Saturday, February 28, 2009

Playing Fences


Violinist Jon Rose uses a specially-adapted violin bow to get sound out of the fences that line Australia's landscape. He also has a whole gallery of odd violins, along with soundclips from the various fences he has played, and a bunch of videos.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The World of Henry Orient Piano Concerto

"If this is music, what's that stuff Cole Porter writes?"

I'm thrilled that this is finally available on line. I have loved this movie, particularly this scene, ever since I saw it on television when I was a kid. Last year, when I played in the viola section for performance of a piano concerto that bore some unintentional resemblance to this one, I was shocked that not a single member of the orchestra was familiar with this movie. It stars Peter Sellers, Angela Lansbury, Tom Bosley, and the conductor is played by Kenneth Lauber, the composer of the concerto.

New Music for a Grey Day


(awesome photo by Paul Hagdon)

I thought I'd share the latest additions to my Thematic Catalog blog:

Five Postcards for Flute, Clarinet, Cello, and Piano


and

There are Things I Just Don't Understand . . .

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lost Branches of the Bach Family Tree

It seems that since the discovery of P.D.Q. Bach by Peter Schickele, little attention has been paid to the more obscure members of the Bach family tree. It is interesting to note that these are the Bachs that went into professions outside of music.

A.B.D. Bach, graduate student
A.O.K. Bach, technician
A.O.L. Bach, e-mail pioneer
A.S.A.P. Bach, delivery service manager
B.F.F. Bach, relationship counselor
B.L.T. Bach, short order cook
B.V.D. Bach, clothing manufacturer
C.E.O. Bach, business leader
C.I.A. Bach, classified information specialist
C.N.N. Bach, media specialist
C.P.A. Bach, accountant
C.S.I. Bach, law enforcement officer
C.S.S. Bach, web designer
C.T.A. Bach, Chicago-based transportation specialist
D.D.S. Bach, dentist
D.N.C. Bach, politician
D.S.M. Bach, psychiatrist
D.U.I. Bach, currently unemployed
E.N.T. Bach, family practice
E.S.P. Bach, psychic
E.T.A. Bach, air traffic controller
F.A.X. Bach, document transfer expert
F.B.I. Bach, private detective
F.T.D. Bach, florist
F.T.P. Bach, information system specialist
G.I.F. Bach, graphic artist
G.M.O. Bach, genetic engineer
H.M.S. Bach, British naval officer
H.T.M.L. Bach, computer linguist
I.G.A. Bach, grocer
i.O.S. Bach, media visionary
I.P.O. Bach, stockbroker
I.R.S. Bach, tax collector
I.R.T. Bach, New York City-based transportation specialist
I.T. Bach, information specialist
J.P.G. Bach, graphic artist
L.A.X. Bach, air traffic controller
L.O.L. Bach, comedian
M.G. Bach, race car driver
M.I.A. Bach, whereabouts unknown
M.I.T. Bach, engineer
M.T.A. Bach, Boston-based transportation specialist
M.R.I. Bach, medical technician
M.S.W. Bach, social worker
N.B.A. Bach, professional athlete
N.F.L. Bach, professional athlete
N.B.C. Bach, media specialist
N.E.A. Bach, arts advocate
N.E.H. Bach, humanities scholar
N.Y.T. Bach, journalist
O.E.D. Bach, reference librarian
O.T.B. Bach, works in the "gaming" industry
O.U.T. Bach, Australian explorer
P.B.S. Bach, media specialist
P.H.D. Bach, college professor
P.D.F. Bach, document transfer specialist
R.N.C. Bach, politician
S.N.L. Bach, television writer
S.M.S. Bach, messenger
T.L.C. Bach, nurse
T.N.T. Bach, explosives expert
T.W.A. Bach, retired pilot
U.F.O. Bach, amateur astronomer/astrophysicist
U.P.S. Bach, delivery service manager
U.S.B. Bach, connectivity expert
V.F.W. Bach, retired soldier
W.P.A. Bach, public servant
W.S.J. Bach, journalist
W.T.F. Bach, cultural critic

(You can blame this caprice on Michael for starting me on this path with E.S.P. and C.P.A.)

My Kind of Educational System!

This is for real!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Somewhere in the Subway

Would you believe that some of the trains in the New York City subway system happen to play the first three notes of "Somewhere" from West Side Story (or the corresponding passage in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto, where the sequence of notes sat for a long time before Bernstein emancipated them and brought them into the musical theater and into popular culture)? The subway even plays the passage in rhythm, and at a perfectly lovely tempo.

This musical miracle comes as a result of something about the difference between alternating current and direct current, the third rail, and something that happens that excites the steel of the tracks. I don't understand the physics, but you can read all about it and listen to it over at The New York Times. It's awesome.

(Thanks Michael!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ambition: a ramble

Young people are told that they can be whatever they want to be. Young musicians with talent, aptitude, and the ability to work hard are told that if they practice and study they can become great musicians. I certainly agree. Becoming an insightful and expressive person is, after all is said and done, the greatest benefit of studying music. I measure greatness in terms other than monetary ones, but our larger culture (the one that has been around for most of recorded history) seems to favor a different system of measurement.

Everyone knows that in order to be successful (or simply to be able to make a living from their music) musicians need to have a whole range of business and entrepreneurial skills, some kind of support system (financial and otherwise), a lot of luck, and an extra helping of resilience to put up with a lot of rejection. They also need a lot of ambition, and good (or at least distinctive) looks are always an asset.

As the daughter of a principal player in a major orchestra, I had a rather clear view of the music business when I was young. I have seen ambitious people win auditions and develop careers. I have also seen people with tremendous amounts of talent, ability, and musical intelligence treated unfairly by people in positions of power.

Now that I am on the other side of childhood, I see the business-related aspects of the musical world in my figurative rear-view mirror standing tall in the musical landscape. Musicians, particularly good performing musicians, are insecure by nature. Many do not feel very comfortable with promoting themselves, particularly because they understand the impermanence of what they do, and they understand that in order to maintain a certain degree of competence they need to put in a great deal of work. They know that it is easy to get out of shape, and it is hard to build skills up again once they have been abandoned. It is also easy to become discouraged and disappointed by the various hands life can deal to musicians who deserve much more recognition, community support, and respect than they often get.

The nature of the musical beast hasn't really changed over the years, but what has changed access that musicians have to the public and to one another. A generous handful of excellent (and not so excellent) "tell all" books about the business of music explain how managers, record labels, and contractors ruled the pre-internet musical world. Now, thanks to this tremendous public relations machine, anyone with excellent computer skills (or a friend with excellent computer skills), a domain name, and the willingness to put the time and energy into self promotion can make his or her work known to the world. It doesn't necessarily turn music making into a livelihood, but it can help if the person promoting himself of herself is willing to do marketing-type things that generate revenue.

It seems that ambition itself is the greatest currency in the internet-based musical world. I learned long ago that there is no such things as becoming "rich and famous" from most endeavors that are worthwhile. But richness and fame are not the measure of a musician (or a writer, or an artist). The ability to deliver what you promise is. If the biography that you put on your website or in your programs says something like "one of the finest (add instrument here)-ists of her generation," you should be able to prove that to be plausible when you play. (A phrase like that one always pings my "implausometer" because of all the relative terms: how long is a generation? Who is measuring the quality. How large is the "pool" from which the "finest" can belong.)

Perhaps we need to rethink ambition as our PR machine (the internet) changes its face every couple of months. Does the time you spend on facebook or twitter, or any of the other "social networking" tools cut into your practice time or the time that you spend writing music or studying music? Do you find that your need for recognition for what you do via the internet defines your self worth and affects your productivity? Is the joy of having recognition short lived? Does the lack of recognition from the "masses" on the internet make you feel empty?

There are many questions we need to ask ourselves about the relative health of tethering too much of our musical lives to the internet. I have to keep reminding myself that it is the here and now that matters in music, and the only recognition that is important is the recognition I give myself. When we turn off the computer, which is a window to the world (as well as a mirror) for so many people, we have to face, once again, who we are to ourselves and to the people we relate to in real time and in real space.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Suspended in the Choromatisphere

Here's a 6-minute vacation from all preconceptions about Bach.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Perhaps We're Seeing Progress

I don't know what's happening in other parts of the country, but in my neck of the midwestern woods concert attendance seems to be going up. Perhaps it is due to more aggressive promotion and marketing, the availability of classical music on the cable-waves (the Arts Channel, perhaps?) and on the internet, the musical discussions in the blog-o-sphere (look to your right for blogs I like to read), or perhaps it is due to people taking chances and going to a concert as a way to enjoy a night out. If the concert experience is a good one, those people might go to another concert. Whatever the cause, it is a cause for celebration.

What I would like to believe is that the "default" for listening to music has become more and more connected to a "device" or to an "object," and people, especially young adults, might be craving the real thing: music that comes out of people's mouths and hands in real time with the performers being in the same room as the audience. There is something special about the fact that music making will happen differently for you and the people who are in your particular audience from what will happen for tomorrow night's audience listening to the the same music in another city. In a world that is brimming with artifice, there is something truly refreshing about something that is real.

There was a time when some people considered flawless recorded performances superior to live performances. For the people who still feel that way, I can assure that the young soloists who are around today spend most of their time making sure that their live performances are as flawless as their recordings (or as flawless as anyone else's recordings). Recent conservatory graduates have an extremely high standard of flawlessness, and the "survival of the fittest" system of musical careers that we have today makes sure that the only people who rise to the top of the solo circuit are people who can deliver everything that is promised of them. It is good music business. And when someone gives an audience something more than flawlessness, it is a cause for celebration.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

'Tis the Gift to Be for Sale?

Today's mail (e-mail that is) brought an announcement that Sony is offering a recording of John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" (as played at the inauguration, or at the "inaugauration" as it was misspelled in the press release) for sale on iTunes.

Am I the only person bothered by this (and I'm not talking about the misspelling)?

I sent a message back to the Sony representative doing the publicity for this "offer" suggesting that the proceeds from the sale of this recording go to the National Endowment for the Arts.

We'll see if I get a reply.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quartetto d'Amore

Just in time to make arrangements for a musical Valentine's day, this Quartetto d'Amore for flute, violin, cello and instrument d'amore (oboe d'amore or viola d'amore) might be just the thing for an intimate musical get together with rare or not-so-rare instruments and their players. You'll find a score and a bunch of parts here (there's a regular oboe transcription too), and if your collection of music lovers happens to be a string quartet, you might find this string quartet version of the second movement more comfortable to play (especially if you are a violist).

You can also simply listen to the first movement, which is a palindrome, (it's called "Madam, in Eden I'm Adam") plus an additional "forward" pass; and you can listen here to the second movement, a setting of a traditional (though obscure) "Oseh Shalom" melody.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

CIPP: Creatively Inspired Performance Practice

From Daniel Barenboim's Music Quickens Time
. . . My problem is more with someone who tries to imitate the sound of that time. Knowing that in Bach's day this appoggiatura was played slowly and that ornamentation fast, and copying it is not enough. I must understand why it was like that. This is why I consider a purely academic approach to the past very dangerous because it is linked to ideology and fundamentalism, even in music. Today we are witnesses to the suffering the violence that are the product of fundamentalism.
(I Was Reared on Bach)

. . . I have two problems with the so-called authentic performance practice movement. First of all, the fact that it's a movement at all, an ideology, a worldview, that asks fewer questions, but rather knows the right answers from the get go. That puts a limit on human creativity. That doesn't mean there aren't many unbelievably talented, fabulous musicians among my early performance practice colleagues. but the movement has in a sense broken out individual elements from the music--sound, tempo--as if they were independent of one another. I think that's a huge nonsense. Second, and I say this without any irony, this ideology has been able to see itself as progressive. That's why it's so successful, that was its greatest triumph. I ask you: what can be progressive about saying let's look back and the way things were?!
(On Mozart)
Daniel Barenboim really hits the nail squarely on the head when he equates rules with fundamentalism. It is a particular problem in music, because music performance is a creative act that is very different from the creative act of composition. Composition, for which every bit of musical material in the universe is fair game, depends a great deal on rules (that can be adhered to or broken), and those rules are used mainly for organizational purposes (to avoid chaos).

Each piece of music has its own life, its own morality, and its own continuity. Perhaps this is where the divide comes between composing and performing. Composing is an act of containment and organization. There is a given amount of material to be organized in a finite amount of time (which can grow or shrink during the process of composing). That material needs to be organized in such a way that the piece of music is meaningful (and interesting) from its inception until its ending point. Compositions are not improvisations, because improvisations are unedited musical utterances: they are performances. Compositions may begin with the sense of improvisation, but the composer, who is constantly evaluating the necessity of this passage or that passage in the work as a whole, is constantly questioning the way that the material is being organized. There is time for a composer to turn an improvisation into a piece of music, but it is time that is only on the composer's watch. (Some people who do not read music do all this work without writing anything down.)

The difference between improvisation and composition is kind of like the difference between talking and writing. The ideas that you develop when you talk, unless you are being recorded, evaporate into the air. It is the same thing with those thoughts that pop into your head when you are walking or sleeping. Whoosh! They are gone, unless you write them down. Then once you write them down you have to figure out what you were thinking in the first place. Perhaps your response to those thoughts become the springboard for new things you never thought about before. You want to articulate those thoughts in the most concise way possible, so you try to explain them to yourself in writing. Then you read them over, trying to have them make the kind of sense that they made while they were floating freely around in your head, unencumbered by words, commas, clauses, and paragraphs.

In order for your ideas to be understood by anyone except you, they have have to be organized into an acceptable framework, which you create for yourself. Sometimes it is a framework that is

tailor
made
for
your
ideas,

and sometimes it is a commonly-used form. Sometimes the language you use is invented, and sometimes the language you use has been used before. You have the freedom to choose your material and your form as a writer of either music or words.

An interpretive musician (i.e. a performing one, even if the performance is only for yourself) gives the music what the composer cannot give it. And an interpretive musician gives a piece what a composer feels is not his or her responsibility to give it: life. As a composer I don't want performances of pieces I write to be like paintings made from traced photographs. I want them to be like watercolor paintings or sketches that use the framework that I have set up as a springboard for a musician's own personal (or a group of musicians' collective) agenda of the moment.

One thing I have discovered from the various hats I wear in the world of music is that musicians want music that they can enjoy playing, and that everyone has their own personal reasons for playing certain pieces. Some people like to play music that demands a lot of them expressively, some like to play music that demands a lot of them technically, and some like to play music that demands a lot of them intellectually.

I remember a phone conversation I had many years ago with a flutist friend who was asked to play a concerto with an orchestra. She called me to ask what concerto she should play. I recommended a piece (I can remember what it was) that she didn't know. Her only response was to ask, "Is it showy?" I realized that her agenda was to show off her (fantastic) technique. And there's really nothing inherently wrong about that, though it struck me as an odd way to choose a concerto. She had her agenda, and I'm sure no composer, dead or alive, would object to someone playing his or her piece for the purpose of showing off a tremendous technique.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Styles of Learning, Ways of Knowing

It never ceases to surprise me how many college students think of the act of learning as applying the meaning of the German verb wissen, while so much of "knowing" is actually more like the verb kennen.

Encourage Your Senators to Vote No on Coburn Amendment

This bit of disturbing information came to my attention today, and I thought I'd share it here. Please spread the word to everyone you know.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has introduced an amendment to prohibit any funds in the economic stimulus bill from going to museums, theaters, or arts centers.

The language of the amendment, (Amendment No. 175, as filed) is, “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas.”
The problem speaks for itself. There is no need for comment, only action.

UPDATE: A little taste irony concerning Senator Coburn.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Amato Opera


I just heard the sad news that Tony Amato of the Amato Opera is retiring. The New York Times has has a lovely Addio to Tony Amato that really captures the spirit of the place.

I got the chance to play in the Amato Opera pit once. I subbed for my friend Wendy Stern who told me that I just had to have the experience of playing there. The opera was Don Giovanni (my first exposure to that opera), and the ensemble, which sat under the teeny-tiny stage, was made of flute (that would be me in my previous life), clarinet, oboe, and piano. We used the Metropolitan Opera cuts, and by the end of the performance, when Don G. landed about six inches from me while a fire extinguisher-made fog rained down on my head, I was laughing so hard that I could hardly play. I loved every second.

Tony Amato, I learned, was the brother of Sal Amato, who was the teacher of my friend and teacher Keith Underwood. He was man of legend and mystery to me, and I felt like part of that legend having played for his brother's opera company. What a family, eh?

Here's a link to PDF file where Keith Underwood describes Sal Amato and his very "outside of the box" (Keith was thinking outside of the box before anyone even though of coining the term) concept of flute technique.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Courtly Love

The subject of many of the troubadour songs written and sung during the middle ages concerned the inaccessibility of a noble lady to a person not of her class. I find it amusing that we now live in a time where it is the troubadours themselves who are inaccessible to most people, even people who have a considerable amount of money. Indeed, the sign for having "made it" in the world of "high society" (at least that's what it used to be called) is to be able to hobnob with celebrity musicians.