Saturday, August 08, 2020

86 45 11 3 20

A tonal row for our times that can be played on any instrument. (B=0, C=1, C#=2, D=3, etc.)

The Largest Online Orchestra in the World plays Mozart's Magic Flute Overture

If you look closely, I'm in there playing the second violin part, wearing a pea-green shirt! I am so proud to be a part of this world music-making project!

Augustin Hadelich and James Ehnes Talk about Stuff

What a treat for me it was to listen and watch (though the auto-focus comically goes in and out, making things blurry at moments when I really wish I could see things) Augustin Hadelich and James Ehnes talk about making recordings at home, playing double harmonics, how the different sizes of their hands and arms influence the way they hold the violin, and so much more. It is amazing to see how like-minded my two favorite active living violinists are! Make sure to watch all the way to the end, where they both say really important stuff about music.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Truth be told

We all have an idea of what is true. And that is what we each believe. But I cannot “believe” fully in someone else’s truth. I can’t, and I won’t. 

If we go through life actively seeking what is true, day by day, in spite of the obstacles we encounter, we can live genuine lives that are filled with truth. If we spend time trying to deceive others—trying to get them, for whatever reason (control, power, monetary gain, fame, conquest), we are not living a life devoted to truth. We are living a life actively devoted to deception--to covering up truth. 

If we allow others (significant and otherwise) the freedom of following their idea of the truth, then we can make a society where freedom of belief plays an active role in how we collectively go about our business. When we have debates and discussions with others that involve things we (and they) believe to be true, then we have lively debates that enlighten all parties. 

When we try to sway and bully, then we cause discord. And discord festers. Truth needs to have its figurative teeth and hair brushed daily, while discord, left unattended grows and spreads like mildew, mold, or infection.

As a small child I vaguely remember wanting to know what was true. But a child's world is small, and choices are indeed limited. And I imagine that during my unchecked and confused childhood my relationship with the truth was unformed. I still remember some of the lies I told as a child, and I still remember the things I never told anyone (but should have).

As a young teenager I longed to find some kind of truth. I tried searching for it in other young teenagers, in the songs that were popular during the 1970s that I heard at other people's houses, in the history books written for children that were in the library, in fiction I read written by adults for children, in fiction written by adults for adults, and in adults I knew. I was not successful. 

Finally, at around thirteen, I found truth in Bach, Josquin, Mozart, Monteverdi, and Brahms. And then I learned to recognize truth in other composers, like in Haydn, Beethoven and Ives. I actually got pretty good at recognizing musical truth as a teenager, but I battled with my own sense of what was true (musically and otherwise) way into adulthood. 

The search for truth led me from the flute to the recorder, and it led me from the recorder to the baroque flute, and it led me to the violin, to the viola, and back to the violin. The search for truth helps me when I am writing music. Writing music is my ultimate truth-seeking activity, and it gives me so much honest pleasure when, after fighting with a series of pitches and rhythms, something comes out right and true. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Future's Future

I find this passage, which follows a paragraph about about the relationship between the media and corporations, from Toni Morrison's The Source of Self-regard serious food for thought:
What strings these social perversions together, for me, is profound error--not only the errors in questionable but unquestioned data, in distored "official" releases, in censorship and the manipulation of the press, but also and especially faoults deepy embedded in the imagination. A prime example is the inability or unwillingless to imagine future's future. The inability or unwillingness to contemplate a future that is neither afterlife nor the tenure of grandchildren. Time itself seems not to have a future that equals the length or breadth or sweep or even the fascination of its past. Infinity is now, apparently, the domain of the past. And the future becomes discoverable space, outer space, which is in fact the discovery of past time. Billions of years of it. Random outbreaks of armageddonism and persistent apocalyptic yearnings suggest that the future is already over.
In March (which feels like the distant past) Americans either had one view of the future or we (whoever we actually is) had many views of the future, depending on where we lived, what we did for a living, what our religious beliefs were, or how we voted. Our downstate Illinois area had only a few cases for quite a while, but our governor wisely chose to move all the schools in the state to on-line learning. 

A false sense of security in these less-densely-populated parts led to an serious increase in cases. And now kids in families who either don't have the option for on-line learning, or don't want to take the option, will be spending their days in school buildings either wearing their masks or not, and either maintaining social distance or not. Administrators and teachers will end up directing much of their energy to enforcing safety, and students will end up directing much of their energy in ways that have little to do with doing their schoolwork. 

For grown-ups with advanced degrees, a trip to the supermarket is intellectually exhausting. I can't imagine what it will be like when a space the size of a grocery store is filled with kids who need to stay six feet apart.

I'm trying to imagine a future.

[from a drawing by Marc Foden] 

In the musical internets, which ends up being the place where I spend most of my "social" time, the international and collective we are starting to look at the distant and not-so-distant musical past differently. Handel, for example, owned shares in a corporation that profited from the slave trade. This piece by David Hunter in Musicology Now has information that would be most interesting to anyone reading this post. So much of the European Baroque music that we love was steeped in a culture (read: financed by people) of buying and selling human beings for the profit of their shareholders and their customers in the Americas.

While thinking about the unsavory state of musical patronage during Handel's time (and before), I can't help but reflect on the fact that I have routinely played concerts for organizations that are supported by entities that engage in business practices that I consider unsavory. I have also often played for weddings for families that may have earned the money they have paid me with in ways I would consider unsavory, and I have taught children who come from families that support politicians I seriously dislike. 

Musicians and performing organizations are using this dark time without live music to look at the business of what we call "classical" music with new eyes and listen with new ears. Some are hitching hopes to a handful of composers of color who have written music of serious quality, and are trying to imagine a musical world, a musical future, where people going to concerts in concert halls and other performance venues will be able to hear music by "rediscovered" and previously neglected (rejected) composers will have their works played by orchestras and chamber music ensembles (including the major ones) everywhere.  

Will audiences in the future respond to unfamiliar music the way they have done in the past--not showing up if they have never heard of the composer, or if they doubt the quality of the music that they will hear if the composer they never heard of was female rather than male? Will a "return to normal" involve the pipe dreams of a more equitable musical world collapsing under the weight of the traditional concert repertoire that everyone missed hearing in concert halls during the pandemic?  

Or will it not matter to most people. 

In a post recession economy (assuming that we have one in America) I wonder how long it will take for (not wealthy) people to start spending their money in order to go to concerts given by organizations that are not "A-list" organizations. I imagine that much of the free online musical content that musicians have shared during the time of Covid-19 will still be available when concert-going becomes possible again.  

I also wonder how much of the audience for "classical" music will opt to stay in, listen to CDs, and watch YouTube videos and DVDs. And I wonder if the idea of a "classical" repertoire will contract after the attempt at expansion that musicians have attempeted during this time.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Golf Links

I was flipping through a poetry anthology this evening, and came upon this poem by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn (1876-1959) that I thought I would share.

The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
       That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
      And see the men at play

Remembering Ruskay's in "I Love the Upper West Side"

I hope that this article, that links to my 2010 post about Ruskay's sparks a few memories of New York in the 1970s!

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Rainy Day Peach Muffins!

I haven't posted a recipe for a long time, but the peach muffins that I made from what we happened to have in the house today are so great that I just had to share the recipe.

Yield: twelve amazing muffins

Preheat oven to 375 F, line a muffin tin with muffin cups.


1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup cane sugar


1 egg
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 cups smashed up and thawed peaches that had been frozen with their skins on

Stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture. Spoon into the muffin tin, and bake for 25 minutes. Take the muffins out of the tin, and let them cool a bit before eating.

(I could have used a little less butter, I guess. But then they probaby wouldn't be quite as delicious.)

Michael hasn't tried one yet. But I know he will want to link to this post. Welcome Orange Crate Art readers (and future muffin eaters).

Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars

Augustin Hadelich put up this beautiful video of his performance of Jascha Heifetz's transcription of Manuel Ponce's Estrellita yesterday:

In the commentary on his Facebook page he mentioned the huge number of double sharps (34) that are in the piano part of this transcription. My immediate thought was that it could have been a visual pun on the part of Heifetz.

The song in its original key of F major works perfectly well on the violin.

When you look at the transcription, the double sharps (circled in red) appear like little stars, the literal meaning of "Estrellita."

I like to think that Heifetz was waiting for someone to notice. And there's something fitting about Augustin Hadelich being the person to publically raise the question of why Heifetz would choose a key with all those double sharps for his inventive and chromatic setting.

My next question: Who is the T.O.F. that Heifetz dedicated the transcription to?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Ladder of Escape for Four Bassoons

Creative work usually works as a ladder of escape for me. Writing this piece for four bassoons this past week really helped get me out of a lousy headspace. I had great fun yesterday making the cover out of bassoon parts, which was a project in itself:

Today I made a allegorical video collage to go with the music:

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

Friday, July 24, 2020

New audiences (post Covid) for classical music

I just bought a ticket to hear Augustin Hadelich play a recital tomorrow night at Tanglewood. It cost $12.00, and since I'm going to watch it with Michael, that's $6.00 per person.

I haven't been to a concert at Tanglewood in nearly twenty years. It has been so long, in fact, that the hall that this concert is being broadcast from wasn't even built. After my father retired from the Boston Symphony, and no longer spent his summers at Tanglewood, our trips to Tanglewood ended.

This season nobody except the performers, the concert arrangers, and the people doing the filming will be at this concert. The audience of people from all over the world will be, like me and Michael, sitting in our homes. We can read the concert program by way of a PDF. We can also watch it again during the coming week.

People can make their own picnics and pre-concert dinners. Michael and I will be having leftover Thai food.

Musicians and concert organizations worry about whether the audiences for our concerts will return after the pandemic is over. With the likelihood of a serious economic collapse in our future (at least in America), we wonder if people will have money and time to actually go to concerts. We wonder, with lower-capacity seating in concert halls, if we will be able to bring in enough revenue from ticket sales to pay decent salaries for people who are performing, and pay decent salaries for the people in the concert-giving organizations to do the technical work, to run the organization, and to do the necessary publicity.

If there is an online concert option bundled into subscriptions, even for smaller and regional orchestras and chamber ensembles, musicians everywhere might be able to reach wider audiences--making it possible for people who don't live in a city where a particular performance is taking place to hear and see it live. If it is a premiere, all the better. And if this online option is successful, orchestras and chamber music ensembles might be able to do programming that is innovative, with music by lesser-known composers that should be programmed, rehearsed, and performed.

If there is enough revenue from online ticket sales and subscriptions, in-person ticket prices could be lowered enough to give people who normally can't afford to go to concerts the chance to go.

Who knows? There might even be a place for reviewers in this new musical world.

Early American Music from the Ephrata Cloister!

This is one of the most exciting musicological discoveries ever. And I love the fact that it was prompted by the mention of Georg Conrad Beissel, the founder of the Ephrata Cloister, in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus. The Hymnal that holds this forgotten American music (written by three women: Sister Föben, Sister Ketura and Sister Hanna) has been hidden in plain sight.

You can read Avery Keatley's NPR article about the music, the community, and the upcoming recording here, and you can read more about the Ephrata Cloister here.

Stephanie Chase interviews Robin Fay Massey in Stay Thirsty

I love this interview that the violinist Stephanie Chase did with my friend Robin Fay Massey. Robin is a exceptional violist, a dedicated emergency room nurse, and an exemplary human being.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

King's Singers New Music Prize for Composers

I normally don't post announcements about music competitions here, but this one looks interesting. I haven't written choral music (or been a member of a chorus) for years, so this is not something I am comfortable entering, but I appreciate the inclusive nature of the competition and the support for composers that the King's Singers offer through the website.

This page has information about the texts to set and information about the people who will be judging the competition.

Price Adoration played by the Scottish Freelancers Ensemble

[. . . and they are playing my arrangement!]