Sunday, August 30, 2009

Orzo D'apres D'Arabian (or perhaps Devant)

My late Sunday morning habit of watching Melissa D'Arabian's show on the food network always inspires me to make a veganized version of one or more of her dishes for Sunday's dinner. Even though I only caught the last four minutes of her show today, her orzo that behaves like risotto (and doesn't need any attention while cooking) got me very excited.

When I went to the website for her show, the recipe wasn't there, so I had to guess. My guessing came out so deliciously that I'm putting my recipe here. This recipe served two of us, and there was enough left over for another hungry person.

1T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
the zest of one lemon
1/4 t (or so) of Italian herbs

1 cup orzo
2 cups vegetable broth
freshly chopped Italian parsley

Heat the oil, and on rather high heat, caramelize the onion. Add the pepper and the lemon zest, and cook it for a few more minutes. Add the dry orzo, the dry herbs, saute them for a minute, and then douse the whole mixture with the vegetable broth.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook it uncovered on medium high heat (keep it boiling) for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then throw in the parsley, turn off the heat, and cover the pot until you are ready to eat.

We had it with asparagus roasted in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, and Michael had salmon that was also cooked in lemon juice.

Now I'll go and compare what I did to what Melissa did (if the recipe is up now).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nora Ephron's WBUR Interview about Julia Child

Nora Ephron's interview, like everything else she does, is inspiring, very human, and deeply revealing.

And let's give credit to John Morris for writing the theme song that we get to hear at the end of the interview.

Friday, August 28, 2009

. . . but I digress

Words spoken by Paolo Gambara in Gambara, written in 1837 by Honore de Balzac and translated into English by Clara Bell and James Waring.
"Hitherto men have noted effects rather than causes. If they could but master the causes, music would be the greatest of the arts. Is it not the one which strikes deepest to the soul? You see in painting no more than it shows you; in poetry you have only what the poet says; music goes far beyond this. Does it not form your taste, and rouse dormant memories? In a concert-room there may be a thousand souls; a strain is flung out from Pasta's throat, the execution worthily answering to the ideas that flashed through Rossini's mind as he wrote the air. That phrase of Rossini's, transmitted to those attentive souls, is worked out in so many different poems. To one it presents a woman long dreamed of; to another, some distant shore where he wandered long ago. It rises up before him with its drooping willows, its clear waters, and the hopes that then played under its leafy arbors. One woman is reminded of the myriad feelings that tortured her during an hour of jealousy, while another thinks of the unsatisfied cravings of her heart, and paints in the glowing hues of a dream an ideal lover, to whom she abandons herself with the rapture of the woman in the Roman mosaic who embraces a chimera; yet a third is thinking that this very evening some hoped-for joy is to be hers, and rushes by anticipation into the tide of happiness, its dashing waves breaking against her burning bosom. Music alone has this power of throwing us back on ourselves . . ."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Town Meeting

(click for a larger view)
Before going to this evening's town meeting with Tim Johnson, the person who represents our area in Congress, I thought I should become familiar with his positions on various issues so that, on the off chance I might get called on to ask a question, my question could be totally informed. Imagine my surprise when I searched for "health care" on his web site, and found the above "lorem ipsum" text rather than policies and positions. Why would an elected official not post positions on vitally important issues on his or her dot-gov website? Perhaps the same reason that the people who worked in his office did not really give us satisfactory information about his positions on health care when we visited last week.

Thanks to the hard work of many dedicated people, I was able to go elsewhere to find the information I wanted to find.

The meeting was held at the community college where I teach, and the auditorium (the same auditorium where I watched Barack Obama's inauguration between classes last January) was nearly full when we arrived. I spied two empty seats in the middle of the center section, and people I thought to be a nice couple in their later 60s moved over a couple of seats so that Michael and I didn't have to go in so far in order to sit down.

The man, who was sitting next to me, asked me what "side" I was on. I was a bit shocked at the question, but I said that I was in favor of health care reform. He then told me that if he knew that he wouldn't have moved over for me. I thought he was kidding. I asked him if he was kidding because he had a smile on his face. But he wasn't kidding. That was the end of our conversation.

Rep. Johnson arrived ten minutes late, and when he finally arrived he spent a good nine minutes making self-promotional introductory comments. He also made sure that he spent a good five minutes describing the size of our national debt, so the actual amount of time he spent listening to and responding to questions came to about three quarters of an hour (the meeting was supposed to start at 5 and he conveniently had somewhere to go at 6). He did make sure that he called health care reform "socialized medicine," and later in his responses to various questions referred to President Obama sarcastically as our "esteemed leader." He talked about illegal immigrants as people who have "gamed the system," referring to them as simply "illegals."

He responded to thoughtful questions from audience members who voiced the need for health care reform with canned answers that did not answer the specific questions. He was condescending, hostile, angry, and he did his best to try to scare people about the dangers of what he called "socialized medicine." One person cited objective facts about health care from an objective non-partisan source, and Rep. Johnson simply told him that his facts were wrong. I imagine that Rep. Johnson was wrong when he stated that only one tenth of the people in the auditorium were in favor of health care reform. Perhaps he got that information from reading his web page.

I'm glad I went to this meeting. I had a far better impression of him from his campaign material and his voting record than I had from witnessing his sarcasm and his anger. The audience (except for the man to my immediate right) was extremely civil, the Representative was abrasive. When he is up for re-election, I will do everything in my power to work for the person or people running against him.

N.B. Here is an excellent animated explanation from earthly comics about how the insurance business works. It should clear up any questions that anyone might happen to have.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eyes that Hear, Ears that See (with a bit of help)

Middle age has a way of messing with vision, which, I suppose, is just a fact of life. Two years ago I wrote a post about the problems I have encountered trying to play the piano with progressive lenses, and I somehow seem to have "outgrown" my old solution of simply not wearing glasses when playing the piano. At the same time I find myself in need of a workable solution for reading music clearly while playing the violin and the viola. Progressive lenses work well for some people, but they just don't work for me, since I spend so much time reading music. I'm going to request single-vision glasses at my next eye exam, which I'm up for in a year.

I found a cheap interim solution to my problem in an old box of "keepsakes." For some odd reason I have held onto nearly all my old glasses, including the "single-vision" glasses of my young adulthood. My young adulthood coincided with the 1980s, when fashionable glasses were thoroughly hideous. There is no way I will post a photograph of myself wearing these remnants from my days in Vienna in 1981, but I can't resist letting my piano "wear" them. The only people who ever see me playing the piano are my students. I gave my Tuesday students a "preview" so that they won't double over in laughter when they see me don these during a future lesson.

My next pair of single-vision glasses came from a Cambridge (Mass) optical shop in 1984. They seem to work perfectly for playing the violin and the viola. And they're big, so I can take in a whole page at a time. I think that they make my violin look rather dignified.

Not having to "translate" the bent and uneven images I see through my progressive lenses (which work perfectly well for activities in life that do not involve reading anything other than road signs) frees up so much of my head. I can pay far more attention to what I am hearing and what I am doing. The senses of hearing and touch can be rendered slightly bent and uneven when something is messing with your vision.

A word to the young glasses-wearing musician: hold onto your single vision glasses! Some day you will be glad that you did.

Breaking Barriers

One of my biggest frustrations during my flute-playing youth was the difficulty I had making crescendos. It had nothing to do with the maximum volume of the sound I could make, because I never had any trouble playing loudly when I needed to, but getting there was always a problem for me.

I always thought of it as a personality thing, reflecting the frustration I would have with not being able to assert myself in certain situations. I associated my crescendo problem with dreams that I had where I could not be heard if I tried to say something, or dreams where I was physically not able to move fast enough to get away from an element of danger. In waking life I associated it with, not being smart enough, not being tall enough, not being clever enough in social situations, or feeling tongue-tied under pressure.

Now I see the crescendo problem in some of my teenage students. Some don't seem to have a problem with making crescendos at all, but the ones with a teenage psychological mindset similar to the mindset I lived with for those fragile years, become musically frustrated in the same ways I became frustrated.

I take special glee in slaying the dragons that plagued me in my youth by teaching these kids technical ways of making their crescendos. It is so much easier to use technical means when the technique is on the outside. Everything concerning sound on the flute is located inside the body, and it took a long time before I found a teacher who had the ability to explain the way sound production worked on the flute (that teacher was Keith Underwood). Learning how to make a crescendo really improved my musical life, and by extension, it improved my whole life.

On the violin and viola much of the equipment is on the outside. There are many ways of making crescendos using different parts of the bow arm, using varying amounts of bow in various ways, moving towards the bridge and/or to a more resonant place on the instrument, where a stronger finger can shoulder the burden of going from mezzo-forte to forte, and even onward to fortissimo.

Friday, August 21, 2009


The latest New Yorker has an article by Alex Ross about fictional composers called "Imaginary Music." In it he mentions "Gambara" by Honoré de Balzac, which is fortunately available on line for free through Project Gutenberg. It is a "must read" for all musicians, and especially for composers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spicy Summer Storm Stew

The stew that we had during a summer storm last night (hence the name) was so good that I'm making it again tonight. My recipe is an adaptation of Melissa D'Arabian's recipe for North African Meatballs without the meatballs. I changed the ingredients and amounts a bit, and I added vegetables. This recipe feeds two hungry people, and I imagine it would be good with just about any kind of meat too.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sliced onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
the zest of one lemon (not the juice!)
1/3 cup pitted and chopped Greek olives (1/2 cup if you measure them with the pits)
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick, or a healthy dash of ground cinnamon
4 carrots, cut into chunks
A handful or two of green beans
1 eggplant, cut into chunks. (If you use Japanese eggplant, there is no need to salt and sweat the eggplant, but if you use regular eggplant, salting and sweating is always good to do.)
3 zucchini, cut into chunks (as per Lisa's comment below).

Use a large, heavy pot with a lid.

Cut the eggplant first, set it to sweat, and then peel and cut the rest of the vegetables, zest the lemon, and pit the olives. By the time you are ready to add the eggplant, it will be ready for you.

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat, letting the onion caramelize. Add the zest and the olives, and cook for another minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine, and reduce the mixture, uncovered, for a few minutes. The add the vegetables, stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, and cinnamon stick.

Cover and cook over medium low heat for about 45 minutes.

Serve over couscous made with golden raisins: cook a handful or two of golden raisins in the water or broth before adding the couscous.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yes, I do this for my health

I keep a blog about music so that people who do what I do might be able to find some kind of community in a world that is largely unmusical. I keep this blog for my mental and musical health, and certainly not for any kind of economic gain. I like to think of it as a model for the way I wish the world could be: a place where I can express myself, and, if I am fortunate, can participate in some kind of discourse concerning the things that are very important to me. I usually write about music, but once in a while I get distracted by the goings on in the non-musical world, especially when they concern things just as important to me as music, like truth.

I'm completely fed up with the way special interest groups (i.e. the small number of people who benefit financially from the current American health care system) are trying to hoodwink and manipulate people who may not keep themselves properly informed. Please share this link with everyone you know, especially with friends who might be easily manipulated by corporate entities and extensions of corporate entities that have anything but the interests in the American people in mind.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paying Attention to What's Required

One of the maxims in Stevens Hewitt's Oboe Method reads:
"Can you pay attention to what is required? I doubt it."
As a flute player I often dismissed that statement because I really felt that I was able to pay attention to what was required in order to play well. Now that I have grown far beyond the age of arrogance, I believe Hewitt's statement to be true. It has become my daily challenge to try to pay attention to what is required.

I ask my students to pay attention to a lot of things, and, they usually leave their lessons mentally exhausted if they take an active part in the paying of attention. When the active part of paying attention is "paid" by the teacher, and the student reacts to that attention passively, without full engagement of all the necessary senses (sight, sound, touch), it is usually the teacher who is exhausted after a lesson.

I find that it is humbling to ask myself, during my own practice time, to pay attention the way I ask my students to pay attention. If a violin student, for example, is struggling with finding the proper arrangements of half steps and whole steps necessary to play in tune in the key of F major, and shifting between the first position and the third position, it requires the same kind of attention for that student as it requires for me to find the proper arrangement of half steps and whole steps to play in tune in G-flat major and shifting around in the positions above 5th position on the violin.

Lately I have been asking my students to pay close attention to the position of their thumbs when shifting from position to position (so often the thumb, which is a very accurate tool for measurement up and down the neck of the violin, forgets that it is part of the hand). I have also been following my own advice, and have been trying to pay attention to my thumb during every shift. I have noticed that when I pay attention, my shifts are more accurate and more secure.

Children will more often follow the example of what their parents do rather than the example of what their parents say. Students will more often follow the example of what their teachers do rather than what their teachers say.

Here's another post concerning Stevens Hewitt's Oboe Method.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Newly-minted word: dodecophonoclast

Merriam-Webster defines the word iconoclast (coined in 1641) as

1. a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
2. a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

My definition of a dodecophonoclast is a person who opposes the veneration of 12-tone music. An alternate spelling would be dodecophoniclast.

Let's see if it catches on!

UPDATE: Gary Bachlund has set this blog post, and quite appropriately so, to music!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Edge

It is strange the way that a motivational or business-success-related concept can translate into something musical. Consider Rajesh Setty's Focus on the Edges on his Life Beyond Code blog.

The edge for me is the millisecond when sound begins. The clarity and confidence of that millisecond determines nearly everything about the note that will follow. Every bow stroke, every stroke of a wind-player's tongue or a percussionist's stick (or hands or fingers) is an interaction with "the edge."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Julia Child and the Singing Cookbook

It was only minutes after getting home from Julie and Julia that I cracked open my mother's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (I happen to have both volumes, and it turns out that volume 2 is a first edition), and started looking among the aspics and sweetbreads for vegan dishes. There are certainly enough vegetable recipes in there to keep the spirit of the film with me through the winter. Julia Child's books are just great, but I really want to get my hands on this singing cookbook she shows in this film clip.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Harlot's House

This is a piece I wrote last summer (2008) for strings that is based on an Oscar Wilde poem. I have attempted to match up images in the poem with actions in the music in this slide-show-style presentation.

You can download a PDF file of the score and parts here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hummus-Tahini Seitan

Not that I really remember what chicken tastes like, but this comes rather close in texture. The polar opposite of yesterday's strong and sweet "korp" (which will be today's lunch, sliced thin and on a sandwich), this has a much softer texture, and an ever-so-slight Middle Eastern flavor that, I imagine, will be able to go with many different kinds of sauces.

Here's the recipe.

Get a double boiler going, and cut two or three pieces of aluminum foil.

1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cumin (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons sesame tahini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup garbanzo beans, mashed
2 cloves pressed garlic

Mix the gluten, salt, and cumin in a medium-sized bowl. Put the sesame tahini in a smaller bowl, and add the lemon juice. Mix them together to form a thick paste. Slowly add the water, and mix to form a smooth sauce (it is magic, I know). Add the garbanzo beans and the garlic, and mash everything together with a spoon.

Add the garbanzo-tahini mixture to the gluten mixture, and knead it into a stiff dough. Divide it into two or three parts, wrap them in foil, and steam the patties for 40 minutes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Krop, The Other Wheat Meat

Inspired by a recipe for seitan sausage in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch, I decided to try my hand at using her steaming technique for making a firm seitan, one that has the consistency of roast pork--like what you get in pork fried rice.

The above picture is from this evening's dinner: Krop (my on-the-spot invented word) with leftover risotto. This asparagus, red pepper, and rosemary risotto didn't really go with my wheat meat, but it went really well with the chicken I made for Michael, which was inspired by the chicken Melissa d'Arabian made on the finale of "The Next Food Network Star." Anyway, here's my Krop recipe. It takes 45 minutes (or the same amount of time that it takes to cook chicken breast in the oven).

1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup teriyaki (I used Trader Ming's from Trader Joe's, brought back to downstate Illinois from New Jersey), but you can make your own from soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, a touch of sugar, and a touch of vinegar.
1 teaspoon (or so) toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon (or so) vegetable soup base
2 tablespoons water (the wet ingredients should amount to just short of 1/2 cup)

Start some water boiling in the bottom of a double boiler, and tear off two 12" X 10" (or so) pieces of aluminum foil. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon, and then knead everything together for a minute or two. If the dough feels too dry, add a splash of water, and if it feels too wet, add a bit more gluten. Divide the dough into two parts, and form into hamburger-like patties.

Place each patty on a piece of foil, and wrap the foil around each patty, sealing the edges. Place the patties in the top of the double boiler (one atop the other is fine), put the lid on, turn the flame to low, and steam the patties for 40 minutes.

That's it. You can slice it very thin, or eat it as is. You can brown it (notice that mine is nicely browned). You can smother it with onions, or put it in a salad. You can even put it in soup, and it won't fall apart.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Another New Tune for Another Old Song

This one, Asleep in the Deep, also has a text by Arthur J. Lamb.
Stormy the night and the waves roll high,

Bravely the ship doth ride,

Hark! while the lighthouse bell's solemn cry

Rings o'er the sullen tide.

There on the deck see two lovers stand,

Heart to heart beating, and hand to hand;

Tho' death be near, she knows no fear

While at her side is one of all most dear.


Loudly the bell in the old tower rings,

Bidding us list to the warning it brings:

Sailor, take care!
Sailor, take care!

Danger is near thee, beware!
 Beware! Beware!

Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep,
So beware! beware!

What of the storm when the night is o'er?

There is no trace or sign.

Save where the wreckage hath strewn the shore,

Peaceful the sun doth shine.

But when the wild, raging storm did cease,

Under the billows two hearts found peace,

No more to part, no more of pain,

The bell may now tell its warning in vain.
You can also download a PDF here, and listen to it here.

Measuring Music with Money

Because of changes in the way music can now be distributed, and because of my non-existent business skills and total lack of interest in business when it comes to my creative work, I decided last year to make everything new that I write available to anyone who wants to play it, rather than continue to enter my music into the quagmire of rights connected with publication.

Publishers used to be the gatekeepers of culture, musical and otherwise. The only way for music to reach the people who might want to play it used to be through publishers (publishers who can keep music that has their copyright out of circulation just as easily as they can put music into circulation), but now things have changed, and I am thrilled to be able to make the music I write available to people for free by way of the internet. I promise that the music I offer for free is of the same general quality as the music I have written (around 70 pieces) that you can buy from a publisher.

Since I make a portion of my living by playing music--rehearsing and performing--I have no problem being paid for the time I spend preparing for a concert or playing a concert. I have no problem with people buying tickets for concerts, or with people buying recordings. I have no problem with students paying me for lessons, for obvious reasons, but I prefer to make my creative work available to musicians for free.

The most important thing for me as a composer is to keep writing. Worrying about sales or the monetary value of a piece I write simply blocks the process for me--sort of like a clog in a drain. Does this change of perspective transfer my status as a professional composer to that of an amateur composer? I don't think so.