Saturday, February 16, 2019

Using a Tablet for Music: 2019 Edition

Nine years ago I wrote a blog post about what I would like to have in an electronic tablet for reading music. You can find the post here. I'm a week into working with my new iPad Pro, and it seems that all my requirements (and more) have been fulfilled. Here's the text of my 2010 post:
I was seriously disappointed when I found that the ipad is not capable of turning the orientation of PDF files (like the ones available on the Werner Icking Music Archive or the Petrucci Library) from landscape to portrait. I also found that it is not possible to conveniently turn pages or even conveniently scroll through music.

I'm not holding my breath, but I'm secretly hoping that some very smart music-loving technical person will eventually develop a mac- and windows-friendly music-reader (wouldn't it be appropriate to call it a "notebook?") that would really work for musicians. It wouldn't have as large a potential buying "audience" as the ipad, but it would help a lot of musicians. This is what my machine would require:

1. A screen that can be viewed clearly under all lighting conditions, including strong stage lights. It would need to have a viewing area that would be at least 8.5 x 11. 9 x 12 would be better. CHECK

2. A button on the lower and/or upper right hand side of the machine that would function as a page-turning button. It would need to go in both directions to account for repeats. CHECK

3. A method for annotation (fingerings and bowings) on the downloaded copy (a stylus, perhaps), and the option to save an annotated copy in an easily-accessible format. CHECK

4. It would have to have a very smart and flexible filing system that could organize sheet music into categories: period, genre, instrumentation, etc.CHECK

5. It would have to be silent, like the ipad. CHECK

6. It would have to have the capacity to do e-mail and send attachments, so there would need to be a functional keyboard--either internal or external (I can't stand to type on the ipad touchscreen). CHECK

7. It would need to have a long battery life and would need to be easily recharged. CHECK

8. It would have to be sturdy, but it would have to be light enough to sit on a music stand. CHECK

9. It would have to be affordable for musicians. CHECK

10. Here's my pie-in-the-sky dream for such a machine: it would work as a scanner as well as a reader (hence the ideal larger screen size). CHECK

Using the Forscore program on my iPad, which I can use in landscape or portrait orientation, I am able to make corrections (in red!) directly on a PDF file, and then I can transfer those corrections into my Finale file. The display is clear, and it is very easy to see the kinds of details that I often miss when working with paper and red pen. Proofing directly in Finale is inadequate because of the tool handles and the colors of the layers.

I have some practical considerations that I would like to share here. I'm only a week into the process, so expect updates!

1. Using a foot pedal to turn pages does have a learning curve. When making a PDF from a Finale (or other notation program) file, it is best to have the ends of the pages in places other than key changes, changes of register, clef changes, and changes of technique (like going from arco to pizzicato).

2. When you use Forscore for playing, the page-turning system doesn't work when the image is blown up to fill the screen completely. Since page margins are not an issue with music that doesn't need to bound, I have reduced my page margins to half an inch (and I guess I could even make them smaller) on either side. I have also increased my page size to as close to 100% as possible, because that makes the notes bigger. And who over the age of 50 doesn't prefer to read larger notes?

3. Use a bold font for fingerings. Maestro 14 point works for me. It does make a difference.

4. Get a soft external case that has a pocket to hold your page-turning foot pedal, so you can keep everything in one place. I even have a little plastic container of AA batteries stuffed in mine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Speech and Music

I have always that a composer's speaking voice has a huge impact on how s/he writes music. I'm so happy to know that I am not alone!

Friday, February 08, 2019

Jack Benny's Bow Arm

I like to share videos of Jack Benny with my students so that they can observe his beautiful bow arm, and so that they can understand that being able to "play" at being a "lousy" violinist takes a great amount of technique.

I love this performance of the Bach Double that he does with Isaac Stern because he knows how to play with questionable taste (articulation, intonation, rhythm, sound quality) while still playing the violin extremely well. I enjoy the points where Benny lapses into good musicianship.

And just look at his bow arm:

I do with I could hear a recording of him playing in a non-comedic situations. If there were recordings it would probably have been worth his while (for professional reasons) to keep them private.

Jack Benny (née Benjamin Kubelsky) was born in Waukegan, Illinois. The Waukegan Historical Society has an excellent timeline that details events in his life. There is an excellent Wikipedia article about him that mentions Otto Graham Sr. as his teacher. I imagine that Benny must have learned that bow arm from Graham.

I recall either reading or watching an interview with the 70-something Jack Benny where he talked about his love of chamber music and about how he spent his time practicing the violin. I wish I could find it somewhere!

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Sanford Sylvan memorials around the blogosphere

I first met Sanford Sylvan when he was a very young man, and I was a teenager. I remember the sound of his gentle speaking voice when he introduced himself to me one afternoon at Tanglewood. I heard him sing later in the week, and became a devoted fan. I have enjoyed hearing him sing in concerts, masterclasses, in stage productions, and on recordings.

Michael we went to a production of "Mother Courage" that was directed by Peter Sellars (at a theater in Boston) for our third date. I was happily surprised to find that Sandy was singing in it. The music for that production was written by Van Dyke Parks, who Michael and I became friends with a couple of decades later.

The musical world is small.

A few people in the musical blogosphere who knew him have been writing posts, so I thought I'd list them here:

Matthew Guerrieri (Soho the Dog) played piano for his masterclasses at the Boston Conservatory, and describes Sandy's clearly professional approach to singing.

Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight) heard him sing when she was in college. She gives a very touching personal tribute.

Alex Ross (The Rest is Noise) didn't know him personally, but heard him sing Die Winterreise (which comes pretty close).

Robert Hurwitz (Nonesuch Records) produced many of his records.

I'm not surprised that so many of the tributes to Sandy include a link to his recording of "The Monk and His Cat" from Samuel Barber's "Hermit Songs." I'll do the same.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Kunc Engraving Triumphs

These two measures from the third movement of the Kunc took me more than an hour to "Finaliaze." (I finished a draft of the second movement last night.) I just thought I'd commemorate this little triumph. I had to use all four layers (black, red, green, and blue), and I had to use all sorts of tools to get everything to fit and look right. And they still need a bit of tweaking . . .

. . . And here they are in context (with a few more corrections):

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Kunc Update!

I'm having a moment of celebration here. The first movement of the Viola Sonata (all 25 pages of it) is now engraved, and I have a PDF file (probably with a few errors) that I would be happy to send to any interested violists. And all violists should be interested . . .

Just send me an email, and I will keep you in the Kunc loop.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ravel's Kaddish performed today at the European Parliament

I'm so honored that Clémence Poussin and the Quatuor Girard used my transcription of the Ravel Kaddish for this performance:

The Me2/Orchestra

Last night I was reminded of Ronald Braunstein, a fellow Juilliard student (we were not friends, but we did work together occasionally). Ron was studying conducting there, though he had entered as a composition student. He was an interesting person to me, partially because he was clearly talented, but mostly because he allowed himself to be vulnerable. The operative strategy at Juilliard in the late 1970s was to give the appearance of being highly successful and invulnerable. The 21st-century term that would apply would be "bulletproof."

Ron was not bulletproof, but he was a serious high achiever. Immediately after graduating from Juilliard in 1979 he went off to Berlin and won the gold medal in the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition. He worked with Karajan as an apprentice, and conducted orchestra all over Europe and Asia. After returning to America, he conducted the pre-college orchestra at Juilliard and the preparatory orchestra at Mannes. In 1981 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, like other people with the disorder, he has had challenges navigating his way through professional and personal life.

Braunstein now lives in Vermont. In 2011 he formed an orchestra in Burlington for musicians living with mental illnesses to play in, and in 2014 he started one in Boston. Here's a link to the Me2/Orchestra's website. There's a page there with links to articles about the orchestra as well as a link to their YouTube channel. The orchestra does not require an audition. Participants can choose to reveal the nature of their mental illness if they like, but it isn't necessary. It isn't even necessary to have a mental illness to participate! They welcome people of all ages: patients, family members, friends, physicians, counselors, people recovering from addiction, and caregivers.

It makes me very proud to know that Ronald Braunstein is doing something truly good with his life and his talents.

Here's a clip of the orchestra playing at the King Street Center in Burlington, VT.

I was surprised, when going through some of my brother Marshall's writings (which I keep mostly private), to find that Marshall knew Ronald Braunstein too. Here's an excerpt from Marshall's memoir (SSO would be the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, which was having a conductor search in October of 1984):
Braunstein actually got to meet us by a fluke before rehearsals ever started--he got on the same plane with us. We were returning from Boston, and Elaine’s wedding, and he got on at LaGuardia, a day early so that he could have a break before meeting the SSO management. That gave him a chance to look over the first movement of Alien Landscapes, which I’d just finished scoring. Unfortunately we never heard from him again.

I disagreed with some of the things he did in rehearsal--taping, for instance. (With IRIS, and Michael Stern, there is an excellent reason for it: we record commercially.) But his Barber Adagio for Strings (with his parts) and his Beethoven Fifth (with all the repeats) had stunning musical conviction. Also featured was the Ginastera Harp Concerto, with Heidi Lehwalder as soloist.

There you have it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Michel Legrand Plays Bach!

[The Bach begins 47 minutes in.]

This is a 1978 variety-style television show that someone posted on YouTube yesterday. It is an excerpt from one of the Concertos that Bach wrote for either keyboard or violin. The segment begins with Legrand playing the solo on piano and Ivry Gitlis conducting, and it ends with Gitlis playing the solo on the violin and Legrand conducting:

Stick around after the Bach because Legrand sings music from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Danielle Licari, the singer who dubbed Catherine Deneuve's voice in the film. Their singing is set against images from the film.

I Believe in Michel Legrand

I spent much of my day re-working a string quartet arrangement of one of my favorite Legrand songs. Legrand reminds us that we must believe in spring. I keep believing in spring because of Michel Legrand. I am so thankful for his music. His was a musical life well lived.

Here he is playing and singing "I Will Wait for You" (in English), the theme from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, with Nana Muskouri:

Schubert and our Winterreise

Last night the viola section of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra had a wonderful moment (or rather, a wonderful half hour) playing Schubert's Fifth Symphony. And the viola section love spread itself throughout the orchestra (the heart is in the middle of the body--any body). Or maybe we were just responding to all the ebbs, flows, and unnamable subtle shadings that happen when everybody has an open heart and is really feeling the music.

The Schubert love spread to the rest of the program too, particularly in Pulcinella.

It was a very enjoyable concert to play, and to hear.

There was more snow than predicted for our 50-mile trek home on a two-lane highway (we opted for the two-lane highway rather than the interstate because we didn't feel like driving with trucks, as we did the night before).

There was snow falling from the sky and snow drifting all over the road. About five miles into our journey we noticed many flashing lights ahead of us, and it turned out to be a snow plow. It swept away the snow, salted our path, and provided light to guide our way. After about fifteen miles it went off to plow another rural road, and, like magic, another snow plow appeared directly in front of us. That plow led us about ten miles more, and then stopped to let us pass once its help was no longer necessary.

I felt the spirit of Schubert all night.

Wrist Rosin

As we were about to rehearse Pulcinella yesterday, I noticed my stand-partner's wrist watch sitting on the floor. This idea popped into my mind.

Remember, you saw it here first.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Kunc, Kunc, and More Kunc

Sunday's concert has passed and John David and I have moved on to new repertoire. But I now have the piano score on my desk, and have been entering it into Finale and learning a great deal about piano writing (and about the piece!) in the process.

I have also started questioning the sparse record of the lives of the Kunc family. It seems that Pierre Kunc's younger brother Aymé Kunc did not win the "second prize alongside Maurice Ravel" in the 1902 Prix de Rome. Aymé Kunc won the first prize that year. Ravel was, according to Arbie Orenstein, a finalist, but he did not win any prizes. The second prize went to Albert Bertelin, and the third prize went to Jean Roger-Ducasse.

Aymé Kunc completed in the Prix de Rome four times before winning the Grand Prize (a generous four-year stipend and lots of fame).

Ravel won the third prize in 1901. Ravel is a household name, and Aymé Kunc remains a footnote in Ravel's biography (and a thorn in his side). Aymé's work is not yet entirely in the public domain, but there is an entry for him in the IMSLP that has two pieces.

There is an entry for Pierre Kunc (whose work is in the public domain) as well. And there's also an entry for Aloys Kunc, the father of Pierre and Aymé.

I'll go back to my engraving work now.