Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks

A hundred more blocks arrived today, and now my collection includes examples of compound time:

My meter dice allow me to make different time signatures, and I can generate lots of rhythmic ideas:

I abandoned my search for line-shaped objects to serve as bar lines, and mounted some hand-drawn bar lines on blocks; but then I printed some bar lines, which do look a little more spiffy:

All 134 blocks fit into a tea tin (and I used the 135th to decorate the top of the tin)!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I was ALSO dreaming of the number three

This morning Michael told me that I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that I was also dreaming of the number three. Perhaps it is because I have been plotting a way to use rhythm cubes to explain compound time.

I'm anxiously awaiting a set of 100 unpainted half-inch cubes to arrive in the mail. I want to use them to make comprehensive set of rhythm cubes, complete with ties, and triplets. I will, of course, post the results. Colored cubes are fun, but I think that plain wooden cubes might get the point across more effectively.

I also plotted out a set of meter dice that correspond to basic meters. These dice could be used in combination with the rhythm cubes to generate random rhythmic ideas for pieces of music, or they can be used to explain meter to students.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Helping kids learn to count with blocks!

I made a teaching tool to help my beginning students understand rhythmic notation.

I bought a set of 70 very inexpensive wooden cubes, and, using the eighth note as the smallest unit, I taped groups of them together and labeled them with their corresponding note values using Finale-printed notes (eliminating the staff lines, and setting the page size to 150%). My main goal was to have my students see and feel just how many eighth notes it takes to equal a half note, or how two single eighth notes and a set of two beamed eighth notes are equal in value.

I'm considering making a set to explain compound time, and am still trying to figure out how to incorporate the idea of the pesky dot into something that would make sense to novice music readers. I will be adding sixteenth notes soon, but I'll have to wait until I have more blocks (only half my order arrived).

A crude version of this worked well with the one beginner I taught today. I'm looking forward to how this more elegant set works with the beginners I'm teaching next week!


Now with sixteenth notes, dots, and rests, not to mention proper glue!

I made a PDF of the notes and rests that you can use for your own set of blocks. You can find it here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Stephen Malinowski's Animations for Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets

Haydn's fugal writing is simply extraordinary. My first encounter with it was while singing his Creation when I was thirteen (hence the un-schooled term, which comes from "He sole on high, exalted reigns"), and I have thought of his fugal writing as "exalted reigns" ever since. Here's a post I wrote in 2007 about those "exalted reigns."

Here's Malinowski's Haydn Opus 20 playlist (so far, it is a work in progress).

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jessye Norman Sings Les chemins de l'amour

I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to hear Jessye Norman sing in concert, and feel fortunate to still be able to hear her sing by way of recordings. There are really no adequate words to describe Jessye Norman as a singer and as a musician, but I believe that this performance of Poulenc's "Les Chemins de l'amour" shows her at her most spectacular. It moves me deeply. It leaves me speechless.

The Sigal Music Museum!

Marlowe Sigal's amazing collection of musical instruments, which was formerly housed on Gray Cliff Road in my home town of Newton, Massachusetts, has a new home in Greenville, South Carolina. Sigal's contribution to the museum is so great that the Carolina Music Museum will be changing its name.

I wrote a review of Sigal's book, Four Centuries of Musical Instruments in April of 2015, and wrote about visiting his collection a month later.

When I learned of Mr. Sigal's death in 2018, I hoped that his collection would be able to be preserved intact. What we saw of his collection on our visit took up a full basement (floor and shelves on all the walls), most of the first floor of the house (including the organ that was built into the house), and four or five large rooms on the second floor.

Here's an article about Mr. Sigal's gift in the Greenville Journal.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Rewind: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day with Traditional Music and Dancing

Ben takes us in the vault to share this performance recorded by KYUK in Alaska.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Beethoven String Quartets "einmal anders" with Animated Graphical Scores

Go ahead and watch before you read further:

I have enjoyed Stephen Malinowski's animated graphical scores ever since they first appeared on YouTube. I used them in my music appreciation classes to help students who didn't read music follow the scores of pieces we were studying. I imagine there isn't a reader here who hasn't come across one of Malinowski's animations in these musical internets. It's hard to imagine the amount of thought and time and work and love that he has put into this project.

This Beethoven String Quartet project is a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. He used the Beethoven cycle they recorded for Arte Nova in 2010.

During my decades (!) of being a CD reviewer, I combed through at least a dozen sets of Beethoven Quartets with score in hand. My task was to evaluate the playing and the quality of the recordings and write about the differences between this or that interpretation. Sometimes those differences are difficult to put into words, and sometimes those differences are extremely difficult to put into words. From what I have heard so far (and I'll be listening one quartet at a time, just like you) the recordings are expertly balanced (am I just hearing the viola in this movement from Opus 18 no. 2 more because I can see it--"dressed" in green--or has the engineer brought up the level on that voice when it should be heard?). The playing is excellent, and the interpretation seems to be more equally-voiced than those first-violin-dominant recordings of yore when microphones and mixing boards were far less sophisticated.

Through his work as a composer, as a person fascinated by graphical representation of music (which many of us did by hand with graph paper before we had computers), and as a pioneer in applied computer graphics, Malinowski has found a direct way to explain the way pieces of music work from the inside, and in real time, so that people without any musical background can have a more complete sensory experience with these quartets than they would listening to a recording on its own.

For those of us who get non-computer-aided stimulation from reading scores, I can say that what Malinowski has represented graphically with color, light, and shape, is right on the money. Or non money, because he distributes it for free.

He writes about his methods here.
You can find the complete Beethoven Cycle (on YouTube) here.
And you can follow links from this page that show the history of Malinowski's work and the tools he uses (and has used over the years) to do it.

If you want some more guidance, you can go to my 2010 post about listening to Beethoven String Quartets.

I just learned that Malinowski has just started working on animations of the Haydn Opus 20 Quartets. Coincidentally my Haydn Quartet Project quartet (playing through all the Haydn Quartets in order with a group of quartet novices--people who have never played in a string quartet before) is finishing up Opus 17 and embarking on Opus 20 soon.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Rewind: Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

In Praise of Martin Stock

It’s hard to believe that I would be writing a blog post about the value of the German film composer Martin Stock’s ambient piano music, but when our two-week-old granddaughter is having baby tummy trouble and needs to be comforted, it does the trick. And it calms parents and grandparents too. The odd thing about listening to this music (on shuffle via our daughter’s Alexa machine) is that it allows you to still have thoughts (the quality of which I won’t evaluate in this Stock-stunned state). Normally when I listen to music, I think mainly about the music, and can’t think about much else. This music plants itself firmly in the background, which, I am learning, has a purpose.

If this is music that serves as furniture (was it Satie who thought about music as furniture? I am rendered immobile—bad pun—by this music, and looking it up in another tab on my phone is too much work) this furniture would be soft and supportive, with a womb-like contour. It would have clean wooden frames made from Kindergarten-room birch. And it would be 73 degrees and sunny, with a slight bit of misty humidity here and there, carrying the scent of lemongrass.

Is it musical Soma? I dunno. Listen for yourself and decide.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Whistleblower Complaint

Someone had to write it!

September 27, 2019

You can find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP, and you can also get one here. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

I would love to post recordings of actual flutists playing this piece (which is pretty cathartic to play). If you make one, please send it to me!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gnostical Turpitude

Imagine my surprise and delight to find this lovely piece by Amanda Morrell after searching the internets for a definition of "gnostical turpitude" while reading Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

It captures the comedic pantomime quality of the novel beautifully.

Here's a link to more of her work.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Curious George Goes to the Conservatory (Marshall Fine, guest blogger)

by Marshall Fine after H. A. Rey
(Based on Scherzo from Shostakovich Symphony #1)

I have it on very good authority that the piece you are about to hear was written with help from a monkey.

Interested? Curious to know why?

One day Curious George was wandering down a city street, when he heard all sorts of noise coming from the music conservatory. He knew what music was, but was this music? And why was this noise being made at all, when every other building in the area was quiet? So he decided to go in at the big front door. Then he saw another set of doors--so he opened those too. It was a big concert hall. But instead of music, there was an ugly sound from the string instruments on stage:

(Shostakovich Symphony #1, Scherzo, first two bars)

“Hold it! Cellos and basses!” called the conductor, rapping the stand with his baton. “Can’t you people play together? Let’s try that again. Slower and not so loud.”

(Fig. 11 to fig. 12, cellos and basses only)

“No, no, no, it’s still not together,” the conductor complained again. “Do it again, please. Slow and soft this time. And make sure it’s clear!”

(last six bars before fig. 23, violas and cellos only)

Rap! Rap! Rap! The conductor stopped again. “Check the parts at break,” he growled disgustedly. “Let’s try another place. From 4 to 5. And make sure it’s in tune!”

(Fig. 4 to fig. 5, tutti strings)

It made such an ugly noise that Curious George clapped his hands over his ears and screamed as only a monkey can!

“What was that??” exclaimed the conductor. Then he turned and saw George. “You! Out!!” Poor George had to leave the concert hall.

He went down a flight of stairs, through a door, and found himself in a long hall with door after door stretching out on either side. Practice rooms, he realized. It wasn’t getting any better. The noise from all these rooms sounded just like the concert hall. In the first one he came to, he heard a piano, just banging chords at the bottom and top of its range.

(First three bars of fig. 22)

Interesting! He went in quietly and sat on the pedals, so that he could see what the player was doing. But the very next chord just hung on and on! The pianist looked down, saw George, and the next instant gave him a terrific kick. George fled in a great fright down the hall.

He stopped again to catch his breath and found himself in front of a violinist who was playing nothing but his open E string. (Beginning here and concurrent with narration: 2nd violins, from fig. 6 and cut off on cue) The door was ajar. He went in; luckily the violinist had his eyes closed. But soon enough he opened his eyes to look at his bow, and saw Curious George as well. (Cutoff cue!!) Once again George had to flee to evade a kick.

Then he found himself in front of a door behind which a snare drum was beating:

(Fig. 7-8, snare drum)

Next door to this was a pair of clarinetists. They were arguing over a tune.

(Fig. 8-9, clarinets. 2nd clarinet mistuned in B-flat)

“You’ve got the wrong instrument!” yelled the first. “No, you’re just plain out of tune!” rejoined the other.

Actually George was getting the hang of this music, so he pointed at the first one, whose clarinet seemed a little longer.

“Who the blazes are you?” the second growled at George; then suddenly he looked at his own clarinet and realized he did in fact have the wrong one. He changed instruments and they played again.

(Repeat excerpt, 2nd clarinet in A)

But then the argument broke out afresh! The second said, “It’s in three, like that drummer next door.” But the first replied, “No, it’s in four, can’t you feel the phrase?”

George didn’t know what three or four meant here, but he could hear that some notes still seemed out of tune. “Hu-hu-hu-hu!” he exclaimed, putting his hands over his ears. That sent the players mad! “Who asked you? Dirty monkey! Out!!” And again George had to flee.

This time he found himself in front of a larger room with a brass quartet, three trombones and a tuba. They were practicing long held chords. The tuba player was running out of breath before the others.

(Fig. 21-22, trombones and tuba only)

Manners, it seemed, were called for, so he did the same as he’d seen his master do: he knocked. The door opened.

“Who...who...” he fumbled out, in his most refined monkey talk. They introduced themselves, but George could not understand a word.

There was a word, somewhere, that meant he wanted to know something. There! he had it! “Why...why...” he addressed the tuba player.

But that was as far as he got! The tubist exploded, “It’s all about you, monkey. What gives you the nerve to teach us? Get out!”

At this point the conservatory director came up. Student after student had been to his office, all saying the same thing. The brass players laid their horns aside, took one limb each of Curious George, and marched him out the front door with the director leading the way. BUMP! OOF! he went flying and landed hard on the bottom step. And there he lay, hurting with pain and shame. Was this what music-making was like? Forget it!

Just as he had made his mind up to go home and never come back again, a young man came down the steps. “You must be the monkey I’ve just heard of.”

Curious George just nodded.

“You just come back in with me. I’ll hide you. Then you can tell me your story--oops, I mean, show me.” And he took George by the hand and led him back into the building.

George took the young man downstairs to the practice rooms. First he showed the young man the piano room. The young man nodded. “That’s called voicing. She’s just beginning. Her teacher says she has to learn to balance the notes in a chord. I know because I play piano too.”

Then George showed him the violinist’s room, where the poor boy was still trying to make a good sound on his open E. “His bow isn’t straight,” the young man explained. “His teacher sent him down here after only ten minutes of his lesson.”

Then they went to the clarinetists’ room, where the drummer was still hard at work next door as well, though he had changed over to a triangle.

(Fig. 8-9, clarinets 1-2 and triangle)

“My God, what an interesting rhythm! I wonder...I think I can make something of that.” Then, bypassing the brass room, the young man took George to a back staircase, where they went up and listened through a door without opening it. It must have been the back door of the concert hall, for there was the same thing as George had first heard...

(Repeat first two bars)

...the music was still falling apart the same way no matter how they rehearsed...

(Repeat the last two bars before fig. 5, tutti strings)

...the conductor was still yelling that it was out of tune! And no one came by to disturb them.

“Upstairs, come on now,” said the young man. I know a room where I can hide you. It’s my teacher’s office. He has not been pleased with me. He doesn’t understand the music I’ve been writing lately. But come, he is not here anymore today. We will stay tonight and you can show me what to write. A satire on this place. I’ll get even with my teacher, and I’ll get you even with the people who kicked you around.”

And that was what they did! Young Dmitri Shostakovich wrote, and played, and wrote, and played some more, always based on the noises George had heard; and whenever he did something George liked, George would let out a robust “Hu-hu-hu-hu!!” They produced this piece in a day and a night; and then the next morning he set George free outside the conservatory to return to his master.

The rest, as everyone who knows Soviet music recognizes, is history.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the piece written with the aid of Curious George: the Scherzo of Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Symphony.