Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mozart K330 Andante Surprise

During these days of chaos and uncertainty, I find myself spending more and more time with music that is organized and certain and have been finding my greatest solace in Bach and Mozart.

Yesterday I came across this odd E-natural half note in measure thirty-nine of the Andante of Mozart's 10th Piano Sonata, K330 that would make more sense to me if that E-natural were a quarter note on the second beat of the measure, since it is so deeply at odds with the F naturals in the bass when it falls on the first beat. But it is in the first edition, published while Mozart was still alive, and it is in the manuscript (shown below the first edition).

My solution to the problem of mitigating that extra dissonance is to play it very softly.
[click for larger images]

Anyway, I did notice something surprising about this manscript: Mozart used the soprano clef for the right hand.
Of course I looked at all the Mozart Piano Sonata manuscripts I could find in the IMSLP, and I found that he only used the soprano clef in one other sonata: the F major, published as number 12 (K332/300k). But then I noticed that this is one that Mozart titled "Sonata III." Look!
I looked up "soprano clef" in Merriam-Webster, and was disappointed to see that their definition of it could be taken as misleading.
They are, of course, talking about the published words "soprano clef" being first used in 1786. Just in case you are wondering, Mozart's 10th and 12th Sonatas were published by Antaria in 1784 with a treble clef in the upper staff. I wonder if the first use of "soprano clef" in print might have been referring to something related to that publication. Probably not.

Also, don't bother to click on the illustration link: you will get a treble clef, not a C clef. You will find a better explanation here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Reconsidering perfection, again

It seems that the more confident I become as a musician, particularly as a string player, a composer, and as a teacher, the less I look for approval. But I do seek recognition, which I use literally here: I like to be recognized for what I am trying to do. I am my own very harsh critic, and feel mainly "right" with myself and my work when I know that I have done my best. And doing my best means fixing the problems I create for myself.

When I teach I am responsible for finding solutions to problems that other people have created. And I feel like I have accomplished something when any person I teach (or help) either internalizes those solutions, or is inspired by them to come up with alternatives.

As a young student I was a parasite, and though I sometimes remember the source of a particular solution, sometimes I don’t. I rarely learned anything from my formal private flute lessons, because my "official" teachers were more interested in themselves than they were in me.  But friends who shared musical thoughts and ideas with me were (and still are) my best teachers. Even the dead ones, like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, and Boulanger

Writing resonant music that is comfortable to play (on any instrument) is really important to me. I aspire to write music that helps people fall in love with music itself, and to communicate that love to the people they play with. It’s an added bonus if there is somebody listening. And if someone recognizes a kindred spirit, I have accomplished the kind of connection I hope for.

And I really enjoy it when something I have written or arranged compels students and friends to be expressive. Freedom of expression is a sacred freedom. And there is no perfection in expression.

My experience in the world of musicians (close contact to high-calibre professionals from a young age) has taught me that there is always someone who can play better and write better. Could you imagine playing at a level so high that it feels like it is impossible to improve? Could you imagine the pressure to maintain that illusion of perfection night after night? And could you imagine peaking as a child and losing that ability to touch the sun at the relatively young age of thirty-five? Or fifty. There is an illusive goal of of perfection in execution, but, thank goodness, in composing there is no perfection. There are only choices. 

I actually don't believe in perfection, and I stand by a blog post I made nearly twenty years ago concerning perfection. It was my first blogpost.

I think what really matters is becoming more musically genuine as a result of being able to express feelings through our instruments and through the musical phrases we encounter (or create).

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Butterflies abound

Nathan Groot put this lovely video of the "Gorgon copper butterfly" from Advanced Viola Scale Studies on Youtube today.

I thought it might be fun to mention, for other butterfly lovers, that the tresillo rhythm (3 + 3 + 2) of the etude is directly related to a piece that I wrote for viola and piano in 2002 called "Tango Mariposa." Here is a link to a recording played by Istvan Szabo, the person I wrote the piece for. I also made a transcription of it for viola, cello, and harp in 2003 that I hope to hear played some day.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Trouble in River City!

I came across this film clip of Meredith Willson explaining how "Trouble" from The Music Man works.

I first encountered this man when I read his memoir, And There I Stood with my Piccolo which I read (in one sitting) in the Boston Public Library when I was a teenager. I learned something about how shows and operas were put together when I realized that The Music Man had melodic material that threaded its way through every song. I have also come to understand that the “think method” can be a really valuable tool (when combined with actual practice).

What a brilliant man. This is the first time I have seen a film of him in action, and I am so excited to share this experience!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

New String Orchestra Arrangements for 2023 and 2024

I regularly add arrangements to this folder, and every couple of years I make a post listing the more recent arrangements and original pieces I have added. Some arrangements are in the IMSLP, and some are (for obvious reasons) not.
You can access the folder here.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

(Darling?) Starling

My friend Martha's sister suggested that my bird might be a starling. Boy does that make sense. After all, Mozart bought a starling back in 1784 because he heard it in a pet store singing the theme of the last movement of his 17th piano concerto. They are really smart birds, and can learn their vast repertoire of material from sources other than other birds.

I have certainly seen starlings in the yard, but I dismissed the idea of a starling (I had forgotten that the starling was the star of the Mozart story, and not some other bird) because I might have some prejudice against them. I associate a flock of starlings with a loud and distinctly unmusical clatter, but I had never heard one sing a solo before.

When we first moved to town in 1985 there was a starling invasion of sorts. And they seemed to congregate in the two tall oak trees in the front yard of our rental house. Our landlord used to clap pieces of wood together to get them to leave, partially because they were loud and annoying, but mostly because they raided his squirrel feeders.

Yes. They are an invasive species. The European Starling made its way across the Atlantic because back in 1890 a group of Shakespeare-loving New Yorkers wanted to have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's works to be present in Central Park.

The huge flocks of starlings that spent time in our town have withered during the past 40 years. I only see them occasionally, here and there.

But our yard (we moved to our own house in 1991) must have had meaning for a flock of starlings one evening in the early 1990s.

We were leaving the Wilb Walker grocery store (which is no longer there) when we noticed that the tree across the street in front of Valerie's Hair Affair (it is no longer a hair salon) had starlings all over it--like leaves. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of birds.

We were headed for home, but thought we would have a little adventure and follow them. Their destination happened to be our back yard. There they were: spread out like a black carpet.

What are the odds?

I read Jan Sibelius quoted somewhere (or maybe it was in a memoir) that the musical life of a place is directly related to its bird life. But I never imagined that it could go both ways. That some birds can get their material from the music that they happen to hear. Or that while we are watching them and listening for them, they might be watching us and listening to us.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Hab ich einen Vogel?

From time to time I write about the bird with the singular song that visits our yard. None of the bird-identifying apps and none of my bird-wise friends (and I have the most wise of bird-wise friends) have identified the species of this bird by its song, which I can duplicate exactly on the violin.

My most trusted bird-identifying friend suggested that it might be a singluar song made by a bird who knows many, like an oriole, but the timing is wrong. I have heard this bird as early as late February. And it comes back every year.

I hadn't heard it for a good month and a half, and this morning, while I was practicing some Haydn (the "Razor" quartet, not the "Bird") on the violin, it returned.

It sang (that's a midi rendering of a piccolo), and then I played. It sang back, and I played back. We went back and forth in rapid succession, maybe ten times. Maybe more.

I have had this musical exchange with this particular bird over many years.

Our back yard has a creek in it, which seems to be the home of a great deal of wildlife. Our house is at the top of a small hill, and the room where I practice could very easily be in, according to a bird's eye view, a tree.

I'm wondering now if that bird could have learned his or her song from me practicing a passage like this over and over (as I have been known to do).

Here's an interesting article about the repertoire that some birds have.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Gish Gallop for Piccolo and Piano

Twelve years ago, in 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had a debate on television. Romney bombarded Obama with so many half truths and outright lies that his debate performance was (or appeared to be) weak. The technique Romney used is known as "The Gish Gallop."

You can read the fine print at the bottom of the image of the first page to learn more, or you can read the next paragraph in this nice large blogger typeface:
The Gish Gallop is a debate strategy where one person provides a large number of weak or false arguments in order to overwhelm his or her opponent. It was coined in 1994 by the anthropologist Eugenie Scott to describe the debate technique of the American creationist Duane Gish, who used it to challenge the science of evolution. A rapid succession of lies is presented with the goal of wasting an opponent's time, thereby casting doubt on his or her debating ability. It works best in debates that don't involve fact checking.
Heather Cox Richardson wrote about the Gish Gallop in her Letters from An American commenting on Thursday's televised presidential debate. I can think of other four-letter words that "gish" to describe that debate, but I am determined not to allow myself to dwell on the negative elements of the evening.

I did, however, travel back in time by way of various drafts on my computer, and finish this little bit of chaos I started in 2012 that is based on Liszt's Grand galop chromatique.
[June 30, 2024]

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here. You can find the score and part on this page of the IMSLP. And now maybe I can get it OUT of my head and get a decent night's sleep.

The Unicorn

A few weeks ago I found a poem that my mother wrote. Today would be June's ninety-second birthday, so I'm sharing it here and now in honor of her memory.

The Unicorn

There's a forest that's hidden, somewhere in a dream
Where a Unicorn drinks from a bubbling stream
An owl once glimpsed his luminous form
And instantly knew this was not quite the norm.
He whispered the secret to all of the trees,
The trees told the rain and the rain told the breeze.

The Loon, who swam every night in the lake,
Making giggling sounds such as only loons make,
Retold the owl's story for all to hear.
Spectators came running from far and near.

The Pundits all smiled and winked their eyes,
for loons are well known to elaborate lies.
But the Hunters were ready, with arrows and spear,
To capture the Unicorn when he should appear.

They littered, they skittered, they tittered away,
Leaving beer cans and plastic cups after their play.

"Wonder of wonders, the Unicorn's real,"
The people all shouted and screamed in their zeal.
"Wonder of wonders, this is no lie."
They bought Unicorn T-shirts and Unicorn Pie.
"Wonder of wonders, It's not a hoax."
The Pundits all scrambled for Unicorn jokes.

But, soon all the people were bothered to tears,
Unicorns were coming out of their ears.
They stopped looking and fighting for Unicorn toys,
And turned instead, to things that make noise.
Again, trophy hunters prepared to go forth,
To find the Next Object; be it East, West or North.

And the Unicorn took a long drink from the stream,
Then, stepped back in Silence, In Time and in Dream.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Performance of my Woodwind Quintet No. 2 "Four Winds"

I just found this excellent performance from September, 2023 by flutist Faith Wasson, oboist Mary Robinson, clarinetist Beth Vilsmeier, horn player Martina Adams, and bassoonist Rick Barrantes on YouTube, and thought I would share it here.

Listening to it makes me think about how much I loved playing woodwind quintets as a teenager.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Summer Strings 20th Anniversary Concert July 9, 2024 at 7:00

Every summer for the past twenty years has been filled with string music here in Charleston, Illinois, and this May and part of June it was filled with cicada music, particularly in areas with old hardwood trees and creeks. People from national network news (I can't remember which network, but I think it might have been NBC) came to town in order to cover the emergence at its epicenter, but they weren't here when the various broods (we had at least three) were screaming and clicking at lawnmower volume. But we were here.

And now they are gone. Every last one of them. And our birds, deer, squirrels, and other animals, including dogs, were well fed with their manna from heaven.

Our Summer Strings program was set by March without a thought of cicadas, but once I made a string quartet transcription of a piece for two violins I wrote during the last Magicicada emergence back in 2011, and once I played it with some of my Summer Strings friends, there was no other choice but to make a version of it to put on the program for this year's Summer Strings concert. And it is particularly approrpriate in this location, among a lot of hardwood trees and along the town branch of the Embarass River, where the larvae of millions of Magicicada Brood XIX (who will next emerge in 2037) might even be listening. They are just babies, so there is no danger of any activity. Here's what we will be playing:

The theme of the concert is "Christmas in July," which means it is an excuse to play "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," my favorite Christmas holiday song. In Monteverdi's "Zefiro torna" the warm west wind comes after the cold of winter, but most importantly it is a chaconne with a bass line that repeats throughout the piece. "Once Upon a December" has cold and icy pizzicatto dressing up a waltz that sings of nostalgia, "California Dreamin'" is a longing for the warmth of Los Angeles on a day in winter from a place where "all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey."

"You Must Believe in Spring" by Michel Legrand yearns for spring even in the deepest winter.

The other songs should be familiar, but only dedicated readers of this blog would know that the "Humoresque" on the program must be the one by Ethel Barns rather than the one by Antonin Dvorak. I have loaded this arrangement into the IMSLP, and it should be available soon.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Shaloncé Royal (the professional wrestler) sings Pergolesi

This past Friday evening an assisted living/memory care facility in our town held a professional wrestling event. It is quite unusual to think of memory care and professional wrestling in the same mind's eye, but it happens that Devonte Knox, an extremely impressive professional wrestler, works by day (and occasionally night) as a CNA, helping residents in memory care navigate daily tasks with extreme gentleness and good humor.

He organized this event in order to share what he does with the people he works with and cares for. Professional wrestling is a performing art that is definitely not in my wheelhouse, to say the least, but I am really happy that I watched the exhibition because the opening act included Shaloncé Royal, a wrestler who is also a soprano! She drove all the way from Atlanta to Illinois to take part in the show because of Devonte.

And she is an excellent singer. Here she is singing "Stizzoso, mio stizzoso" from Pergolesi's La serva padrona

Funereal dusky-wing butterfly and American crocodile

Nathan Groot, who is in the process of recording the viola version of Advanced Viola Scale Studies (i.e. upscale tales, because they use the full range of the instrument in all positions), posted these two pieces today. As a set they work as a study in contrast. Groot plays "Funereal dusky-wing butterfly," which is in B minor, at a funereal tempo, which is really difficult to sustain. It's kind of like an adagio in ballet: so much more difficult than it appears from the outside. At this tempo it is really beneficial for the bow arm as well as the left hand, with shifts, vibrato, and basic intonation (which is never basic).

Part of my inspiration for the lighthearted nature of "American crocodile" was actually not a real crocodile at all. The crocodile smile and the musical motion did come from (wild) life, but the spirit also comes from Lyle, my favorite fictional crocodile.
I love the way Nathan Groot plays it here:

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Thumb and One (and lots of other teaching tools)

I thought of this little "slogan" while teaching a lesson the other day, and drew a nifty picture to help remind my students (and I guess other people's students, now that I have shared the image) that order to play the violin or the viola confidently in tune in the first position in keys that don't have flats, it is helpful to have the position of the thumb on the neck and the first finger (on any string) directly across the fingerboard from one another.

Sometimes I put a "like" (thumbs up) sticker where the thumb goes (if I have one handy), but any sticker will do. It helps if it is a sticker you can feel.

I was surprised to see that I have made forty-seven teaching posts on this blog. Some of the ideas are a little wacky, but some of them are pretty good.

You can see for yourself!

The number forty-seven has a particular (and I guess peculiar) meaning in our family. So I'll share this little bit of family lore.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Just because it's June

My friendship with the cellist Daniel Morganstern goes back to June of 1978, when one of his students was a summer roommate. We were, as he said, "an octave" apart. I was eighteen and he was thirty-six. He and his wife June acted like surrogate parents to me. I thought it was such amazing serendipity that my mother, also named June, had the same birthday: June 30th. June might have attributed it to a steller synchronicity, but the friendship between me, Danny, and June has lasted and deepened through the decades.

Shortly after Danny began his work as an editor with the International Music Company, I helped him by writing program notes and engraving scores into Finale. There are a few arrangements in his huge IMC catalog of editions and two-cello transcriptions of the cello repertoire that are mostly my work, and I am proud to say that this arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "June" from The Seasons, Opus 37a, is one of them.

You can order the music here.