Friday, June 29, 2012

Different Ways of Experiencing the World

I was shocked at how little Daniel Tammet and I have in common regarding our perceptions of the world. I wonder if he would be equally clueless concerning the way my mind works, if I were to try to explain it.



I was talking with a friend the other day about pitch. She claims not to have perfect pitch, but she can tell where any note is on her instrument, and insists that as long as you can name a note, you can commit that note to memory and always be able to tell what it is. She was surprised when I told her that no matter how hard I try (and I have tried, believe me: my three brothers all have perfect pitch), I haven't been able to develop pitch recognition. I often imagine pieces in my mind in the right key, but if I were asked to name that particular key (and if I didn't already know the name of the key), I wouldn't be able to do it with any kind of certainty.

My father once assured me that even though I don't have perfect pitch, I do have other things.

Passages, Phrases, and Gestures

While listening to Dianne Dwyer Modestini discuss the process of restoring a painting made by Leonardo da Vinci on an eposide of The Story, I smiled to myself when I heard her use the term "passage" to refer to specific areas in the painting known as the Salvator Mundi. She also likened the process of restoration (which, in the case of this painting took years) to being an editor.

In music we often refer to motives as "gestures," and, when I work with advanced students, I can make analogies to punctuation. I love the idea of considering "passages" in paintings (which are actually things that do not move) and "passages" on music, which are things that do move, but paint the equivalent to disappearing line drawings in time and aural space.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health Care for Composers in Days Gone By

In celebration of the Supreme Court's ruling that the Affordable Care Act is indeed constitutional, John Clare of ClassicallyHip made an amusing post with a "top ten" list of composers who, if they were alive today, would have benefited from having affordable health care.

I could name a few more composers who would have benefited, like Schubert and Mozart. It is indeed a wonder that anyone made it through to adulthood when you think of the way medicine worked before the advent of germ theory. It's a wonder that anyone made it through childhood! Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl had five older siblings who died in infancy.

Charles Hazelwood's Paraorchestra

I find this fascinating, and thought I'd share it here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

If I were in New York this evening . . .


. . . I'd go to this Manhattan Chamber Orchestra concert of music by Seymour Barab, Richard Auldon Clark, Eric Ewazen, and Michael Schelle.

It's not just because two of the people who wrote the music that's being played (and sung) are friends of mine, but my two friends happen to be fantastic composers. I do know that the program will include Seymour Barab's Songs of Perfect Propriety, settings of texts by Dorothy Parker.

If you go to the concert, please use the comments section to let me (and other Musical Assumptions readers) know what you thought. We just can't trust the regular press to make it to (and write about) all the worthwhile concerts going on in a big city like New York.

UPDATE! Allan Kozinn from the New York Times WAS there!

Here's his review.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This Method Book is For the Birds!

Literally!



[The Bird Fancyer's Delight, or Choice Observations And Directions Concerning the Teaching of all sorts of Singing Birds after the Flagelet and Flute [recorder] when rightly made as to Size and tone, with Lessons properly Compos'd within the Compass and faculty of each Bird, viz. for the Canary-Bird, Linnet, Bull-Finch, Wood-Lark, Black-Bird, Throustill [thrush], Nightingale and Starling. The whole fairly Engraven and Carefully Corrected]




[’Tis still in memory, the old manner of Playing on the Flute, which was by the way of Dots, a memorial of which remains in the Gamut for that Instrument to this time, but it being so impracticable and never to be attain’d to at sight, that the use of the Instrument was almost lost, till introduced by Gamut rules, which has not only brought it much in vogue, but the Performers on it are as ready at sight as on any other Instrument, ’tis not doubted but the like Improvement will be made on the Flaggelet by this Method, which Instrument is not only delightful, but also profitable, particularly to Bird Fanciers, it having been often known that Birds after being taught by the Flagellet has been sold for great value, all Lessons or Airs that are made for the Flute may now be play’d on the Flagellet, which must of Consequence be very grateful to all Lovers of the Instrument, the improvement of which is owning to the Ingenious Mr. Hill, who has made several Incomparable Peices [sic] for the Flagellet, and is an excellent performer on it, and to encourage the Lovers of it, he is willing to instruct in this new Method, any that is desirous to learn.]

Here is a link John Walsh's 1715 book that offer's the ingenious Mr. Hill's method.

It actually turns out that if you follow the pun (which I always do), and consider that the word "flageolette" (or "little flag" for the diamond shape that replaces the note-head in fingered harmonics), these little tunes make great fingered harmonic exercises for violinists and violists.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music Market Ramble

A couple of years ago I wrote a note to an ensemble that recorded some rather rare music by a little-known composer I happen to like a great deal (and anyone reading this blog could probably guess the identity of that composer). I wrote my message to the ensemble through the rather large company that made their CD, which was the only way I could reach the musicians who played this music. My message included a statement about the quality of this composer, and suggested that the members of the ensemble might consider scanning the manuscripts they played from into the Petrucci Library so that other people could study it and play this music. I mentioned how difficult it is to interest publishers in music by little-known composers, no matter how good their music happens to be.

(Nearly three years have passed since that e-mail message, and these pieces are still not available for other musicians to play.)

The recording company executive told me that he passed my message onto a person who would forward it to the ensemble, and included the phrase "This music deserves definitely more recognition; we hope that many customers encourage us to advance soon."

What strikes me as terribly sad about that statement is the simple fact that the furthering (and preserving) of worthwhile musical endeavors is so often driven by consumer demand. It is one thing when the consumer in question is a music ensemble, and that ensemble is looking for interesting and unusual music to play. Most musicians are happy to pay for nice editions of music they want to play. The "economy" in that kind of situation is one that would, under the best of circumstances, move forward. In the case of newly-discovered music by people who have been dead for a while, a publisher makes money (or makes back an initial investment of time and engraving skill) by selling the music, and musicians can make money by playing the music in concerts (and the same people can play the same piece of music for many different audiences). Perhaps there is also money involved in paying people who staff and promote the various ensembles and concert venues. There is also a little money involved when academic musicians include musical analysis in the books and articles they write, and money involved when applied teachers use published music to teach. Most of all, the music itself can be played many different ways by many different people, and a lot of people can get a lot of pleasure from playing and listening to it. At any rate, the egg-white economic theory is at play: money (or anything) is worth more when it remains in circulation.

It is another thing when the consumer in question is a person buying a recording. A person may love the music on the recording, and it may be extremely meaningful for his or her life, but there is no way a record company can measure how many times someone plays a recording. S/he only buys it once, and the only thing that can be measured is how many recordings are sold. Many recording companies require a certain amount of investment on the part of the people playing on the recording, and the production of a recording does involve some economic movement, but once the music is on a disc and the disc is in a box, that is the end of the line. A record company can make the investment to promote a recording, but the resulting numbers really reflect more on how well the recording is marketed than how worthwhile the music on the CD happens to be.

The idea of a wonderful piece of music ending its life as a single out-of-print recording is terribly sad.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anton Ferdinand Titz in the Petrucci Library

I have spent the past two days in a heightened state of musical-archaeological bliss. A very kind person scanned the manuscript of an otherwise unknown (not even mentioned in Grove) Duo for Violin and Cello by Anton Ferdinand Titz into the Petrucci Library. I'm not sure if the piece has ever been played before (even in Titz's lifetime) because the parts were filled with errors that would have made it unplayable from the manuscript. What a treat it was to correct them, and what a thrill it is to hear this wonderful whimsical piece.

Look at the cover page. Titz lettered it himself. Look at the backwards capital F!



You can hear a synthesized audio file here. Here's a link to the PDF file.

Previous Titz-related posts:

Doesn't This Make You Curious?
The Dedicatee of Haydn's Opus 33 Quartets

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mozart's "Dissonance" Quartet and Beethoven's Quartet Opus 59, No. 3

Here's a nice way to see (and hear) how Beethoven used Mozart's "Dissonance" Quartet, K. 465, as a model for his Opus 59 No. 3 Quartet. I love the domestic settings of these two videos. This is, in my mind, the kind of setting where chamber music should be played, and I really like the way both of these quartets (the Italian Quartetto Lyra for the Mozart and the American Jupiter Quartet for the Beethoven) play these first movements.





You can go back and forth between the two windows, which is a real luxury. You can also follow the score for the Mozart and the score for the Beethoven, and compare them.

I kind of like running them simultaneously and tuning in and out of one or the other. And it is even fun to listen to them playing at the same time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Help With Six-Eight Time


Sometimes people new to string playing have a difficult time understanding the physicality of six-eight time. I know that it took me a long time to figure it out, and a long time to figure HOW to figure it out.

I made a nifty scale sheet that you can access here that might help people with violin, viola, and cello students who are faced with the challenges associated with that particular meter.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Old School?

David Usui, a young film maker in New York, sent me a link to a short film he made featuring Gregory Singer, the conductor of the Manhattan Symphonie. Watching the film, I saw a relatively young man (around my age) playing the first movement of the Bach G-minor Sonata, riding his bike around New York City, and doing a nice job conducting the overture to Die Meistersinger in Carnegie Hall. Usui suggested that Singer was one of a breed of "old-school NYers" who are "quickly vanishing."

Old school? You should meet my New York friends!

Vanishing? Nobody is going anywhere. Musicians continue to be musicians even when there isn't a "market" for music. Ask any "old school" musician (from my old school, in particular), if they would stop doing what they are doing (i.e. being a musician) if the money wasn't there to pay for it.

Usui also added a line saying that classical music is vanishing. I don't think so.

Since Usui was bold enough (being a new reader, and not knowing me personally) to suggest that I might want to put a link to his film on this blog, I will be bold enough to take issue with it, at least a bit.

The camera work and voice over during the Bach Sonata is quite good, though I found myself paying more attention to the music than to what he was saying. The biking around Manhattan in the center of the street gave me the willies, and I would rather have heard Singer elaborate on something other than about riding his bike. He did some nice things in the Bach. I would have enjoyed hearing him talk about that, perhaps. Or his violin shop (which he calls "the office"), or his impressive legacy, or even having a twin sister like Lori Singer (who I remember from Juilliard before she became famous, or should I say Fame-ous).

It would have been a good idea to identify the orchestra he conducts (I had to look it up). The players look rather young. At first I thought that he might have been conducting a youth orchestra.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tea, Coffee, and Music in England

As I was listening to Steven Johnson's "Is the 'Eureka' Moment a Myth" segment on a TED talk today, I heard him make a connection between the first coffee and tea houses in England and the Enlightenment. He mentioned that because the water was lousy, most people drank beer and wine during the day, and spirits during the evening. This implies that the whole British population was in a state of inebriation until the prospect of drinking a stimulant like coffee or tea came into play.

[I thought of the word "teetotaler," which seems to have first been used in the 19th century, and seems also to have a somewhat blurry etymology. Perhaps the expression also comes from the idea that you could drink tea, wine, beer, and spirits, or you could drink just tea. A total tea drinker. But this is neither here or there.]

What caught my fancy was the idea that a lot of English music from before the mid 17th century (and everywhere else where the water was unsafe to drink, for that matter), could have written in the state of light inebriation. Consider the difference between music of a beer-drinking culture (Germany) and the wine-drinking cultures of Italy and France. Consider the languid English music of John Dowland and the tantalizing and intoxicating music of Holborne.

Then consider the clear-headed wisdom of the East, where people had been drinking tea for dynasties.

The first coffee house opened in England in 1652. Twelve years later there were more than 3,000 coffee houses in England, and coffee and tea houses were opening all over continental Europe. The smart people of the day (particularly those who pioneered enlightenment thought) hung out in coffee houses, and stimulated their discussions with what they were drinking.

These were the days in England of Henry Purcell, a prolific composer who might have been in a position (historically) to write hilarious songs about the culture of drinking alcohol because he could look at life with the clear mind someone who had the option of drinking a cup of tea once in a while.



[At this point you might want to exit this post and go off and listen to more of Purcell's works. I'm going off to make a nice pot of tea, and maybe I'll get down to doing some actual work.]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Ivory Fox and the Hahn!

HH: "Do you still play?"
IG: "Do you still breathe?"

HH: "Do you still perform?"
IG: "I never perform."

Ivry Gitlis and Hilary Hahn talk about music and life in a bar in Amsterdam. These are two violinists from what seem like two radically different worlds, and Gitlis is a gem of a human being. Listening in is like being a fly on the wall.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rosenkavalier in Another Context

I was very pleased to read Matthew Guerrieri's interesting musings about Richard Strauss this morning, and when I sat down to read Alexander King's May This House Be Safe From Tigers, I had every intention of writing a blog post quoting King's half chapter about Rose O'Neill, the inventor of the Kewpie doll (which all Kewpie doll collectors should read--it's in Chapter 12, and there are copies of the out-of-print book still at large), and the way the editorial staff of the New Yorker edited a story he wrote about her to smithereens, but then I found myself in Chapter 13, and had to share this story first.

When he was a child in Vienna, Alexander King's family doctor suggested the theater as a way to satisfy little Alexander's lust for life and to keep him quiet.
"But, Doctor," said my poor mother, "he just wants to go everywhere and to see everything. He goes to bed at two-thirty and he gets up every morning at six. What can we do with him?"

"Take him to a theater or a concert, maybe, but nothing that will upset his nervous system. I strictly forbid it," he said.

So my parents got some seats for the first performance of Der Rosenkavalier, which was to be conducted by Richard Strauss in person at the Hofoper.*
[Footnote: Please, please don't bother writing to me that this date is wrong. I know all about the official statistics on this subject, but when I did a piece on Rosenkavalier for Vanity Fair in 1931 I verified with Richard Strauss himself that, although the opera had its premiere in 1911, a preview of it was given in honor of the King in 1908.]
Since this opening was scheduled for the evening, I'm afraid my folks weren't exactly fulfilling the doctor's orders; but luckily they hadn't the vaguest idea how to raise a child, and, besides, I would certainly have fought like a savage if they had suggested taking me to a mere matinee.

Then a really bad piece of luck hit me: I got a terrible earache--got it around two o'clock in the afternoon of the very day when we were supposed to go to the theater. It was no ordinary pain either. It was as if somebody had inserted a good-sized corkscrew into my eardrum and was trying to pull the left side of my brain along with it. But I just had to keep my trap shut about it or else there certainly wasn't going to be any show that evening. I don't know how I finally managed to make it. All I remember is that I took about half a dozen aspirins before we finally started out, and that my mother had to dress me twice, because I perspired all through my clothes the first time. Of course my parents wanted to stay home, but I gave them such a desperate sales spiel that at last I managed to change their minds. That evening, obviously, cost us all a great deal even before the joy of it was properly under way. When we were finally seated in the opera house, my pain, luckily, left me, or it well may be that I just couldn't spare any further attention to it, considering all that was going on around me.

Once, years late, I saw a bum movie about the Congress of Vienna, with Lilian Harvey, and believe me, it was almost exactly like that. Everybody was dolled up in fancy dress with at least one red sash across their frilled shirt fronts; loaded down with swords and epaulettes and decorations of all sorts; and bowing and heel-clicking and hand-kissing enough to dazzle the most blasé of worldlings. I was embedded in such perfumes, such hair oils, such pomades and hairdos on all sides that I thought I was suddenly going to rise right up to the crystal chandelier with the wonderful odor and ecstasy of it all. It also seemed to me that the men who were pouterpigeoning it all around me were even more startlingly decked out than the women. The women showed off a lot of bouncy bosoms and bare shoulders and stuff, that's true, but the men were the ones who really had the most daring explosions of gold and silver trimmings all over their duds. It was sheer heaven.

There was one depressing not in this glittering assembly, however: me, and my folks. We looked like a nest full of molting dormice, and I must say I have never before realized that my old man was such a complete failure. He didn't even wear a silk rosettes in his buttonhole, or have a feathered cockade in his hatband, or nothin'. He was a real false note, and no mistake about it.

The minute the show started, the pain in my ear woke up again. It throbbed like crazy and I suddenly felt some tears running down the side of my nose. But it was dark and nobody noticed anything. I can't tell you how much I dreaded the coming of intermission. On previous occasions these used to be my favorite times in the theater, because, in Vienna, people stowed away enormous wads of grub during every entr'acte and this was always my big chance to wolf a lot of contraband stuff that I was never allowed to eat at home. I think I often liked to attend a lot of plays especially for the exciting food interludes that were offered at least twice every evening.

But not this time. I nearly died during that intermission.

Later I must have fallen into a kind of protective stupor or something, because I can't remember much about it. All I know is that when the opera was finally over and Strauss was up on the stage holding hands with the bowing principals, I suddenly slipped from my seat and passed out cold.

I woke up in the office of Dr. Brieger, a friend of my father's who lived right near the opera, and that gold man diagnosed my condition as a middle-ear inflammation.

"It is fiendishly painful," he said, " and I don't see how the child was able to stand it for all those hours."

"He just didn't want to miss the excitement tonight," said my tearful mother.

"Well, we'll have to lance it immediately," said Dr. Brieger. "I'm sure he'll be a good little trouper about it."

He was wrong, of course. I screamed bloody hell when the time came, and when my poor parents finally carried me home through the noisy, festive streets I was jus a collapsed bundle of whimpering disaster.

Twenty years later, on the very day, I was back in the Vienna Opera House to hear Dear Rosenkavalier, with Richard Strauss conducting again. He had gotten quite a lot older in the meantime and so he was directing the orchestra sitting down in an armchair. Well, I was there, all the way from New York, to help him celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his work, and my wife was there too, but my children, better brought up than I had been, were both properly asleep at our hotel.

It was a wonderful if somewhat less picturesque evening than the last one, and when we finally got back to the Bristol my wife and I were still harmonizing some of the enchanting melodies from the evening's production. when we arrived at our room, however, we found that we had nothing to sing about, because my older boy, age eight, was sitting up in his bed and tearfully complaining about a bad earache.

In the middle of the night we had to rouse the hotel physician, who examined him with Teutonic thoroughness and finally told us that the kid was suffering from an acute inflammation of the middle ear.

Fortunately I'm not particularly superstitious, so I never attached any special significane to this silly coincidence. It was just a drag, that's all.

While I was busy writing these last few lines about Rosenkavalier, my own ear suddenly started to hurt again after an interval of fifty years. So I knocked off for a while, applied a heating pad and even took a nap for a couple of hours.

But the pain continued.

Dr. Merton Hoskins, a neighbor of mine here in Framingham, just left me, after having given me a stiff dose of penicillin.

And what do I deduce from all these goings-on? What meaningful conclusion have I drawn from this astonishing, almost symphonically repetitive emergence of the earache them in juxtaposition to the Rosenkavalier leitmotiv?

Only this. That the knowing monitors of The New Yorker magazine may never dare to offer their sophisticated clientele any stories that form neat little patterns or have vulgar O. Henry finishes, but life, much more carelessly edited, just obviously doesn't give a good goddam.
[Margie King Barab holds the copyright for the Alexander King portions of this post.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why am I Not Surprised?

I just read that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was unable to pick a winner for its public and partially online concerto competition. Maybe the reason is similar to why some major orchestras have trouble filling first chair positions. People who find themselves in the position to judge other musicians always act subjectively. Too much "personality" (for better or for worse) often doesn't make it past the preliminary stage, but not enough "personality" is (or not hearing anything special) is a big reason for deciding not to hire anyone.

I imagine that when it comes to hiring soloists, administrators tend to be concerned with extra-artistic matters, like how well a potential soloist will promote ticket sales, and how much promotional money they would have to spend to make everything work out financially for their organization.

It is sad that as the "business" of music has come to embrace the values of the greater business world at large, people tend to make decisions that are musically counterintuitive.

The judges could have voted to have Odin Rathnam in the semi-finals, but he, as a result of the video he sent in for the competition, has gotten several offers to appear as a soloist elsewhere. To think, Pittsburgh could have gotten him for cheap. Why is it that some people don't pay attention to the obvious when it comes to evaluating musicians.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tuba Sonata: Under Construction

[From a photo by spcbrass]

I have been a bit quiet (at least blog-wise) these days because I have been most of my time at the computer at work on a Tuba Sonata for my friend Chris Dickey. I am having, pardon the expression, a blast.

I do have a non-tuba-related thought to collectively ponder, however. If I am inspired to quote a measure of music directly from another composer, and that measure is a very famous grand pause, can that silent measure be interpreted as a direct quotation?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Auto-Tune: ultraminimalism

The human voice, at its best, is able to sing three octaves. It can also sing very softly and very loudly. It can project ranges of emotion that we can't even use words to describe.

Our normal speaking range, as reflected by an auto-tune device, spans less than an octave. Most speaking voices seem to only ascend a fifth above the "tonic" that is our baseline speaking voice. We rarely ever go below it in normal speech, unless we are doing so deliberately. Music generated by auto-tuning is therefore extremely restrictive. It seems always to be harmonized tonally, and it always seems to be accompanied by a steady rhythm, making patterns of speech have an elevated rhythmic interest in comparison with the background. Auto-tuned music also seems to come in a very small variety of dynamics. Auto-tuning, unlike sprechstimme or recitative, isn't generated by people. It's generated by machine.

Some people love it.



I find the practice of auto-tuning interesting, but only to a point. It is so easy to slip into the practice of being dulled by music, and forget about the enormous potential we have to embrace the full naturally-generated musical spectrum, with all its ranges, voices, and possibilities, and be stimulated by it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi and Randolph Hokansen Play Ravel



[Can you believe that this pianist will be 97 in a couple of days?]
[I'm feeling particularly inspired to practice at the moment . . . ]

You can get to know the violinist here, and read about the pianist here and here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Soul of Music is Physical

The soul of music is physical.

This statement comes from a relatively recent discussion with Daniel Barenboim about the physicality of music and the role of a conductor.

I agree with Barenboim. I believe that when music is removed from the physical, it loses something. Perhaps that's why I prefer acoustic music to music that is purely electronic. It is possible to appreciate electronic music with the mind, but that is, for me, the extent of it.

I also believe that we listen to music with our bodies. When we hear a projecting voice that is deep and rich, or high and lithe, we unconsciously put our vocal and breathing mechanisms in positions that might approximate what the singers are doing. That's why some of us go to operas again and again.

Perhaps one of the reasons people consider a nice non-projecting voice that is amplified so "relaxing," is that the physical state of the singer is often relaxed. S/he can sing in a whisper and still be heard. S/he doesn't have to worry about projecting diction any sort of distance when singing softly into a device that does most of the "heavy lifting."

The instrumentalists I prefer listening to are people who have intense physical connections with their instruments. Scraping and blowing on tubes and strings that we make longer and shorter with our fingers and arms is very physical. Using sticks, fingers, or hands to hit stuff is very physical. Watching and listening to people do these things well allows us to enjoy the relationship of the physical action to the sound that it produces. We tend to allow our bodies to echo the physical states of the people performing, even when we don't see them. When we play chamber music, we allow our bodies to echo the physical states of the people we are playing with. That's also how many of us learn from our teachers: we try to emulate the physical approach our teachers have to their instruments.

Sometimes the body learns more quickly than the mind, but most of the time there is a disconnect between the mind and the body, because we imagine that intellectualizing comes first and physicalizing comes second. It is also difficult to truly remember a physical state by purely physical means. That's why we need to practice. Just knowing something is never enough. It needs to become an unconscious habit. Teaching by demonstration is sometimes frowned upon, but I believe that it is the most effective way to teach. I also think that the teacher needs to be able to physically empathize with a student in order to figure out where that person's particular points of tension are. Rinse and repeat.

I think that it is important to write music with physicality in mind. After all, we write music for people to play, and it should feel good to do it. That's why instrumentalists and singers return again and again to Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky (not to mention Paganini, Chopin, and Liszt, Shostakovich, and Britten). They all understood what Barenboim understands: that the soul of music is physical.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Dueling Fiddles: 21st-Century Television Edition

This may be the height of gimmickry, but these fiddle players (Daniel Dodds and Droujelub Yanakiew) are terrific; and they seem to be having a lot of fun.



[The lights strobe at the end, so if you are prone to seizures, just watch the beginning.]

Monday, June 04, 2012

Where Stravinsky Got One of His Firebird Tunes



This comes from a fantastic 1911 collection of 100 Folk Songs compiled and arranged by Granville Bantok that is in the Petrucci Library. The Russian section has all sorts of recognizable material.

Kozlovsky and Mikhaylov

The title of this song translates as "Hop Crop," so I imagine it has something to do with making beer; but boy, do these singers (who I just discovered today) make music!

Copland Talks About Electronic Music in 1961

Studs Terkel: What’s your feeling about electronic music?

Aaron Copland: Well, I think it’s a little early to have any feelings about it. Let the boys [Terkel: You believe in experimentation] try it out. Yes, I’m very permissive in my attitudes. Let ‘em try it out. Give ‘em plenty of rope.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Thinking about Compassion

Here's a thought for the day from Isaac Bashevis Singer:
You can't have compassion without passion.
[This thought comes from a 1964 interview with Studs Terkel, where it dawned on Singer for the first time right there, on the air.]

Friday, June 01, 2012

Alexander King: Guest Blogger

This story comes from Alexander King's 1958 memoir Mine Enemy Grows Older, and I am sharing it here with the kind permission of Margie King Barab. You will notice some anachronistic terms here and there, but I have chosen to forgive this singular man for his prejudices, and the choice terms he used to articulate them.
There was one curious aspect to my life during all those years, from 1917 to 1948, which I have somehow or other forgotten to mention to you before--that for more than thirty years I wore only pink neckties. Not ever any other color, under any circumstances. It finally got to be an identifying trademark for me, although, heaven is my witness, I never intended anything of the sort when I first started wearing them. In fact, I got into this pink-tie addiction when I was only seventeen years old, and believe me, any boy or man who was willing to wear such an unorthodox color back in those dark days of somber men’s attire had to have plenty of guts or plenty of stupidity, or plenty of both, to get away with it.

Of course I stumbled into it all, as I fell into most things, by strictly minding my own business, and by just carefully putting one foot in front of the other.

I was working on the New York Sunday World when I was seventeen, and I was also doing some cartooning jobs for the Big Stick, a Jewish joke paper that I already told you about. My salary on the World was twenty-five dollars a week, and I generally took long, leisurely walks every Friday afternoon, just to give myself, and those twenty-five bucks, a luxurious airing. These walks often included window-shopping tours ranging from Nassau Street and lower Broadway to Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue up as far as the Plaza.

Well, then, loaded as I was, one of those Friday afternoons I happened to stop in front of Sulka’s window, somewhere in the Forties or Fifties, and I noticed that they were having a sale of neckties. Six dollars a tie. I wondered what in hell they could possibly have charged for them before the sale. I felt myself getting even a little indignant about the whole thing. However, in spit of my simmering annoyance I found that I was deliberately walking into their cool, expensive-smelling store.

I stands to reason, doesn’t it, that I wasn’t planning to buy anything, and the clerk, whose face looked just like a shinbone with eyebrows, knew this as well as I did. But, like two idle dogs of the same gender who can’t resist their pointless browsing, this clerk and I forthwith proceeded to give the stock a judicious fingering; which means that I sneered disparagingly at the tie-racks, while he kept on constructing smart four-in-hand knots in mid-air, just to show off his really stupendous manual dexterity, and also to make me feel like a cheap piker.

This went on for about twenty minutes or so, and I was just about to call off the whole silly ballet by making my exit, when the clerk, who was obviously a pansy, suddenly said to me, “You know, we have some colors that are much less popular, and those ties cost only one dollar apiece. Would you care to see any of them?”

“Why not?” I said. “As long as I’m here, anyway. What sort of colors are they?”

I’ll show them to you. To tell you the truth,” he said with a confidential smirk, “I’m saving some of them especially for my friends.”

This, of course, instantly alarmed me, because I was quite sure that any friend of his was bound to be a leaping faggot, but just the same I decided to take a look. He pulled a box of the shelf, removed the lid, and exposed about two dozen crepe-de-Chine ties, all of then pink.

“Not a very great selection,” I said. “How much are they, did you say?”

“A dollar apiece,” he said. “They cost us more than that wholesale.”

Now, then, who really knows what dark and sinister impulses are crouched and coiled in the recesses of man’s unconscious? Who can guess what terrible unfulfilled longings in a man’s heart are just waiting for the right word, or the right moment, to spring into instant, demoniacal action, for the sake of a long-deferred secret appeasement?

In short I bought six of those pink crepe-de-Chine neckties, and, believe it or not, I even had a certain feeling hot high accomplishment out of this demented proceeding. It was as if I’d pulled a particularly cute caper, not just on Sulka and Company, but on all the goddamned expensive shops up and down Fifth Avenue.

And that’s how it happened that I came to wear a pink tie to work the next day. I labored, a the time, in the tower of the old Pulitzer Building, down on Park Row, and, when I first took off my coat, the screams, the whistles, the yowls and the yodelings all around me stopped all human activity on that floor for the next ten minutes.

But, since I was seventeen years old and a man of my convictions, I ignored this racket and quietly went about my business. My business was to make some black-and-white line sketches for the Sunday magazine section, and so I was able, for a while at least, to ben zealously over my drawing board, without having to meet anybody’s eye. This was certainly a help, but even so it was hard for me to ignore the mad cavortings of the office boys and the various younger staff members, who made it their pleasure to pass my desk forty times and hour in that special mincing gait which has even been the immemorial hallmark of the camping fairy.

I don’t know how I lived through that first morning. At any rate, right before lunch I took off my tie and hung it in a metal closet where I usually kept only a pair of torn rubbers. When I got ready to quit work that evening, I had a shocking surprise waiting for me. Somebody on that floor and dipped my tie in a large glue vat that was permanently stationed near the fire exit. That glue had completely dried up and left the tie with a texture like a smoked kipper; but since I knew that a lot of furtive eyes were certainly watching me at that moment, I just dropped my violated neckpiece casually into the garbage can and went home.

Fools! I thought. Just a pack of crude, conventional fools. Ah, well, they believed I was routed, did they? They thought they had me down for the count, eh? Well, they’d soon learn different. Damned soon, too! I’d show those mush heads a thing of two--or even five, if it came to that, because, as you perfectly well know, I still had five more of those ties hanging at home in my closet, ready and waiting to be launched whenever the spirit moved me.

I was determined to teach all those dopes a lesson, to teach them to respect a man’s right to wear whatever the hell he gooddamned well pleased. And so the battle lines were drawn, and no mercy was given or expected.

I wore my pink ties every day from then on, and, do you know, as the tense weeks went by a very funny thing happened. In about a month or so, I couldn’t help but notice that slowly, ever so slowly, the fury and the clamor were beginning to die down. In fact, by the time I’d gotten around to wearing the third of my ties, somebody from the business office, who had never before seen my colorful haberdashery and was just about to launch himself into the gibbering state of epilepsy that the occasion seemed to call for, was stupefied into silence when a few of my nearby colleagues told him to shut his trap and to mind his own goddamned business.

You see, the young journalists on my floor had not only become used to my pink ties, they had developed a certain comradely state of tolerance toward my special eccentricity. They had come to consider it their peculiar privilege to razz me for acting out of line, but they all stood defensively by me if any unlicensed outsider ever decided to put me down.

In short, after six months of nothing but pink ties, nobody around me seemed any longer to notice that I was wearing anything out of the ordinary at all.

And then came a real crisis. I gave five of my ties away to be cleaned, in a store on West Eighth Street, and when I came back a few days later to reclaim them, I found to my error that the place had been completely gutted by fire.

It was a real calamity for me, as you can plainly understand. Those pink ties were the symbols of my individuality, weren’t they? And, to a certain extend, they had even become the tangible pennants that I had tremblingly fluttered before a hostile world, to announce my freedom of choice. I just couldn’t let myself down now. I simply couldn’t make my appearance at the office wearing some dark, practical colors, not after all I’d already been through, could I? If I did, all would be lost again.

Oh, yes, I could just see all those blubber heads on the paper saying, “Well, you’ve finally got yourself straightened out! Decided to rejoin the human race again, eh? Good for you, boy!”

No, no, no! It was out of the question. Eternal vigilance was the price of freedom! that was the basic rule of the game, and I damn well knew it.

And so, in this frightening emergency, I quickly hustled up to B Altman’s on Thirty-fourth Street, and bought myself three years of candy-pink crepe-de-Chine material. Afterward I consulted a classified phone directory and found that the Acme Tie Company, right nearby, on Thirty-sixth Street, was prepared to make neckties in small quantities to private order.

I had myself quite a time finding that goddamned tie place, too, because it was located in one of those depressing blocks between Eighth and Ninth avenues, where there weren’t’ even any drugstores or lunchrooms to break up the solid facade of grim wholesale manufacturing. Id did find it at last, and it was, literally, just a very small hole in a very thick and forbidding wall.

Mr. Aron Buxbaum, the owner, turned out to be a neat little bearded elderly Jew who wore a black skullcap and satin sleeve garters, and who showed no surprise whatever at the unusual color of my material.

“I’m in a terrible hurry about these ties,” I told him as I unwrapped the stuff. “How soon can I possibly have them?”

“Day after tomorrow,” said Mr. Buxbaum. “We generally like to have more time, but, if it’s an emergency, we’ll just do the best we can.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll pick them up around lunchtime on Friday.”

When I returned, two days later, Mr. Buxbaum handed me a pretty good sized package, and a bill for fifteen dollars.

I nearly fainted. “How come, fifteen dollars?” I said.

“You’re charging me a fortune. After all, I supplied the material, didn’t I?”

Mr. Buxbaum looked hurt. “We do very fine work here,” he said. “You just take a look at those ties, and you’ll see what you’re getting for your money. You’re getting a big bargain.”

“Never mind,” I said. “I haven’t got time now, I have to get back to work. I don’t get through until four o’clock.”

Luckily, because it was payday, I had a twenty-dollar bill on me, and I was able to square myself.

“Wear them in good health!” said Mr. Buxbaum, when I finally stood in the open doorway.

“Thanks,” I said. “By the way, how many ties did you manage to get out of that material, anyway?”

“Exactly sixty two,” he said. “If you had bought just a quarter of a yard more, you could have had sixty five.”

And that’s how it was.

Ties, I later learned, are cut on the bias and really require very little material. And so, at one stroke, I had added to my wardrobe a matter of more than five dozen pink ties.

They lasted for quite a while, too, and when the finally wore out I just bought some more material and had a new batch made up for myself over at Buxbaum’s. And that’s how it happened that I came to march through the ages as a peculiarly necked man.

And then, sometime in 1947, all of my luggage was lost by one of the airlines, and I arrived in New York with only one pink necktie to my name, and one that I was wearing. Well, I naturally went straight up to Altman’s to get myself three and a quarter yards of fresh pink crepe de Chine. I’d made these trips and these purchases quite often during the past thirty years, and I no longer had the slights difficulty in locating the Acme Tie Company on West Thirty-sixth Street.

But when I finally got there, old man Buxbaum wasn’t anywhere in sight. Instead, a sort of young and beardless caricature of him was sitting agains the back wall and making entries in a huge ledger.

“You’re Mr. Buxbaum’s son, aren’t you? I said.

“Yes,” he said, “I’m George Buxbaum. And you, I believe, must be Mr. King.”

“I am,” I said. “But how in the world did you know that?”

“Because,” said George Buxbaum, “my father is now dead, and you used to be his only customer.”

“What?” I said. “You mean that I alone have kept his whole enterprise going?”

“If you want to put it that way,” he said. “Actually, the matter is a little more complicated than that. You see, my brothers and I are probably the largest wholesale tie manufacturers in America. In fact, we own this building, which houses one of our four factories.”

“And what about this store?” I said.

“Ah, well, that was all my father’s wish,” he said. “You see, he came to this country as an immigrant and started to feel ties out of a cigar box, on Orchard Street. My mother used to make those ties on a foot-pedal sewing machine at home. Later on he got a pushcart, and by the time my brothers and I were going to high school he’d managed to get himself a nice little store on Second Avenue near Twelfth Street. Well, to make a long story short, we all of us somehow or other got into the necktie business, and we did so well in it that after a while the whole family kept pleading with my father to retire, or to take it easy, or at least to take some kind of an executive position in one of our plants. but, for some reason or another, he just never had any real confidence in our success. It was all too big and much to vague for him. Everything was done by bank drafts and checks, and in our places of business he never saw any real money changing hands; and so, every time we expanded, or opened a new factory, he just got more worried about us.

“Finally, one day he pleaded with us to fix him up this little retail place right here, where he at least could go on making a real visible dollar across the counter. I think he felt that he was prepared to save the family from absolute ruin, when we had all smashed up with our grand and highfalutin notions. So we built this store for him, and for a while he even had a couple of dozen customers that used to trade here steadily. But for the last eight or ten years, the only jobs that came his way were your pink ties.

“And that brings me to still another point,” he said. “You see, Mr. King, the whole family always gets together for dinner in my mother’s house on Friday nights, and my father and my brothers and I , we would spend hours and hours, wondering and speculating what could possibly be the meaning of all those pink ties. Some of us thought it must be the emblem of some secret society. Others had the idea that maybe it had a certain religious significance, or something. bu my father--you must excuse me of telling you this--my father was convinced that you were an artist, and that you painted naked girls on those ties, and that you sold them at stag parties.”

“You father overestimated my talents,” I said. “No. I had those ties made for other good and sufficient reasons.” And then I told young Buxbaum, briefly, the gist of my story.

“Well,” he said, “I’m very glad you’ve explained it at last, because if my father’s sporty is anywhere at all, it certainly must be hovering around this little store where he spent so many years of his life.”

He opened a small desk file, and I could see that it contained only one single card. George Buxbaum showed me what his father had written on it. It was in Yiddish.

KING, ALEXANDER
PINK TIES.
ONLY PINK TIES.
WHY?

The children think he is some kind of a bolshevik, but I’m sure he only makes a few harmless dirty pictures. He is a good and steady customer. May God preserve him from mischief. And from the police.

On the bottom of this card young Buxbaum now wrote Account Closed.

“So you are finally giving up the store,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “By the end of next week the door and window will be walled up, and premises will have been absorbed by the rest of the building. But don’t worry, for old time’s sake we’ll make you this last batch of ties from the material you just brought. You’ll just have to call for them on the seventh floor.”

And that was the end of the Acme Tie Company, and that was the last of my pink ties, too, because I never had the heart to take my business to anybody else.


© Margie King Barab

The "Awfulness" of Classical Music?

I found myself unable to comment on this article by Richard Dare called "The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained" (perhaps it just wouldn't go through because I don't do "social media").

If Dare is being serious (and I can't tell), he is one of those people who seems to think that people should be able to applaud where they want to during a classical music concert, and that not being able to applaud between movements is somehow insulting to an audience member's freedom of expression. I think that systematically applauding between movements can be annoying to the members of the audience who like to experience a multi-movement piece as a whole. Not knowing where to applaud is a lame excuse for not knowing where to applaud. Just do an internet search using the words, "when to applaud during a classical concert."

An usher could also explain what those Italian words mean, and why a piece might be divided into parts. Here's a handy on-line guide.

As far as remaining quiet during a concert, I believe reports of rudeness during concerts during the 19th century were truly reports of acts of rudeness, and it is possible (believe it or not) that they were exceptional circumstances. We do know that during the 19th century (and before), concerts were the only way people who were not musicians, didn't employ musicians, or didn't have friends or members of their household who were musicians could hear music. It is rude to other members of an audience (who came to listen) if you interrupt the music to blurt something out at the people who are performing. It's rude to the people performing, and it always has been.

George Bernard Shaw took issue with conventions of how audiences dressed for concerts and operas in 1905. In this letter Shaw writes about the convention of standard "evening wear" for men, and suggests that evening wear for women should be equally uniform. I particularly like this passage, delivered mostly his with tongue deliberately in his cheek:
Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the Opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and stage manager — if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behavior was exemplary.
Then he goes on to describe the women who sat in front of him:
At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation.
Shaw does have a valid point: It is distracting to have a dead bird staring you in the face while you are trying to watch an opera, and, by extension, women who wear large hats to concerts and operas should remove them when they are members of an audience.

Dare's points confuse me. Is he trying to be funny? Is he trying to be serious? And what is he doing as the CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic if he is a relative novice as a classical concert audience member (he doesn't explain how many years ago "some years ago" is, so I don't have much to go on). What's going on here? And why does he give his article such a nasty title?