Theremin performance of "The Swan" by Masami Takeuchi, the creator of the matryomin.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ruins: More on Nyiregyházi

But the wrong notes, the ragged runs, the stumbling chords--they remain, and complicate our appreciation. A correction must be entered: Nyiregyházi in his seventies was not a great pianist but a ruin of a great pianist--a ruin in the prosaic sense, something that time and fortune have left damaged and incomplete, but a ruin in the elevated sense, too. A ruin is not the same thing as a pile of rubble, after all; it can be magnificent and affecting, in its own ways. Ruin fanciers speak of feelings that ruins evoke more intensely than intact structures: mystery, romance, nostalgia, wistfulness, melancholy, regret. Ruins, moreover, evoke the distinction--crucial to Romantic aesthetics--between the beautiful and the sublime. That which is sublime is not pretty or delicate or orderly, but powerful, massive, and monumental, suprahuman, and emotionally overwhelming, provoking astonishment, awe, even terror. Kant, in his Critique of Judgement defines the sublime as "that which makes everything else seem small in comparison with it." A butterfly is beautiful; a mountain is sublime. The elder Nyireghyázi was a sublime ruin--grand, lofty, noble, solemn, strange, ecstatic, in some ways repellent, in other ways marvelous, something plus beau que la beauté
.From Lost Genius by Kevin Bazzana

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Experience vs. Judgement

"When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident ... or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."
Edward John Smith, 1907, Captain of the RMS Titanic)

From Keith Martinsen's blog.

Ervin Nyireghazi

Thanks to YouTube I can get an instant musical affirmation/illustration of the very strange and completely over-the top pianist Ervin Nyireghazi, who I am reading about in Kevin Bazzana's biography Lost Genius.

I met some old friends in the book: Richard Kapp, a record producer and pianist who died recently, told me about "discovering" Nyireghazi years ago. I also "met up" with one of my favorite American writers, Theodore Dreiser with whom Nyireghazi shared a friendship and a girlfriend. The tabloid escapades of celebrities of today pale to those of Nyireghazi. It is still shocking to read about the details of his disfunctional childhood, his ten marriages, his addictions, his grandiosity, and his enormous musical personality (which you can hear above).

From reading about the contours and crevices of Nyireghazi's bizarre personality, I can understand why he would have identified with Dreiser's characters, particularly the main character in The "Genius". I can also imagine why Dreiser would have been drawn to him: he was (while he was alive) like a Dreiser character that had suddenly come to life.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

She Speaks the Truth

Thanks Patty.
I am weary of hearing people imply that music will solve world woes—that music will bring peace. (If you knew the musicians I know ….) Music is music. Music can empower at times. Music can motivate and maniplulate at times. But music doesn’t change the nature of humankind.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Post-crossover Music?

During the past several years there are been thousands of on-line discussions about the future of classical music that cover the importance of tonality, the importance of atonality, the incorporation of "other styles" into the music that we seem to still end up calling classical. We all know that "classical" music is a lousy and essentially useless name to use for whatever it is that the relatively small number of people who read this and other "classical music" blogs play, write, and listen to. During the last thirty or forty years, "classical" musicians have been stepping out of their imaginary "box" have have incorporated popular (or once popular), ethnic (or once ethic--before elements of "it" became incorporated into the mainstream) influences into their "classical" programs in order to avoid artistic stagnation, reach new audiences, to make a lot of money, or simply to have some fun. This practice is often referred to as "crossover music."

Some people make fun of it, and some people have fun with it. It is usually disappointing when a "pop" musician makes a "classical" recording, and it sometimes seems like kind of a cheap "sellout" when a well-known classical musician makes a recording of "pop" music. Once in a while there is something really worthwhile, but the genre "crossover" is no guarantee of anything.

Somehow, maybe while some of us (like me) have been paying attention to other sides and corners of our huge musical kaleidoscope, a generation of people with far broader musical horizons than we could have even imagined having has entered the stage (as it were), and more physical technique than anyone could acquire by simply studying the major 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th-century "classical" literature, is kind of paving a path in a new direction. Of maybe it is already a group of streets, like the ones in a Monopoly game, filled in with houses and hotels. And I'm not talking about Baltic Avenue.

These are people who really know how to use the huge array of media available to market themselves well. These are people who create their own repertoire tailor-made to fit their non-traditional instrumentation; people who know that nobody else can do what they do, unless they have the same instrumentation, the same arrangements or pieces (that are often not published), and the same amount of technique. They are people who think of themselves as performers when they are in front of an audience, and people who radiate a great deal of energy from their audience's response, creating a real sense of community when they play.

So, I'm calling this phenomenon "post-crossover music." And I encountered it in spades, sharps, and flats last night when I had the privilege of playing (as a member of the viola section of an orchestra) a concert with Time for Three.

Here they are playing Czardas, and their own version of the first movement of the Bach Double. If playing like this doesn't bring young people and old people out to concerts, I don't know what will.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Uncle Aaron

My grandmother kept magazines like this April 30, 1945 Life magazine on her coffee table. The dashing man on the cover is her brother, my great-uncle Aaron Bohrod. Everyone in the family liked the fact that I happened to be born on April 30, though it was 19 years later, in 1959. Uncle Aaron was one of a handful of army artists who were asked to make paintings of what they saw in Europe during WWII for this issue of Life.

Matthew Guerrieri's recent look at Time (the magazine cover, that is) prompted me to search for Uncle Aaron to see if any of his covers for that magazine were on line, and I found two with musical associations:

You can read more about Aaron Bohrod (and see more of his work) here, here,, here, here,
and you can read an interview with him here.