Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Unfairness, Competition, and Self-doubt

I really enjoy reading the posts that young musicians put on Reddit. It almost makes up for the lost art of commenting in the blogosphere. The anonymous nature of the posts and replies makes it very different from other social media forums where people discuss musical matters.

Musicians usually do not go onto Reddit looking for praise for the things that they are doing in their musical lives (like they do on Facebook), but many are looking for affirmation of their abilities. Many are young people looking for some kind of support from people outside of their regular musical lives (people other than their peers and teachers). High school can be a competitive musical place. So can college. People are often evaluated unfairly, and everyone is worried about having some kind of future in music, particularly if music is their major.

I remember the unfairness. I remember the competition. I remember the sense of self doubt that permeates during early adulthood and festers throughout later adulthood.

I can't do anything in my adult life about unfairness except to do my best to be fair. And I actually think that competition among students can be a positive thing, so I don't discourage it. Nobody was better, smarter, more fearless, or more imaginative, in my experience, than the musicians I grew up with. I imagine that for most adults nobody looms as large as their contempoary childhood heroes.

When I was young I thought I was the only person who lived with a high degree of self doubt. Everyone at Juilliard seemed confident about how good they were. They talked about it all the time, and they demonstrated it in the way they played. The people who had teachers who berated them rose to the occasion and used the experience as a way to become stronger. I kind of envied those people, because my teacher, Julius Baker, never berated anyone. He also never told me what I needed to do in order to improve. He always said that I needed to find my own way.

When I told my friend Seymour Barab this, he said that he never knew that Julius Baker was such a good teacher. I could not agree. I believe that the job of a teacher of conservatory students is to teach students how to be better at playing their instruments and to help them grow as musicians.

At one point I was considering leaving Juilliard. My friends at Juilliard who had been to regular college seemed so much happier and smarter than I was at the time. My father, having seen my SAT scores, advised me to continue at Juilliard.

One day I asked my teacher if he thought I had any talent. I asked him because he always talked about how talented the other students were, but never seemed to care about what I was doing. The only way I could learn from him was to study the way he played, and try to intuit his thoughts when he taught other students during the lesson time that I thought was meant for me. I had to clear the afternoon to get a lesson, and I spent most of those afternoons listening to other students play.

My teacher's response to my question was, and I can quote, "You will say that Julius Baker gave you the best advice of your life. Go see a psychiatrist."

I took his advice immediately. I hauled myself down to the school's office, and I got a referral to a psychiatrist, one Dr. Richard Kopff (!!!) who saw Juilliard students. I had to have a diagnosis made up so that my father's insurance would cover it, so I was treated under the generic label "anxiety nervosa."

My sessions consisted of me coming in and talking about my teacher not showing up for lessons. Dr. Kopff did ask me about family things occasionally, and, since I was a young person, there was a certain amount of drama in my life to talk about. But I was pretty sure that Dr. Kopff assumed the reason my teacher didn't show up at lessons or teach me was because I didn't have any talent. I know this because I invited Dr. Kopff to come to a recital I played, after which the whole direction of our therapy changed.

I suppose the experience taught me that I did indeed have business staying in music, I didn't need a psychiatrist, and that my teacher's lack of interest in teaching me had nothing to do with my talent or lack of talent. Fortunately, during the course of my therapy (but not as a result of it) I found two friend-teachers (a flutist and a cellist) who were more than willing to make up for my teacher's inadequacy (out of the kindness of their hearts--no money was ever involved).

I believe both of them were "paying forward" musical kindnesses. I know I was extremely fortunate, and I continue to express my gratitude for what they did for me by doing what I can to help other musicians.

I actually have found my own way, but, thanks to Julius Baker, it is as a composer and as a string player who keeps a blog rather than as a flutist. I have found my own way the hard way. I am much happier now than I could ever have imagined being when I was a young adult, but it came as a result of building up my musical life from scratch ten years after graduating from Juilliard.

I did stay in touch with Julius Baker after leaving Juilliard, and I sent a tape of my violin playing to him a year or two after I started playing. He called me up to ask me why I was playing the violin. I explained why, and he said, "But you were such a good flutist." Too little too late, I say.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Leonard Rose and Leonid Hambro in 1951

My friend Danny Morganstern pointed me to this FANTASTIC recital recording from 1951, and now I'm sharing it with you. There's so much to love here.

Beethoven Sonata in D Major, Opus 102, No. 2
Debussy Sonata
Kodály Sonata, Opus 4
Brahms Sonata in F Major, Opus 99

I didn't know the Kodaly (it's not the famous solo sonata), so I enjoyed listening to the score, which you can find here.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Nuit de Vielle

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP. And you can listen to a computer-generated recording here. The percussive flute sounds on the computer-generated recording are only an approximation. Hopefully I will have a humanly-generated recording to post soon!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Little Boccherini to Brighten Your Day

My friend Danny Morganstern just put this lovely vintage recording on YouTube:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Austin Kleon's Interview with Debbie Millman

I was delighted to listen to this episode of Design Matters, because I was delighted to get to know Austin Kleon. Kleon comes a world quite familiar to me. His father taught at a state university in the midwest, and he went to a state school for college. He talks about work in a way that people in my family understand work, as a verb rather than as a noun. He has had great success, but doesn't seem to dwell on the work he has done, at least in the interview.

He talks about blogging in the interview. And he writes about blogging. His website seems to be the place he blogs, which makes sense. Austin Kleon shares traits with various people in our family (music, drawing, writing, love of kids), which is probably part of the reason for my delight.

He talks about being a parent in the interview, and I enjoyed reading this article about being a parent. You might too.

I am also willing to wager (and I'm not a betting woman) that he is an occasional reader of Michael's blog.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Holiday Music for Strings

I just finished a group of string orchestra arrangements for our Summer Strings group to play during the winter holidays, and have sent those that use material that is in the public domain to the IMSLP. You can find the arrangements with their appropriate links here.

These arrangements all have a very easy "Violin 2b" part (for violinists to be) that sits entirely in first position and is devoid of difficult rhythms and difficult bowings.

I hope that these can be put to good use!

If you would like to have access to a larger body of arrangements, please send me a email message. Tell me about your ensemble, and I’ll send you a link to acces a HUGE Dropbox folder filled with goodies.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Maybe we need a little Hannukah right now

Now that the Summer Strings season is over, I'm putting together a group of string orchestra pieces to play with our ensemble during the winter, and we are calling our project "Holiday Strings." In the usual mix of Christmas songs and Winter songs arranged for string orchestra (with easy 2b parts for violinists and violists "to be"), I have included my 2009 song, "Hannukah Latkes."

When I wrote the words and music back in 2009, my intention was to be light-hearted and celebratory, but with a core of seriousness:
Oh give me
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

Hannukah candles
lots of candles
eight bright nights of
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
candles burning bright.

Eight days of oil, (and latkes!)
Eight days of oil, (and donuts!)
Eight days of oil, (and dreydle!

Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

Ages of strife,
Ages of strength,
Ages of faith,
Ages of life,


Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

But ten years ago was a very different time. Now "our people" means something different to me. It means something larger than a historical group of Jewish people struggling to maintain their way of life. I now think of American people of all "stripes" who are threatened by the random actions of mass murderers armed with assault weapons (and that is all and any of us) who are spurred on by the elected leader of the country.

"Our people," in this song, now means "We the People" to me.

Many of us were tricked into believing that this president, if elected, wouldn't do anything to truly destroy our way of life. But that assumption is looking "wronger" every day that this narcissistic trickster is in office. Every day brings another blow to the dignity that built this country and the strides we have made since the Civil War. Every day brings another blow the dignity that we built since McCarthyism and the fight for civil rights. Every day we live under the "rule" of this president is an assault on morality. It is difficult to be hopeful about the future. It is difficult to even imagine the future.

I don't believe that history actually repeats itself. But the present does mirror the past. And as mirrors go sometimes things are rendered backwards or inverted.

The Maccabees, if I understand the story correctly, were a small band of Jewish people who had to defend themselves in order to practice their religion. Looking in the mirror of history, what we have now are a small number of people (most republican members of congress, people who serve at the pleasure of the president (his staff), television and talk radio personalities and their employing executives, a relatively small number people who have positioned themselves to believe that they will reap rewards from the financial activities of this administration, a relatively small number of mean-spirited people who embrace racist ideology (for whatever reasons), and people who believe that their constitutional right to own a gun means that their ownership of weapons of war gives them power.

As we see on what seems like an almost daily basis, these people, spurred on by the triggering tweets that are fed to them every day by a person who is in a position of great power, feel they have a right to use those weapons of war on their fellow human beings. And then there are the (perhaps) hypnotized and (certainly) deluded followers who watch the television shows and celebrate the tweets who don't consider themselves to be racist or xenophobic.

But the villains are the people in power who allow weapons of war to be used by anyone who can buy them. This can't go on.
Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

This was going through my head constantly while working on this arrangement. And it gives me the strength to fight back, so I'm sharing it here today.

God help us all.

Monday, August 05, 2019

A few words from A. H. Sidgwick

At the start this coat was a glorious thing to face the world in: now it is merely an outer skin. At the start this stick was mine: now it is myself.
The passage from Sidgwick's Walking Essays made me think of his coat being, for me, like my instrument, and his stick being, for me, like my bow. First the bow was mine, and now it is myself.

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, not being a string player, had other purposes though.
When it is all over the coat will go back to the cupboard and the curved suspensor, and the shirts and stockings will go to the wash, to resume conventional form and texture, and take their place in the humdrum world. But the stick will stand in the corner unchanged, with mellowed memories of the miles we went together, with every dent upon it recalling the austerities of the high hills, and every tear in its bark reminding me of the rocks of the Gable and Bowfell. And in the darkest hours of urban depression I will sometimes take out that dog's-eared map and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that once I was a free man on the hills, and sang the Seventh Symphony to the sheep on Wetherlam.
I imagine that this could have of been the passage that he sang to the sheep.

Just a hunch.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Ben, Barack, and Bell

Ben introduces archival WGBH video footage of Harvard student Barack Obama introducing Derrick Bell.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Up-bow Staccato, Down-bow Staccato, Paganini 5, and Locatelli 6

After having such a great time working through the different editions of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are in the IMSLP, I decided to look at the Paganini Caprices. My special goal was to play the Fifth Caprice with the bowing indicated in my edition in every measure. The indicated bowing: three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, and then four down-bow staccato notes followed by four up-bow staccato notes, works beautifully for some measures, but it is clumsy and awkward in others.

Needless to say, I have failed at all my attempts towards consistency, so my only option is to do what feels most natural and most musical.

Paganini indicated a regular bowing of three down-bow staccato notes followed by an up-bow to be repeated throughout, which is easier on the brain (though not the arm) than doing the mixed bowing:

[click on the images for a larger view]

It was printed beautifully in the first edition:

but there is a little ambiguity about whether the second half of each measure has the same bowing as the first half:

The second edition, published by Ricordi in 1836, ignored the manuscript and the ambiguity presented in the first edition, and went for four staccato notes per bow in either direction:

The ambiguity in the first edition festered in later editions like this one from Breitkopf and Härtel:

This edition offered options:

And the more "modern" editions made the bowing that works sometimes, but not always to the best musical end, the rule.

This one was edited by Carl Flesch around 1900:

and this edition from 1922 was edited by Emil Kross

And now we get to the Locatelli part of this post. The Locatelli D major Cello Sonata is one of the most charming baroque pieces for cello. Here's the Allegro movement played by my friend Daniel Morganstern:

But we now know, thanks to the work of the librarians at the IMSLP, that the piece was originally written in 1740 as a chamber sonata for violin and continuo, and then transcribed as a virtuoso cello piece by Alfredo Piatti. Piatti's transcription begins with the Allegro of the original.

If you look at the image of the score below, you will see why I'm including this piece in a discussion about up-bow and down-bow staccato. I don't believe those chains of dots and slurs are bowing indications, but I could see why someone would!

Here's what Piatti did with the indications that look like the way people in the 19th century indicated the staccato stroke:

Anybody who has ever put bow to string would consider it awkward to play the charming opening phrase as a staccato passage, particularly at the not-so-speedy tempo that the harmonic rhythm of the piece suggests. Danny, being a naturally intuitive musician as well as a great cellist, ignored what Piatti interpreted as a bowing indication, and bowed it normally to give it a "gallant" feeling. I imagine that Piatti, who, like Paganini, wrote a set of Caprices, saw this as an opportunity to give cellists the technical challenge of trying to play lyrical passages of sixteenth notes with a good sound while bouncing the notes upwards and downwards across the bow.

Maybe they should spend their time practicing Paganini's Caprice No. 5 for that!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

All Night Long

Basil Deardon's 1962 adaption of Shakespeare's Othello is set in an all-night-long party in London to honor the wedding anniversary of Aurelius Rex and Delia Lane, Othello and Desdemona, respectively (and respectfully). If Verdi's Otello takes Shakespeare's English play that is set in Venice (and Cyprus) back to Venice, screenwriters Nel King and Paul Jarrico take the Boito/Verdi Otello opera, and bring it back to England. The action takes place in a tower-like building in London, and high-profile musicians take the place of courtiers.

All the principal actors play their roles as if they were the personalities in the Shakespeare play, making the politics and power struggles in music truly close "cousins." The quotation marks around cousins refer to the "Iago" character Johnny Cousins, who is a drummer and a band leader. He's the person throwing the party.

I will give no spoilers regarding plot, but if you know your Shakespeare, you will appreciate the way characters translate into a group of American musicians and their supporters who might be on tour in London.

The music was excellent. The first musician we meet is Charles Mingus, comfortably playing himself and his bass (he says that he is the first one to arrive and the last to leave). Then other musicians pour into the two-story loft with private rooms upstairs, and a roof that looks over the Thames. The staging is very Shakespearian. All the action takes place within the tower and happens in the span of a couple of hours.

Rex has a lot of Duke Ellington in him, and Rex = King is obvious. Here he is on the roof with the Thames behind him, looking very Venetian:

Here he is playing some Ellington on the piano:

So we have Paul Harris playing the character of Othello filling a role that might be considered analogous to that of Duke Ellington in the Jazz world of 1962.

Here's Rex in the loft with Delia (played by Marti Stevens), a singer who put aside her high-profile career to be Rex's wife:

The musicians asked her to sing "All Night Long," her signature song. Here's a closer shot:

And Patrick McGoohan, who plays the hell out of the drums and hell out of the Johnny/Iago character does some "work" on some tape as well.

Dave Brubeck is featured, along with other musicians who play in different configurations. In addition to Mingus and Brubeck (who play together for a bit), the other musicians who play themselves are Bert Courtley, Keith Christie, Ray Dempsey, Allan Ganley, Tubby Hayes, Barry Morgan, Kenny Napper, Colin Purbrook, and John Scott (who is an excellent flutist). The only time you don't hear the music is when a scene is on the roof or in one of the upstairs rooms when the door is closed.

I was as impressed with the set as I was with the music, the script, the direction, and the acting. Here's a shot of some of the artwork in the loft:

And we can't forget the square-looking music business executives who are at the party:

You can see the full cast listing from the IMDB. And if you have the Criterion Channel, you can stream it from there!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Musical Dynasties

I came across an interesting article by Jeffrey Arlo Brown in Friction concerning the barriers to success that not coming from a musical family poses. The title of the article, "On Being a First Generation Classical Musician," echoes the perceived stigma of being the first person in a family to go to college. My parents, grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe, were the first generation in both of their families to go to college. It was part of the "American Dream," and college was available and affordable to people who worked hard in high school and lived at home. I don't recall an option for college when I was growing up other than "where."

My father looked at my SAT scores (results from a test I took without preparation in the beginning of my junior year of high school) and said it was a good thing I was going to music school. I really wanted to go to Oberlin where I hoped I could enter through the conservatory and make my way into the college. I got into the conservatory, but not the college. I spent the bulk of my teenage years practicing, which was not an unusual thing to do in my family.

I probably got into Juilliard because of my parents. They didn't do anything, but my father had a prominent position as a principal in one of the big five American orchestras, and my mother had studied flute with the teacher I wanted to study with. He always liked her name: June Blume. So I got in.

There were certainly "legacies" at Juilliard like the Rostropovich daughters, the Barere daughters, and the Greitzer daughters, but the majority of successful students at Juilliard had parents who were not connected with music. Their parents supported them by giving them good instruments, driving them to lessons, and making sure that they practiced. These are parents who instilled a work ethic in their children, applying the same "rules" that applied in the extra-musical world to a musical one.

When I was a teenage flutist I used to marvel at the way my great friend Liz Mann's parents used to support her musical activities. Liz's mother played a little piano, but she was a business person. Her father was too. Liz, who was extraordinarily talented and capable, grew up in an environment where "work ethic" was key. And that got translated into cultivating relationships. Her parents loved the fact that her daughter was friends with the child of a local musical celebrity. I was happy that Liz was my friend because she was a lovely person and a terrific musician. She was clearly from a higher economic class than I could ever imagine being in, so her possibilities for a future in music were not hampered by the usual practical things that get in the way, like having to get a job outside of music in order to pay the rent.

Jeffrey Arlo Brown asserts that people from musical families have an easier time with things like ear training. I don't think so. Everyone without absolute pitch struggles with the "training" part of ear training. But the struggle to know whether people like you because you are the child of someone "important" or whether you are a good person is real. And the constant questions about whether you measure up in musicianship and ability compared to your well-supported peers are real. And those struggles last for a lifetime.

I do have advantages. I know "from good." I heard it from infancy. My musical standards will always be high because they always have been high. And occasionally (though rarely) I live up to them. My official teachers haven't always been the best, but I have had the wherewithal to recognize people to learn from unofficially (i.e. friends). My business skills are terrible. Perhaps if I grew up with parents who taught me how to "network," I would have a commercially successful career. I have known people who are now in high places in the established hierarchies of the larger musical world, but I would never take advantage of those friendships and ask for favors. My built-in inferiority mechanism always takes precedence, because, like I mentioned above, I know from good.

So I would say to Jeffrey Arlo Brown that the advantages for me of growing up in a family of professional musicians were hanging out backstage at Tanglewood when I was a kid, thereby acquiring the skills of being able to enter any stage door and look like I belong (when I was a student I got into lots of concerts this way). The big advantage now of coming from a musical family is being able to talk with my father about the nuts and bolts of music, like the difficult passages in any given viola part. When I wrote CD reviews for the American Record Guide, I gave him a subscription to the magazine. He used to read the reviews I wrote, and he would call to discuss them with me. That was the best thing about writing reviews: it provided a way for me to communicate with my father. I love the fact that I can send him recordings of music I write with the score. Sometimes he has helpful and/or favorable things to say, and that means the world to me. And, thanks to his generosity, I have always had good instruments.

But, personalities aside, the advantages pretty much stop there. I have seen the ugly part of the professional classical music world for my whole life. I have never seen the classical music world as being safe from corruption, where dissonances resolve, and everyone is an "artist." It is a world filled with unfairness, pettiness, jealousy, lust, power, ego, ego, personal insecurity, more ego, disappointment, short-lived success, false hope, delusion, fakery, self promotion, rivalries, injuries, neuroses, and financial insecurity.

If you come from any other type of family, you can avoid expending the kind of extra emotional attention I do when new "creatures" from the underbelly of the musical world are exposed in the national news for their predatory behavior. I know people connected with almost all of them. And I know many more who haven't been exposed.

From Jeffrey Arlo Brown's perspective the grass over here looks greener, but I believe that the successful people he mentions in his article are outliers and exceptions.

Sometimes parents of students tell me that they have no idea where their child's interest in music comes from. I tell them that most children are musical, and I praise them for allowing that aspect of their child's life to flourish. I believe with all my heart that parents who support a child's interest in music contribute a great deal to the musical success of that child. And it doesn't matter whether the supporting parents are musicians or not. The guy in the article who was dancing the Hora around Jeffrey Kahane (Leonard Bernstein) was a first-generation musician who had to sneak behind his father's back to take piano lessons, but he had a mother who was proud of all her children, for whatever they did.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Lucien Capet's 1915 Edition of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas

I have been spending this summer exploring the various editions of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are available in the IMSLP. There is much to be learned about violin playing, about tradition, about musical phrasing, and about Bach from all of them, but the most fascinating one for me is the 1915 publication edited by Lucien Capet.

Since Lucien Capet taught both Ivan Galamian and *Jascha Brodsky, he is often referred to as the "grandfather of modern violin playing." But musical generations do not fit into the 30-year format of family generations, so we have some great-grandfathering going on as well.

Here's Capet's soulful opening note, with a google-translate-aided translation (click for a larger view):

Without wishing to dwell on the complexity of the elements constituting in my opinion as an artist in general, or a musician in particular, I desire nevertheless to attract the greatest attention of the students and the aspirants to the violinist's noble task (called to translate through his soul and his technique, the sublime works of the Great Creators) on the important role played by the bow in the art of violin; it is necessary to consider the role of the right hand with respect to the left hand, like that of the soul vis-à-vis the body; the correctness and precision of the mechanism of the left hand is the physical balance in the human body. It is therefore necessary above all, to be strengthened in the detailed study of this mechanism before undertaking the superior technique of the bow, which later puts at the disposal of the soul of the artist, the multiple manifestations of feelings and human aspirations provoked by intimate interaction with the works of the great creators.

This role is, of course, one of the noblest to which a human being can claim; and the deep joys mingled with the infinite consolations that it has given me, give rise in me to the desire to communicate the means that I have used myself to put the Soul of the String player at the service of Art.
Then comes the division of the bow (he wrote a whole book on the bow, which is available only in some countries through the IMSLP, and only in German).

The fingerings and bowings are really creative, and it's great fun to try them out. It's a drastically different take on Bach, using positions and harmonics that Bach would have never dreamed of using. Many of Capet's ideas didn't make their way into Galamian's Bach edition. If you are a violinist you will certainly enjoy trying out the last line of this passage from the B minor Partita:

(I had no idea that there even was a natural harmonic B up there on the G string!) Now go and download the whole thing! Let me know what you think in the comments!

* July 25th Update: Brodsky's lecherous past is all over the internet today.