Saturday, January 25, 2020

Old school? Or maybe just old . . .

A friend sent me an email about a music-writing project she found on "Indeed" that she thought might interest me. The project did look interesting, so I applied. I did it mostly out of respect for my friend's thoughtfulness, and will most likely be considered too old (or too old school) for the project.

The application required a resume. I had to search for one on my computer. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I hadn't updated my resume since 2005.

That's fifteen years.

I used the Wikipedia entry about me that appeared on line a few years ago to add some chronological information to a document that included work I did in the 1980s, and then, with the press of a button, I sent off the application.

The application didn’t have a way to submit a cover letter, and there wasn't a way to attach musical samples, but I did need to answer questions about my gender, my race, my status as a veteran, and whether I consider myself to be disabled.

After sending in the application I devoted a few hours to updating my resume further, and now I have a spiffy resume that can sit around for another fifteen years!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My Ravel Kaddish arrangement will be played (again) at the European Parliament for International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020

I just learned that my voice and string quartet arrangement of the Ravel Kaddish will be performed by mezzo soprano Naomi Couquet and the Karski Quartet at the European Parliament for this year's International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 29.

Last year it was performed at 3:00 in the afternoon (I imagine it is Brussels time).

I'll post a link to the performance.

Here's a link to the arrangement, which is in the IMSLP.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Analog Viola and Piano Concert: Müller and Bowen

I have been using my iPad and ForScore exclusively for practicing and rehearsing the music for this concert, but, while figuring out ways to work out some of the many problematic passages in this program, I decided yesterday to practice these pieces on paper printouts of my ForScore files. It is very easy to export annotated PDF files to a computer, and then print them out. I am using parts that I made in Finale, so I can adjust the spacings and page turns to work with paper as well as with a foot pedal. Moving difficult passages to different places on the page (or the "page") can help me to look at them from a different angle. Literally.

Playing music through a single window, so you can only see one page at a time, is just not as satisfying for me as playing it from a two-page spread. After months of working on this program, it was only after seeing the music two pages at a time this morning that I fully understood the structure of these pieces. Having developed "eyes that hear and ears that see," I find the physical layout of a piece of music is very important to the experience that I have playing it. When passages are cramped on the page, I tend to play with more physical tension. When music is too small on the page I tend to be less inclined to use large amounts of bow when the music requires it.

If you happen to be in the area, you are, oh friendly reader, welcome to come to the concert.

You can read a post I wrote about the little-known Müller piece and its composer here.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Beethoven Sonatine WoO 44a transcription

In honor of the Beethoven 250th birthday year I made two new transcriptions of the Sonatine WoO 44a that the young Beethoven wrote for mandolin and harpsichord. I was surprised to see that Van Magazine listed it as number five on their list of Beethoven's ten worst pieces. While I agree with their other nine choices, this charming little Sonatine has always held a special place in my heart.

I made a transcription of it a couple of years ago for our Summer Strings orchestra, and it was a real favorite (people referred to it as "Woo"). Because of this recent ranking, I decided to re-work the Sonatine as a piano trio in two versions: one for typical piano trio (violin, cello, and piano), and one for violin, viola, and piano, so that non-mandolin-playing people who don't have a string orchestra at hand can play it as a piece of chamber music.

The music is available on this page of the IMSLP, and in the meanwhile you can listen to a computer-generated recording of the violin, viola, and piano version here.

Musicological errors and false tales regarding Falsobordone and the Miserere of Allegri

I'll be spending my on-line time avoiding the news by watching more videos on the Early Music Sources YouTube channel.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Analog Attempts

I stopped wearing a watch when the last of my watch batteries gave out a couple of years ago. But today, in an attempt to live life in a more analog way, I thought it might be nice to get my watch battery replaced while Michael and I were on a grocery-shopping trip to Walmart. There was nobody at the jewelry counter, so a nice associate who was walking by summoned someone to help me. The summoned person referred to herself as "just a case opener," and said that she had never changed a watch battery before. We were off on an adventure together.

Finding the right battery was hard. The printing on the back of the watch that showed the battery size was so small that I had to take a picture of the watch back with my phone and enlarge it. There wasn't a battery that size in the jewelry area, but my "case opener" remembered that someone told her about watch batteries being in a battery display elsewhere in the store.

I suggested to Michael that he do the shopping while the "case opener" and I went off in search of a #1216 battery. The shopping list I made was in my little black Moleskine, so Michael took a picture of it using his phone.

We found the battery! Then we went back to the jewelry counter, and my "case opener" started looking for tools. She had no idea what she was looking for. I spied a "watch case opening" tool for sale (under the batteries that were not my size), and my "case opener" looked in her toolbox to see if she had anything like it. She did not.

I figured I could just buy the tool and the battery and do the deed at home myself. The back of the tool package had directions, but they basically said to use the flat end of the tool to pry open the watch case. The directions did not mention anything about what to do with the other parts of the tool, like the two screws and other features that made it more than a thing with a flat knife blade. I used my phone to search and see if I could find this tool on line. I couldn't find it. Not even on the Walmart website.

I bought the battery, came home, and used a little screwdriver in my desk drawer to open the back of the watch. I replaced the battery and used a wrench and a pair of pliers (at the same time--one on each side of the watch case) to snap the back on the watch. It took five analog minutes to change the battery, but my quest required picking up my phone more times than I really wanted to.

Now I don't need to dig my phone out of my bag when I want to see what time it is.

And now it's time to get ready to teach . . .

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Gottfried van Swieten, a person I would like to have known

In my wonderings about Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets, and the relationship that Mozart and Haydn had in Vienna, I have been thinking about Gottfried van Swieten. Baron Gottfried van Swieten was the son of Gerhard van Swieten, Empress Maria Theresa's private physician, who also held the position of director of the court library in Vienna.

Gottfried had a career as a diplomat, and spent seven years (1770-1777) in Berlin working as an ambassador for Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia. While he was at Frederick's court, van Swieten spent a good deal of time studying music. He had the great fortune to study with a student of J.S. Bach.

By the late 1770s Frederick's interest in music had waned considerably. I sometimes wonder if Frederick might have given van Swieten his music library when van Sweeten left for Vienna in 1777. We know from a letter Mozart wrote to his father in 1782 that the Baron invited Haydn and Mozart to his home every week to play manuscripts of music by Handel, J.S. Bach, and Bach's sons.

The historical record is sparse, but the musical record is rich. The Haydn Quartet Opus 20, no. 2 has material in it that sounds strikingly baroque, and three of the Opus 20 Quartets have fugues as their last movements. I wonder if Haydn and van Swieten might have know one another during the early 1770s, and I wonder whether Haydn, who was a well-known composer, might have been introduced to J.S. Bach's unpublished music by van Swieten earlier than the historical record shows.

When van Swieten returned to Vienna in 1777 he took over his late father's position as court librarian. And then he invented the card catalog.

Yes. The card catalog!

But he is best know as an important patron of contemporary composers like Gluck, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven (Beethoven dedicated his First Symphony to van Swieten). Van Swieten also supported revivals of out-of-fashion composers like Lully, Handel, and J.S. Bach. He also wrote music himself.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

These past two weeks without teaching

One would think that two weeks without teaching would feel like a vacation, but I find myself insisting, while I am practicing, that I pay attention to the things I ask my students to pay attention to. It makes for excellent practice sessions, but they do tend to tire me out mentally.

Since I have the formidable task of elevating my technical ability a notch or two in order to meet the challenges of the music that I am playing on a recital in a couple of weeks, the task-master in my head isn't letting me have any peace. I like to believe that the rewards of mindful and purposeful practice are lasting.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Where did the old (blogging) years go?

I considered making a compilation recording of New Year's Greetings I have written over the past decade, but this link works just as well. The most recent one, to greet 2020, is here. (You can also scroll down a few posts and find it on this blog.)

In the spirit of old acquaintances being forgotten and never being brought to mind, I'm using this post to turn my blogospheric time machine, for your nostalgic pleasure and mine, back ten years to the year 2010.

You can enter the portal here.

I found a few articles to share about the state of the 2010 blogosphere by Brian Solis, Ryan Singel (Wired), and Jacob Friedman. Facebook and Twitter had not yet dominated on-line interaction, and I don't think that people could really see what was coming over the horizon for the blogosphere. Following the 2010 post links on the Wired website have been very interesting for me.

I wish I could use my (corrected with glasses) 20-20 vision to look into the future as easily as it is to look at the past. But most predictions are wrong. The only thing I do know is that if the blogosphere is sill around, I will be too.

A Happy New Year to all who happen by this post today.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Nobility of the Musical Blogosphere and an Introduction to Linda Shaver-Gleason

Joshua Kosman wrote a beautiful article in the San Francisco Chronicle in honor of Linda Shaver-Gleason, a musicologist (and blogger) who, in her own words, is "(soon to be) assassinated by cancer." Her Twitter handle is @LindaHyphen (the hyphen signifies that she is the last of the Shaver family, her family of origin), and as a sign of support and respect scores of musicians and musicologists in the Twitter-sphere have added "hyphen" to their names.

I have only come to know Linda's work recently, and have just put her blog, Not Another Music History Cliché, in the sidebar.

I wish I had gotten to know her work earlier!

Update: an interview in National Sawdust.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A ramble on this upcoming Beethoven year

Some people are making a big deal of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in December of 2020 with festivals and special programming, and some people are reacting to the hubbub by vowing to avoid listening to Beethoven for the year. While looking for some kind of middle ground in these internets, I found my way to this proposal to spend 2020 listening to a wider variety of music than usual.

Unfortunately everything on this list seems to involve recorded music, and I, as a recovering classical radio professional and CD reviewer, rarely get the kind of pleasure from recorded music that I do from live music. I also rarely derive as much pleasure from hearing other people play a piece of music as I do playing it myself. Following the score while listening to a recording helps. So does watching videos taken from concerts. Sometimes I play along with recordings, but only as a tool to help me learn the viola part of an unfamiliar orchestral piece.

As I grow older I notice that the musicological community has grown younger, and those young musicologists have a formidable presence in these internets. Their mission is (in part) to challenge the status quo, and make a case for more gender equity and racial equity in music. There's nothing wrong with doing that. The world of music is full of people who are biased, egocentric, opportunistic, bigoted, and sexist. It always has been that way, and it will probably always will be. (Beethoven probably had many of the above characteristics.)

When I was in my twenties I thought I knew a lot about music. When I think about how little I know now, I can't imagine how musically "provincial" I must have been as a young person. My musical coming of age coincided with the beginning of the HIP (historically informed performance) movement, and after I learned about the recorder and the baroque flute, I had a goal of only performing pieces of music on the instrument they were intended to be played on. Some of the Handel sonatas, for example, were written to be played on the recorder. That worked for a while, until I got frustrated with the limitations of the repertoire. (It was before musicologists discovered the thousands of pieces of flute music that fell out of print, only to be woken up again with the advent of the Werner Icking Archive and the IMSLP.)

During my twenties and thirties I worked as the person who programmed the music for the local college radio station (four or five hours every day). I was not happy with the state of public radio programming at the time, and was eager, in my innocence, to provide the local radio audience with an alternative. In order to attract and maintain their listeners NPR stations played single movements of pieces rather than entire works. They also played select pieces of music over and over again. Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances was big. So was Rhapsody in Blue. There was a moratorium on twelve-tone music, and one on vocal music, so it's no wonder that driving across the country (or at least from Illinois to New Jersey and Boston), I could recognize every piece on the radio. Usually in two or three notes.

Our radio station was different. We played whole pieces. We played vocal music (song cycles during the week, and on Sundays I would often play an opera). Fridays were devoted entirely to early music played on period instruments (and sung, of course). We played new (twentieth-century) music. We played twelve-tone music. We played as much commercially recorded music as we could find that was written by women, as well as concert tapes of new music written by women. Beethoven was in our regular rotation, but we usually played each of his symphonies about once a year. A year would also include a single playing of each of his string quartets and other chamber music, as well as his sonatas.

I felt kind of "cutting edge" at the time because nobody in the "larger world" of radio could get away with the kind of self-indulgent programming that I could get away with. Our station was not part of NPR, and the powers in the University that were in control of the radio station did not do anything to measure listener response. Many of the recordings that went into the station's library were bonus recordings sent to me by the CD reviewing magazine I wrote for (they sent a list every month, and I checked off the things I wanted for the library). I had a friend at Naxos (the father of the vice president), so I got their whole catalog during their early years, and added the recordings to the station's library. The Marco Polo recordings of unusual music from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were mind expanding. Every monthly shipment was an education. I would, of course, only allow excellent recordings in the library. Less-than-excellent recordings were (ahem) "traded" in order to pay for expenses (like my salary).

This radio paradise all came to an unfortunate end twenty years ago. At that point I went to graduate school to study composition, and I learned to love Beethoven's string quartets through their viola parts. I also spent a few years learning all of Beethoven's violin sonatas, and performing most of them. I have only played the viola parts of the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies, along with a handful of overtures, and have played the violin parts of the sixth and seventh. I have played the flute parts of them all (including piccolo in the ninth). I really hope I get a chance to play the viola part in the second, third, eighth, and ninth symphonies before my playing anatomy gives out.

Now that I have reached an age four years after the age that Beethoven ultimately reached, I look forward to this upcoming celebration of his work. My feeling about Beethoven during the past thirty-five years has grown. At first I regarded him as a perhaps over-played composer that I would put in equal rotation with other classical-period composers, and now I believe that he was a remarkable composer who is worthy of all the accolades associated with this 2020 celebration of his work.

You might find these posts about radio and these posts about Beethoven I have made here over the year interesting reading.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

New Rhythm Block Labels

I finally sat down and plotted out a set of really useful labels to use with 1/2 inch blocks. A set of 200 1/2 inch blocks will give you enough for the whole set plus two music dice. This one costs about $6, this one costs a few dollars more, but the quality seems better, and this one costs twice as much for what looks like the exact same thing. If you go to a crafts store you can evaluate the quality of the wood yourself.

Everything on the PDF fits on three sheets, and it can be printed as is, at full size. I pre-adjusted the sizes of the note groups so that they will all fit on their corresponding blocks (no more printing pages at different percentages, which proved to be a confusing, wasteful, and messy endeavor).

You can find the PDF here.

I played with the idea of colors, for both the paper and the blocks, but it seems that natural wood and white paper proves to be the most effective and the least distracting. We do, after all, read music in black and white. And this is a tool to help people learn to read music. You can certainly paint them, if you want colors, but I have found that glue holds natural wood blocks together better than blocks that have been painted. For that reason I would glue the blocks before spray-painting.

You can find older posts about these rhythm blocks here. Have I really been working on this since October?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

New Year's Greeting for 2020!

I'm getting a jump start on the New Year, so I'm sharing this here today. The text is a poem by Margaret E. Sangster that was published in Harper's Young People on January 3, 1882 with the title "A Child's Puzzles."

I made an instrumental version for alto recorder (or violin) and piano:

and I made one (of course) for viola and piano:

It can be played on any instrument, really. I like the way it sounds on the alto recorder, but it does have a few (playable with practice) challenging measures.

You can find the music for both versions on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to a recording of it here.