Friday, November 16, 2018

La Lola from "Cante Jondo" played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here's the third piece in "Cante Jondo" (five pieces based on poems of Federico Garcia Lorca) performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning.

Lola (La Lola)

Under the orange tree
she washes cotton underthings.
Her eyes green
and her voice violet.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

The water in the ditch
filling up with sun,

in the olive grove
a sparrow singing.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

Soon, when
the soap’s gone,
the young bullfighters will come.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

[English translation by Michael Leddy]

Sunday, November 11, 2018

More Photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 Class at Yale

George Hunter's daughter (George is #4) sent me two photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 composition class at Yale. It would be great if we could use them to help identify the rest of the people in this photo:

You can see the original post from 2010 with a larger numbered photo and lots of comments here.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Autumnal Ramble with Luther

I haven't had any original musical ideas lately. Spring and Summer were productive for me, so I'm not terribly bothered by it. I seem to have more room in my head now for appreciating music written by other people. It's fun to have my creative musical parts listen with new ears, and show me how to move from note to note and phrase to phrase with greater purpose.

I'm six months away from the beginning of my sixth decade, and though expression is an absolute necessity, expressing myself is sometimes painful. It is not painful while I am playing, but my muscles are sore after I stop. Still, with the national dialogue gone all topsy-turvy, and with anxiety-producing proclamations coming from the highest offices in the country a few times a day, playing music, particularly music by Bach, is the only way for me to keep sane.

I'm excited about this weekend's musical adventures! The Charleston Consort, our local Medieval/Renaissance band, is playing a concert on Sunday of settings of Martin Luther's best-known melodies by his contemporaries and compatriots.

There will be settings of Ein feste Burg (1529), Nun comm, der Heiden Heiland (1524), Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (1539), Aus tiefer Not (1524), Verleih uns Frieden (1529) by Georg Forster, Bartholomäus Gesius, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Eccard, Michael Praetorius, Benedictus Ducis, Balthasar Resinarius, Lupus Hellinck, Johann Kugelmann, Kaspar Othmayr, Johann Walther, Johann Hermann Schein, Lukas Osiander, Melchior Franck, Heinrich Schütz, and Michael Altenburg. In addition we will be playing "Non mortar sed vivam," the only know contrapuntal piece by Martin Luther (though I imagine he must have written many more).

The miracle is that all these settings have been fitted, like a mosaic, into logical sequences. The program should last a little over an hour. It took us a good chunk of this "Luther year" to get everything to work.

For readers and music lovers who do not live in the area: The Wesley Methodist Church is on Fourth Street in Charleston, Illinois. If you are coming from the north, just follow Fourth street towards the university. The church will be on your right just after the last of the university's parking lots. The concert begins at 3:00 and admission is free.

Monday, November 05, 2018


[drawn by Ben Leddy]

Sunday, November 04, 2018

"El Grito" Performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here is Michael Leddy's translation of the Lorca Poem this piece is based on:

II. The Cry (El Grito)

The ellipse of a cry
goes from mountain
to mountain.

From the olive trees
it will be a black rainbow
over the blue night.


Like a viola bow
the cry has made
the wind’s long strings sound.


(The people in the cellars
light their lamps.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Canción de Jinete" performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

This piece for flute and piano is based on a song I wrote for countertenor and piano to a poem by Lorca. Here is an English translation by Michael Leddy of the poem.

I. Rider’s Song (Canción de Jinete)

A long way alone.

Black pony, big moon,
and olives in my pack.
Though I know the way
I’ll never reach Córdoba.

Across the plain, through the wind,
black pony, red moon.
Death is watching me
from the towers of Córdoba.

Ah what a long way!
Ah my brave pony!
Oh that death waits for me
Before I reach Córdoba.

A long way alone.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Shaking my head

The person who holds the position with the greatest power in the world is unable to address the issue of gun control as a possibility for preventing mass shootings like the one today in Pittsburgh because of his allegiance to the NRA. He has the audacity to blame victims for not being armed, claiming that the outcome would have been far "better" (who uses the word "better" in this situation?) if they had.

It has become clear to me that the greatest power in the world now lies with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

I imagine that leaders of other countries that engage in despicable activity are laughing at the person I don't want to name (I don't want it to appear in this blog). They are laughing at his incompetence and inability to provide moral leadership. They are also laughing at us, the citizens of the United States, because people in our country (and in our Congress) continue to support him.

November 6 can't come soon enough for me. I already voted, using a paper ballot.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In light we see, in light we are seen

This is the next installment of a video project with flutist Rebecca Johnson and pianist Cara Chowning.

This piece is a musical commentary on a memorial reading from the New Union Prayer Book:
In light we see; in light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair, for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our lives we give life. Something of us can never die: we move in the eternal cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Two performances tomorrow!

I'm looking forward to playing "Evening Music" for a meeting of the Tuesday Morning Music Club tomorrow morning, in Urbana, Illinois, and then I am looking forward to listening to a performance of "The Collar" in the evening. The (enchanted) evening concert, which is just south of Urbana in Savoy, Illinois, is private, but the poster is lovely, so I'm sharing it here.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Illusion of Social Media

I feel nostalgic for the musical communities that this format of blogging made possible during its first decade, and I remember how much I enjoyed participating in long and interesting discussions on other blog posts in the musical blogosphere. Everything changed once Google Reader stopped making a lively blogosphere possible.

I was an early participant (I began in 2005), and I am one of the few musical bloggers from those days who posts with any regularity. Musicians seem to have moved their musical lives to Facebook, where they can find groups of people with specific musical interests and people from their musical pasts (and other pasts) to interact with. I use Facebook as well, and sometimes I put links to posts from this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog there. Those posts are read by a relative handful of people, and "liked" by many who scroll by without reading.

That is the way Facebook has "trained" us to engage. Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

One thing that Facebook seems to do is to make some posts available to a lot of people who "like" them. One recent post I made from a moving car got "liked" by seventy people:

It was an iPhone picture with very little in the way of text. It took very little in the way of thought, and even less in the way of effort to post. Other posts I have made on Facebook, particularly posts I have made in musically oriented forums that have links to this blog or to my Thematic Catalog blog, seem to only be seen by a handful of people.

Oddly, except for birthday notices, I see very few of the posts that my Facebook friends make in my Facebook feed. It seems, in a way, that Facebook has narrowed my online social world, and it has turned social interaction into something more like window shopping.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

There are "pages" on Facebook, and these seem to be offered for free. I "host" a few of these pages. There's one for my Thematic Catalog, there's one for Summer Strings, and there's one for Downstate Strings (my string quartet). I regularly get "suggestions" from Facebook that if I were to pay a small amount of money, those pages and the posts I put on them could be seen by a lot of people. It is the same with "events." If I want people to know about a free concert I am giving, I guess can pay money for my notice to go to Facebook feeds.

I wonder if by not paying into the "service" I am limiting my ability to communicate through Facebook. I have nothing to gain monetarily through my participation in this kind of Facebook world, so I don't feel that I should throw money at the problem of not feeling engaged. Making more Facebook posts doesn't help me feel more socially engaged, except on birthdays. A Facebook birthday is something extraordinary.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

I think that the problem is our social interactions are being streamlined and directed by the automatons that regulate the Facebook "highway." Some of us choose to no longer engage in the social ways of Facebook. But in a post-Facebook world it is difficult to find a sense of community anywhere, even in our own physical communities. Facebook is either where the "audience" is, or we are given the illusion that Facebook is where the audience is.

Now I will wax nostalgic. When we first arrived at our little university town in the mid 1980s, there was a newspaper that reported on much of what went on in town. There was an insert in the paper that listed all the concerts that were being given at the university, and there were articles promoting events. We used to write letters to the editor. Our kids used to write letters to the editor. Local people used to write columns. The paper was a big deal. The paper felt like a vital organ in our community until the early 2000s.

Now our local paper is owned by a conglomerate, and aside from the obituaries, there is very little of local interest. We stopped subscribing because there is nothing worth reading. The (no longer) local paper does host a Facebook page, but it does very little in the way of creating a feeling of community for our town.

I try to get out. I participate in the local university orchestra in order to try connect with people in my community. I play in a local Renaissance ensemble. In the summer I get to connect with people through Summer Strings. I go to political forums, to funerals, and to concerts. And I go to the grocery store, which sometimes provides for a meaningful social interaction.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"For Poulenc" played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

This is the first installment in a video project:

The music, written by me, is published by Seesaw and is available from Subito.

I originally wrote the piece as a setting of Frank O'Hara's poem "For Poulenc," and then re-worked it as a piece for flute and piano.

Here is the poem:

My first day in Paris I walked
from Saint Germain to the Point Mirabeau
in soft amber light and leaves
and love was running out

city of light and hearts
city of dusk and dismay
the Seine believed it to be true
that I was unloved and alone

how lonely is that bridge
without your song
the Avenue Mozart, the rue Pergolèse
the tobaccos and the nuns

all Paris is alone for this
brief leafless moment
and snow falls down upon
the streets of our peculiar hearts

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Speak, Vladimir!

From Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita:
I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader’s mind. No matter how many times we reopen “King Lear,” never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert’s father’s timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.

This little gem, unearthed from Chapter 27 of Nabokov's engaging and enraging 1955 novel, speaks volumes.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Off (Left) Hand Thoughts

I pay special attention to the way the fingers of my left hand relate to one another (in half steps and whole steps) when I am playing the viola or the violin. I try to keep the structure of my left hand in mind all the time, and when I am teaching I pay special attention to the structure of my student's left hand. I try my best to get my student to do the same.

It can be difficult to feel half-steps between the fingers when you are holding your hand in the kind of twist necessary to play the violin or the viola.

(I like to call half-steps "kisses" with my younger students. When you have a lot of half-steps in a piece, you have really romantic music.)

The other day during a lesson I likened the experience of feeling half-steps to the experience you have when you put a piece of dark chocolate (75% cocoa is my favorite) on your tongue. At first you can barely taste it, but after a few moments of concentration (and perhaps a few drops of saliva) you "find" the flavor.

I just thought I'd share this here.

Friday, September 28, 2018

100 Pieces of Music in the IMSLP!

I'm pleased to say that I submitted my 100th piece of music into the IMSLP today!

You can see everything much more clearly on this page of the IMSLP. Go look around! Everything is in the public domain, and it can be downloaded for free.

If you are interested to see what number 100 is, you can find a listing of it on this page of my thematic catalog blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Very Good Composerly Day Yesterday

I might remember September 25, 2018 as the best "composerly" day of my life so far. It began with a rehearsal and then a performance of three pieces for four violas and bass that I played with my fellow violists Jiyeon Schleicher, Anne Heiles, and Robin Kearton, and bass player Margaret Briskin. I recorded the performance, so you can listen through these Dropbox links:

Red Hot Dots
Mary Jane Waltz

After the concert I went to listen to a rehearsal of "The Collar" that its dedicatees Ronald Hedlund and Barbara Hedlund are performing next month. Ron is a truly great opera singer, and an equally great actor, and Barbara is an excellent cellist who is willing and able to participate in the dialogue between narrator and cello as a dramatic equal. They had wonderful ideas, asked interesting questions, and found what I hope is the last typographical error in the text.

Then I returned home and found an email message from the conductor of Nicholas Yee, who conducts the seventh- and eighth-grade string orchestra at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California. He and his students made a recording for me of a run-through of my Scarborough Fair Fantasy, which they are performing on Friday at Symphony Hall in Santa Ana. It was so heartfelt a reading that it made me cry. Really.

I'll see if I can share a recording from the concert.