Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018 Summer Strings Concert

This year's program has music by Bach, Beethoven, Elgar, Bernstein, Gershwin, and Thomas "Fats" Waller, along with music from films and a handful of popular songs (all lovingly arranged by yours truly).

Talia is Nine Months Old Today

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Marshall Fine's Tango in Time of War, Opus 100

A conductor just sent an email message asking to hear a recording of my brother Marshall's "Tango in Time of War," so I loaded the recording that I have of the first performance (2003) into into Dropbox (it is too big a file to load into the IMSLP), and thought it would be nice to share here. The score and parts are on this page of the IMSLP.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Oliver Knussen

I read the terribly sad news of Oliver Knussen's death today.

I knew Olly in 1975 when he was a student at Tanglewood. Here's a picture of him I took that summer.

I was in awe of his brilliance, and amazed that he took the time to talk with me. A few years ago he let me know that he read Musical Assumptions from time to time, which made me feel really honored. RIP Olly.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

"Bist du" by Bach?

The answer is no.

In 1725 Johann Sebastian Bach included "Bist du bei mir" in the "Buchlein" he assembled for his second wife, Anna Magdalena, a singer he married in 1721. It is one of the few surviving arias from Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel's opera Diomedes.

"Bist du bei mir" is often played at weddings, though I'm not so sure how appropriate it is as a wedding piece when you look at the text . . .

Bist du bei mir, geh ich mit Freuden
zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh.
Ach, wie vergnügt wär so mein Ende,
es drückten deine schönen Hände
mir die getreuen Augen zu!

[If you are with me, then I will go with joy
unto [my] death and to my rest.
Ah, how pleasing were my end,
if your dear hands then
shut my faithful eyes!]

The original manuscript of Diomedes is lost, but a small collection of arias by Stözel remains. You can find the whole collection on this page of the IMSLP.

The story of Diomedes is complicated. It's hard to be sure who would have sung this aria to whom if you look at the way stories about Diomedes play out in Greek mythology. But we do know that Bach must have liked the aria.

Here's a lovely recording that puts it in a plausible operatic context:

There's a Christian hymn version of the song that has a much more wedding-appropriate text:

Abide with me
Then will I fear not
The journey to that far-off land
Where sorrows cease and all is peace. (2X)

What sweet content
To have thee near me
Where I may clasp thine hand so gentle
And gaze into thy faithful eyes. (2X)

Abide with me
Then will I fear not
The journey to that far-off land
Where sorrows cease and all is peace.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Have you ever read the whole Declaration of Independence?

It's a good day to actually read the whole Declaration of Independence, which I did for the first time today. There's a perfectly readable transcription of it here. (This link leads you to the entry in the National Archives.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

My Musical Half Lives

My life motto has always been that half of life is learning, and half of life is sharing, but the empty spaces in my cup that runneth over can feel particularly empty if I am not actively engaged in learning or actively engaged in sharing. My family and the friends that are close to me graciously accept my gifts to them, and that helps to defer emphasis away from those empty spaces. With the impersonal and fleeting communication-based relationships that the internet makes possible, my circle of acquaintances has both broadened and become more remote.

Sometimes I think that my contact with the outside world would feel more "conditional" if I were to engage in commerce, but I have a deep aversion to commerce when it comes to my work as a composer and as an arranger. I prefer not to sell my work. I would rather share it. The problem that I face is that in our culture when something is offered for free, it is valued less than something that is assigned monetary value.

I think differently. There are things that I feel are priceless. I can't put a price on love, for example, and I can't put a price on nice weather. I can't honestly give monetary value to a piece of music.

I suppose you can put a price on time: I charge students for lessons because that is time that I spend dedicated to making them into better musicians. If I didn't charge, they probably wouldn't value what I teach them, and they probably wouldn't practice. I am happy to be paid for the time I spend traveling to orchestra rehearsals, and I am happy to be paid for the time I spend rehearsing. I am happy to be paid for playing music for weddings and parties for people I do not know. I also don't mind accepting money when somebody I don't know asks me to write something. I think of it as the price of my time to meet the needs of another person.

But once the music is written the last thing I want to do these days is to hand it over to a publisher. I say this because I have a lot of music that is published. I have no idea where, when, or if my published music gets played. Royalty statements, which reflect sales, come very rarely because the publishers have to wait until there is enough in the way of royalties to justify writing a check. Publishers are also in the unique position, once they "own" your work, to do what they want with it. If that means ignoring it and burying it in their catalog without doing any kind of promotion for it, then I can be sure that the music will not be played. And in the event that someone seeks out a piece and buys it through the publisher or through a distributor, the composer makes 10% of the price of the piece of music. If a piece of music sells for $20.00, the composer makes $2.00 in royalties.

It is worth that $2.00 to me to have a piece of music that I write have the possibility of being played and being readily available for free to someone who seeks it out.

I suppose you could say that I am an outlier. I grew up in a family of brilliant musicians, and though their instruction in the practical aspects of navigating the world might have been lacking, their example of what is important in music was a gift of such magnitude that I feel that it would take another lifetime to "pay it forward." I have never "wanted" for excellent instruments, and though my education at Juilliard was sorely lacking, I always had older friends who, for whatever reason, would teach me for free. Aside from my Juilliard tuition, the money that my parents gave me for violin lessons and flute lessons when I was growing up, the four or five baroque flute lessons I took in Boston, and a year or so of violin lessons that I had in Illinois as an adult, I have not paid a cent for my musical education (tuition was free when I studied recorder at the Vienna Hochschule, and I had an assistantship for graduate school).

I had the opportunity to remake myself into a string player in my 30s, and to devote an enormous amount of time to composing in my 40s and 50s. I live in a comfortable house in a small-yet-musical town where my husband and I raised two children who have become great adults and live respectable lives in their respective major cities (one on either coast).

Life is good. Life is great.

I have books to read, and a great husband to read them with (we have a two-person reading club). I have Bach (and other great composers) to study. I have ample time to practice. I have great students that teach me how to teach. I have time to practice and people to play with. I have this blog to vent both my heart and my spleen, and another one that serves as a nifty way to catalog the music I write. I hear, from time to time, that people play the music that I make available in the IMSLP, and that makes me happy.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Girl Meets Farm

I'm writing a few words of praise for the new Food Network show that features Molly Yeh. About 30 years ago I watched an episode of Julia Child's "French Chef" show on PBS, and I got inspired to cook. I made a terrific lunch that day, that featured the soup that she was teaching her television audience how to prepare. I have been impressed by cooks on television, and I have been entertained by them. I have learned things from them, but I haven't had the kind of creative reaction I had to Julia Child's show until now.

I watched Molly Yeh make hummus yesterday morning (this is not a picture of her making hummus), and I headed straight to the kitchen to soak some chickpeas. I made the hummus today according to her directions, and it was the best hummus I have ever made.

I'm excited to make stuffed challah soon (each of the braid strands is stuffed with garlic and onions).

Molly is my friend John Yeh’s daughter, so I started reading her blog, which was mostly about the food she was eating in New York while she was studying at Juilliard. But I learned from reading articles about her (after she became "famous") that around the time she started her blog (her third year at Juilliard) she had already decided not to pursue the traditional "auditioning for orchestra" route that most musicians see as the path to professional life after graduating from a conservatory. It wasn't because she didn't love music, and it wasn't because she wasn't good enough (she's good enough, I have heard her play). She simply looked at her strengths and saw other possibilities.

She moved to rural North Dakota to live on a sugar beet farm with her now husband, a trombone player/farmer she met at Juilliard.

She became part of the "food blogger" culture, and her blog won well-deserved awards.

She worked in a bakery in her small town and developed recipes for Betty Crocker.

She started writing cookbooks.

Now she is a bright spot in my Sunday morning when I see her on television.

I could be writing about her show here because Molly's father, a clarinetist in the Chicago Symphony, is an old friend of mine (I have known him since I was a teenager). I could also praise her show and her work because she is a musician who found a path outside of music to make a living, while continuing to play. But I'm writing about it because it is excellent.

Friday, June 29, 2018

My Bach Prelude Project is Finished!

After eight years of working on and off, I finally finished my Prelude Project. The Prelude to the Fourth Suite in E flat major, the final installment in my series of six string quartet settings of the Preludes from the Bach Cello Suites, will soon appear on this page of the IMSLP.

You can also download a PDF of the score and parts for the E flat Prelude here, and listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Here are links to catalog entries for all of the Preludes:

#1, BWV 1007 in G major
#2, BWV 1008 in D minor
#3, BWV 1009 in C major
#4, BWV 1010 in E flat major
#5, BWV 1011 in C minor
#6, BWV 1012 in D major

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What Sibelius Drank

There's a lot to learn about Jean Sibelius! You can enter his world (and liquor cabinet) through this link.

Monday, June 25, 2018

My Transcription of the Bach Fifth Cello Suite is FINISHED!

You can find the score and parts of the transcription here, and listen to a computer-generated recording here, and in a day or two it will be on this page of the IMSLP.

For reference, here's a facsimile of the first page of a manuscript in the hand of Anna Magdalena Bach. You can find out more about the piece and see the whole manuscript here.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Transcribing the Prelude of the Fifth Cello Suite for String Quartet

Making a setting of the prelude of the first Bach cello suite was easy. Making a quartet setting of the prelude for the third suite was not easy, but it was exciting, and the adventure and discovery propelled me forward and gave me energy. Making a quartet setting of the sixth suite was daunting and difficult, but it was ultimately rewarding.

Now I sit in the middle of the one-voice fugue of the fifth suite, and feel like I'm scaling the highest part of a mountain (using ropes). The deeply expressive prelude part of the prelude and fugue that begins the piece is finished (that would be the lower part of the mountain, filled with wild animals and lots of vines). I could only do a few measures of it at a sitting, but I sat often and long, and I took breaks.

I'm 60 measures into the Fugue (there are somewhere around 200 more, at least, to go). It's dangerous territory. I had a look at how Schumann accompanied it, and he safely reinforced the harmony during the eighth notes and avoided adding counterpoint. I'm not doing that.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conducting Myself

I rely on conductors all the time, and I appreciate what playing with a good one can accomplish. But, even though I have "studied" conducting (I took one conducting course in graduate school), I have never had occasion to use my "skills." Perhaps I should say that I have actively avoided situations when conducting was involved, particularly when it involves conducting music that I have written. I much prefer to be in the orchestra or in the audience.

Our usual conductor wasn't around for last night's Summer Strings rehearsal, and all efforts to bamboozle other people into conducting failed, so it fell upon me to conduct. I knew the scores really well, since I had made the arrangements we were playing. I had fun marking them with colored pencils and figuring out ways to rehearse problem spots.

There was really nothing to fear, except for my fear of total inadequacy because of a complete lack of technique.

But I was among friends. I took stuff apart to show how the dialogues and textures worked, and soon everybody (including me) started to relax and have fun. And people started paying attention to the stuff happening in the music outside of their part, and things started to sound truly beautiful. It was a great rehearsal, and I felt exhilarated. I'm still exhilarated.

I used to wonder why anyone would want to be a conductor. Now I understand why. It's a chance to use gesture to shape musical lines and allow (somehow) people to connect with one another musically. Ultimately it is a way to break down (as long as the music lasts) the barriers that exist between people, and allow them to express themselves totally while depending upon and fortifying their ensemble-mates.

Love is fragile, and expressing it in ways other than through music for me is risky. It seems that the only expressions of extra-musical love that don't involve risk involve being with an intimate partner in a trusting environment, expressing love to a family member or close friend, or expressing love to a baby, where you sound like a blithering idiot, but don't care.

Fortunately everyone comes to Summer Strings because they love music. And there was a lot of love last night, even if I totally lack the technique and drive to ever consider being a "real" conductor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bach Prelude Project

There's very little that is as rewarding for me as spending time with Bach. I tend to devote a lot of time in the summer months (for whatever reason) to making arrangements, and I'm spending this summer making string quartet arrangements of the preludes to the Bach Cello Suites. Several years ago I arranged the G major Prelude, BWV 1007, and a few days ago I finished an arrangement of the C major Prelude, BWV 1009. I just finished a first draft of the D major Prelude, BWV 1012, which is great fun to work on.

I'm putting them into the IMSLP as individual movements, but I'm planning to group them together as a set, which I will make available through my Thematic Catalog blog.

UPDATE: The project is finished! You can get all the links here.