Sunday, January 16, 2022

I'm Gonna Walk It With You and Strange Fruit

"Strange Fruit" was written by Abel Meeropol, who is rarely given credit for his work.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The "Think" System

In Meredith Wilson's The Music Man the "think system" of learning to play a musical instrument is presented as an absurd way of learning to play, but if you listen to this interview with Molly Gebrian on the violacentric podcast, you will surely be impressed with her "take" on the importance of thinking (while not playing) when learning to play an instrument. The interview begins about 20 minutes in.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

My (semi) private menagerie

This April Mel Bay will be publishing the first of two books of scale pieces for solo violin that I wrote around the time I was writing "Weights and Measures." The first book, which can be played entirely in first position (or in the first through the fifth positions on the viola) is called "Scale Tales," because each of the pieces is a musical "portrait" of an animal that has scales. The second book, which will come out later in 2022 is tentatively called "Advanced Scale Studies" (though I wish it could be called "Upscale Tales"), has portraits of twenty-four more animals with scales, and uses the whole range of the violin.

I have made a set of ten musical videos that show the life cycle (sometimes) of the various animals to accompany the music.

You can see videos of the first ten pieces here.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Cloud Ninth

I put new strings on my violin for the new year, and therefore can now play harmonics that are more in tune than I could in 2021, I made a little video with one of the pieces in "Dancing on the Fingerboard." I hope you like it!

Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Greeting for Two Trumpets

I wrote this piece to greet 2018, and Daniel Gianola-Norris just recorded it and posted it this evening to greet 2022. What a surprise! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Spending the New Year with Fred Cowan (and friends)

The logistics involved with getting together with friends this New Year make reading memoirs that discuss social and musical antics of the past most appealing. Today I happened upon a book from 1913 by Frederic Hyman Cowan (Sir Frederic H. Cowan) called My Art and My Friends that I skimmed through today and plan to read tomorrow.

What, you ask, led me to this particular memoir? Well, I was searching through the IMSLP for pieces of music to celebrate the New Year, and came upon a set of piano pieces by Cowan from 1912 called The Months. The piece for January, it turns out, works nicely as a piece for string quartet (transposed and adjusted, of course).

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

(You can find the music here and (eventually) on this page of the IMSLP.)

Cowan's book is filled with stories about musicians he met during his travels through Europe (Brahms included) and Australia, and through his professional life as (mainly) a conductor. I'll share this gem from a performance of a Chopin Piano Concerto he conducted with Clara Schumann as the soloist.

Here's a peek at two more pages from the book. Some of the jokes in the menu I get, but there are some that go over my head. If anyone reading this would like to leave "answers" in the comments, I would be extremely happy. Welcome to my New Year's party with Sir Frederic! Remember that the link to the book (it's in the IMSLP) is above.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Great Day with Beethoven and Vivaldi

My musical day started with reading through the second part (the last six sonatas) of Vivaldi's La strava ganza on violin, and reading through some of his l'estro armonico. It seems to me that Vivaldi might have written La strava ganza for students as an enjoyable way to develop their bow arms. L'estro armonico is much more interesting (and much more difficult). It's not something just to read through. I definitely want to explore each piece carefully and thoughtfully.

Beethoven was on my piano menu, but I decided to skip the early sonatas I had been working on. After the first sonata they do get rather expansive, and since I can't play them at tempo, I tend to lose patience. I decided try playing the Pathetique Sonata. I know that the piece is quite economical: it has lots of bang for the buck, so to speak. I have analyzed the piece, and taught it to countless musical appreciation students over the years, but, until now, I have never been able to play the Pathetique well enough to understand what is going on in it pianistically.

Being able (finally) to observe how Beethoven writes for the piano by playing this piece feels like a gift. Playing it (for me, with my particular set of purposes) is like putting on Beethoven's shoes and going for a walk in his neighborhood.

Over the past several years I have come to understand that my relationship to music is extremely physical. Holding the music (not the sheet music, but the music itself), whether it is Vivaldi or Beethoven, in my hands, is a richer and richer experience. And the more ways I can enter into that experience, the more I learn about this multi-faceted thing we call music.

Whatever I learned from today's piano time with Beethoven seemed to bleed into today's violin time with Beethoven.

Friday, December 24, 2021

A little armchair musicology

Back in my flute playing days I used to enjoy playing Vivaldi's Il Pastor Fido. My father once remarked that one movement (the final movement of the sixth Sonata, and the one I liked best) sounded just like the first movement of Vivaldi's G minor Violin Concerto, which I now know as RV 316a. Neither of us knew that Johann Sebastian Bach also used it as movement of a concerto for solo harpsichord.

When I went to the IMSLP to search for Il Pastor Fido, I was surprised to be redirected to an entry for Nicolas Chedéville, with the following statement in the notes:
Nicolas Chédeville made a secret agreement in 1737 with Jean-Noël Marchand to publish a collection of his own compositions as Vivaldi's. Chédeville supplied the money and received the profits, all of which was attested to in a notarial act by Marchand in 1749. Long attributed to Vivaldi, the set of sonatas are actually the work of Chédeville.
But it looks like, according to the IMSLP dates, Bach wrote his G minor harpsichord movement in 1713, and Vivaldi's transcription of it as the first movement of a concerto for violin and strings was published in 1716.

Playing through the first movement of BWV 975 feels like a transcription, and really sounds like Vivaldi (at his very best). The other movements sound and feel more like Bach "speaking" Italian to me. I like to imagine that somehow a pre-publication copy of this Concerto movement got into Bach's hands before 1713. Who knows?

Look at the Bach:
Look at the Vivaldi:
Look at the Chédeville:
Listen to the Bach: Listen to the Vivaldi: Listen to the Chédeville:

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

One more transcription of Florence Price's Adoration

Sheronda Shorter, the director of the Kentuckiana Viola Choir asked me to make a multi-viola transcription of Florence Price's "Adoration." I thought I would share it here for other multi-viola ensembles to play. You can find a PDF of the score and parts here as well as on this page of the IMSLP.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

New Year's Greeting for 2022

I'm so eager for 2021 to be over that I'm a bit early with my (almost) annual New Year's Greeting. Here's a performance by Angus Deeth and Momoko Nagayama, my friends in Tasmania:

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP in versions for clarinet and viola, two violas, and two violins.

Here's a transcription I made for harpsichord or piano, which will be in the IMSLP soon:


A great 2021 project that has come to fruition is a free online archive of new editions of Fanny Hensel's music. You can find the store portal to the whole collection here. The larger portion of the music can be downloaded for free. The collection is really a labor of love, though I think it also serves as an excuse to make a few good puns.

In addition to the "Fanny Pack," they are selling simplified versions of Hensel's very difficult "Das Jahr," which should liven up the days of piano students everywhere during the coming year. Or, rather, Jahr.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 1, Mendelssohn Nocturne

Listen to the first eight measures of the Beethoven:

And now listen to the first eight measures of the Mendelssohn (played on the piano):

Monday, December 13, 2021

Deborah Drattell

I remember watching a live broadcast of Deborah Drattell's "Festival of Regrets" on the television in 1999, and being amazed. I had hoped to hear more of her music, but, living so much of my new-musical life through recordings at that time, it wasn't possible. 

There is very little of her music on line, and professionally she has turned in the direction of what women might wear to the opera rather than what they might listen to there. Her work as a belt and brooch maker is stunning. If I were the type of person to wear jewelry (and if I had places to wear it and riches to buy it with), I would buy it. I applaud her choice to use her expression in ways, particularly ways that can be profitable enough to make a living. But that doesn't mean that her music is no less spectacular that her work as a belt and brooch designer. Just listen to this movement from Lilith.

You can find her musical biography on a page in Wikipedia, and you can see the spoils of her second life here. I doubt Deborah Drattell has any regrets.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

. . . and just like that

The holiday gigging season in pre-pandemic times (if I group pre-pandemic years together, as one does these days) involved pretty constant activity. Just like that my two seasonal orchestra concerts are over, and without any pressing projects on the horizon, I have been watching more television than usual.

The two new programs I am faithfully watching, Curb Your Enthusiasm and And Just Like That were made to air in what everyone thought would be a post-pandemic world. The references to Covid and "the lockdown" in both are early, and (I'm not giving anything away) then situations come up that allow for the "sweet smell of forget" (I think I just coined a phrase) to mix with the general suspension of disbelief that turns on when we turn the television on.

I'm only two episodes into Just Like That, which I am watching without Michael, and in order to give myself the illusion of having company, I have looked at posts here and there (mostly there, since this is the blogosphere).

What I have noticed is that people seem to want a "remake" of Sex and the City, with the characters exactly the way they were twenty years ago. It seems to me that (young) critics of the show (just like that everyone's a critic) are not terribly interested in the often serious things that women in their mid 50s tend to have to face.

Men in their fifties and sixties are often thought of as being in their prime. Those with creative ability have had time and often the institutional support (perhaps that world should have an uppercase I, because there are lowercase-i institutions like those in academia who only support a selected slice of their employees) to accomplish remarkable things, and even be recognized for doing so. Those of us who are living life as older middle-age women, who are also in the intellectual and artistic prime of life, are still judged (mostly) by how we appear and how we treat others, rather than the work we have done.

But I digress.

If you are looking for light 1990s comedy about attractive young women navigating through friendships, shoes, and relationships in a New York that I barely recognize and could never afford to live in, watch re-runs of Sex in the City. If you want to watch a truly brilliant show about a New York I recognize from the late 1970s, watch The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd on YouTube.

But if you happen to be watching And Just Like That, I would be very interested in your reactions to the way big issues are handled (you could replace that lowercase b with an uppercase one if you like). I have much more empathy for the main characters in their 50s than I had for them when they were in their 30s. And I like what promise to be interesting new characters.

The comments here are always open.