Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bernard Zaslav: A Special Violist in My Life







Bernard Zaslav, who was born in 1926, died yesterday afternoon at the age of 90. He holds a very special and a very permanent place in my heart. I got to know Bernie extremely well, first through his recordings, then through the internet viola list, and later while working with him on his memoir, The Viola in My Life: An Alto Rhapsody.

Shortly after I began working with Bernie on his book I began to wonder if he might know my friend Seymour Barab, who was active in New York at the same time. I casually asked Seymour if he knew Bernie, and Seymour got very excited. He told me that they were in a string quartet together during the 1960s, and that they hadn't been in touch for 50 years (Bernie left New York for Milwaukee in 1968 to play with the Fine Arts Quartet, and Seymour remained in New York for the rest of his life). I gave each the other's phone number, and they renewed their friendship. Seymour read through a draft of Bernie's memoir and made many excellent suggestions. (Michael enjoyed Seymour's comments so much that he used to show pages of Seymour's editing to his college students.)

I have written a lot on this blog about Bernie. He was a remarkable man who, through his playing, his wit, and his kindness, brightened American musical life for much of the 20th century from sea to shining sea (peppered with many concert tours abroad).

You can find the posts I have written about him here, and you can get a copy of his memoir from Amazon, where he tells true tales about the marvelous musical world of the 20th century from the standpoint of one of its brilliant inner voices. The book comes with two CDs that give a musical overview of a remarkable career.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What It Takes to Feel Good: The Nickolaus Technique

When I was a student at Juilliard I was often wracked with physical tension due mostly to constant practicing and always carrying a heavy shoulder bag filled with music and instruments. This was before people carried ergonomic backpacks. This was before the idea of ergonomic anything. Walking around the city in shoes that did not offer adequate support didn't help either.

One day in the winter 1979 a friend brought me to an exercise class that involved a brand new way of exercising developed by a dancer named Richard Nickolaus. The series of exercises, known as The Nickolaus Technique, was based on principles of Yoga and isometrics, and gave attention to all the moving parts of the body (including the feet). It involved controlled breathing, stretching, and strengthening, and it made an amazing difference in my life. There were studios all over the city, and if you were a member of one studio, you could take as many classes as you liked at any studio.



I took classes for around a year, and then I bought the book by Benno Isaacs and Jay Kobler so that I could keep doing the series of 30 exercises on my own when I went on my post-Juilliard travels. I somehow managed to misplace the book, but I still did the exercises. Well, some of them.

Last week, while I was out of town, I was showing a Yoga-minded friend some exercises from the Nickolaus Technique, and used my phone to search for it online. I couldn't remember the spelling of "Nickolaus," and was therefore unsuccessful. I tried again when I got home, and found a used copy of the book at Amazon for one cent. It arrived in the mail the other day, and I have been doing the series of 30 exercises after practicing.

What a great series of stretching and strengthening exercises it is! And it is particularly good for musicians of "a certain age" who are not as flexible as they once were.

Here's the cover:



And here's the Amazon link. I'm going to order a few more copies to give to my friends.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trumpet Sonata Recording by Thomas Pfotenhauer and Vincent Fuh



A mystery package from Minnesota showed up in my postal mailbox. Michael opened it up and said, "You're on this CD!" We immediately put it in the CD player, and I am pleased to report that the playing is just great. I found a link to it here, and ordered some more copies.

I knew something about this recording, but I had no idea what the timeframe for it was!

Today's New York Times Includes a Piece about Music Written by Women

Maybe the New York Times could make "A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version) a column with weekly installments (with audio clips). Alice Gregory has started something good here.

For future columns, here is an incomplete list to work from. (And then there is this blog . . . )

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thoughts About Musical Memory

I am impressed by people who can memorize music and then perform that music from memory. I have (thankfully) only had to do it a few times in my life. The first time was in a lesson with Julius Baker during my first year at Juilliard. I was playing a Casterede etude for him. He asked me if I could play it from memory, and I had practiced the piece so many times (for many years) that I was able to play it for him without looking at the music (It was a short etude, and I had just played it with the music in front of me.)

I must have been playing that etude by ear and by feel. I wouldn't say that I was playing it by memory. I don't know if I could have done it again. Luckily I didn't have to find out. When my mother studied with Julius Baker in the 1950s, she had to play everything from memory (which she could do: she had absolute pitch and an incredible memory). I'm grateful that Baker softened up a bit by the 1970s, but he was still impressed by people who could play from memory.

When playing scales and arpeggios on the flute without looking at music, I have to take time to think about what notes I might be playing. When playing scales and arpeggios on the viola or the violin, I have to think about what position I might happen to be in, what instrument I am playing, and what string I happen to be on before I could begin to tell you what scale or arpeggio I might be playing.

I do not memorize music well. I have tried. Again and again. I can rattle off songs I learned long ago, but my interpretation and understanding of them hasn't changed since my adolescent brain imprinted them in the "permanent" section of my memory banks. There are theme songs to television shows, songs from musicals and operettas I did in Junior High and High School, the first dozen or so lines of the poem, "Cut" by Sylvia Plath that I recited as part of an "avant garde" band piece we did in high school where everyone had to recite a different poem at the same time, songs I sang with my kids when they were little, much of the Mozart D major Flute Concerto, Syrinx, the Gluck melody from Orpheus, and the Baker set of daily warm-up excerpts. These are things I learned by rote.

I can make it through some of the first movement of the Bach E-major Partita on the violin without the music in front of me, but I always end up modulating to an impossible key before I realize that I have gotten myself off track. I can also make it through the first movement of the Bach G-major Cello Suite once in a while, and occasionally I surprise myself to find that I can play other movements in the Cello Suites without music. But I can't tell you which ones.

When I practice the E-major Partita (in A major on the viola) with music, I get new musical insights every time. And when I practice the G-major Cello Suite with music I learn something new every time. For me having the music in front of me allows me the freedom to group notes in new (for me) ways. Having the music in front of me helps me to really know where I have been, where I am, and where I am going. It gives me a foot hold. It helps me feel at ease playing in front of people. Playing with the music in front of me becomes more about the music than it does about my playing of the music.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Joy of Hard Work: Getting From Can't to Can

While I believe that every child should have the opportunity to participate in musical activities, and I think that it is beneficial to everyone to study an instrument (or voice) with a good teacher, I have learned from experience that the only people who truly succeed at playing a musical instrument are the people who get enjoyment from the hard work of practicing.

Getting from can't to can is a profound journey, and it is a journey I have taken many times with different instruments. I have finally found the instrument I love to practice most of all (the viola), and feel extremely fortunate that I have put in enough work so that I use the word "can't" only rarely. I also love the journey between can't and can with the viola as much as I appreciate being able to play my instrument in a way that expresses my deepest inner voice. And every new piece allows for the possibility of a new and interesting journey.

In my nearly 40 years of teaching (nearly 40 years!), the students who seem to have gotten the greatest benefit from studying music are the students who enjoy the process of making improvements in their playing by taking baby steps: notching passages with a metronome, becoming aware of how they feel when using their playing mechanisms efficiently, and gaining an understanding of the possibilities to be found in a musical phrase.

Some people are "wired" to practice and play, and some people are "wired" to do other things. People who do not get pleasure out of the process of practicing might find that they get more pleasure out of the process of working hard at something other than music. My hope is that my students who no longer play find an area of concentration that asks them to work hard, and that they find joy in the process of improving in their area of concentration through consistent work. I also hope that they keep music in their lives and do not associate no longer playing with a sense of failure. And then there is the secret pie-in-the-sky hope that when they get to a point in their lives where they want to try playing again, I hope that they find new enjoyment in the hard work that all of us have to do in order to get from can't to can.



Saturday, November 26, 2016

New Mozart Flute Concerto?

I saw a notice that the very first performance of a recently-discovered flute concerto by W. A. Mozart will be live-streamed from Istanbul on December 2 by way of Tutti Mozart's FaceBook page, but it is not clear (to me, at least) if this is a work that is totally original or a piece written by Johann Baptist Wendling with some help from Mozart. Somehow I imagine that a discovery of a new Mozart concerto would have made large ripples in the musicological ether. I can't seem to find any at this point.

People interested will have to do some calculations regarding the time of the concert, taking the International Date Line into consideration. I might sit this one out, but I'm sharing the link here anyway.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Off Topic, But On My Mind

Michael mentioned that I hadn't written anything about this election on my blog, so I decided to interrupt my scales to say what is distracting me from practicing them properly. I'll be brief. Music is a distraction that I need to fill the larger part of my brain right now because the only positive thing I can see in Tuesday's election of Donald Trump is the possibility of a way out of a Trump presidency.

There is one that makes sense to me. You can read about it in Douglas Anthony Cooper's article in yesterday's Huffington Post. Cooper reminds us of the real purpose of the electoral college as envisioned by Alexander Hamilton:
Trump can still be stopped. The Founding Fathers foresaw just this catastrophe, and built a fail-safe into the Constitution. It’s called the Electoral College. Alexander Hamilton was explicit: this mechanism was designed to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” In short, it was designed to prevent just this situation: the rise of an unqualified demagogue like Donald Trump.
Cooper suggests that we should all write to elected officials (both Democratic and Republican) in the states that voted for Trump to consider their electoral college options.

I think that most of the people reading this blog would agree, regardless of the party they support (or don't support), that we need to use whatever power (within the Constitution) we can to prevent this would-be autocrat from being inaugurated.

OK. I'm going back to my scales. I have been putting special focus on minor keys these days.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Gravitas: Ballad for Americans

I find it interesting to compare these two recordings:





Here's an obituary for Earl Robinson, the composer.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Reading Aloud

The latest adventure that Michael and I have had in our Four Seasons Book Club (we meet during all four seasons, in the living room, and generally after lunch) is reading the Odyssey out loud, swapping readers whenever there is a break in the text. Michael has read and taught the poem (in various translations) dozens of times, and this was my maiden voyage. What a tremendous experience it was to play the parts of both poet and audience in this re-enactment of such an important oral/aural tradition. It helped to really enjoy the work itself.

The act of reading out loud is quite different from the act of reading without speaking. Our eyes need to scan far ahead in order to make sense of the words we are reading. And when the lines I am reading are lines of poetry in translation, I find that I have to pay a different kind of attention to context, because the flow of the text is not necessarily predictable or natural. If the text is rhythmic and has a rhyme scheme, it is far easier to allow the words to trip off the tongue.

When we sightread music we are always preparing in our inner ears for what is ahead. Music set in regular rhythmic and harmonic patterns is far easier to sightread than music with irregular rhythmic patterns, and it is far easier to sightread a piece or passage when we can understand, by the experience of having played similar music, its harmonic logic.

I was thinking about this the other day while teaching a student who found herself tripping over otherwise straightforward notes in a passage. I took out a book and asked her to read a sentence or two. (She prefaced her reading with saying that she was horrible at reading aloud, but I found that she was perfectly good at it.) I asked her to observe the way her eyes and ears worked when she was reading aloud. Then we went back to the musical passage in question, and she found that she could expand her field of vision and inner ear the same way when reading music.

(For today's meeting of the reading club--after lunch, in the living room--we are going back to silent reading. And Balzac is on the menu.)

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Transcriptions for Viola and Piano of Russian Music Concert on November 12



It's that time of year again. For our November concert John David and I have raided the coffers of Russian music written for instruments other than the viola, and our program is made totally of transcriptions.

We're playing my hot-and-not-quite-off-the-press transcription of the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata that will be published by the International Music Company in 2017, and my brand new transcriptions of three pieces from Reinhold Glière's Opus 35: the Chanson and Andante, written originally for oboe; and the Moment musical, written originally for cello. We are also playing two "Album Leaves" from his Opus 51, which is originally for cello, and the Romance, Opus 3, which is originally for violin.

I have put the transcribed viola parts for the Glière in the IMSLP, and you can have a look at them (and download them if you want) through the above links (you'll find them all under the "transcription" tabs. The piano parts are all unchanged.

For people in the neighborhood reading this, the concert will be at 4:00 on Saturday, November 12th at the Wesley Methodist Church on Fourth Street in Charleston, just south of the university on the west side of the street. There is ample parking, and admission is free.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Donald J. Giovanni

An article in Slate lets us know that yesterday that a live a Metropolitan Opera performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni aired on movie screens across the country. There's a repeat movie theater broadcast on Wednesday at 6:30 Eastern Time.

The similarities between the two Dons abound. The Met is making an excellent statement by broadcasting this opera at precisely this time.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finally! A Composition Contest I Can Enter

[You'll have to click the image to read the text without glasses.]

Thank you Michael Kurek for creating the above piece of art for this fine contest.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Trio for Clarinet (Violin), Viola, and Piano

Thank you to the members of the Nexus 3 Trio for this excellent performance!



You can find the music here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kol Nidre

[The person taking the video started a few measures in . . .]



Happy New Year to all!

You can find the music here (look under "transcriptions").

Monday, October 10, 2016

Preparing to Inhale

Three of my violin students happen to also play the flute. I consider it tremendous fortune to be able to teach them because I find myself identifying all sorts of "flute brain" things that happen that can hamper good violin playing. And then sometimes a violin-based observation can identify a flute problem.

For instance, one student has the habit of picking up all of her fingers when she lifts her bow. My sense of flute reflex (which has been activated of late because I have been practicing the flute every day) made me think of the way I tend to lift my fingers off the flute keys when I take a breath. She told me that she does the same thing when playing the flute.

While practicing the flute the other day, I noticed how often I pick up my fingers when I take a breath, and how much better everything sounds and feels when I keep my fingers on the keys while taking in air. Perhaps the process of inhalation is more complete without lifting the fingers because the only muscles that are working are the ones that control breathing, so all the energy goes to the task at hand.

I'm excited to talk about this with my recorder student (who will be here soon).

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Waiting to Exhale (or Blow, or Bow, or Move the Air)

We had a discussion about air during yesterday's Renaissance consort meeting. A new person to the group, a professional oboe player in civilian life, mentioned that she felt out of breath playing the alto recorder, to which two members replied that their shawm teacher tells them not to "blow," but rather to "exhale" through the instrument.

My thoughts waited a day or so before they collected themselves, so I'll share my observations here.

When I play the recorder or the flute I think about using the tongue to move the air through the instrument and out into the world. Exhaling is too passive for me, and blowing without using the tongue to move the airstream feels like a waste of air. I find that exhaling by itself lacks purpose and direction, because it doesn't take the all-important tongue into consideration. I always use the tongue to push the air, and then I use it to move the air stream through the instrument. A certain amount of "blowing" does happen, but it only happens once the air column has been set into motion.

When I play viola or violin I begin my bow stroke with a combination of right-hand fingers and wrist. I find that they function together much like a tongue functions when playing the flute or the recorder. Then I use a combination of my fingers, hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder to move the bow and regulate its speed and pressure. The movement starts (or keeps) the string vibrating, which in turn sets the wood and the air inside the instrument into motion. When I move the bow, I push or pull the air (up bow is the same as push and down bow is the same as pull) out of the instrument. It's nothing like blowing, though once the bow is in motion, it feels a little like exhaling. It particularly feels like exhaling when I actually exhale while moving the bow.

We inhale and exhale while playing a stringed instrument (because we can, and because we have to in order to live). It feels both life-enhancing and music-enhancing. The act of inhaling and exhaling when playing strings does not make sound or prepare to make sound. What happens inside the body (what you cannot see) has little bearing on the way notes are produced. When playing a wind instrument the outside of the body (the part that you can see) remains relatively still. Physical movement (aside from the fingers, the breathing mechanism, and the occasional combination of lip and cheek) is superfluous; it does nothing to improve sound quality or musical expression.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We Are Still Far From Eradicating Gender Bias in Music, Folks

I like to believe that in the field of music we are making serious progress towards eradicating gender bias. Blind (internet) tests have shown that nobody listening to a performance of a piece of music can tell the gender of the person performing it. But in spite of the fact that everyone agrees that the quality of a person's playing matters far, far, more than the gender of the person playing, and the fact that orchestras are often populated by more women than men, and that some of the best 21st-century conductors around happen to be women, gender bias is still lurking under the surface of the world where I swim. And even though women composers have been given a small share of prizes and such, the real proof is in the concert programs.

This article by Max Moran pokes at some nerves.
The notion that someone can objectively determine quality assumes that they are “living in some patriarchy-free universe somewhere,” Curtis added.

“We all know that gender bias exists, and even those of us who work every day against it can never be free of it,” she said, sharing an anecdote about seeing conductor Susanna Malkki walk on stage and thinking, “Who’s the soloist?”

Yet the labels “women composers” and “men composers” still have a place in this discussion, Curtis concluded. “We need these labels to point out the presence of men without women and the lack of women and the lack of inclusion,” she said. “We both need special events that celebrate women, and we also need more women in the mainstream.” She added that orchestras are making some progress, especially smaller orchestras playing women composers, but that there is still more progress to be made.
I'm pleased to notice that Emilie Mayer is among the "common practice" composers Moran mentions. And though he doesn't mention her partronymic homophone, Amanda Maier, this is as good a place as any to let everyone know that an excellent edition, with orchestral parts and a piano reduction, of her Violin Concerto is available for free in the IMSLP. I find it terribly sad, given the quality of the piece and the importance of the composer, that it only seems to have been downloaded around 35 times. If any piece should be played by major symphony orchestras that feed their audiences a diet of 19th-century music, this one should. And the score and parts are available for free.

Not available for free, but very much worth paying for, is an excellent edition of Amanda Maier's Piano Quartet (another GREAT piece). I can't help myself from thinking that if these pieces had been written by a man they would be hailed as great 19th-century discoveries.

Gregory Maytan, a great champion of Amanda Maier's music, made a soon-to-be-released recording Maier's Violin Concerto and her Piano Quartet. Keep your eyes on this spot for a review.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spread Ahead

Beginning violin students often have a hard time being sure where their fourth fingers are going to land, particularly after playing a note with a lowered second finger (in the case of C natural on the A string). Here is a sample pattern.


The open A string that begins the sequence notes tells the student what the stopped A at the end of the measure needs to sound like, so if the fourth finger note is out of tune the student knows it immediately, feels frustrated, and then tenses both hands.

My solution? Spread the hand during the open D so that the fourth finger can simply drop into place.

Yesterday, while I was teaching a lesson, I wrote the words "spread ahead" on my student's music. I was amused by the rhyming catch-phrase-ness of the words, and when she walked out the door I realized that I had forgotten the exact words I had written on her music. I figured that I would see them the next time she had a lesson, so all was not lost.

Fortunately my next student found herself in a similar situation. It involved a shift in position, an open string, and the need to spread the hand. The phrase came to mind immediately, so I wrote it on her music.

Then I forgot it again.

So I'm writing the story of my new catch phrase here. I hope that it is useful to other string players, whether they be teachers, students, or both.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Musical Pioneers

From Willa Cather's O Pioneers!
"Yes, sometimes, when I think about father and mother and those who are gone; so many of our old neighbors." Alexandra paused and looked up thoughtfully at the stars. "We can remember the graveyard when it was wild prairie, Carl, and now --"

"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Is n't it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."

Friday, September 09, 2016

What Helium Does to Clarinet Playing!

This demonstration will lighten up your day. Wonder what it does for other instruments? Here is a recorder player using helium bagpipe style. He is a scientist, so he is not about to do anything to mess with his brain cells. He also compares helium-driven recorder playing with carbon-dioxide-driven recorder playing (did I hyphenate that properly Michael?).

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Beverly Cleary on Procrastination

This is not advice from Beverly Cleary about how or how not to procrastinate, but reading this bit from My Own Two Feet gives me courage. The creative process is rife with interruption and insecurity, and, in Cleary's case, rich in the everydayness of what it means to be a child. Reading her books helps adults remember what it was like to be in the third grade, to be a fifteen-year-old girl (even if they had never been a girl of any age), or to be part of a family.

This passage comes from the end of her memoir. Beverly and her husband Clarence had just bought their first house. She had been through college and library school, and had worked in a few libraries. She always had the desire to write children's books, but had never written anything longer than a 24-page paper for a college English class.
We had discovered in the linen closet a ream of typing paper left by the former owner. I remarked to Clarence, "I guess I'll have to write a book." My ambition, refusing to die, was beginning to bloom again.

"Why don't you?" asked Clarence.

"We never have any sharp pencils" was my flippant answer.

The next day he brought home a pencil sharpener.

The trouble was, I couldn't think of anything to write about. Besides, I was busy turning our house into a home. We bought dining room furniture to go over the braided rug. I braided another for the living room from my army uniforms, Clarence's wedding suit, and other memories.

* * *

On January 2, 1949, I gathered up my typewriter, freshly sharpened pencils, and the pile of paper and sat down at the kitchen table we had stored in the back bedroom. Write and no backing out, I told myself. In all my years of dreaming about writing, I had never thought about what it was I wanted to say. I stared out the window at the fine-leafed eucalyptus tree leaning into the canyon and filled with tiny twittering birds. I looked out the other window at a glimpse of the bay when the wind parted the trees. There must be something I could write about. The cat, always interested in what I was doing, jumped up on the table and sat on my typing paper. Could I write about Kitty? He had a charming way of walking along the top of the picket fence to sniff the Shasta daisies, but children demanded stories. A daisy-sniffing cat would not interest them. I thought about the usual first book about a maturing of a young girl. This did not inspire me. I chewed the pencil, watched the birds, thought about how stupid I had been all those years when I aspired to write without giving a thought to what I wanted to say, petted the cat, who decided he wanted to go out. I let him out and sat down at the typewriter once more. The cat wanted in. I let him in, held him on my lap, petted him, and found myself thinking of the procession of nonreading boys who had come to the library once a week when I was a children's librarian, boys who wanted books about "kids like us."
After that Cleary started thinking about the kids in her neighborhood when she was growing up, and then she started thinking about plausible story lines and characters, and then, after several interruptions, she came to the realization that writing for children was the same as storytelling, which she had done a lot as a children's librarian, and she was on her path.

An extra treat: In 1985 Beverly Cleary wrote this article for the New York Times.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is Art Powerless Against Reality?

From Romain Rolland, as quoted by Stefan Zweig: "Art can bring us consolation as individuals, but it is powerless against reality."
This simple statement has been rattling around in my brain for the last 24 hours. Romain Rolland, who, in addition to writing novels, plays, and essays about art wrote a great deal about music. [The internet archive has some of his musical writings here, and you can find the text of his well-known book, Beethoven the Creator here.]

Rolland lived in France during a time when I thought that art (or Art) was considered a vital part of reality, but I am learning, little by little, that a general "reality" is something controlled not by the people who make art, but by the people who have a great deal of power. We have had, during the past few centuries, people of power who were consumers of art. The world is indeed indebted to the artistic tastes of Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, Ludwig II of Bavaria, the Princess de Polignac, and those three Americans named Henry: Frick, Huntington, and Higginson.

Cue Herman's Hermits for a bit of comic relief:



It seems to me that many of the people of wealth and power living in this century (the one percent, and the politicians representing them) aren't particularly interested in art, music, and drama beyond celebrity and investment value. I fear that art has lost even more of what little power it might have had when Rolland considered it powerless against reality.

I think I'll poke through those Rolland essays now. I'm hoping for a bit of consolation in them.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Notes on Reflections

I have spent the last couple of months working on a piece for flute and strings in memory of my mother, who died this past Valentine's Day. I finished the piece yesterday, and it is now in the IMSLP. I thought I would use this virtual "space" to write some notes about "Three Reflections for Flute and Strings."

The first movement has the title "Was will die einsame Thräne?" I began this as a setting of a Heine poem which I encountered, through a reference to it, in Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy, one of the books Michael and I read earlier this summer. The poem has been sitting next to me all summer, copied onto a yellow legal pad.
Was will die einsame Thräne?
Sie trübt mir ja den Blick.
Sie blieb aus alten Zeiten
In meinem Auge zurück.

Sie hatte viel leuchtende Schwestern,
Die alle zerflossen sind,
Mit meinen Qualen und Freuden,
Zerflossen in Nacht und Wind.

Wie Nebel sind auch zerflossen
Die blauen Sternelein,
Die mir jene Freuden und Qualen
Gelächelt ins Herz hinein.

Ach, meine Liebe selber
Zerfloß wie eitel Hauch!
Du alte, einsame Träne,
Zerfließe jettender auch!
The poem from the section called "Die Hedmkehr," XXVII from Heinrich Heine's Buch der Lieder, and it has been set by at least 81 composers. Here is a link to a good English translation.

I didn't do a full setting of the song, but I used the lines of poetry to write the major thematic material of the first piece of the set, and allowed the music to reflect poetry. The artwork on the Soundcloud link is by my mother.



The second piece in the set, "The Silence," is from a group of songs I wrote in 2002 to poems by Federico Garcìa Lorca. I made an arrangement of some of the songs for flute and piano, but left "El Silencio" out of that set. It works really well for flute and strings. Here's the poem:
Oye, hijo mío, el silencio.
Es un silencio ondulado,
un silencio,
donde resbalan valles y ecos
y que inclina las frentes
hacia el suelo.

Lee todo en: El silencio - Poemas de Federico García Lorca http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/el-silencio.htm#ixzz4HPZCoTfv

Here is the setting:



The third piece is a "Yahrzeit" tribute to my mother. I re-used and adapted material from a set of calendar preludes for piano that I wrote in memory of my brother Marshall for the Jewish year of 5775, the year that began right after his death. The time for my mother's Yahrzeit is in the month of Adar, so I used material from the piece I wrote for the month of Adar. Adar is the month of Purim, so the piano piece runs like a kind of story that is interrupted by explosions of noise (whenever the name "Haman" is spoken). For this setting I lightened the mood. I also reduced the number of "interruptions," and I turned them into trills. Here is the updated setting:



(For reference, and in case you are interested, here is a link to an audio file for "Adar.")

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stefan Zweig on Fate

From the chapter "Bypaths on the Way to Myself" in Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday
It was natural enough for me to think that I was being persecuted by fate, since at the very start the theater had so temptingly offered me undreamed-of possibilities only to snatch them cruelly from me at the last moment. But it is only early in life that one believes fate to be identical with chance. Later one knows that the actual course of one's life was determined from within; however confusedly and meaninglessly our way may deviate from our desires, after all it does lead us inevitably to our invisible goal.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Note of Thanks

While recovering from the thankless task of cutting the overgrown weeds and invasive vines on the wall that separates our property from our neighbor's property, I am overcome with gratitude for having the time and physical ability to perform such a task, for living in a house with a yard to tend, for being able to drink and shower in fresh water after I have exhausted myself, and for knowing that I will be able to sit down for a nice lunch soon.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Questions Concerning Sound and Music

In an essay about Charles Ives, Jan Swafford writes about George Ives, the father of Charles Ives:
As importantly, George Ives taught his son to respect the power of vernacular music. As a Civil War band leader he understood how sentimental tunes such as "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground," "Aura Lee," Stephen Foster songs, and marches and bugle calls were woven into the experience of war and the memories of soldiers. Much as did Gustav Mahler a continent away, Charles Ives came to associate everyday music with profound emotions and spiritual aspirations. One of his father's most resonant pieces of wisdom came when he said of a stonemason's off-key hymn singing: "Look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don't pay too much attention to the sounds-for if you do, you may miss the music. You won't get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds."
At some point Charles Ives uttered his famous (perhaps rhetorical) question "What does sound have to do with music?" Swafford puts it in an appropriate context:
Thus Ives's comment, echoing his father's words: "What does sound have to do with music?" For Ives, music is not mere sound but the underlying spirit, human and divine, which the sounds express even in the inexpert playing and singing of amateurs. Thus the paradox of Ives's music, echoing his paradoxical person: he could be realistic, comic, transcendent, simple, complex, American, and European, all at the same time. If some of his music seems crowded nearly to bursting, it is a vibrant and entirely realistic portrayal of his conception of life, his sense of democracy in action, and of his own all-embracing consciousness. As Ives once said, Music is life.
We now live in a time where sounds can be lined up, preserved, and incorporated to any situation, and played for reasons both musical and non-musical (consider the white noise used to drown out possible outbursts of opposition in the areas of the hall that held Sanders supporters during the Democratic National Convention). Ives's statement "Music is Life," does not strike the same rebellious chord (or discord) it struck during Ives's lifetime.

We live in a time when someone who is not able (for whatever reason) to translate what s/he plays into musical notation is capable of making a functional sound-track for a video (see the post below from yesterday). Someone who doesn't play (or even own) a traditional instrument can use household objects to generate what would function as music, and that person could record it using a smartphone and share it for all the world to hear. Or a person who doesn't play a traditional instrument could use a device like the Koka's Soundtrack Box No. 1, and get stunning results.


Koka's Soundtrack Box No. 1 from nikoladze on Vimeo.


Does this box make sound, or does it make music? Do we need to expand our vocabulary to express the capabilities of our technology? Does using an instrument like this (and it is indeed both an instrument and a beautifully and thoughtfully constructed piece of art) generate sound, or does it generate music? When playing a traditional instrument in a non-traditional way (using extended techniques, for example), is the result music or sound? If there is a difference, where does that difference begin and where does it end?

Friday, August 05, 2016

Hotel Electric (Partial) Performance

I wrote this piece as an experiment in writing for film. My intention was to try to illustrate the actions in the film with music. I tried to write music that was appropriate to the era of the film, and I tried to make the music reflect the pacing of the film. My ultimate goal was to write music that was boisterous and colorful, but that would essentially function as an accompaniment, rendering itself, through repetition of material, as invisible as a trio of woodwinds could possibly be. It was great fun to experiment with the zillions of musical possibilities, and it is very interesting to hear it (well, some of it) performed in this concert setting.

The woodwind trio music at the beginning is mine. After a few minutes the students in the mixed ensemble accompany the film with what seems like a well-prepared collective improvisation. The improvised music ends up being very much in the foreground, with the film serving as a kind of visual accompaniment to it.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Beauty Tip from Mary Rosicky

Michael and I are reading Willa Cather's Obscure Destinies. Yesterday this passage from "Neighbor Rosicky" caught my eye and piqued my curiosity:


Since I have some grey hair to experiment upon, I tried Mary Rosicky's trick. I rubbed a tea bag on a particularly colorless area of my hair, and after it dried I was pleased to see that my formerly almost white tufts of hair had turned a friendly and natural-looking ash blonde. I found out this morning that shampoo washes most of it out, but it is easy to reapply a dab of tea. Mary did it every day.

Michael tried it on his beard, and it worked for him too. He also noticed that his beard felt softer after being treated with the tea. (We used Red Rose Irish Breakfast tea.)

Mary's trick has been scientifically proven to work! It has to do with the conversion of catechins to quinones, and applying it repeatedly makes the tea dye more permanent.

My next Cather-inspired domestic endeavor? Kolache. Mary Rosicky makes them with apricots, but I think I'll try making mine with some of the blueberries that are in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Nancy's Composer Friend

This comic is from 1946. My profile picture is from 2016. I only saw this today (thanks to Michael). I swear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stefan Zweig on Sports

From The World of Yesterday
Even now, in 1941, I am highly confused as to the difference between baseball and football, hockey and polo, and the sporting page of a newspaper with its inexplicable figures seems to me to be written in Chinese. In the matter of all speed and ability records in sport, I have always been of the same opinion as the Shah of Persia who, when asked to attend the Derby, replied with Oriental wisdom: "Why? I know that one horse can run faster than another. It makes no difference to me which one it is."

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 Summer Strings Concert

Here is the announcement for the 2016 Summer Strings concert from today's local paper!
CHARLESTON -- Summer Strings will present its annual concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the John Daum Amphitheatre in Kiwanis Park.

The program includes classical and popular works arranged for string orchestra by Elaine Fine. Conducted by Rachel Warfel, Summer Strings members include students, adults and string teachers from Charleston and surrounding communities including Mattoon, Shelbyville, Sullivan and Tuscola.

A wide variety of musical selections include "Till There Was You," "He's a Pirate," "Once Upon a December," "Those Were the Days," "Cinema Paradiso" as well as familiar works by Fasch, Bach, Satie and Offenbach.

Summer Strings offers an ensemble experience for string players of all ages and abilities.

Facilitated by area string teachers, Summer Strings thanks the First Christian Church for providing rehearsal space, the Coles County Arts Council for music printing funds, Fit to a Tee for concert shirts and the Charleston Recreation Department for concert sponsorship.

The public is invited to the performance Tuesday. In the event of rain, the concert will be at the First Christian Church, 411 Jackson.
If you happen to be in the area, Charleston is about an hour due south of Champaign on Route 130 (or Route 57) and about an hour west of Terre Haute. Kiwanis Park has entrances on both Harrison Street and Jackson Street. There is ample parking and admission is free.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Re-flute

My mother's overhauled and restored flute arrived in the mail a few days ago. I have been having a grand old time getting reacquainted with the instrument I played for three hours every day from age 14 to age 16. When I was 16 I got my own open-hole flute, which I sold back in the 1990s to help pay for a violin.

The flute is surprisingly easy to play (particularly after playing the baroque flute), and it has only taken me two days to regain some breath control and technique. But with the return to playing the instrument I used to express myself in adolescence, and the instrument with which I experienced the frustrations of trying to fit into the musical world as a young adult, comes all sorts of emotional "baggage."

Yesterday I decided to make a couple of recordings playing the flute and using the piano generator that lives in my Finale notation program. The pieces I have written for flute and piano sit on a few library shelves and on the hard drive of Subito Music (the publisher that sells some of my music). I don't have any idea if anybody has played them.

I tried my hand at Cante Jondo, a set of pieces with some serious rhythmic complexities. I found that I had quite a bit of difficulty playing and counting at the same time. String playing has taught me to externalize rhythm. The amount of bow and the actions of the bow can replace some of the act of counting for me. And then there is the ability to use your mouth to count (softly) out loud while playing. The flute has nothing external to help, and the mouth is otherwise occupied, so the mind has to do it all.

This YouTube video has four of the five pieces. The fifth one was too difficult to synchronize with a non-living pianist.



"For Poulenc," my other Subito-published piece for flute and piano, started life as a song setting of a Frank O'Hara poem, which I couldn't publish (for copyright reasons). I adapted it for flute and piano, and dedicated it to my teacher, Julius Baker. Here is a recording.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Beethoven Septet Boston Symphony Chamber Players

I heard my father perform this piece often, but this is the first time I have heard the recording (it was recorded in 1980 and released in 1982, while I was out of the country)! Thank you Pawel Rybkowski for uploading this!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Politics and Music

I learned early in my musical life that the popularity hierarchies that happen among children in grade school are not very different from the ones that happen in junior high school, and that those are not very different from the popularity hierarchies that happen in adulthood, except that children are relatively powerless, and adults have access to as much power as they are capable of seeking (and by whatever means).

When my father was thinking about leaving his position in the Boston Symphony for a position in academia, he made a remark about trading orchestra politics for university politics. He decided to remain in Boston. University politics involve a greater number of people and a greater number of players, and in university faculty life people do not (usually) come together with a common goal several times per week. University life is often fragmented (or factionalized), while musical life has constant benefits that keep its participants believing in the greater common goal of the organization. Both environments can be fiercely competitive and can involve tremendous egos and tremendous sense of privilege, and both environments are highly selective. Both environments do beneficial things for people who participate in their "product" (audiences and students), but teeming under the surface of both kinds of institutions is a layer of very thick politics.

People talked about how Juilliard was "so political" while I was a student there. I didn't see it at the time, but I was young and naïve. I was also the daughter of an important musician, so people were often nice to me because of that fact.

There were people who hung out in the orchestra manager's office, and I noticed that those were the people who got the better orchestral placements. I wondered if I should hang out in his office too, but I didn't like the orchestra manager, and I didn't particularly like the people who hovered around him. I didn't get the best orchestral placements. I actually got the worst ones. I thought it had something to do with my playing, so I tried practicing more. That didn't seem to do anything.

One thing I learned at Juilliard was that if you wanted something you had to go after it, as though it was your right to have it. My time at Juilliard coincided with a time in my life where I was trying to explore much larger issues like truth, beauty, and the "why" of music in addition to the "how." I am grateful for the library and am grateful for my college-educated friends who introduced me to poems, plays, and novels that were appropriate in my quest.

Just like a child wants to find people to play with (and when I was a child I wanted to find people to pretend with), musicians in conservatories want to find people to play music with. They want to have a "group" that serves as a kind of an island of "we" amid a sea of "I"s. String players could break out in groups of four and be completely happy. Wind players, not so much.

Don't get me wrong: I did find some wonderful people to play with at Juilliard, and I did have a few excellent musical experiences, but for whatever reason (in retrospect perhaps a mixture of lack of awareness and disgust), I didn't fit into the political hierarchy.

Now, at a distance of 40 years, I see that many of the people I knew who had the ability to play the political games necessary to find themselves in positions of power and influence in music are in positions of power and influence (I'm not naming names). A few made it there by virtue of excellent playing and teaching, and others made it there by other means.

I find myself wondering about my voice in relation to the political part of the musical world and how little input I have in it. And then I wonder about my voice in relation to the politics of the university in my small town, and I realize that I can certainly say what is on my mind, but I ultimately have no bearing on what happens. I have one vote which I have every reason to believe is counted accurately in my city (I know the people who work at the polling places, and I have every reason to trust them). Having a minority opinion in a rather conservative congressional district gives me the satisfaction of having my voice heard, but it doesn't do anything, at this point, to change anything.

I find myself questioning why national politics should be any different from the Juilliard-level politics I witnessed around the orchestra manager's office. The stakes are different, but the attitude towards using favors to pool power is the same. In the political world people are rewarded for going after what they feel they deserve, even if they are despicable people. Consider most of the high-profile sex scandals that people have gotten away with in political life.

(People have gotten away with similar behavior in high-profile musical life as well, but it doesn't make headlines. Notice that this only appears a parenthetical statement at the end of a post on a blog devoted to music. I'm not naming names, but I could.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Musical Family Fingerprints and Marginalia

Yesterday I went through a pile of music that my father gave to me. Most of it was viola d'amore music, but there was also music for a Concerto by Benda that I remember my father practicing when I was a teenager.

The Benda family was full of musicians and composers, and in 1968, the year the F-major Viola Concerto was published by Schott, the prevailing wisdom was that this Viola Concerto was by Georg Benda. The IMSLP doesn't have a listing for any of Georg's viola music (even under his Bohemian name of Jirí Antonin Benda), so, on a lark I looked at the pages for the other members of the Benda Family. It turns out that Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda (son of Georg's famous and prolific brother Franz who worked for Frederic the Great) was the Benda that wrote the viola concertos.

Ah, but the plot thickens.

I played through some excellent cadenzas that my father wrote for the F Major Concerto, and thought that it would be nice to share them on the IMSLP. I put them into Finale, and noticed that my brother Marshall had also written cadenzas for the same concerto. I also noticed that he essentially copied almost note-for-note the first nine measures of my father's cadenza for the first movement, and the first two measures of his cadenza for the second movement. After his "borrowings" from my father, he then jumps into the stratosphere of the viola's A string and proceeds to make his cadenza a technical tour de force. He must have used the same music I was using, because it was 1984 and Benda family scholarship of the time hadn't separated the music by Friedrich Wilhelm from that of his uncle Georg.

You can find both cadenzas on this page of the IMSLP.

On another note, there is a bit of marginalia inscribed on the first page of my father's music:

27 Salome
28 Rigoletto

I pondered this for a while, and then I remembered that in February of 1973, when I was 13, my father took me to New York to see an opera at the Met. I vividly remember my father telling me the story of Salome (which I found extremely creepy) and Rigoletto (which I also found creepy, but perhaps a little less creepy than Salome), and asking which opera I would like to see. I chose Rigoletto.

We took the train to New York, and it was so crowded that I remember standing up for some of the ride. I seem to remember the transporting of a cello involved in the trip to New York. I remember watching the opera, and I remember not understanding much about what was going on (it was in Italian and I was a teenager). I remember the bright blue dress that Guilda wore, and I remember the darkness of the set. I remember what I was wearing too.

We took the train back to Boston. When we arrived at the Route 128 Amtrak station late at night and in the snow, we found that someone had stolen the drive shaft from the car. A very nice lady with a Volkswagen Beetle packed us into her car and drove us home.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Alex, Vladdi, It, and the Egbert Flute Concerto

When my mother was in college, she and her best friend Dolores Humberg created male flute-playing personae. My mother (in the plaid shirt) went by Alex, and Dolores went by Vladdi. My aunt Jeanne, who took most of these pictures of their backyard antics, appears in the tableaux as "It," the page turner. In order to dress herself as "It," Jeanne decided to wear her gym suit, the most non-gender-specific item of clothing she could find. Notice all you grammar people that one caption referring to "It" does not use "whom" or "who" to refer to It's (and I guess that the apostrophe is in the right place there) lateness, but rather uses "which."

Jeanne grew up to be a high-school English teacher (her student Scott Simon quoted her in a recent Teacher Appreciation Day tweet), Dolores grew up to be a flute teacher, and my mother, who began her adulthood as a professional flutist, gradually moved her creative life to painting.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Musical Kingdom

There are all sorts of things in life that I can't control. Some of the things I can't control affect me directly, and some of them affect me indirectly. There are tyrants in the form of government officials, media moguls, and people with whom I have direct contact.

Within the larger musical world there are gatekeepers (both near and far away) and people who have to operate while carrying around excessive ego baggage (which must be fed). I am largely ignored by most gatekeepers, but I try not to let it get me down because when I am practicing I am the complete master of my own musical kingdom.

I choose what music I want to play, and I choose what I want to do with it musically, phrase by phrase. I often have control of the "when" I choose to play, and can decide on what instrument I wish to play. It is then that I get to visit musical kingdoms (many from long ago) that open up their wonders as I expand my possibilities of expression and gain a gradual mastery of technique. I also have, through the IMSLP, an enormous library of music to explore, much that hasn't seen publication since the 18th century.

When I write music I enter into the inner sanctum of my own musical kingdom where I play around with the pitches, rhythms, and textures of music itself. When I am "there," it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks is right or wrong because I am the only person of authority. In the instances when I encounter something "right" it feels truly "right." Nobody can take that feeling of "rightness" away from me, and that "rightness" is the fiber of the music that I write. Or have written. Unlike playing, which vanishes into the ether, the pitches, rhythms, and textures of written music remain to be experienced again and again, and to be interpreted by people with entirely different musical personalities.


The traditional image of a kingdom, with a castle fortress (to be defended), and a moat to keep away strangers doesn't apply to my kingdom. I have nothing to defend, as, as far as I know, I do not have any enemies. But my musical kingdom sometimes feels like an island because it is rather isolated, both physically and "spiritually" from much of the world. In order to interact musically (or otherwise) with other people in the world, I often need to leave my island. I really like it when people come to visit (either by reading this blog, playing some of my music, playing music together, or coming to take lessons), and I appreciate it when they let me know that they enjoyed the time they spent "here."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dual Screen Sheet Music Device!

Six years ago I made a post about what I would want in a music-reading tablet (I called it a "notebook"), and this proposed Gvido dual screen device seems to be the answer to my request!



My additional "wish list" item (that I would add to my wish list on the 2010 post that I linked to above) would be that the device could be used for PDF files of any kind, and that in order to use it you wouldn't be at the mercy of a music subscription service. I hope that this one will allow people to download music from free sources like the IMSLP.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Traverso Lessons with Herr Quantz

One of the reasons I stopped playing baroque flute 25 years ago was that I no longer had people to play with (my instrument is pitched at A=415). A new pianist-friend with some experience in harpsichord playing (and access to an instrument that could be tuned to A=415) asked if I would like to play something together. I took out my baroque flute the other day to see if I could still play, and, to my surprise and delight, everything returned except for a few odd fingerings (which I had to "find") and my endurance.

When I taught myself to play baroque flute (traverso) back in the early 1980s, I used a Buchlein attributed to Frederick the Great. I always suspected that Johann Joachim Quantz wrote it as practice material for for his most important student. Yesterday I started exploring the Quantz page of the IMSLP in search of the Buchlein, and I came upon this manuscript of Solfeggi for Flute. Here are some examples from the 80-page book, which seems to be a compendium of difficult passages, exercises, and ideas.















I'm looking forward to working on a page a day for the next 80 days.

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Children Will Listen"

Ben and his friends performed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Commencement on Thursday. Here is the video of the whole ceremony. They are announced at 48:50 of this video:



You can also see him get his diploma at 1:24:20!

A New Word?

I believe that I have just invented a useful new word. (At least this will be the first instance of it in these internets.) What it thrill it will be to press "publish." Ready, set, go!

Fauxlloquial

adjective

1. Appearing to be informal while holding a serious amount of power over the circumstances of the people in your audience.

2. Giving the appearance of being "just folks" and accessible when you are neither.

Example:
The governor of Illinois "dropping'" the final "g" while he is formally screwing the residents and public institutions of his state.



Monday, May 16, 2016

Report for the Four Seasons Reading Club

I feel so very fortunate to be married to a "literary professional" (now retired from teaching college). I'm also fortunate that he has kept a list of the books we read during the 2015-2016 season. We began calling ourselves the "Vacation Reading Club," then the "Summer Reading Club," and then when summer turned to fall, we settled into the "Four Seasons Reading Club." By the organization of the musical year you could say that we are now entering our second season.

We sit together just about every day after lunch (sometimes we read at other times, and between books we take a day off), me with a pot of tea, and Michael with a cup of coffee, and we read an average of 20 pages. We take good advantage of our local university library (and sometimes our not-so-local bookseller) so that we have two copies of each book. We often remark on the exact same sentences or paragraphs, and we both crave more Willa Cather once we finish one of her novels.

(We both read other books in addition to our FSRC books.)

Here's the list of what we have read together during the last twelve months, as well as a list of what we have abandoned. We always vote on whether to abandon a book, and we almost always agree. I enjoyed Our Mutual Friend more than Michael did, but to me it seemed like a random collection of character studies, perhaps of people who he "fleshed out" but didn't use in any of his previous books. Michael has also read a lot more Dickens than I have, so I kind of have a Dickens deficit that should be remedied.

Completed Books:

Herman Meville, Moby-Dick

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady , Death Comes for the Archbishop ,The Old Beauty and Others

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory ; Ada

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

Robert Walser, The Tanners , trans. Susan Bernofsky

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis , trans. Susan Bernofsky

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Robert Walser, Fairy Tales , trans. Daniele Pantano and James Reidel

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark , Lucy Gayheart , Alexander’s Bridge , Shadows on the Rock

Abandoned books:

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Get Your Way

I'm removing the specifics here, but this report of the progress of a recent important meeting really makes me angry.
1. Have a secret meeting to change the ____________ rules at the last minute to favor one ________ and give the chair unlimited power without appeal.

2. "Pass" the rules even though you don't have a quorum.

3. At the ____________ make a motion to make those permanent and use the rules to blatantly override the voice vote with no division of the house and no appeal.

4. Use those rules to push through any motion you want while openly ignoring legitimate motions and petitions from the floor.

5. When you discover you've still lost the _________ by over 30 ___________ disqualify 64 ________ and declare your ___________ the winner.

6. Once again use your specially created rules to ram through a motion to accept the count ignoring the no vote from the floor.

7. Ignore motions from the floor to remove the chair. Send the chair up to rapidly "pass" several items of business ignoring an overwhelming no vote.

8. Adjourn the meeting with no motion or vote.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ruskay's Postcard

A few years ago I made this post about Ruskay's, the iconic restaurant on Columbus Avenue, where I used to spend my Monday nights playing solo flute music.

I finally found my cherished copy of the postcard that the owners used to give to favored guests. The name of the restaurant is not identified, but the photographer, Alan McCord, is. I hope that this post finds its way to people who remember Ruskay's.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Greens and Eggs

If you love poached eggs, but don't feel confident about the poaching part, and you love greens, I have the breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) for you. I have been making this for a couple of weeks now, and this morning I decided to document the process to share here.


I use a mixture of pungent greens: mustard, kale, turnip, and who knows what else. This mixture is always satisfying. The mix of flavors (sweet, bitter, spicy) is so interesting that I don't feel the need to add salt (though I have used salt, onion, pepper, and garlic on occasion).


Fill a non-stick pot (that you can cover) with greens.


Cook on high heat with a little bit of olive oil until the greens turn bright green.


Carefully slide in the eggs, turn the heat to medium, and cover.



Cook until the tops of the eggs are no longer transparent (2 to 4 minutes--I never keep track).


Using a flexible spatula, slide the contents of the pot onto a plate, and there you have it!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Song of the Lark for Viola and Piano


Michael and I have been spending a lot of quality time with Willa Cather's novels. The Song of the Lark is one that I just had to comment on musically, and in the form of a piece for viola and piano (like I did with A Lost Lady). The 1884 Jules Breton painting above, called "Song of the Lark," makes an appearance in the novel. Cather had a close relationship with the painting while it was a relatively new piece of art, and she used a silhouette based on it for the cover of the first edition of the novel. My piece draws inspiration from both the novel and the painting.

Here's a computer-generated recording you can listen to, and here's the page in the IMSLP where you can get the music.

You might notice that there's a phrase from Edvard Grieg's "Tak for Dit Råd" in the piece. It was one of the pieces that Thea Kronborg, the singer (and main character) in Cather's novel sang. You can hear Kirsten Flagstad sing it below. I like to imagine that Flagstad's type of voice might have been a model for Cather's character's voice.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Proud to be Part of Ben's Musical Family



You can read the whole articlehere, on the Harvard Graduate School of Education website.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dvorak Sonatina Opus 100 Transcription for String Orchestra



Just in time for spring! Yesterday I finished my complete string orchestra transcription of Dvorak's Opus 100 Sonatina (originally written for violin and piano), and I spent today assembling a PDF of the score and parts. It's now in the IMSLP for your string orchestra pleasure. My inspiration was the delightful Quintet, Opus 77 and the "American" String Quartet.

You can get the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dvorak-Singing Birds

Actually it's not the birds that sing Dvorak, it's their songs that made their way into Dvorak's music. Anyway the sounds of Dvorak motives coming from the birds outside of my window this morning, and an email message from a member of the Stadstreicher Ober-Ramstadt helped get me out of a period of creative funk. This person told me that her ensemble has enjoyed playing the transcription of the first movement of the Dvorak Opus 100 Violin Sonata that I made for string orchestra, and is wondering about the other movements.

I started working on the second movement last June, and stopped when I came to a problem that I thought was unsolvable. This morning I managed to solve the problem, and am happily at work. I intend to finish the remaining movements in the next month. I give partial credit to that bird. I am very grateful for the IMSLP for the ability to reach musicians everywhere who want music to play, and for the ability to have contact with them.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Country Musician, City Musician

I have been thinking a lot about this passage from Willa Cather's Lucy Gayheart. Lucy is having a conversation with her piano teacher about a young man from her small rural town her teacher hoped she would marry. They are in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century:
"You are mistaken, Mr. Auerbach. That is only a friendship."

"Maybe so. But I wouldn't be sorry to see it come to something else. In the musical profession there are many disappointments. A nice house and garden in a little town, with money enough not to worry, a family--that's the best life."

"You think so because you live in a city. Family life in a little town is pretty deadly. It's being planted in the earth, like one of your carrots there. I'd rather be pulled up and thrown away."

Auerbach shook his head. "No, you wouldn't. I've heard young people talk like that before. You will learn that to live is the first thing."

Lucy asked him if there were not more than one way of living.

"Not for a girl like you, Lucy; you are too kind. Even for women with great talent and great ambition--I don't know. Some have good success, but I don't envy them."

The next morning, when Lucy opened the windows in the studio and looked across at the Lake, she told herself that she wasn't going out to the Auerbachs' any more. It dampened her spirits. He was a heavy, thorough, German music-teacher, and there he stopped.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thrills and Trills

It is so easy to forget to count when trilling, playing measured sixteenth notes written in this kind of "code,"


or playing tremolo passages on a stringed instrument. Perhaps it is because it seems as if the arm, hand, and fingers could be trusted to do the counting for you. But, as I tell my students, fingers are not smart. They don't have brains (unlike the arms of an octopus, which can function individually, even if severed from the body).

The tremolo action on a stringed instrument is kind of similar to the trilling action a wind instrument. The moving finger can take all our attention, leaving the brain to have to work harder to figure on which beat we happen to be playing.

[This brings to mind the image of our son Ben's first trills on the cello. He unconsciously moved his tongue as well as his finger.]

Interested in octopuses? Here's an interesting scientific video about octopus behavior. Here is an octopus opening a jar, and here's a video of an octopus escaping from a jar.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Passing Thoughts about Passover

It is impossible to get Matzo in our small town. We have to drive an hour to a small city to buy it. I remember the Passover about 20 years ago when we found the Matzo supplies depleted in the city, so I tried my hand at making Matzo myself. It was through doing this that I came to understand that the stories about the Jews of Egypt not being able to wait to leave until their bread rose couldn't be correct. The whole point of making Matzo is to do it quickly enough so that the dough doesn't rise. You prick it all over so that the moisture escapes quickly in the oven. This is hard to do in a modern midwestern kitchen with nothing but a rolling pin and a fork. A few "loaves" came out well, but for the most part it was truly the bread of affliction.

Yesterday I was out and about in the city in search of a sheep shank for a seder plate. I went up to a the meat counter in a grocery store and asked if they had any sheep shanks. The woman behind the counter said, "You mean seder bones?" She asked me how many I wanted, and gave me two at no charge. Wow.

The day before I saw a few large legs of lamb in the meat department of an in-town grocery store, and I remember thinking that lamb would be great to make for a seder, except for the fact that it was a leg of lamb, and there was no way of knowing if it was a front or a back leg. Hind legs would be inappropriate for a seder.

Yesterday, with my free sheep shanks in hand, I started thinking about the fact that those bones come from intact legs of lamb, and are then rendered boneless by the grocery-store butchers because their customers prefer boneless leg of lamb.

My father once explained to me that Shtetls in Russia and Poland needed to be established within walking distance (or carting distance) of decent-sized cities so that the Shtetl butchers could sell the hindquarters of their animals. The inhabitants of their villages would, of course, not eat hindquarters because of Kosher laws.

Yesterday's adventure in the city reminded me of that kind of relationship, though twisted around a bit. People who celebrate Passover need to obtain shank bones for their seder plates, and butchers in the city who want to sell boneless legs of lamb are happy to give away the bones.