Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hymn of Thanksgiving

This song, which makes me think of the Thankgivings of my New England childhood, is really a Dutch hymn from the 16th century. The above 1626 setting is by Adrianus Valerius, and the tune comes from the once-popular song, "Hey Wilder dan Wild" (Wilder than Wild). Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Fun with the Petrucci Library

If you haven't been over to the Petrucci Library for a while, you will be surprised to see that they have started organizing their music (now 78,000 scores) in a most useful way. I particularly like the Genre category, where you can search directly for PDF scores and parts for polkas, melodramas, or passemezzos. You can also search by instrument and get your own copy of "Funny Sings for the Ukelele," which includes all the verses and the chorus for this classic by Septimus Winner:

[Make sure to click twice for a larger view.]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mendelssohn Thriller for the Day

Here's the highly-eventful second movement:

Check out the gardener listening through the open door at 2:40. Piatigorsky sees him at 3:10, and in the next shot, at 3:16, the piano has been turned around 90 degrees, and placed in front of a window. They obviously tried to camouflage the problem by splicing in different shots of people listening (you'll see them at 4:26), and by 4:48 the piano has once again flipped around, the door has been opened, and our original gardener is back in place.

For the last phrase, the door has been closed, the piano has been flipped into its in-front-of-the-window position, and day has turned into early evening. Rubenstein offers everyone a drink (it must be at his house). Piatigorsky accepts, Heifetz declines, and everybody takes a break.

Realistically they must have recorded the piece several times--once in front of the open door (with the gardener), and at least once in front of the closed window, and they probably preferred the takes with the gardener.

They must have recorded the Scherzo first, since you can see bright daylight through the open door (when the open door takes are being used). But why watch the door or the background when you can watch these magnificent bow arms?

(Don't bother to look for the first movement. It's a real disappointment.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Son the Moral Philosopher

I borrowed the title of this post from Michael, because Ben is my son too (I suppose this might pose a moral dilemma). Read Ben's letter that responds to a column about the Florida cheating scandal in the Daily Illlini, and you'll be proud too. While you're at it, read Michael's post about the Florida cheating scandal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brave New World?

This article by Martha Goodavage is interesting reading, but the comments are even more interesting to read. I take issue with this article in many ways, but I also take issue with what the market-based world of music hawking has become, because I grew up in a musical world that was far less crowded. I also grew up in a musical world where competence was the surest way to musical success.

There are many of us who, for the sake of sanity, keep our technology ceiling low, adding new components when they become truly useful and truly necessary. There is limited space in my head, and I want to keep much of it free for productive practicing, effective teaching, and for writing music. I am very resistant to the use of "social networking" as "professional networking." I like my friends to be people I talk to, exchange e-mail messages with, and play music with. I don't imagine I will ever tweet, but I do enjoy using the latest version of Finale, and I totally enjoy being able to use the internet to write, edit, and share music.

Goodavage does have some worthwhile guidelines, but people over the age of 25 (her target audience) need to take many of them with a grain of salt. I have learned a great deal from making string quartet arrangements of country songs, rock songs, and indie-type pop songs. Like most musicians, much of my play for pay consists of playing music that I would not choose to play under any other circumstances, but I do my best, and I'm happy for the opportunity to work.

Knowing how to market your "product" is a real plus. Most musicians I know have difficulty "marketing" what they do, because everything in music is so personal and so subjective. I don't know about you, but I have a great deal of trouble thinking of the music I write as "product." People with money can hire publicity people to market their "product" for them, but I don't know that many musicians who have that kind of money.

Choosing not to compete with the marketed masses is my personal and practical choice. If you like what I do, you know where to find me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oh Jessye!

Chronicles of American Musical History

I was thrilled to find the Handel and Haydn Society's timeline that lists many important American premieres and other musical events. I would give more details here, but it is so much more fun to slide through the timeline yourself.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I use Wikipedia all the time, and I might have been on my fifth visit of the day, when I clicked on the message at the top of the site asking for contributions to keep it going. What's Wikipedia worth to me? It is exhaustive, free from commercials, edited cooperatively, and free to anyone who wants to know just about anything. I made a contribution today (it's tax-deductible), and so can you. There's a little button over at the sidebar on the right.

You can read about their campaign (which started yesterday) here.

Must reading for anyone who teaches

The Shadow Scholar

Life after Flute

Paula Robison is still a flutist, but she has been stepping out of the flute-envelope recently, and doing something she has always wanted to do: the Sprechstimme part of Pierrot Lunaire. Here's a link to a performance she gave of it last year with a superb chamber ensemble, and information about an upcoming performance in New York on December 2 of this year.

I applaud Paula's courage. It does take a huge amount of chutzpah to face an audience without an instrument as your "mask," but it is, at least in this case, balanced by the incredible joy involved in taking the plunge (and the risk). Perhaps playing a character, and speak-acting in German with the cushion of supportive and sensitive instrumentalists, softens the blow, but it is still a huge and joyous leap into madness for everyone.

Hmm. Perhaps this might start a trend. Performances of Pierrot Lunaire by a whole ensembles of former flutists, or flutists who double. I'll play the violin and viola part!

Brava Paula!

[The image above is actually Pulcinella, as drawn by Maurice Sand, but he's wearing a costume typical of what people wear to play Pierrot!]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fine Map: No Relation

After making all these posts about famous people in my family, I thought I'd share a nifty map by Oronce Fine, a person to whom I have no relation whatsoever (there's nothing French anywhere in my DNA), and my surname was given to my paternal great grandfather at a German port after their ship sank (destroying all the family papers). I often imagine that the name is rather common because of the possibility that the answer to the question, "Who are you?" could easily be interpreted by Yiddish-speaking ears as "How are you?"
It sure is a nifty map.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dag Wiren Ironiska smastyken (ironic miniatures) for piano

For a real hoot, go to this page and preview #10. The title of this miniature is indeed partially Swedish in origin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Memorandum from the War Department, March 1, 1943

. . . Try to omit nothing; duplicate to your heart's content. Express if you can - realistically or symbolically - the essence and spirit of war. You may be guided by Blake's mysticism, by Goya's cynicism and savagery, by Delecroix's romanticism, by Daumier's humanity and tenderness; or better still follow your own inevitable star. We believe that our Army Command is giving you an opportunity to bring back a record of great value to our country. Our Committee wants to assist you to that end.
My Great Uncle Aaron Bohrod was one of a group of artists sent to Europe to draw and paint images of the war in progress for Life. Here's a link to a photograph of the mimeographed letter sent to the artists from George Biddle of the War Department.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Musing on Reality, Truth, and Music

After being boggled by the suggestions about the relativity of reality presented in the podcast I linked to in my last post, I have decided that the only way for me to preserve my sanity and enjoy happiness is to seek out and hold onto what I know is real and true. For me it happens in music, particularly when I'm practicing. If something is in tune, I know it is something real and true. Nobody needs to confirm it for me, and I don't need anybody to remark on it (there's usually nobody around anyway--or at least there's nobody paying attention). I know it's true, and I know how to make it be true again.

Perhaps music is the purest form of reality. Perhaps the more we open our ears and minds to the things we hear that lie below the veneer, the more we understand it. Perhaps the more performing (and composing) musicians strive to be true to the music, the more truth it will project. Perhaps this is why we need music.

If I do everything I'm supposed to do, I can hold my own truth in my hands, and I can share it with you, as long as my motivation for sharing it is the right one. If my motivation is to impress, all I'm doing is impressing. There's always an element of "impressing" in performing, and I often find that need to impress is always vying to get in the way of real musical experience. The trick is to get the proportion right, so that reality and truth triumphs over the need to impress and all the other psychic elements that come into play during a concert.

Recorded music is a can of worms, and, for the most part it belongs in a whole 'nother category from the truth and reality experienced in music that comes directly out of an instrument or voice.

It's a rough world out there, and it's a big one too. It's hard to find a non-competitive "safe" zone anywhere, particularly among people who discuss music over the internet. We all need to draw our personal boundaries, so that we can feel that this world is manageable. The social media-induced bursts of euphoria that alternate with feelings of isolation can make us numb, so we all have to be careful to keep these things in proportion. Holding our here-and-now reality in our hands is a really good way to keep things balanced.

I cling to my own reality, which is to practice whenever I can, and do what I need to do technically so that I can play in tune, in rhythm, and with a good sound. Once those things are in place (which takes some doing), I can encounter whatever it is I am feeling, through whatever piece I choose to play. I know that it is real and true, and its reality, validity, and truth are not dependent on what anybody else thinks.

Monday, November 08, 2010

It Boggles the Mind

I just listened to a segment of To the Best of Our Knowledge called "reality", and my mind is completely boggled. It is available currently as a free podcast. The parts that grabbed me the most were Chuck Klosterman's discussion about his book of essays called Eating the Dinosaur, and a segment where Brent Silby talks with Anne Strainchamps about his article called "The Simulated Universe" in the magazine Philosophy Now.

Thank goodness none of this has anything to do with music, or does it?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Surrogacy and Wishes

There are times in all of our lives when we have to rely on surrogacy when the real thing is not available. Perhaps this need is what prompted the popularity of certain books for children during the 1940s and 1950s, a time when parenting (particularly the fatherly kind) in real life was sometimes less "hands on" than children wanted it to be.

For me there is no better book about the importance of finding what you need to make up for what you don't have than Robert McCloskey's One Morning in Maine (1952). The story is simple and complicated: one morning in Maine, Sal and her sister Jane are getting ready to go shopping with their father (they go by boat to Buck's Harbor). While brushing her teeth, Sal finds that her tooth is loose (for the first time), and her mother tells her that she can make a secret wish on it. When she goes to tell her father (who is digging clams), her tooth falls out into the mud. Because she lost the tooth (literally), she can't make a wish on it ("I guess some clam will find my tooth and get what I wished for"). She finds a feather, and after a small amount of discussion with her practical father who doesn't really "get" her need for something to wish on, she decides it's just the thing (it could have been lost by a baby gull).

Sal, Jane, and their father get in the boat, and the outboard motor doesn't start, so the father has to row across the harbor. When they get to shore, Sal gives a gap-toothed smile to Mr. Condon, the man fixing the motor. In the picture to the left, we don't see Sal's smile from the front, but we know what she is showing Mr. Condon (who happens to be looking the other way). Mr. Condon takes a spark plug out of the motor ("Came right out, just like that tooth of yours, didn't it, Sal?"), and mentions that it needs a new one. Sal wonders how long it will take for the motor to grow a new spark plug.

In the picture to the right, Sal hands the old spark plug to Jane (I know, not a great toy for a toddler), so that Jane can wish on it. Sal's wish is for a chocolate ice cream cone, and she uses Jane's spark plug wish (Jane is too young to understand things like wishes) for a vanilla one, which Mr. Condon (Mr. Condon's brother who runs the store) gets for them from the store freezer.

I believe it is part of the human spirit to have wishes, and to keep finding things to wish on. I imagine that many people, like me, saw themselves in Sal. I don't think too many people would see themselves in Jane, because Jane would be too little to read this book. Sal was just the right age, and was going through the same rites of passage as her readers: losing teeth, and believing in the power of wishing.

This book made a deeply powerful impression on me as a child, and I have never outgrown it. I still read it again and again. I could go on and on discussing other deep meanings in the book, but I prefer just to let you know about it, and discover the rest of its wonders for yourself.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Auditions then and Now

Wow. I just read an article about auditions by Dr. Noa Kageyama that struck me as a something that draws a firm line between generations and musical mindsets. Dr. Kageyama is speaking to a "performance-oriented" generation, rather than an "essence-of-music-oriented" one.

I usually find auditions sterile and demeaning experiences, so I find myself at quite a distance from Dr. Kageyama. I remember only one from my days as a flutist that was not sterile and demeaning. It was in 1980, and I was auditioning for Tanglewood. I had auditioned for the previous summer, and was totally tripped by the orchestral excerpts they asked me to play. I was truly sight-reading for the "sight-reading" part of the audition.

I worked on those particular orchestral excerpts diligently (every day with the metronome) for a whole year before my next audition, and was thrilled to find that they asked for exactly the same two excerpts: the bird from Peter and the Wolf, and the part of Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica that calls for the flute to play a high D. I played them competently (if robotically--since they were rather robotic excerpts).

I was deeply in love with the music of Messiaen during the late 1970s, so I decided to play Le Merle Noir for my audition (pretending that it was part of the Quartet for the End of Time), even though it wasn't a standard audition piece. Gunther Schuller and Charlie Russo (both advocates of new music) were the only members of the jury. I played the piece for them, and the spirit of Messiaen was in the room. Hearing the music played by someone deeply in love with it must have meant something to them, because I got a call a few weeks later telling me that I was Gunther Schuller's first choice as flutist for Tanglewood. Certain personal issues made it seem like a better choice to go to Graz, Austria for the summer, so I declined the invitation to Tanglewood.

I can't imagine, with the insane level of competence, particularly among flutists around today, that any audition could ever be that personal. It is a shame that young musicians who want to have careers in music have to live (and compete) in a such a different world.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Radio Moment

I had a lovely radio moment driving home from my afternoon class today. In preparation for an exam on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, I like to play a variety of random movements by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and ask the students to try to identify the composer, the form, the meter, the tempo, and the instrumentation. It is always fun, and I find that for many students it is a real ear-opening experience.

Today's class was particularly lively, and after listening so carefully for all the above elements for 75 minutes, my brain had turned to highly spiced mush. I got in the car, and whaddya know! There was a Haydn Symphony waiting for me on the radio. It was one that I didn't know, number 95, and it has a last movement filled with "exalted reigns." I had to sit in the driveway and listen all the way to the end.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The City that Once Was: Ruskay's on Columbus Avenue in New York

When I was studying at Juilliard, I had a job playing solo flute on a balcony at a restaurant on Columbus Avenue called Ruskay's. I played every Monday night from 6:00 to midnight (for the dinner hours), and I had a wonderful time. The restaurant was owned by Richard Ruskay, who also owned the downtown Empire Diner. The food was terrific (in addition to getting paid, I got dinner--I loved the chicken salad with walnuts and tarragon), and the bar area (where I ate) always seemed to attract the same very interesting and intelligent people, and they were always really nice to me. As far as I can recall, the restaurant only had live music, and it had a bohemian kind of energy that made it far more than a place of business.

I believe a friend (who played piano there) suggested I go into Ruskay's and ask if they were interested in having a flutist play. I only recently learned that Michael Parloff had been playing there before he got his job as the principal flutist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and that I must have walked in at the right time. It was 1978, they had been open for two years, and they were indeed looking for a flutist to play during dinner.

I stayed there until I left New York in 1980, and I later learned that Ruskay's had closed in my absence. There are very few remnants of it (and no pictures) on line, so I thought I would post a bit about it, just in case some of my nostalgic friends from those glorious days might be searching.

[2016 Update: I found a postcard from Ruskay's that you can see here.]

[2020 Update: You can read more in this article in "I Love the Upper West Side."]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The City that Once Was: 3854 West Roosevelt Road

From John Drury's Dining in Chicago
3854 West Roosevelt Road

Here is Bohemia in the true sense of the word. The Cafe Royale is an intellectual and artistic rendezvous of the west side Jewish quarter. Full of poets, musicians, actors, artists, radicals, intellectuals, and all night talkers. Founded and operated by Israel Blume, a poet, and Morris Mason, an actor, as a Chicago counterpart of the famed Cafe Royal on the East Side of New York. Saturday nights, beginning at 10, the Jewish cabaret, a sort of neighborhood version of the Russian Chauve Souris, is staged in the concert hall at the rear of the place. Harry Rosen and his orchestra are in Russian costumes; Mme. Maria Masheir sings gypsy ballads; Gregory Venetzsky and Joe and Edith Levinson entertain; playlets are performed; there is dancing after the show; and Jewish, Russian, and Roumanian dishes tempt your palate. The walls are decorated with rustic murals by the artist, De Vries. All is gay, garrulous.Continental, colorful and worth much more than the $1.00 you pay for it.

Always, the main dining room out front, unique with its modernist panels depicting the various arts, is crowded with lively bushy-haired men wearing hornrimmed spe'ctacles and carrying books under their arms; black-eyed actresses from the nearby New Yiddish Lawndale Theatre; visiting Jewish celebrities from New York; and gourmets who have a weakness for substantial Jewish dishes fragrant with garlic. The popular entrees here are rib steak, broiled in the Roumanian style, and gratchitze, or sweetbreads. The foods in general are wholesome and savory and not so expensive. Here, then, dine most of the local Jewish celebrities in the arts and allied interests -- Emil Armin, the painter; S. P. Rudens, the essayist; L. M. Stein, the publisher and patron of the arts; Todros Geller, the wood-block artist; Joseph Kriloff, the singer; Dr. M. S. Malamed and J. Siegel, the well-known newspaper editors; J. Z. Jacobson, author of "Thirty-Five Saints and Emil Armin"; I. Iver Rose, the painter and potato pancake maker; and a great many others of lesser note. Meyer Zolotareff, the newspaperman, edits his Yiddish literary monthly, Chicago, from a table in the corner. Here also have come such famous figures in the Jewish world as Abraham Raisen, the poet; Prof. Enrico Glickenstien, the Italian- Jewish sculptor; Molly Picon, the actress; Maurice Schwartz, theatrical director; Boris Thomashefsky, the actor; Alexander Kipnis, the opera singer and Morris Topchevsky, the painter. Politicians also come here -- Alderman Jacob Arvey, Ward Committeeman Moe Rosenberg, and their followers. We could go on describing this interesting place but the above information ought to be enough to arouse your curiosity. Don't miss it. Saturday nights are the best.
The proprietor, Israel Blume, was my maternal great grandfather. My grandmother told me that Emma Goldman used to go there when she was in town.