Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

It has been a very strange couple of weeks for me. I had a really strange virus that somehow allowed me (thanks to DayQuil) to play a concert, teach a few lessons, and go about my daily business while it lingered. It's not unusual for me not to be able to taste much of anything or smell much of anything when I am sick, but once my nose was no longer stuffy I found that I could not smell anything at all. Nothing.

My friend took me into a soap store in St. Louis, and I could not smell soap. It was the first time I realized that something was really wrong. I could taste salty and sweet foods, but I couldn't smell anything.

I looked online and found that it is possible for a virus to permanently obliterate a person's sense of smell. I tried all the suggested remedies like eating raw ginger (which I couldn't taste), and drinking cider vinegar and honey (which I could taste a little bit). I read somewhere that the brain can shut off the sense of smell and needs to learn to smell again, so I regularly (every hour or so) stuck my nose in a mason jar of ground coffee, ate a piece of raw ginger, and tried to smell the (strongly-scented) almond hand soap we use in the bathroom.

Days passed.

Then Michael suggested taking pseudoephedrine and using saline-solution nasal spray. I took the pseudoephedrine once a day, and sprayed my nose many times every day. I did this for a couple of days.

Yesterday I stuck my nose in the coffee jar, and I smelled something. It was faint, but there was definitely something there. It was kind of like hearing muffled voices through a closed door.

Today I woke up, and I actually smelled the coffee. It made my heart sing.

I'm not at 100%, but I'm definitely on the way to getting my sense of smell back. I'm hoping that when I make banana bread later today, I will be able to smell it.

I vow here, in this humble blogosphere, never to take any of my senses for granted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Music for Woodwind Trio

After writing "A Little Drama for Woodwind Trio" I found that it isn't common at all to have clarinet, English horn, and piccolo together in a woodwind trio. There are a small number of trios for flute, oboe, and clarinet, and I found a few of them in the IMSLP: a set of pieces by Martin Hill and The Reunion Trio by Joseph Nicholas Fried. On YouTube I found performances of the Divertimento by Malcolm Arnold, and a trio by Michael Kibbe, but none of these pieces use English horn and piccolo together with the clarinet.

Here's my addition to the repertoire:

I have a computer-generated recording of "A Little Drama for Woodwind Trio" to share here, and you can get the music on this page of the IMSLP.

In my virtual travels I found A Survey of Literature for the Oboe and English Horn, a 1959 dissertation by Virginia Downing Snodgrass, which I found interesting, and thorough. I can say with some authority that prior to 1959 (the year of my birth!) there was nothing in the published literature that used piccolo, English Horn, and clarinet together in a trio.

I would love to have this list augmented! If you know of any other pieces for the combination of flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), and B-flat clarinet, please list them (with links, if possible) in the comments!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Tipping Point: A bit about my learning curve with the bow

I never realized how many puns and clichés could be used in a post title about bowing! What will follow is fascinating to me, but will probably not be fascinating to anyone who doesn't draw his or her bow across a set of strings for pleasure or for profit, so I will not be offended if you look elsewhere for something to read.

Twenty-five years ago I began my second life as a string player, and my father gave me some serious advice. I remember when and where he said it: in the west pavilion in Morton Park, in my town of Charleston, Illinois. He told me never to play with flat hair. I didn't understand what he was talking about. He explained that playing with flat hair kills the overtones in the sound. I took him seriously (as I always have), and spent the next twenty-five years playing on the outer edge of the bow's hair, making sure not to kill any overtones.

This past January I was practicing my viola transcription of the Ravel Sonata. I was frustrated at the bumpiness of the phrases. I switched to my lighter bow, and I realized I had been using too much bow pressure and not enough bow speed. For some reason, while I was increasing speed and reducing pressure, I decided to try flattening the hair of my bow as I approached the tip. Suddenly I had control of the whole length of the bow, and the phrases lost their bumpiness. The "when" of the flattening became a tool, and the "where" became a fluid solution to make phrases go where I wanted them to go.

What goes down (as in a down-bow) must come up, so the act of moving toward the outer edge of the hair as I made my way through the middle of the bow was another adventure in possibilities.

I showed this discovery to my students, and they were all completely amazed at the results. I imagine that there are geometric equations concerning the hypotenuse that is created when you move diagonally across the ribbon of bow hair that confirm that the bow becomes effectively longer when you play this way. But the upshot of the story is that the extremes of the bow are now each treasured destinations rather than being the "end of the line."

I told my father about my discovery, and he knew all about it. He asked me whether I used my arm or wrist to make the motion (both work).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Marie Jaëll Sonata in A minor

Marie Jaëll (1846-1925) wrote her only sonata for cello and piano in 1881, and it was published in Paris in 1886, the year that Franz Liszt died. John David and I enjoyed playing it so much on our concert yesterday that I would like to share my transcription for viola with people who might be interested in playing the piece.

(You can listen to a recording from Sunday's concert here.)

You can get a PDF file here, and on this page of the IMSLP. The piano part (which I did not engrave and do not have available) does not have to be altered in any way to work with this viola transcription. A modern edition of the piece was published by Hildegard in 1996, but it is no longer listed in their catalog. Fortunately there are copies of the score in several libraries.

Friday, March 02, 2018

WHAM Concert 2018 on March 11

This year's WHAM Concert will have music by Germaine Tailleferre, Cecilia McDowall, Mel Bonis, Marie Jaëll, and me. The concert is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and admission is free.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Viola Sonata No. 2 "La Grenouillère"

Michael and I read two stories by Guy de Maupassant that have action that takes place in a night spot on the Seine known as "La Grenouillère."

The most famous image of "La Grenouillère" is a painting by Claude Monet:

My musical mind went (literally) into the swamp, and I thought it would be fun to write a piece for viola and piano that would incorporate frog sounds and folk songs about frogs.

. . . et voilà.

You can listen here, and the music is available on this page of the IMSLP.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Glimmers of Hope

It must have been fifteen years ago that our daughter went on a school trip to hear the Chicago Symphony. She was very excited that the program included a piece by Melinda Wagner, who, to her young and impressionable mind was like her mom: a composer who was a woman. Rachel listened carefully and took notes on the whole program (her mother was also a music critic at the time). She was a critical listener, with a distinct bias towards her mother's music, and she loved the Wagner. It was her favorite piece on the program.

The Chicago Symphony continues to commission music from Melinda Wagner, and the Chicago Symphony continues to perform music by Melinda Wagner.

Be like the Chicago Symphony.

Yesterday The New York Times published Michaela Baranello's encouraging piece about Florence Price. The University of Arkansas library has a whole archive of her unperformed work. Perhaps it is time for the big American orchestras to lead the way and do what the title of the Times article says about welcoming Price into the canon. The Times can do its part, but it is ultimately up to the people who make programming choices for the major orchestras. They could share some of the musical wealth that Florence Price left us, and "lesser" orchestras might follow suit. The handful of pieces I know are terrific. I would certainly like to hear more.

Douglas Shadle discusses the problem eloquently, and offers some sensible solutions.

To people who write about music: be like Michaela Baranello and Douglas Shadle

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Taxes for Orchestral Musicians

The new tax bill presents more even serious problems for our profession than I anticipated. Daniel Braden's opinion piece in The Morning Call explains the problems clearly.

A Lot of Wisdom from David Dubal

David Dubal's 2012 "Let's tickle the Ivories," is great reading for any musician, and essential reading for anyone who has a piano in the house, or knows anyone with one. Eliane Lust made the text a public post on Facebook, so you can read it through the link below.

"...but forget about the world and save yourself." :-)

February, 2012
Let's tickle the ivories by David Dubal

On the...

Posted by Eliane Lust on Sunday, February 4, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Guy de Maupassant's Like Death is "Like Bliss" to Read

Michael and I routinely grab two copies of just about any new translation put out by New York Review Books. Richard Howard's 2017 translation of this amazing novel is a treat to read from beginning to end.

The protagonist is a portrait artist who does work that immediately brings the work of James Tissot to my mind's eye. Gounod's Faust plays an important part in the novel.

This passage (though not referenced directly in the novel) from the Song of Songs sets the tone:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.
I will give nothing more away.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Ramble in the Age of Musical Invisibilia

I haven't made many posts recently. The workings of the world (and some of my favorite people who no longer live in it) slip by fast. Sometimes it is a struggle to find something real to hold on to.

It seems that any time I get an idea about something to post, it is either too personal (musically or otherwise), or I become too distracted, and forget what I was thinking about.

Here at the rural Illinois homestead, all is going swimmingly. The insane cold weather that dipped into our temperate world from the arctic has gone elsewhere, the sun is shining, and I even hear birds singing. Life in our house is a series of books, meals, walks, household projects, writing projects, practicing, watching movies, and watching our granddaughter grow day by day through FaceTime. It is very pleasant. I teach a very nice handful of students, rehearse and perform with a terrific pianist, and play chamber music (it's never enough). Orchestral life for me has been sleeping since the first week of December, and this season (so far) has had little in the way of stimulating orchestral repertoire.

When I spy the workings of the "outside" world through Facebook, I feel really removed. I suppose that musicians tend to use Facebook as a way to keep themselves in the world's eye. They have to, I guess. I see photo after photo of happy people having great success and playing in happy ensembles with their friends. Every time I see those photos I think about how much I wish I were "there," playing with my old friends. And they live everywhere else. At the same time.

But then I wouldn't be here, doing what I do, and living the good life where I am free to do as I please. And I really do like it here.

I love to work. I love to practice. I love to write music, and I hope that the music that I have written is useful. I hope that the music that I will continue to write will be useful. People say nice things, but it seems that unless I keep dangling music in front of people's faces or forcing it into their hands, the work that I do adds little to the swirling din that I glimpse through my Facebook app.

I don't have it in me to do more than make my catalog and my music available to people who are interested, and I get tired of the Facebook "bot" trying to get me to boost my posts (with money, of course) so that I can have my activities reach more people's phones, as they are scrolling through their feeds.

This personal funk will pass, but I fear that if I do not tickle and feed the cyber beast, whoever I am and whatever I do will grow more and more invisible.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Margie King Barab (1932 - 2018)

Our dear friend Margie King Barab died peacefully in her home on Park Avenue in New York on January 3. Her 85 years of life began in Nebraska. Her singing voice took her to the Manhattan School of Music. She answered an announcement from someone looking for a room mate, and her "proxy landlord" (he was house-sitting) was the brilliant 50-year-old Alexander King. After a while, she fell in love with him. When she married Alex, Margie was not aware that he had an opium addiction. She helped him recover and served as his muse. Later in her life Margie wrote a book about him, and she told me a few years ago that it is being considered for publication by the University of Nebraska Press.

After Alex died, Margie married the great composer Seymour Barab, who was the kindest man in the world. You can read all the posts I have written about Seymour and Margie here.

I miss both Seymour and Margie so much. They were our true friends, and they were true friends to many other fortunate people. The world is considerably poorer now, but our memories of Margie and Seymour stay (together) in our hearts, and they continue to inspire us and give us comfort.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Did you know that "The Celebrated Chop Waltz" was written by the 16-year-old Euphemia Allen in 1877 under the pseudonym "Arthur de Lulli?"

You can see for yourself.