Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Going nuts over Tarquinio Merula

Proper Discord just posted this wonderful video of Maria (sopra la Carpinese) by Tarquinio Merula (c.1594-1665). If, like me, you want more, listen to this (the video is fuzzy, but the sound is clear once the music starts). La Lusignuola performed by the Flanders Recorder Quartet is another total Merula treat that you won't want to miss.

The Petrucci Library has some Merula, but it is all in original printed editions (yup, from the 17th century).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Violin Position Finder

Some people use sticker strips to help beginner fingers find their way to the places that pitches lie on the violin (or the viola or the cello), and some people use colorful stickers. I find that beginners who have white sticker strips on their fingerboards tend to look at their fingers rather than pay attention to how the instrument feels in their hands when the first finger is in the proper position.

My answer is to put a little round sticker at the point where the thumb rests in first position. The student can feel if s/he is in the right place with the thumb. The ear then reinforces the place that the hand needs to be. The fingerboard also does not get gummed up with stickers and stars, and the fingers learn to feel one another while measuring half steps and whole steps from the first finger. The student, paying attention to both the first finger and the thumb has a strong point of reference from the beginning.

I just started doing this a few months ago, so I haven't yet observed the benefits of early thumb awareness when it comes to shifting positions. I'm excited to find out. I imagine it will make learning to shift a great deal easier.

Musical Timeline

Michael Scott Cuthbert's timeline for early music is a fantastic way to put early music (at least from the first notated music to the year 1610 in Europe) in its place in relative time and space. If you click on the links, you get a 30-second sound sample. I'm certainly planning to check back from time to time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Playing House with Classical Forms

A few years ago I wrote a post concerning my checkered history in relation to musical forms. Before I knew what they were, I dismissed them as superficial. I had no idea the kind of power that organized patterns of repetition had in making a piece of music into something other than a collection of melodies and harmonies. I thought that form was taught to students because it was something that could be taught. I thought that thinking about form would remove the "mystery" in the music that I found so attractive. I was so terribly wrong. There is a great deal more mystery in the observation of mastery, especially after you have tried hand at composing music in traditional forms yourself.

It wasn't until I started teaching students about form that I learned to have a deep appreciation for form and its organizing qualities. I have developed an even deeper appreciation for the ways that great composers have been able to manipulate them, and my appreciation and fascination continues to grow. Perhaps one of the things that makes a great composer great is his or her ability to use form to great advantage. Learning to understand and appreciate a great piece of music (at least from the 18th and 19th centuries) has become, for me, learning to understand and appreciate the way the composer has organized the musical materials into the cosy and familiar forms that were in common use.

A person's reaction to musical form can be analogous to a person's reaction to a house. It may be attractive from the street, from the outside. You could spend your whole life appreciating a beautiful house from its exterior, and perhaps its yard. I spent a great deal of my life looking at music from the outside. During my musical travels, I have found that a great many performing musicians only look at the houses and yards of music.

When you step inside that house and see how the rooms are organized, the house has more meaning, even a house with the normal array of rooms and the addition of a finished basement and a sun porch. When you look at the woodwork, and the quality of building materials, the location of the house in relation to natural light, it gains even more meaning. If the house has built-in secret passages, dumb-waiters, and back staircases, or false bookcases that turn into doors that lead to hidden rooms, it becomes all the more exciting.

If the infrastructure (like the plumbing, electricity, and heating) is inventive, practical, and functional, you know that the house would be a comfortable place to live (this would be analogous to the playability of the piece). Then you get to the furnishings and the lighting, things that can change from owner to owner (and, of course, is analogous to the interpretation of the piece by various people over time). When you go back outside, and look at the house from the street, your experience is different. Completely different.

It is the same with music, and with only a little bit of information you can become an "insider" when listening to a piece of music. Using a score helps, but you can also follow forms from simply listening. Actually it is not "simply" listening: as soon as you start to pay attention, it becomes close listening.

Once you get the hang of it, it is fun to compare Mozart's development sections with Haydn's (before and after Mozart discovered the Haydn Opus 33 quartets), and with Beethoven's. It is fun to look at the way Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann (just for a start) used the various forms. Eventually the results of careful observation can clue you into a bit of understanding of the real individual genius of each composer, as well as what each saw in the other(s). It is fun to look at the way these composers treated the form of the Minuet, and observe how seemingly simple elements can render so much variety. It is fun to see just how complicated a Rondo can be, or how closely it can approach Sonata Form and still be considered a Rondo. Variation form is a world unto itself.

I think that being able to follow the logic of a movement written in any of the classical forms does a great deal to increase intelligence, or at least increase attention span and engagement in the elements at play in a piece of music.

Perhaps this is the real "Mozart Effect." It is in the act of paying attention to something over time that we increase our ability to observe and identify patterns. It is rewarding at every level, from the simple division of a piece into sections. You can label them A, B, C, "First Theme," "Second Theme," "Transition," "Development," and so on, or you can make up your own names (perhaps proper names, colors, temperatures, textures, flavors, animals). Children are as adept at this kind of observation as adults, but perhaps they can be more creative about it because they are children. There is no reason that creative thinking has to be abandoned after childhood, and there is nothing barring any music-loving person from entering into the interior of a piece of music. We all just need to keep our ears open, and allow our jaws to drop from time to time, while our minds expand.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Isn't odd that the first definition for the word "discipline" in Merriam-Webster is punishment? And that the second definition for the verb involves "self-control?"

Somewhere on its path from its obsolete definition as "instruction," discipline has become a word that carries negative connotations. Children who misbehave are disciplined. (Isn't that an odd sentence?)

Our college-student son Ben observed that all through elementary school and high school students are encouraged to keep quiet in class, and then when they get to college they are encouraged to speak out--to participate in class discussions. Maintaining "discipline" in a grade school classroom has everything to do with separating order from chaos, so students can give the impression of being "disciplined" by being quiet in class. That doesn't mean that the are actually learning anything. It just means that at some point they have learned that being quiet in class will not get them into trouble. Perhaps that is one reason that getting college students to participate in class discussions seems, at times, to be as difficult as pulling teeth.

I think that most people desire to have some kind of discipline in their lives, but our odd and constantly-changing culture gives us conflicting cues concerning where to "find" it. Some people seek out discipline in religion, which very often results in various forms of restriction, depending on the religion. Some religions offer eternal punishment in exchange for not following the rules. Some people seek out the hierarchical world of the military to instill discipline in their lives. It often works well on the physical level (you need to be fit, follow rules, and do what you are told to do). Technical jobs also require discipline, and working with people who are careful in their work will help apprentices learn to be disciplined in their work. When it comes to fixing a car properly, keeping quiet is not what it takes to accomplish the job.

We need discipline in order to organize our lives, but, since it's a "dirty" word, we give it all sorts of other names. Time management is a "gentle" name that seems to work for many people. Organizing our time effectively takes discipline. Making "to-do" lists to organize the chaos of our lives (and a life without discipline is chaotic) and writing books about organization has become a whole industry. The rewards of time management are many, but I believe the biggest reward for practicing time management is the development of discipline.

Since my middle teens, my life has been organized around practicing. It is something that I do every day, and it is a time when I can use discipline to build technique, learn music, and grow as an expressive musician. When I tell people that I practice technique for an hour every day, they marvel at my self-discipline. It is not self-discipline that makes it possible for me to practice technique, it is practicing technique that allows me to have more self-discipline (not to mention better intonation, cleaner articulation, and a better sound).

Isn't it odd that, according to Merriam-Webster, self-discipline seems to have had its first English use as a noun in 1838? Perhaps there was no need for the term before 1838 (a big year in publishing and in telecommunications). Perhaps before 1838 (and the development of the distractions that now permeate our daily lives) self-discipline was just something that people needed to have in order to accomplish the tasks set before them, and it didn't need to have a name.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leonard Rose: America's Golden Age and Its First Cellist

My long-awaited copy of Steven Honigberg's biography of Leonard Rose (1918-1984) finally arrived. Thanks to my life-long cellist friend Danny Morganstern, who introduced me to Leonard Rose's recordings more than 30 years ago, I know a great deal about Leonard Rose. Perhaps "know" is not the best word, because as a person Rose was quite enigmatic. I learned to love Rose's playing, and I learned to admire him as a teacher and as a person of solid musical character, but there is much that could never understand about the man, even after reading transcriptions of the unpublished memoir material (that Rose dictated onto tapes shortly before his death).

The great challenge of writing a first biography is to gather accurate primary material, and put it in an order that makes sense to a reader in search of information. Honigberg uses material from Rose's dictated memoir, and offers ample and accurate first-person accounts that describe Rose as a person, a teacher, a cellist, a colleague, a spouse, and a father. Honigberg does a good job of describing the musical times Rose enjoyed during the middle decades of the 20th century, a time that can truly be called a "golden age" of American Music. Honigberg serves as a bearer and organizer of information, much of it about cellists, violinists, and conductors as well as about Rose himself. As a former student of Leonard Rose, Honigberg is, perhaps, a little too close to offer solutions to the riddles that the "record" provides. He leaves that task to the reader.

This biography has an extensive index and more than 100 pages of appendices and end notes, which makes the book a very useful reference work, but the real gem for me is a recording of cello concertos by Peter Menin (made in 1956) and Alan Shulman (made in 1950) that is tucked into the back cover. These were pieces written for Leonard Rose, and the recordings come from concert performances.

The Mennin Cello Concerto is difficult. It sounds difficult--like a fight between the cellist and the music. The cellist does win out, and he emerges heroic in the extremely exciting perpetual motion of the last movement, but his victory is hard won. I'm not surprised that this piece remained unplayed for so many years (Janos Starker finally made a published edition of it in 2003). I imagine that many of today's young cellists in search of challenging (really challenging) repertoire might find this to be exactly the kind of piece they can use to "wow" audiences.

The Shulman Concerto, written in 1948, is a completely different kettle of fish. It is a case of idealism on the part of the composer and the cellist, with each one trying to do the other justice by reaching just a little higher than either (both perfectionists) would normally reach. I have heard just about every recording made by Leonard Rose, and I have heard a good deal of Shulman's music. This concerto recording is, I believe, some of the best work by either the cellist or the composer. It is certainly one of the best cello concertos written in the 20th century. I hope that, once people hear it, the piece can take what I believe as its rightful place as the 20th-Century American Cello concerto. Shulman was a brilliant composer and a superb orchestrator, who truly knew how best to flatter the solo cello voice. Perhaps it was because he was a first rate cellist himself. The piece is, in many ways, "about" the cello, and the piece is, in many ways "about" Shulman, but most of all it is "about" music and all of its (tonal and modal) possibilities.

I had the tremendous honor of listening to this recording in 1979 with Alan Shulman at his home in Scarsdale, New York. I loved it then, but I was so young that I find it hard to believe I would have been able to hear beyond the very surface of the piece. Listening to it now, 30 years later, I understand a little bit more about what makes truly great music great, and what happens when a truly phenomenal instrumentalist puts forward the effort to project the greatness he or she knows is in a piece of new music. This is document that eloquently marks the meeting of two extraordinary musical minds and souls, and may prove to be Rose's greatest legacy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Good Writing Can Accomplish

This is a photograph of one of President Obama's early speeches on health care reform (in progress).

This is what good speech writing (and a huge amount of very hard work by a lot of people) can accomplish. Health care reform is now signed into law.

UPDATE: Make sure to read Michael's analysis of the revisions made to the speech that is shown in the top picture!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Rehearsal with Bernstein

It is fascinating to watch and hear Leonard Bernstein teach this piece to young people:

The Rite of Spring, revisited

This 5-year-old kid obviously knows what is happening when in the music, and he has mastered that detached down-to-business conductor-like look (I wonder who he got it from Salonen, perhaps? Certainly not Gergiev), but nothing in real life tops the way he (unintentionally) ends his two and a half minutes on the step-stool podium (scroll forward to 2:10 and watch until the end).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lyrichord in the Pod

I am not a Pod person, and I will probably never listen to music through an iPod. I rely too much on the tangible CD, and I simply have too many of them to even dream of uploading them into my (already disorganized) iTunes). I'm not crazy about hauling around a portable CD player and replacing its batteries, but it doesn't bother me enough to change my ways.

The people at Lyrichord were kind enough to send me CD versions of their series of podcasts, which have been a pleasure for me to hear on my 40-minute walks (by way of my portable CD player). It is also possible to listen to the podcasts through a computer, but it is, after all, the beginning of spring.

Nick Fritsch, the President of Lyrichord, and his friend, the countertenor Jeffrey Dooley have arranged the early music (Medieval through late Baroque) portion of the vast Lyrichord library into distinct instrumental and vocal categories. Their podcasts are set up like musically-illustrated radio interviews, where Dooley, who knows a great deal about 16th, 17th, and 18th-century music, gives a great deal of information about the music that is played on each of the shows. It seems that there is about 20 minutes of talk, and about 25 minutes of music in each podcast. The musical selections are all relatively short, so they can be played in their entirety. What I particularly like is that much of the music on the podcasts comes from the beginning of the early music "revival" in New York during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, which was a very exciting time for musicians and for record companies. I'm very grateful that Lyrichord has reissued many of the LPs that taught me to love early music when I was a teenager.

There are three terrific shows devoted to countertenors (a subject that Jeffrey Dooley knows a great deal about, being a great countertenor himself), a show about the lute that features recordings made by Joseph Iadone, a self-taught lutenist who began playing the instrument when one was handed to him by Paul Hindemith in a class at Yale. There is a whole series of "hammered and plucked" discussions that reveal far more about harpsichords, harpsichord-like instruments, and harpsichordists than I ever knew (or even imagined). Three of their podcasts are devoted to the baroque period in general, because they just have so many fine recordings of so much music, both known and obscure.

The only podcasts that did not impress me were the ones devoted to the baroque flute and the recorder, and there are a few moments of misinformation here and there that make me cringe (Dooley repeatedly says that Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti died the same year, when I'm sure he knows that they were all BORN the same year), but there are disproportionately more moments of enlightened and enlightening thought that make up for the little gaffes. It reflects editorial honesty to leave them in.

I think that this podcast series is a great way to open up the contents of Lyrichord's huge library, as well as introduce people new to listening to classical music to many of the lesser-known gems of the Baroque Period. I also imagine that these could be of great help to music appreciation students. I'm certainly going to share the link to the podcast page with mine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Concert of Music by 19th, 20th, and 21st Century Women

Due to an unfortunate encounter yesterday between John David's left hand and a pane of glass, our concert that was scheduled for this Sunday, March 21st, of music by Amanda Maier, Germaine Tailleferre, Louise Farrenc, Lili Boulanger, Mel Bonis, and me (proudly representing the first decade of the 21st century), has been rescheduled for Saturday, April 10th at 3:00 at the Tarble Arts Center in Charleston, IL (same place, same time, different day).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vegan Hamantaschen in 30 minutes!

Like so many of my recipes, the evidence vanishes before I even think of taking a picture! The above picture comes from Beer & Nosh, and the cookies look just like mine (though they use a silpat instead of parchment paper). The folks at B & N have some terrific filling ideas. I used what was in the fridge!

[Click here for a picture of some I made after writing this post.]

This dough recipe makes 16 to 18 cookies and uses one cookie tray. The only odd ingredient is parchment paper, which is an absolute necessity for making these cookies properly (you won't have to clean up stray jam goo from your cookie sheet). I like the fact that the ingredients in the dough, with the exception of the salt, descend in a ratio of two to one.

In order to make these cookies in 30 minutes, you need to locate a rolling pin and a glass to serve as a cookie cutter (I use a wine glass that is 3" in diameter), and get some jam jars out of the fridge. My favorite jam to work with is "simply fruit" (apricot and raspberry) because it seems to have a high amount of pectin. If you have a little spoon (you know, the kind you use with espresso), that would be helpful. Otherwise a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon will do.

Ready, set, go! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, cut a piece of parchment paper and place it on your cookie sheet.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 T soy milk (or a little more, or a little less, depending on the weather)
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
Mix all the ingredients with a spoon, adding the soymilk last, a bit at a time, and knead the dough for two or three minutes until it is smooth. Roll it out on a floured board so that it is fairly thin, and cut 16 to 18 circles.

Put 1/4 teaspoon of jam (no more than that!) in the middle of each circle, fold the dough into a nice 3-cornered hat shape, pinch the edges together well, and put each cookie onto your parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet. These cookies do not rise very much, so you can put them fairly close together. And you can eat the remaining bits of raw dough: it doesn't have any eggs or baking powder!

Pop them in the oven, and after 15 minutes or so (15 minutes is enough in my oven--the dough should have just a hint of gold in it) take them out. Use what remains of your 30-minute time period to let them cool, and then share them with someone you love.

N.B. Some people refrigerate their cookie dough before rolling it. I find that when I use oil rather than butter (or a butter substitute) in cookie dough, refrigeration doesn't make any difference at all in the way the dough handles or tastes.

2022 UPDATE !

If you want to try something fun and different for Purim, try this recipe with an oatmeal twist. It can easily be veganized by substituting unflavored oil for the butter and a flax mixture for the eggs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Green Music

It seems that the music "industry" in Britain has a rather large carbon footprint. Perhaps people interested in things environmentally-friendly could consider that live small-scale classical music concerts are really quite ecological. Programs can printed on recycled paper with recycled ink, and they can either be recycled or saved after the concert is over. Only a modest lighting system is needed for chamber music concerts, and in a proper concert hall there is no need for amplification (singers with voices developed as instruments to project don't need to use microphones). It is also much greener to heat and cool a cozy concert hall than it is to heat and cool a huge arena-style performance space. With the number of highly-qualified chamber music groups around, you could hold several smaller concerts played by the same ensemble without putting that much more carbon into the atmosphere. An added environmental bonus is that when smaller groups of musicians go on tour, they often travel in one or two cars, rather than on a tour bus.

Just think about the amount of excellent music we have that was written, published, performed (all over the place), and taught before the days of electricity, or even indoor plumbing.

N.B. I HATE the idea of music being referred to as an "industry," and I refuse to even write it without the protection of quotation marks!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The guy who plays Mr. Bean "plays" music by Mr. Beethoven


There are too many discussion on line (by musicians as well as by non-musicians) criticizing the formality of classical music concerts. People claim that it is the formal protocol that keeps new audiences out of the concert hall because they are afraid that they won't be able to "play their part" properly.

Last night I went to a school board meeting where awards were being given to a group of between 20 and 30 grade school students (awards having something to do with being kind, which I found kind of touching). After the superintendent called out each name, the audience applauded. Michael whispered to me, "they should wait until all the names are called." A man in front of him turned around to say that he was thinking the same thing, and the people in the audience clapped politely, while many of them, I'm sure, wished that some kind of protocol had been set.

Next came awards for the members of the high school speech team who went to the state competition. The superintendent called one name, and the audience applauded politely. Then the student walked all the way up to the podium (the meeting was held in a rather large auditorium), silently collected the certificate,and walked back. This happened three times. Three students returned to their seats in awkward silence. I wondered if some kind of protocol had been established for the elementary school kids, the audience would have changed their applause pattern for the high school awardees, saving their applause for the transfer of the certificate and, perhaps, a handshake between the awarder and the awardee.

The audience was then given the pleasure of watching a verse reading by one of the state finalists, who gave a brilliant performance. The audience applauded wildly after he was finished, and we applauded him after he left the stage (I wanted him to take a second bow, and I imagine that I was not alone). They understood that bit of protocol: a person performs, the piece is finished, and that's when you applaud.

Anyone going to a classical music concert can do a google search for "concert protocol" and find out when it is appropriate to applaud. It is perfectly fine to write a note in the program that reads "please hold your applause until the end of the piece." You could put it in the same place in the program that asks you to refrain from using flash photography during a performance. The Canticle Singers offers a very clear set of guidelines for concert protocol.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bohlen Pierce Scale

The Boston Globe had an article a few days ago about the Bohlen-Pierce scale that includes a demonstration played on a Bohlen-Pierce scale clarinet. Once the pitches are sounded a few times, the music doesn't really sound that "out of tune" to my very western ears, but if I were asked to sing the scale in tune, or duplicate it on the violin, I know that I wouldn't be able to do it by ear. I am able to play quarter tones, when necessary, but there are ways to use technical means to assure they are in the right places when playing the instruments I play (string and flute-like instruments).

I have always wondered if western musicians who write microtonal music and play alternative-scale instruments can sing "in tune," without the help of a specially-designed instrument, within those systems.

Has anyone reading this wondered the same thing? Can anyone (who doesn't have perfect pitch) explain how a person with only a western musical background could sing microtonal or alternative-scale music accurately.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Moment of Kaye

Be sure to notice Danny Kaye's fine fiddle faking beginning at around 4:20!

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Werner Icking Music Archive Is Back!

Thanks to very hard work on the part of Christian Mondrup (the editor of the WIMA), an IT company in Arhus, Denmark, and Massimo Capozza, the owner of Choralia (a site that provides training aids for choral singers), who is also the IT manager for CPDL (Choral Public Domain Library,) the Werner Icking Music Archive is now living on a server in sunny California. If the first link doesn't take you to the WIMA, this one will. (The normal link will take a while to reach every server.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Patricia Travers

The New York Times refers to Patricia Travers as the "violinist who vanished" in her obituary. She grew up in a world where there was a great deal of competition and a great deal of audience support. She had the advantage of having a great fiddle, a great deal of family support, and she got a chance to be in the movies.

It is a shame that her 1951 Ives recording was never re-released. Perhaps Sony (who I believe holds the rights for CBS recordings) will reissue it.

Making a career in the musical world as a grown-up is difficult. It is especially difficult for soloists, and was especially difficult for woman during much of the 20th century. Critics had far too much power, and some seemed to pride themselves on ruining careers. Managers also had far too much power over musicians.

Not being able to get concerts is as good a reason as any to "vanish," even if you don't mean to. Consider the case of Michael Rabin (be sure to scroll down to the article posted by Michael Waiblinger). Competence and passion do not necessarily breed lasting success in the musical world. Success in the musical world as a child does not give anyone a ticket to success as an adult, but I believe that it is terribly unfair to compare a grown-up child prodigy unfavorably to the way s/he played as a child. That child probably gave up a large part of his or her childhood for your pleasure.

She reminds me a little of the young Leila Josefowicz (who is nine in this video).

Now we have people playing Mendelssohn at 5 and Sarasate at 6. I wonder what the future will hold for this amazingly-competent violinist. I hope that she gets a great education and remains a musician out of choice. Who knows what kind of a world she will experience as an adult.

Happy 90th Birthday, Ray Still

Oboists from all over the world will be flocking to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois this coming week for Ray Still's 90th Birthday Celebration. WFMT FM (98.7 in Chicago) will begin their part of the celebration tomorrow (March 8) by devoting a lot of air time to Still's orchestral, chamber and solo recordings. They will end the week with a two-hour audio documentary about his musical life on March 12, his actual 90th birthday.

Those of us who live outside of the 98.7 listening area can listen online. Still will be co-hosting a program from 10-12, and the documentary will be on from 1:00 to 3:00 American Midwestern time.

Ray Still is a marvelous musician and a wonderful human being who enjoyed a fantastic career in music. I hope that people far and wide will listen in and enjoy this celebration.

In addition to the radio program, Ray Still will be giving a free masterclass on the 11th of March at Roosevelt University from 2:00-4:30, and another in Evanston on the 15th (the Ides of March) which you can get information about here. Admission to the concert held in his honor that evening is also free.

Vegan Spinach-laced Minestrone (without Beans)

There is no photographic trace left of this soup, but I promise you that it looks as good as it tastes. This recipe makes four hefty main-course servings.
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 carrots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, diced

4 small (or two large) zucchini, cut in any way you choose

1 28 oz can crushed or petite diced tomatoes
1 4 oz can tomato paste
2 tablespoons pesto (I used a homemade mixture of pulverized basil leaves, garlic, and olive oil)
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup tiny pasta (like Acini di pepe, Occhi di pernice, or Stellette: you can find a visual encyclopedia here)

2 teaspoons fennel seeds crushed slightly, and tied up in a cheesecloth sachet

1 pound fresh spinach for every two people (so if you are making this for four people to eat at once, use two pounds of spinach, and if you are making this to be consumed over more than one meal by two people, use one pound for each meal).
Heat the oil in a soup pot, and cook the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery on medium heat for ten minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another two or three minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, stock, pesto, and pasta. Toss in the sachet, and simmer for 25 minutes. Make sure to stir the soup from time to time so that the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. You can do this hours ahead of time.

When you are just about ready to serve put some olive oil in the bottom of another large pot, and saute the spinach for a few minutes. Place some spinach in the bottom of each soup bowl, and ladle the soup on top of the spinach. A little pepper is nice, but this soup really doesn't need any extra salt. I imagine that this soup would be really nice with escarole as well as spinach.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Chopin and Liszt Meet: Hollywood Style

If real life could only be like this! Here we get to see Chopin meet George Sand: The pianist is actually Jose Iturbi and the some of the hand close-ups are of Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Chopin is played by Cornel Wilde, Professor Elsner is played by Paul Muni, Liszt is played by Stephen Bekassy, and George Sand is played by Merle Oberon.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What a Great Google Graphic!

Getting from Zero to Twinkle in Thirty Minutes

I love teaching adult beginners, partially because I was one (I started as a kid, stopped when I was 11, and started again when I was in my early 30s). This is my note of encouragement for anyone who feels that their life would be more complete by being able to play the violin (or the viola) to take the plunge and start.

It is rewarding right away, as long as you work with a good teacher. The average adult student who comes to me to take a first lesson (with no experience with the violin and no knowledge of how to actually read music) is able to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" at the end of a thirty-minute lesson. An adult with a background in music will be able to "Twinkle" in about 15 minutes.

Children, in my experience, don't learn as quickly as adults, at least at the beginning. Perhaps it is because adults generally have more physical awareness (having had the same sized hands and length of arm for a while) and more of an ability to focus attention on a task at hand. Adults become frustrated more easily, and they tend to be more self-critical, but they also tend to understand the ways and means of solving technical problems, and apply them.

Here are a few guidelines for adult beginners:

Do not buy a $100.00 instrument that "looks good" on ebay. Do not buy a $100.00 instrument from a music shop (on line or in the neighborhood) that specializes in electronic instruments and guitars. The music shop owner might have the same supplier as the ebay shop. These instruments tend to look like violins and have been known to function like violins, but they are difficult to play, are generally poorly made, and are difficult to tune.

If you want to buy an instrument, buy one from a reputable violin shop. There are shops all over the place. A good violin shop will make sure that you have an instrument that plays well and is set up properly. You pay about ten times as much for an instrument from a good violin shop as you would from a guitar shop, but you can be assured that your instrument will serve you well for a long time.

Another option is to rent an instrument from a good violin shop. Just about every violin shop I know has a rental program. Some apply all the money you pay in rent to the purchase price of an instrument. Any shop worth its rosin will provide repair and re-hair service (bows need to be re-haired once in a while). Many shops offer all of their services to people who live far away, and they do much of their business by mail: shipping instruments for purchase, rental, or repair.

Good teachers are more difficult to find than good student violins, but there are good teachers everywhere. Ask around. If you have a string program in your school system, ask the more advanced players about their teachers. Call the teacher who is recommended most often, and if s/he is unable to take you as a student, ask for recommendations.

Don't be fooled by "brands." There are some terrific teachers who teach by using the Suzuki method, which is a method developed for very small children who don't have reading skills (we're talking about 3-year-olds). There are also teachers who use the Suzuki method who are not able to communicate well with adults (or older children, for that matter). There are also people who use Suzuki materials, but do not apply the "method." The quality of a teacher is often quite separate from his or her method.

(Thanks to Michael for this ad from Popular Mechanics)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Clever Program Note Idea

Michael Monroe offers a great way to offer concise program notes for student recitals. There is just enough information to keep the audience up to speed. I don't think that program annotations like these really do the trick of replacing the information-rich prose kind, but I do think that they do a great deal to supplement the program.

Make sure to notice the "celebrity" sample program that has Dick Cheney accompanying Katie Couric in a performance of "Gretchen am Spinnrade." It is funny and telling on many levels. Perhaps what the nation has had to endure (and still has trust in its face by television reporters) with this man is all part of a Faustian bargain he made one night, long before he entered the political world.

Consider the text of the song (by the all-knowing Goethe), and read a synopsis of the play (if you are not familiar with it).