Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fred Steiner

A.C. Douglas wrote a post today about the recent death of Fred Steiner, the composer who wrote the theme music for Perry Mason. I actually watch Perry Mason (it's on the TV at 1:00 every weekday) mainly for the music. It inspires me. Steiner also wrote a lot of other great TV and film music, and was the the musical fire behind the success of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Related Steiner Post

Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers

Bálint András Varga's Three Question for Sixty-Five Composers is a goldmine. It was published in Budapest in 1986, and just came into print in an English language edition, which has been revised to include post 1986 updates, and a handful of younger composers who are still living.

Here are Varga's questions:
1. Have you had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski's: he heard John Cage's Second Piano Concerto on the radio--an encounter which changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period, the first result of which was his Jeux vénitiens (1960-1961). [N.B. Varga was referring, of course, to John Cage's Concert for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra.]

2. A composer is surrounded by sounds. Do they influence you and are they in any way of significance for your compositional work?

3. How far can one speak of a personal style and where does self-repetition begin?

I'm surprised to find composers I haven't heard of before, like Sandor Balassa, who responded to the third question in a most compelling way.
The artist, while changing his subject, tells of this and that--what he has experienced and dreamed of in the course of his life.

The permanent and repeated moments are manifested through the author's personality and his limitations. The fact that his subjects are communicated by him, means that we see through his eyes, we experience his works filtered through his personality.
He goes on to say:
I also want to tell people to remain faithful to their youthful ideals. Why should I only do so just once? The fact that modernist music has lost the sympathy of listeners is due in part to its renunciation of the principle of repetition. Look, I am no linguist. I have no intention of inventing new languages. I would like to communicate something in the language we have, so that my message should reach its addressees. My main concern is for them to understand me.

My next excerpt of particular note comes from Sir Harrison Birtwistle's response to the second question:
Color is like orchestration, if you like. You can't divorce color from a picture, it is part of it. You cannot divorce orchestration from a composition.

I just find smell very evocative, in a purely Proustian sense. Like taste. I do not know if it has anything do do with music but it seems to me to be a very potent recaller of material. Smell is something . . . I smelt something the other day that I hadn't smelt for forty years: the smell of a dairy. The sour smell of slightly stale milk--no matter how you clean the place you can never get rid of it. I went to a farm, and I smelt this and it was amazing--it was my childhood.

But do you get any musical ideas from smells?

Then there's Elliot Carter:
To work out a series of stylistic devices and then use them as formulae bores me as a prospect and it bores me in others who do it. Self-repetition is to me a sign of fatigue.
and George Crumb:
All of the great composers of the past had immediately recognizable fingerprints. With a more recent composer like Stravinsky, for example, even though he is referred to as having changed style many times, what strikes me about his music over his whole lifetime is its consistency.
I find the response to the third question by the "humble" Morton Feldman quite interesting:
Many people feel that if they hear one piece of mine, they heard it all. Yet all Rembrandts are more or less the same. All Giottos are more or less the same.

You are not hurt when people make this remark? Perhaps you agree?

About my music? I don't agree. It means they are not listening. All Proust is the same. Kafka is the same. All gardens in Vienna are the same.

Why is it people expect music to be so different? I'll tell you why. Because people get very bored, they can't listen to music. They can't listen to music . . . My problem is that I want all my pieces to be the same but I haven't got the discipline to make it the same . . .
Pierre Schaeffer's response to the third question comes as a surprise:
I cannot answer this question because I am not a composer. Why did I stop writing which I had always regarded as an experiment? I had a positive and a negative reason.

The positive reason has nothing to do with music. I used to work a great deal in radio and television--but after all, we only have one life and for me, writing was my actual vocation. I only have a few years left to write my books: philosophical works, novels, and other things. For me, music was an accident. An unfortunate accident.

The negative reason: music today is in a crisis. My contemporaries try to flee from their all-encompassing metaphysical fear in that they seek an impossible sort of music: stochastic or repetitive music, Stockhausenian blah-blah, Cageian clownery. I do not wish to become the victim of new simplicity--I prefer to reject it all.
There are many more interviews I could quote, but I'll save further discovery and delight for you. Gunther Schuller's interview is so compelling that I cannot bear to take only an excerpt. It certainly whets my appetite for his forthcoming memoir Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, which happens to also be published by the University of Rochester Press.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Daily Bach

"Rarely does a day go by when I don't do some Bach. And when I do it it's never the way I did it the time before." Aaron Rosand
I would say that the person I have the most intimate daily contact with for the longest time has been Johann Sebastian Bach. He always adapts to whatever musical needs I might have at any given time in my life.

When I was a small child, before I played an instrument, I listened to my father practice Bach every day. When I was very little it was the Sonatas and Partitas for violin, and then when I was older (after the age of 6), it was the Cello Suites, and the Sonatas and Partitas played one fifth lower on the viola. My mother practiced Bach Flute Sonatas and transcriptions of non-contrapuntal movements from the Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites, and when I began to play the flute I did the same. I also learned all the flute parts from the Bach Cantatas that my (then future and now former) teacher Julius Baker compiled after his years as the flutist of the Bach Aria Group, and from my mother's books of arias with instrumental obbligato by voice type.

That led me to learn the arias in the context of their cantatas. If it was for flute and by Bach, I knew it. My first Cantata was Number 78. It was, perhaps, the first recording I bought for myself: Karl Richter and the Munich Bach Choir Orchestra with the Magnificat on the other side.

I even bought the parts when I was in high school. My father told me that Cantata 78 was the first Bach Cantata he ever played. He played it at a Unitarian Church in Cleveland when he was there working for what was to become NASA (he was called to sub for a violinist had trouble getting up on Sunday mornings). The conductor was Robert Shaw. Cantata 78 still has its place for me in the pantheon of Bach Cantatas.

I always felt disappointed by the A minor Suite for Solo Flute. It never seemed to be as interesting as the solo string music, or the accompanied Flute Sonatas, but I still played it every day before I became a string player.

My daily Bach took me from age 13 through age 31 or so on the flute, recorder, and baroque flute, and as soon as I had enough technique to believe I could attempt the Sonatas and Partitas on the violin, it became my daily goal to navigate through them. When I found myself with a viola (I bought one for $100 at a neighbor's garage sale), the first pieces I tried to play were the Cello Suites (Watson Forbes' transcription). Once I got enough technique to play movements from the Sonatas and Partitas on the viola (the ones movements I heard my father play when I was growing up), they joined my daily Bach. Now I practice all the movements on the violin, and practice all the Cello Suites on the viola.

I have never been much of a keyboard player, but I still manage to find pleasure in playing the Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Klavier on the piano (albeit slowly). Bach's keyboard Partitas taught me the joy of completely exhausting all the contrapuntal possibilities presented by a small amount of material, and some movements from his English and French Suites, along with the two-part inventions taught me the limitlessness of writing with only two voices. When I got my viola d'amore, and instrument that I'm sure Bach played, I made a transcription of the Fifth Cello Suite for it. That's the way I learned my way around a new instrument: through Bach.

I learned to play the flute, the baroque flute, the piano, the violin, and the viola from Bach. I discovered the wonders of "baroque interpretation" through Bach, and I discovered the wonders of "romantic interpretation" through Bach. Bach has shared my deepest passions, my deepest sorrows, my flights of musical and intellectual fancy, and my frustrations. Teaching Bach is always the greatest way of communicating with a student, and discovering the ambiguities of Bach--phrases that can work in thousands upon thousands of ways--is a parallel to all of life. It is sturdy music that means as much to me today as it did when I was a very small child. It is music that I can throw my whole self into, and though much of my daily Bach is grooved into my psyche, I never have the same experience playing it. Never.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kafka's Cicada?

Today I heard a "To the Best of Our Knowledge" podcast on which (in which?) Brian Kane discussed Franz Kafka's "The Burrow" (Der Bau in German). Kane talked about his work concerning Kafka's exploration of the idea of acousmatic sound through the thoughts of a mole who is unable to get away from a high whistling sound he is unable to locate. The discussion goes in the direction of musique concrète, and the fact that Kafka thought of music as sound: where other people heard music, he heard only sound. It was certainly interesting, and it is certainly an unexpected pleasure for the NPR podcast world to include something that pertains to music.

I wonder if the story might be more insect-specific than acousmatic-specific (and Kafka certainly had a thing for insects). You have probably already figured out where I am going from the title of this post. Perhaps the whistling sound that Kafka's mole might have heard was a brood of cicadas, and perhaps the mole was hearing it through the ground. I know (from observing my yard) that when there's a cicada hatching there is extensive mole activity. Moles feast on the cicada larvae, particularly when they are fully-developed and just ready to emerge out of the soil. What do cicadas do after they emerge (the ones that get away from the moles)? The males make a constant screaming sound (that, when muffled by earth could be considered an annoying whistle that never seems to stop).

I like the idea of the cicada in the larval phase satisfying and nurturing the mole, and in its mature phase annoying and confounding the mole.

All the periodic cicada data (I like the sound of that--cicadadata) I have found concerns North America, and most of it centers around Illinois, where our brood of cicadas have finally ended their 13 year life cycle (it took about six weeks for them to make it from their emergence to their collective death). I imagine that there must be periodic cicadas in Austria. Perhaps if we find that somewhere around 1924, the year that Kafka wrote this story, there was a periodic cicada emergence where he was living, someone might prove my hypothesis correct!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Le mystère Picasso, La musique by Auric

Georges Auric's music for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le mystère Picasso, a film that consists solely of images made in real time by Picasso and photographed mostly from the verso side of his painting surface, is a bit austere, but the process and evolution of Picasso's images show a great deal about the artistic process. His process involves the same kind of spontaneous think and rethink that is involved in musical composition.

Here's another clip from the film. I prefer the sound of just the pen on the paper, and the voices of Picasso and Clouzot. There's high drama here: they have a finite amount of film, which means that Picasso has to finish the transformation of his fish into a chicken, and then into a creepy shadow-cat in a very short time.

Michael and I have been enjoying a Clouzot festival at our house, and he's been writing posts and taking screenshots.

Quai des Orfèvres
Le Corbeau
Le salaire de la peur [The wages of fear]
Les Diaboliques

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Self Criticism, Fanny Hensel Style

I came across this self-deprecating letter from the 29-year-old Fanny Hensel to her brother Felix, who had written to her about her 1834 String Quartet. His criticisms mostly involved her unorthodox use of form (it is indeed unorthodox, the same way that Beethoven's later Quartets, which she studied well, were unorthodox). She took the opportunity to express her deepest feelings of inadequacy to her brother on February 17, 1835.

Here it is in German:
Ich habe nachgedacht, wie ich, eigentlich gar nicht excentrische oder hypersentimentale Person zu der weichlichen Schreibart komme? Ich glaube es kommt daher, daß wir grade mit Beethovens letzter Zeit jung waren, u. dessen Art u. Weise wir billig, sehr in uns aufgenommen haben. Sie ist doch gar zu rührend u. eindringlich. Du hast Dich durchgelebt u. durchgeschrieben, u. ich bin drin stecken geblieben, aber ohne die Kraft durch die die Weichheit allein bestehn kann u. soll. Daher glaub ich auch, hast Du nicht den rechten Punkt über mich getroffen oder ausgesprochen. Es ist nicht sowohl die Schreibart an der es fehlt, als ein gewisses Lebensprinzip, u. diesem Mangel zufolge sterben meine längern Sachen in ihrer Jugend an Altersschwäche, es fehlt mir die Kraft, die Gedanken gehörig festzuhalten, ihnen die nöthige Consistenz zu geben. Daher gelingen mir am besten Lieder, wozu nur allenfalls ein hübscher Einfall ohne viele Kraft der Durchführung gehört.
Here's an English translation (taken from a recording by the Merel Quartet)
I have thought about how I--actually not at all an eccentric or hypersentimental person--have adopted such a tender-minded way of writing. I believe that it results from the fact that we were young precisely at the end of Beethoven's time, and willingly and deeply absorbed his way of doing things. It is altogether too moving and affecting. You have lived through it and progressed beyond it in your composing and I have remained stuck in it, but without the strength that is necessary to sustain that tenderness. For this reason, I also believe that you have not hit upon or voiced the crucial point about me. It is not so much the way of composing that is the problem as it is a certain life principle, and as a result of this shortcoming, my longer things die of decrepitude while still in their youth; I lack the strength to sustain my ideas properly and give them the necessary consistency. For this reason, I have my greatest successes with songs, for which on a pretty inspiration without much tenacity is needed.
Here's a FANTASTIC website with Hensel's collected and musically-illustrated correspondence.

We all go through periods of self doubt, and many women tend to fall into the habit of self deprecation. It seems to be more of a cultural habit than a personal habit. Fanny Hensel did have the support of her family, but only to a point, because they restricted her musical activities to her home. She was therefore not able to interact in the active post-Beethoven musical world that she felt she needed in order to overcome her perceived inability to sustain her musical ideas. The more I hear of her music, the more tragic her situation becomes.

I'm wracking my brain trying to think of a male composer of Hensel's ability who was (or is) as self deprecating as she was. The only self deprecating composers that come to mind are women.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Competitive Cookery

This is the fifth summer that I have spent my Sunday evenings watching the Next Food Network Star, and during that time I have seen the show change a great deal. The basic premise is for the contestants to be able to cook on camera and engage an audience. The "game show" aspect of it involves team challenges that focus on cooperation skills as well as on cooking skills.

As an audience member, and as a person who thrives in a cooperative environment, I really enjoy the fact that this season seems to have a handful of competent and humble people who pride themselves on being good cooks and good people. Some of the more humble people tend to get criticized for what I consider their better personal qualities, and there are some that don't get criticized for having those qualities.

We have Orchid Paulmeier, who always pleases the judges. I like her too. She's probably going to be the "nice" finalist. Then we have Penny Davidi, the anti-Orchid. Penny seems to regard Orchid as her greatest threat--the person who she sees as being directly in the way of her success. Orchid could be angry at Penny, but she doesn't show it. Penny seems to be a very good cook. She grew up with Middle Eastern cooking, and what's better than Middle Eastern food?.

I imagine that Penny and Orchid will be two of the final four, because viewers always love conflict between what they perceive as good and evil. It makes for a good food fight.

The third spot will probably be between these three:

Justin Balmes' problem, according to the judges, is that he doesn't talk about his food in grandiose terms. He is apparently a great cook, but the judges don't seem to think he has what it takes to transmit that fact to people who don't have his food on their plates. He is calm and cool, but the judges already have him stereotyped as a "nerd," and they seem to fear he might bore viewers.

Jyll Everman is a total team player. It seems that the greatest moment of the competition for her was being able to work as a team with some of the women contestants (OK all the women except Penny, who was happy to be on a team with the men--and Jyll got to choose the configurations of the teams). The judges don't seem to like this aspect of Jyll. They want her to be more like Penny (who thinks strategically at every turn). They want her to be competitive.

Then we have Whitney Chen who, besides being a great cook and a kind person, is clearly very smart. Like Justin (above) she doesn't do much in the way of horn tooting. The judges are probably wondering how viewers might respond to the fact that she is very smart. Smart women can be marginalized in the real world, and they can be marginalized in the TV world too. We'll see. I like her. I like her because she's a good cook, she's kind, and she's smart.

The fourth place in the finals, if he doesn't screw up AGAIN, will probably go to Vic Vegas Moea, if he gets his exuberant personality to work for him in front of a camera, when he's trying to perform. The judges probably want him to get to the finals because of the contrast between his somewhat offputting outside (with all those tattoos) and his soft and sentimental personality. If Vic doesn't make it, they can have the "look" with Justin Balmes IF he "opens up" (code for transforms himself into an entertainer). There's also another Justin, but I don't see him going anywhere.

These are my public predictions, and now it's time for lunch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A bit of viola love: Max von Weinzierl's Nachtstück

Yes. It's originally for four violas! And you can download a PDF of the music here. The people playing are members of the Tertis Viola Ensemble, and are also members of the Munich Philharmonic.

As for Max von Weinzierl, I haven't been able to find out much about him. This seems to be his only published instrumental composition, but he clearly must have had a great deal of experience writing for strings (and, perhaps, playing the viola). I have seen reference to him as Max Ritter von Weizierl, which might connect him with this castle. He wrote a lot of vocal music, and might have spent some time in Salzburg (this piece is dedicated to a Salzburg druggist who was connected with the Mozarteum).

Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is something I have wondered for a long time. Growing up in a household of musicians everything was a pun. Dinner table conversation often included puns on names of pieces my father was playing with the BSO that week, or puns on names of soloists or conductors. Granted, communication with my family of origin was indeed odd, but didn't know it when I was a child. Since I didn't have a frame of reference, I thought every family communicated mostly in puns.

Puns were everywhere at Juilliard, and punning always happens whenever and wherever I play music with people. I love them, particularly when they just come out without any preparation. It makes any musical gathering feel like home.

I wonder if making puns is something that people do because they are musical (notice I didn't say "musicians," I said "musical")? My husband and kids are champion punsters, and they are also very musical. I wonder if the joy of the pun (which I just named "homophonophilia") has to do with a certain musical pleasure that comes into play in both the act of punning and the recognition of the pun.

Notice that I refrained from making puns while writing this post. You are welcome to make them in the comments, though.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Perhaps the best viola joke ever

I think I have made it fairly clear that I am not a great fan of viola jokes (jokes made at the expense of violists), but this is one that, because it requires violists to have a sense of humor to perform, is well worth sharing. It is also filmed from just the right angle.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Musical Imagination

I was discussing beginning notes with the idea of friction between the string and the bow with an 9-year-old student yesterday, and the concept of a match strike came up. Now this young man has never actually struck a match himself, but he’s seen his mother do it, and he certainly understands what a match strike is.

The musical result was pretty dramatic, and it made his Lully Gavotte leap from the mundane to the downright exciting.

I mentioned to him that in music we can have things in our imagination that we would (or should) never actually act out in real life. Think about it! The musical imagination is as rich as the imagination we bring to our dreams. What goes on “behind the scenes” is really nobody’s business but our own, and the resulting musical phrases are transmitted as pure expression and energy. Nobody has to know what you're thinking about. Actually, nobody can know what you're thinking about.

The imagination of the individual musician is what makes every musical performance unique, and the application of imagination to musical performance is a far safer method of self expression than some of the alternatives that young people (and not so young people) choose to use.

Monday, June 13, 2011

15th Century Lobster Fiddler

Michael sent me this illustration from the Aurora consurgens, a 15th-century manuscript from a writer called "the Pseudo-Aquinas," so named because the writer of this manuscript was originally thought to be Thomas Aquinas. The keeper of Ordinary Finds named it "The Monkey and the Violin" for line in a Leonard Cohen song but I find the image so much richer.

A snake for a bow, a lobster for a fiddle (a Vielle, no doubt--which is sometimes tuned like a viola), a fish for a tail, and a burning bunch of grass for a leg. Notice that the bird (which looks more like a raven than an eagle to me) is operating the left hand on the, er, fingerboard.

If you neglected to click on the Vielle link above, you can listen to (and watch) some superb vielle playing here. And there's something about the music Barry Hall plays that really illuminates the above illumination.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Natural Selection in Music

This is an edited (and expanded) version of a comment I put on Mixed Meters today. It's another post-mortem about classical music. I'm not sure why I feel the need to respond to these claims (which have been made ad-nauseum elsewhere), but it's a Sunday morning, and I have the rest of the day to occupy myself with feeding the hungry musical beast (i.e. practicing and writing).

There used to be a self-selection method to keep music contemporary. Most of it wasn't written down during the Middle Ages. The stuff that was published during the Renaissance was written in notation that changed, so it became virtually useless until the 20th century when people figured out how to read it and decided to make modern editions. Monarchs held onto their libraries during what we call the Baroque period (which made a lot of music inaccessible--like music by Vivaldi), and after the keepers of the libraries died pages would get moldy, would get destroyed by fire, or would be used to wrap fish.

A few astute people kept the good stuff safe and in good condition, and made sure that it made its way into the hands and ears of the best later 18th-century composers, even though it had gone completely out of fashion. (I'm talking about Bach, Handel, Baron von Swieten, Mozart, and Haydn here.)

Most of the early 19th century was devoid of Baroque elements, but when Schumann et al went and published Bach's music (for the first time), it had a resurgence among musicians. Audiences (non musicians) didn't get their "Renaissance" until the 20th century, when people started making recordings.

The preservation and study of old music became a whole field of music (that would be musicology), and we now have more music from the past at our fingertips than any intelligent musician could dream of having. And more is coming.

The past is vast, but the present is now. The audience for music (any and all music including "classical music") has a far greater proportion of people who do not have a functional grasp of the materials of music or the proximity to performances to experience it without using some form of electrical energy to get it to reach their ears. We now have music critics who don't have practical experience as practicing, composing, or performing musicians, and, like me we have people writing about music without a "gatekeeper" to decide if what we say has validity.

I don't believe it's worth the time I could be spending learning new (to me) Renaissance, Baroque music, or new 19th and 20th-century music, practicing my instruments, writing music, or writing blog posts, to dwell on whether the music I care about is living or dying.

I'm long past hoping that more than a healthy handful of people will share my views on anything, and I'm grateful that these people still read blogs.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Irving Brecher

When I was growing up during the 1960s and 1970s the term "generation gap" was all over the place. The grownups I knew were a whole lot more interesting than the kids who were my age, so I never really identified with the lower part of the aforementioned "gap."

I still tend to have more in common with people who are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Perhaps that's one reason I found this Podcast about Irv Brecher so wonderful. Hank Rosenfeld spent more than half a decade hanging out with Brecher, and he recorded their conversations.

Here's Brecher's Obituary, and a link to Rosenfeld's book The Wicked Wit of the West

Thursday, June 09, 2011


It does take a dash of sensationalism to make the New York Times. I have never heard the scroll of a viola (or any member of the family of bowed instruments) referred to as the "headstock." I have also never heard of a scroll "snapping off." Scrolls are usually made of the same piece of wood as the neck.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Weighing in on ViolaGate

An anonymous commenter put a comment on this post last night in order to draw attention to Brian Rosen's article about a concert Bernard Zaslav attended in San Francisco. Rosen is responsible for the term ViolaGate (whatever that means), and I imagine that he posted his second-hand report of the concert in order to get some chuckles from people who enjoy telling viola jokes, and still consider violists buffoons. Bernie is a very close friend of mine, and I feel a need to add my voice to his defense.

The story, in a nutshell, is that a few friends of Bernie's were playing a concert in San Francisco. They got him tickets in the front row, knowing that the extreme vertigo he was experiencing as a result of a fall he had almost two weeks ago made it difficult for him to move around steadily. This was probably his first time out since his fall, and certainly his first concert. He came with a cane, which he stashed under his seat.

The first part of the concert was interesting for him (and probably for the rest of the audience as well), and the idea of electronics presented in the advertisement for the concert did not present any high decibel worries. There were no warnings that people seated in the front rows might want to wear earplugs. Bernie probably expected electronics in the manner of Babbitt, a composer he knew very well and respects a great deal.

When the piece for viola and electronics began, the decibel level was extremely high, and Bernie and his wife, who were sitting directly in front of the speakers (who knew?) were directly in the line of fire. (Kenneth Woods describes the difference between acoustic directional sound and electronic directional sound here.)

Bernie wanted to leave, but he was unable to find his cane in the totally darkened room. He was in extreme pain from what was coming out of the speakers. Do you think, with his vertigo, he should have tried to escape caneless and risk fall again? At 85, falling is never a good thing. I suppose people who target their music to a "rock" audience don't consider that their audience might happen to have people who have a completely different experience of "new music" in the house.

The person performing seemed to hear Bernie loud and clear (I guess it's because the speakers were not pointed at him). He had no reason to smash his viola (how much damage was done anyway?). Why, in this case, is an 85-year-old musical icon with mobility issues considered to be the person at fault, while a young "nomadic musician, recording artist, and music technologist" making his debut in San Francisco is gaining sympathy from the twitterings of the internet audience.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Playing tracks in order on the iPod Nano 6th Generation

When I first got my iPod 6th Generation Nano, the one that looks like this, everything went smoothly for a while. Suddenly (and probably after an iTunes update), none of my playlists would play in order. I tried everything I could think of--numbering tracks, playing recordings as "albums," making sure to "unshuffle"--but nothing worked. Finally (with the help of Michael) I found a solution, which I will share here.

Here's what I did to solve the problem.

I turned the "shake to shuffle" feature off. (You find this in "music" on the iPod). Then I went to "settings" and reset the iPod a few times.

Then I went into iTunes and did a right click on the playlist in question. I chose "Copy to Play Order." I did it with all my playlists, and synched my iPod. Everything seems to be fine now, but I have to re-do "Copy to Play Order" every time I use the button on the top of the iPod to reset it. The default seems to be set not to play playlists in order. Perhaps the programmers at iTunes can fix this one of these days.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Cicadas in the Rain

I never thought that the sound of rain could be so comforting. It keeps the cicadas quiet. I can hear the birds again. I can hear myself think.

UPDATE: They rain has gone and the cicadas are screaming once again. Perhaps our neighbors in Tennessee are getting a momentary reprieve.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Vegetarian is the new Vegan

I was surprised and delighted to click on the vegetarian diets link on the USDA's new "Choose My Plate" website, and see the basic standard for a vegetarian diet as one that does not include dairy and eggs. The website writers call people who eat everything except meat "lacto-ovo vegetarians," and consider those of us who eat only vegetables, grains, and nuts to be "vegetarians."

It makes me feel far less like a member of the "fridge fringe."

Friday, June 03, 2011


I used to have a great deal of ambition. I saw very few barriers to my success (even with flute as my instrument) when I was young. I had the necessary social skills, and I knew many of the right people. I had the ability to work hard, and the drive to work harder than anyone I knew. Unfortunately hard work could not achieve the things I lacked (like musical maturity) and, unlike many of my peers, I was not the kind of person who never made a mistake, or who looked attractive enough for it not to matter.

When I was young I had the ability to make people believe in me. But there came a point when I realized that my ambition to be great was not about being great. It was about other people acknowledging my "greatness." I gradually became aware that I was presenting a facade, so I stopped being so ambitious and started being more honest. It was only after that point that I began to get some real insight about music, and that's when I started to get some of the musical maturity that I always wanted. Real musical maturity only comes with age and experience. The stuff that seems like musical maturity in young people is often the result of something learned from a mature teacher, and "imported" into a carefully-planned performance. I didn't learn about this kind of thing until fairly late in the game.

At this point I wouldn't trade my hard-won musical maturity, musical honesty, and my genuine love of music for what some people call "success." I do believe, at least in my case, that it would be a trade-off, and that the quality of my playing and the quality of my compositions would suffer. I know that it would be unhealthy for me to dust off my old ambition for greatness and try to wear it. It's not only out of style and out of date, it requires a whole new operating system.

Sure. I want to play better, but I want to play better for my own enjoyment and so that people who come to my concerts can have a positive musical experience. I also want to allow my colleagues to have a positive musical experience. Sure. I want to write better music, but I am long past the need for what I write to be judged. I want what I write to be enjoyable for the people playing it and for the people listening to it. Sure. I want to be a better teacher, but I want my students to come away from lessons and classes having learned something. After that, the fact that I was the one who taught them something doesn't matter. Sure. I want to be a better writer, but I believe that the purpose of being a better writer is to get a point across so it can be understood. There is a difference between integrity and ambition.

I often see the spoils of ambitious people who have never wavered in their quest for acknowledged greatness. I see it in "Great Performances" on the television, and I hear it on recordings. I see it in young conductors, and in conductors who are no longer young. I hear about it, once in a while, from people who long to be admired for what they do and how hard they work, but have been disappointed by the response of an audience, a critic, or a colleague. It often seems that people who are ambitious eventually encounter some form of deep disappointment.

My plan is to avoid disappointment. Would you call it an "ambition" to avoid disappointment?

Al Hirschfeld's Critique of the Animation in Fantasia

This critique of Fantasia is but one of the treasures in the digitized collection of Hirschfeld's Papers at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist

Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist appears to be a book of fiction about a poet making an anthology about poetry, but it is also, without being aware of it, a book about music. Baker's discussion of rhyme could easily have its mirror in a discussion of tonality. His character Paul Chowder's anthology could just as well be an anthology of music. I don't want to give anything away (except for copies of the book). I don't want to rob you of a single moment of the pleasure that you'll get from reading this book. And it is pure pleasure.

There are also good tips and tricks, and a few etymological bits. And you might find your way to a lot of good poems that live outside of the book.

Nicholson Baker talks about writing the book here (I was not terribly surprised to learn that he started out as a musician, and wanted to be a composer).

Cicada Domination

Oh how quaint it was the other day! Now that zillions upon zillions of cicadas have made it up to the tops of the trees, the sound has progressed from awesome to annoying. Here's a minute of what we hear constantly. Sometimes there is an ebb, and sometimes that ebb is followed by a huge crescendo. It's difficult to hear even the most vocal birds, and it's difficult for them to hear one another.

It seems that it's the male cicadas that make the loudest sounds (they're mating sounds, of course), and the females are responsible for a ticking sound that declares their availability. How mates find one another in this din boggles the mind.

Here's the sound of one cicada from our current brood XIX (captured by a brave soul):

20th Century Music and the Supreme Court

In October we will be able to see how the Supreme Court deals with a copyright issue that could make performances of 20th century music by less-than-wealthy orchestras (like the ones in university music departments) no longer possible.

Mark Parry's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is worth reading. Thanks to Michael for sending it to me.