Monday, August 31, 2015

Music in Willa Cather's The Best Years

Though there is not yet any direct mention of music in Willa Cather's The Best Years, which can be found in the out-of-print set of Cather stories published in 1948 as The Old Beauty and Others (Michael and I read half of The Best Years today), there is such music in Cather's prose. Here's one example:
The horizon was like a perfect circle, a great embrace, and within it lay the cornfields, still green, and the yellow wheat stubble, miles and miles of it, and the pasture lands where the white-faced cattle led lives of utter content. All their movements were deliberate and dignified. They grazed through all the morning; approached their metal water tank and drank. If the windmill had run too long and the tank had overflowed, the cattle trampled the overflow into deep mud and cooled their feet. Then the drifted off to graze again. Grazing was not merely eating, it was also a pastime, a form of reflection, perhaps meditation.
Here's another that mentions sound:
If they turned in early, they had a good while to enjoy the outside weather; they never went to sleep until after ten o'clock, for then came the sweetest morsel of the night. At that hour Number Seventeen, the westbound passenger, whistled in. The station and the engine house were perhaps an eighth of a mile down the hill, and from far away across the meadows the children could hear that whistle. Then came the heavy pants of the locomotive in the frosty air. Then a hissing--then silence: she was taking water.
Willa Cather worked for a time as a tutor for the Menuhin family, and remained a close family friend after the Menuhin children grew up. You can see some interesting passages about the relationship from a Cather-based perspective here, and from a Menuhin-based perspective here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Practice Mirror "Hack"

Practicing with a mirror is extremely helpful for string players. My ideal practice space has a large window that takes up much of the wall. When I hang a mirror the normal way, the hook makes the mirror tilt towards the floor. I decided that the best remedy for this problem would be to prop the bottom of the mirror up so that it tilts ever so slightly towards the ceiling, which allows me to see the position of my bow in the space between the fingerboard and the bridge.

I made a set of two tilting "machines" from things I found in my desk drawer:

THE COMPONENTS









THE PROCESS









THE OUTCOME




Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rambling Onward

I have always worked my way through grief through cleaning and through playing Bach. I made it through the grief I had during the time of my brother's death last August by organizing his music and the paintings and family memorabilia from my mother that he was transporting to his home in Memphis. I also spent time every day playing Bach on the piano.

I have been making my way through the grief I feel for my father-in-law by getting my own house in order. Marie Kondo refers to cleaning and de-cluttering as "tidying," which is a nice tidy word for a new way of thinking creating order with the things we like keep around us, and getting rid of the things that do not give us joy. Jim Leddy was a very "tidy" man, and my act of tidying is a mindful way of honoring him.

Our daughter sent a message to Michael about Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which she had been reading on the plane en route to the hospice in New Jersey. She thought Michael, who is deeply attracted to the idea of organizing things (and has a lot of things to organize), would like the book. We left the hospice for an hour or two, and went to a fine Barnes and Noble store in Paramus, New Jersey. Michael bought the Kondo book, and I bought a Hal Leonard piano collection of piano music.

The hospice where we were staying had a piano, and I really needed to play in order to work through all of the emotional intensity we were experiencing while Michael's father was in his final days. The piano at the hospice was missing a handful of notes, so I had to use my imagination to fill in the missing pitches. I usually play the piano behind closed doors. Not having all the notes available took the pressure off playing the piano in a public space.

I need to play music in order to feel like a human being. It is just the way I am wired. Years ago, before I started practicing the piano conscientiously, I wondered what it would be like if I were somewhere where the only instrument I could play was a piano. I found myself in such a situation, and I happened to be prepared. Being able to play for an hour or so made all the difference for me. After that I was able to keep myself on track.

We have been home for almost a week, and all my clothes are now folded in the Japanese way. Even though I cannot see into my drawers, I know that they are nicely packed and that everything is accessible. I can now open any drawer and see every item of clothing in it. I also feel that my mind is cleaner when I practice: my playing has magically become more "tidy." Really.

Michael jokes that our house is now a "Kondo-minium." When making the space you live in tidy feels like a pleasure rather than a chore, life feels much more harmonious, even during difficult times.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Exhibit at the Library of Congress Website

I believe that Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was the most important American patron of chamber music performance and chamber music composition in the 20th century. The exhibition devoted to her life and work at the Library of Congress website has letters, photographs, compositions, and recordings that I have never seen or heard before.

You can read some Musical Assumptions posts about Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge I have made over the years here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August Is the New April

August is the cruelest month.

I haven't posted for a while because my husband lost his father last week. Michael wrote a beautiful eulogy for him that I think anyone who reads this blog would enjoy reading. My time and mind have been taken up by family things these days, but I will post about things musical at some point in the not-too-distant future.