Monday, December 31, 2012

Self Improvement

I found myself in the "Self Improvement" section of a chain book store today (I still refuse to call it a "bookstore"), and was surprised to see how much the section had grown since I was last there. Along with the books about the colors you should wear and how to decorate your house so that all your stuff is in harmony, there were books about how to adjust your body language to present yourself as a good job candidate, and books about how to completely change your brain. There were books about changing your appearance, and books about improving your memory. There were old classics revamped for modern times, and guidebooks to life written by famous people. There were books recommending religious paths, and books that suggested paths that required disciplines that were not religious. There were books about how to un-clutter your life, how to get things done, how to become more self confident, how to have more self control, and how to have more self esteem. In some cases whatever you might want to change could be a mere seven steps away.

I'm all for expanding life's possibilities and for learning new things, but it seems that the road to any sort of happiness is paved with a good dose of self acceptance. It is fine to "move on" and slough off the skins of ages past, and it is always a good idea to allow grudges to fade and to allow problematic relationships to become less important in the grand scheme of relationships (which sometimes means not having contact with people who make you feel lousy for a while).

I have learned, particularly this year, that people can change and grow for the better, but that each person changes and grows at an individual pace. I have also learned that relationships are complicated, and that everyone involved in any kind of a relationship (including familial and professional ones) has individual nuances to and nuisances in their lives that can cause unwelcome friction (particularly in an election year).

So my resolution this year is one of self-acceptance and a willingness to embrace the old as well as the new. I also intend to stay far away from the "Self Improvement" section of the book store.

So, as part of my resolve to accept myself as I am (and as I have been), I will share this video I made with my family last night. Rachel is singing in the style of the young Michael Jackson, Michael is playing the guitar, Ben is playing an electronic keyboard, and I am playing the flute. It came out of the drawer for the occasion. Even though hearing my "flute voice" makes me cringe a bit, I did play the instrument seriously and constantly for about 15 years before expanding my horizons string-ward.

Enjoy the Motown-style fun, and have a happy 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature

Here's a little new year's greeting from Rachel and Ben.

New Year's Greeting for Viola d'amore and Guitar

This year's New Year's Greeting is for viola d'amore and guitar (with an alternate part for viola). I have always loved the guitar (and I love the guitarists in my family), but I never considered writing for the instrument until I was asked to write a piece for multiple guitars to celebrate the 10th anniversary of LARGE, the LARamie Guitar Ensemble, in Laramie, Wyoming.

Writing for guitar is a lot like writing for viola d'amore, so I had to see what it would be like to pair the two instruments together. The playing here is certainly imperfect: the guitar is computer generated, and my viola d'amore has been fighting a huge winter wolf, so its bridge is bound in leather to avoid a huge low A from sounding no matter where you play on the instrument (also, it's me trying to play the viola d'amore part).

But have a listen anyway, and consider it a greeting to you (oh reader, known or unknown) for the new year, and ignore the little foibles.

The score and parts are available in the Petrucci Library. The audio file will also be there, if the above link doesn't work.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hamantaschen for the Holidays

There's no food like Hamantaschen for the holidays (especially following dinner at a Chinese restaurant with the whole family, which I'm looking forward to this evening).

My simple vegan recipe takes just 30 minutes to make. These have a nice pitted prune (or dried plum, if you will) in the center. No muss, no fuss.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Masumi Per Rostad Interviews Bernard Zaslav on WGBH

You'll need flash to listen to this interview with a real mensch. After hearing it, you'll certainly want to read his book and hear the two CD recordings (one filled with viola and piano music, and one filled with chamber music) that come with it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Star Light, Star Bright

"That [Dumbarton Oaks] was written in 1937-38, 20 years ago, like the light of a star hitting the earth after 20 light-years. But the starlight does arrive. Can you imagine the loneliness of the man who invents something new and does not live to see the time when the light arrives?"
[From a conversation Ingolf Dahl had with Igor Stravinsky on December 9, 1957]

Musical Carved Eggs

Carina Charlton, an artist from Germany (and cellist), really captures the spirit of music in her art.

Here is a page that has photographs of some of her pieces.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guess Who Hung Out at the Farmers' Market in Los Angeles?

"A favorite gathering place for the emigres was the farmers' market on Fairfax Avenue and Third Street, which reminded them of European markets. There the Aldous Huxleys and the Stravinskys became inseparable friends in the mid-1940s. Stravinsky looked upon Huxley as a guiding spirit; Huxley's profound understanding of and interest in music was rewarded by this lively contact."
[from page 228 of Dorothy Lamb Crawford's A Windfall of Musicians]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Music That Is Not "Interesting."

"I am very glad that you find my music not interesting! The word "interesting" alone means the death sentence of every good and great music. Music has to come from the heart and soul of a composer [if it] aims to be something much more vital and important than "interesting." How come you are so sure of yourself? You are wrong--very wrong! . . . There is always a supreme judge--the public! Your public is a special one. It is a selected, discriminating and very educated crowd. Why don't you let them decide the issue!

This is Eric Zeisl's reaction to Lawrence Morton's dismissal of his music because of the fact that it was tonal. I find Zeisl's music rich and delightful, particularly this ballet suite.

Morton was one of the gatekeepers in the Los Angeles new music scene in the 1950s. Zeisl was one of many great expatriate composers who tried to make a living in Los Angeles during the 1940s and 50s. From what I read in Dorothy Lamb Crawford's fascinating A Windfall of Musicians, nearly every displaced European composer suffered from some kind of depression, in spite of the weather, eager students, the chance to work in the film business, and the presence of brilliant composers.

The hero of the times seems to be Rabbi Jacob Sonderling who led a congregation in a temple on Fairfax Avenue just south of Wilshire Blvd. It's no longer standing, and I can't find any old pictures, which is very sad, because it was such an important musical place. Sonderling commissioned a lot of music from composers who came to Los Angeles from Germany and Austria during the 30s and 40s, most notably Schoenberg's Kol Nidre.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


I just found out that Paul Hindemith wrote a piece for three Trautoniums (Trautonia? Trautonium? However you would pluralize it, the video won't embed.)

Here's a wikipedia article, and here's a demonstration of the instrument:

This is a longer video with more about the instrument. It's in German, but if you click on the cc icon you can see subtitles in German, which might help. Alfred Hitchcock makes a photo appearance regarding "The Birds" at 3:50, at 4:02 we get an interview with Harald Genzmer.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's The Time of The Season . . .

Ben and his roommate Andrew took Michael's request to sing this song (along with forks and cello) and take it to the tubes! Last week they graced the cyberwaves with this:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gun Laws and the Madness of Their Abuse

If you, like me, are having a hard time with today's senseless mass murder in the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, here are some posts that have helped me to understand how vital it is for lawmakers, regardless of party, to finally do something about everything that contributes to this series of disturbed people obtaining military weapons and killing total strangers before killing themselves.

Here's an article about the original purpose of the Second Amendment. One of the original reasons to give Americans (i.e. the white people who were living in America in the 18th century) the right to have guns was so that they could protect themselves from the people who had, for thousands of years, been living on the land the Americans wanted to own.

I started thinking about this after listening to the Little War On The Prairie episode of This American Life. If you are as interested in the subject as I am, This article in the Georgetown Law Journal by Angela R. Riley explores the matter of the second amendment and the native American population at the time of its drafting in considerable depth, and explores gun laws in ways I have never considered before.

The New Yorker blog has several helpful posts:

Newtown and the Madness of Guns
(Thanks to Carl for sending me here)
America's Shame: Words and Tears Aren't Enough
The Newtown Shooting: Kindergarteners and Courage
The Right Day to Talk About Guns
What Obama Must Do About Guns

and this violin maker who is married to a soldier brings another perspective to the discussion.

I totally agree with Michael's call for President Obama to lead the way for gun laws that address the needs of our time, so I'm adding my small voice. I hope that you will add your voice as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Roger Bobo Playing on the Tonight Show, Many Tonights Ago

If you are wondering why I keep pointing you to Roger Bobo's blog, just listen to this.

Now you know.

Brahms Piano Quintet Manuscript

It is an amazing experience to be able to look at a manuscript in Brahms' hand and hear the music in your own head, particularly when it's a glorious viola moment.

You could go to the Library of Congress to look at it, or you can simply click your way to the IMSLP and see it almost instantly.

"You can be sure that if a composer of the stature of Ralph Vaughan Williams had written a tuba concerto we would know about it."

In 1954 Roger Bobo read a story about Ralph Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto in Time magazine, and wrote to the Library of Congress to ask where he could find a copy of the music. The title of this post comes from the letter they sent in reply to his request. Bobo tells the story about meeting the composer here.

While you are on the site, make sure to click on the little music player on the upper left (it started automatically for me), and listen to Roger Bobo play the Air from Bach's Third Suite. It's simply beautiful.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gregor Piatigorsky on Knowing and Not Knowing

I found this quotation from Piatigorsky in Dorothy Lamb Crawford's A Windfall of Musicians:
"You don't have to be a genius to know your shortcomings, because there are so many of them. But you have to be a mighty intelligent person to know your strong points. That is your obligation: to know what is good. And if possible to enjoy. And everything that you don't like, to convert into something that is likable. That is the only way I know. Otherwise you will live in the negative all your life. You can't live in that, you can't prosper in it. . . . I never met a really, truly conceited musician. Because they know what they don't know--especially before a concert. . . . Music remains above you. The better you become at it, the music moves higher, so it becomes unreachable."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Delicious Miracle Latkes: They're Vegan and Onion Free!

Even with a Jewish community the size of ours, there are always food allergies to take into consideration. My challenge was to come up with a recipe for eggless and onion-less latkes.

Inspired by my adventures with adding pea protein to seitan, I came up with this delicious alternative. It is, in fact, a whole meal. There's plenty of protein (with the gluten flour and the pea protein), a couple of vegetables, and there's even fruit when you serve it with applesauce. You can feel totally justified eating the whole batch, but these are really meant to share. This recipe is good for about 24 latkes.

Here's the recipe:

Set a pot of salted water on the stove. While it's coming to a boil, mix

1/2 cup gluten flour
1/2 cup pea protein
2 T nutritional yeast

in a bowl, and then add the mixture to 1 cup water.

Knead the mixture, and then break it up into four balls. Drop them in the water, cover the pot, and lower the flame (or burner) to a simmer.

It should take you about 15 minutes to prepare the vegetables. You can do this while the seitan is cooking.

Peel 2 large baking potatoes and grate them. Grate the zucchini with the skin on. Drain as much water as you can from the grated vegetables (you'll need to use your hands to squeeze them). Chop the parsley, and add it to the grated vegetables.

Your seitan balls should look like this when you remove them from that water. I know they're creepy looking, but they won't look like this for long.

Drain the seitan as much as possible. Mash it up and it to the vegetable mixture, and mix everything together with your hands. Add 1/2 cup salt and several grinds of black pepper. My black pepper mixture has some coriander in it, so a dash of coriander might be welcome as well.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, and fry the latkes until they are golden brown and tender. The amount of water in your potatoes will determine how long they need to cook, but 10 or 15 minutes, with occasional turning, seems to be a good amount of time. After they are cooked you can put them onto a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven to reheat for later.

N.B. Don't try to bake these instead of frying them. It just doesn't work. Save the baking sheet for reheating.

Young Musicians in Paraguay

These young musicians are playing instruments made from recycled oil cans, scrap wood, buttons, forks, and other bits of trash you can find in a landfill, hence the clever name "Landfill Harmonic." The young musicians in this video have learned to play using conventional instruments, and the string players use wooden bows, but they are promoting the idea of making the working parts of their instruments out of materials at hand, and teaching others how to do so in order to make music making (the "classical kind") possible in areas where creativity and the need for self expression (both personal and collective) and beauty far outweigh any kind of material wealth.

Their 12-minute video is well worth 12 minutes of your time (or more if, like me, you watch it multiple times).

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Flory Jagoda's Ocho Kandelikas

Ocho Kandelikas is my favorite Hannukah song, and I am very happy to have found a recording of it on line by the composer, Flory Jagoda.

Jagoda, who grew up in Sarajevo, is an octogenarian (oco-generarian in this case!) who has kept the Sephardic musical tradition (in the Ladino language) alive in song.

Happy Hannukah everybody.

Oh yes. I should put an obligatory link to my second favorite Hannukah song. It's pretty much unknown except by people who know me, live with me, or have been reading my blog for a number of years.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sasha and Emma

Imagine my surprise when I turned on the television today and saw people talking about Karen Avrich's new book Sasha and Emma. The visibility of the book comes through the good work of public relations professionals, but that is the case for the visibility of any book.

I have, as many of my friends know, been interested (nay, obsessed) with Emma Goldman for decades. I think it began when I got a letter from my grandmother (I asked her for some family history), and she told me that my great grandfather owned a restaurant in Chicago, and Emma Goldman would come there when she was in town. I remembered Emma from the movie Reds (she was played by Maureen Stapleton), and from the book Ragtime, but I never thought of her as a real person until I began reading about who she was and what she did.

After reading her autobiography, and after finding Howard Zinn's play on a library bookshelf (totally by chance), I spent the better part of a year working on an opera about her and her relationships with the various men in her life (you can find it here. I decided to keep it in the public domain because Emma would certainly have preferred it that way.)

Other Emma-related Musical Assumptions posts:

Thank You Howard Zinn
Money, Music, and Value
Emma Goldman Opera
Goldman Fantasie

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

California Neighbors

At one point during the first half of the 20th Century, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler lived in the house on the left (610 Bedford Drive, Los Angeles), and Bruno Walter lived right next door at number 608.

On a lark I looked up Igor Stravinsky's Los Angeles address (1260 North Wetherly Drive, in West Hollywood), and found that he lived a mere 7.9 miles from Arnold Schoenberg (116 Rockingham Ave., in Brentwood). Then I came across this wonderful map of Arnold Schoenberg's Los Angeles, and have been busying myself with Google Street view, where I also learned, to my disappointment, that George Gershwin's house at 1910 Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills is no longer standing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

John Simon's Search for the "Soul in Music"

I would love to visit a museum (or two) and/or go to a concert (or two) with John Simon because what seems to move him emotionally when considering works of music and art is so vastly different from what moves me emotionally when considering works of music and art. I have great respect for him as a writer and as a thinker, and find that he makes his case for "his music" eloquently in this recent blog post. I followed his suggestion to look at his book, John Simon on Music, which I could browse by way of Google Books. Rather than taking issue with anything in the book, I must make the observation that poor Mr. Simon's tastes seem not to have changed in 30 years. 30 years is one third of a hefty lifetime, and half of an adulthood.

In his blog post he dares the reader to define what "soul in music" might be:
But define it? I defy anyone to do so. I can only say that it is what moves me, stirs up my insides, would make me sing or hum it if I knew how. What, in a Hungarian phrase, crawls (caressingly) into the ear. What makes me forget my worries, my inadequacies, my mortality. What makes me want to hear it again and again.
Since I can't resist a challenge (and the only way to get the question out of my mind is to answer it), I'll give it my best try.

I would say first, given the context of this question, that the music that moves Mr. Simon is music that he knows and has known for a long time. He is a self-described music lover, which means to me, in this context, that he loves the music that he knows, and doesn't have much room for learning to love the music he doesn't know.

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Mr. Simon grew up at a time when there was very little in the way of "early music" around. His music-related writing from the 1970s seems to be uninformed by what we now call historically-informed performance practice, and it also seems to be focused on musical rarities and music that might have been considered on the fringe at the time. Why would someone who developed tastes off the beaten path want to trod the beaten path of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn? How can somebody dismiss Vivaldi when recent discoveries (within the past 10 years or so) show what a multi-faceted composer he was? And I wonder why Mr. Simon finds Haydn preferable to Mozart? Does he know everything by Haydn and by Mozart? Could he identify the Haydn influences in the Mozart "Haydn" Quartets, or the Mozart influences in Haydn's Opus 76 Quartets, or the Mozart influences in Haydn's London Symphonies? These kinds of comparisons need to be made on a piece-by-piece basis, and through making these kinds of comparisons most musicians and music lovers begin to learn more about what makes both of these composers great. Enough about this.

I'll go back to Mr. Simon's question about the "soul in music." My answer is simple: I don't think that there is "soul" in music. I think that everyone's musical experiences are singular, and everyone's musical loves are singular and very personal. Some of us have unconscious "libraries" of musical references that compel us to relate one piece to another, and some of us don't. Some of us appreciate structure (structures of all kinds) in the music we respond to, and some of us respond emphatically to music that defies the notion of structure. There are people who hate chocolate (I know two of them), and there are people who love chocolate more than anything in the world. Almost everyone loves their mother's cooking, regardless of how good (or bad) a cook she was (or is). Is there a soul in science? Scientists have always been on the lookout for some kind of truth, and they even constructed a really good method to do so, but there is always more knowledge that can throw a wrench into what we like to call "laws." Once in a while someone gets lucky in science or in math and comes up with something that really holds water. Once in a while someone gets lucky in music too. Composers we consider great usually have had (and those that are living have) technique, knowledge, resources, and luck.

I don't believe there is a "universal musical truth," but I believe that within a particular musical endeavor, whether it be a performance or a composition, there are periods of insincerity and periods of sincerity. There are also constant periods of success and lack of success in composing and performing. I can listen to a recording of a performance a few days after I played a concert and hear only the flaws. I can hear the same recording five years later, and the flaws might just fly by my ear, unnoticed (they flaw right by!). I can spend weeks writing a short piece of music that engages my imagination and keeps me happy while I am at work on it, and I can hear it five years later and wonder what the hell I might have been thinking. Or I can hear a terrific performance of something I that I didn't think much of after I wrote it.

Everything is subjective. Music is vast and entirely personal. People who disagree on everything from politics to chocolate can find common ground in music that they both love, and Mr. Simon does have some excellent music on his list of "fourteen sublime works by thirteen composers."

Roger Bobo

Roger Bobo, one of the greatest tuba players that ever lived, is no longer playing. But he is still with us, and keeps a blog. I just came across this blog post about what he misses and does not miss about life as an orchestral musician (like traveling with two tubas and a suitcase).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln at the Opera in the Movie

I just learned that Mary Todd Lincoln is talking over "Laisse-moi contempler ton visage," an aria from the third act of Gounod's Faust in this scene:

[Alas, the credits in the IMDb do not give the names of the singers.]

I enjoyed the Spielberg Lincoln movie (which I got to see in grand Los Angeles theater) a great deal, but I wish that the John Williams music during the action was not so deliberately evocative of Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." When I am watching a film I want to feel like I am in the film, not looking at it retrospectively, and there's nothing about the Lincoln Portrait that is not retrospective. I imagine that the Lincoln-Copland connection was exactly what Spielberg wanted, but for me it felt distracting.

I would suggest staying through the credits because that music that accompanies them is beautifully written and beautifully played by the Chicago Symphony. It also leaves the shadow of Copland once in a while. The trumpet playing is remarkable.

I find it also interesting how Sally Field, a woman of 66, can play the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, a woman of 47, so convincingly.

Adventures with Seitan and Pea Protein

The vegan restaurants in Los Angeles are so good that people who are not vegan eat there. I sampled a wide variety of faux meats, each more satisfying (and mystifying) than the last. I noticed that Native Foods listed pea protein as one of their ingredients, so this morning I decided to experiment with pea protein, gluten, and nutritional yeast, just to see what would happen.

I wouldn't be writing about this experiment if I were not so intrigued by the results.

Here's my simple recipe. 1/2 cup gluten, 1/4 cup pea protein, 1/8 cup nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, and one cup vegetable broth (I used "better than bullion," and next time I think I'll use a little less than one cup broth, and a smaller amount of pea protein). I mixed all the dry stuff together, ladled in the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, and kneaded the dough for a while. I separated the dough into four pieces and simmered the pieces in more broth on very low heat for a little over an hour.

I was surprised (and disappointed) to find that the patties were gloopy, but was relieved that they still held together. I plopped the un-named things on a plate, thought about it for a second,

and then I heated some olive oil in a non-stick pan, and dropped two of the gloopy patties in, where they cooked up all golden brown. After a few minutes and some turning and flattening, their gloopiness transformed into an almost veal-like tenderness.

They tasted delicious. Really.

I'll let you know how they reheat, because I'm having some more for dinner!

These creations have an almost Latke-like quality. Perhaps I'll try adding some potatoes to the mixture, and see if I can make some vegan latkes that taste good and don't fall apart!


[This recipe is much better NOT reheated! The outside is fine, and the flavor is fine, but the inside gloopyness is kind of amplified in the reheat. I tried making this again, omitting the nutritional yeast and reducing the pea protein to a mere tablespoon, but they patties were too chewy, and they wouldn't flatten. Next time I'll try using one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and using 1/4 cup of pea protein (which I think gives it the good flavor). I'll keep you posted . . . right here.]


{{{This works GREAT as a basis for latkes.}}}

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Notes From Los Angeles

This is my last day in Los Angeles. It wasn't supposed to be, but our flights were first delayed, and then changed to a four-hour-long night flight that leaves at 10:00 p.m. Four hours from LA to Indianapolis: amazing!

So I will use This bit of extra time, time that I had already set aside for reflection, to muse a bit. I'm not at the airport. I'm in Rachel's comfortable apartment with sweet LA breezes rarely cooling the air below 72 degrees. Such comfort is something I could get used to.

I wonder if I could ever actually get work done without elements to fight; elements harsher than crawling in traffic and searching for adequate employment, that is. I set my query about composing in Los Angeles out into the easy breezes of the internet, and found this fascinating article by Mark Northam about writing film music in Los Angeles. It's from 2010, but I believe it is still current. I found the comments as interesting as the article.

There have been lots of musicians who have thrived in this environment, but many of them, like the great film composers of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, had the stress of constant activity to keep them on their toes. They were stimulated by the imaginations of the people they worked with, including excellent studio musicians. They also, for the most part, made good livings. Many of them had endured enough harshness in Europe to last a lifetime.

Heifetz and his "crowd" lived here too. I imagine his stress was internal, and this climate might have worked as a perfect kind of balance. Likewise with Schoenberg and Stravinsky.

The historic buildings and houses are fascinating, partially because nothing historic really looks old (aside from the 1818 house downtown, the oldest building in the city). The sidewalks look like they were poured last week, but they have stamps that reveal that they are from the 1920s. The mix of the old and the new, the kaleidoscope of cultures, and the cornucopia of foods (including apples that taste like apples, and avocado on every salad) add a great deal to this dreamscape.

I wonder what Los Angeles in actual retrospect (once we return to the Midwest in the wee hours of the morning) will feel like.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Eine Kleine Thanksgiving Music

Here's a little Thanksgiving music from Rachel and Ben (pre dinner, that is). I'm so thankful for my family!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How To Be Rich

Yesterday's visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum was a great adventure, partly because of the experience of the architecture (the physical museum is a work of art), the location (atop a small mountain overlooking the city of Los Angeles as viewed from the west), and the exhibits (a nice selection from the permanent collection and a exhibit about Giotto and his influence on Florintine art during the first half of the 14th century). Admission is free, and parking is modest and efficient.

Like the Griffith Observatory, which sits atop a mountain to the east of the center of the city, it is a gift from a wealthy industrialist to the people of the city (and the world) that offers a chance to look at the world from a totally different perspective from the norm, whatever that may be.

I knew nothing about Getty before this adventure, so, after enjoying my day with his gifts, I bought a copy of his well-titled book, How to Be Rich. Sandwiched between chapters about how to work hard, make good investments, respect the people who work for you and respect the labor unions they belong to (it was first published as a series of articles in Playboy Magazine between 1961 and 1965), are chapters about the importance of education, music, and art in our lives.

Here's a taste:
The "anti culture" bias appears to thrive at most levels of American society. . . . Only a tiny percentage of the population reads great books or, listens to great music. It's doubtful if one in ten Americans is able to differentiate between a Doric and an Ionic column.
Do you know the difference between a Doric and Ionic column? Sure, you can look it up. But do you actually know, or care?

The book is really an interesting look at the times, which, in many cases, if we are to believe the state of art and culture an America during the early 1960s through the eyes of Mr, Getty, have indeed changed for the better. I like to think it has changed, in part, due to his posthumous efforts.

A parting thought from Getty's penultimate chapter called "The Art of Individuality":
The conformist is not born. He is made.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Looking Both Ways

I have been dismayed, of late, by a general avoidance of what I like to call "things right," so I have taken action. I now try to balance my position relative to people I walk with (not just Michael this week because we're visiting Rachel in Los Angeles) and talk with, and am learning the hidden wonders of developing a more panoramic approach to life.

Yesterday this practice of looking both ways really came in handy while we were at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I came to really appreciate the individual experience it is possible to have with a work of art when you look at the whole thing at the same time, and on the right scale, i.e. artwork to human. I'll write about the Kubrick exhibit in detail at another time, but seeing an exhibit about film making and film directing (and everything else about what Stanley Kubrick did to make his films) made me realize just how much what you see on in a film (no matter how great a film it might be) is limited. The person who put it there is sharing not only his or her vision but his or her process of seeing it. The director is directing you as we'll as directing the actors. Perhaps this is why we go to the movies: to escape our thoughts and allow ourselves to be "directed."

This is not the case with art work. You can see a piece of art differently every time you look at it. It all has to do with the way you see it. You become, in essence, the director. But you are equipped with "camera equipment" that is vastly superior than any box fitted with lenses, no matter how sophisticated or expensive.

The better the piece of art, the deeper the experience can be.

Today we visit the Getty Museum!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goldman Fantasie

I wrote an opera about Emma Goldman back in 2005, and, simply because I really should have been doing other things (which I will get to right away), I decided to organize some of the music that popped into my head and wouldn't leave into a stand-alone piece for clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

You can listen to it here and see the music in the Petrucci Library.

I did toy (for just a second) with calling it the "Goldman Variations" (before actually working on it) but I scrapped the idea because this piece is not a set of variations, and is also not worthy of such a reference, even a punny one (nothing is).

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I was poking around through the guitar method books on the IMSLP yesterday, and came across this print.

Notice that the fingers P, I, M, and A are all given their full names: Pollire (thumb), Indire (index), Media (middle), and Anulare (ring); but wait! The little finger also has a name, and that name seems to have something to do with ears. Could it be the finger you put in your ear?

Knowing Stuff About Music

Yesterday an acquaintance introduced me to a person who was visiting our fair city. She told him (wanting to give a good impression of our town) that I had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, to which I replied, "What I know is rivaled only by what I do not know."

I'm kind of proud of that statement, because it is true, and I am confident that it will continue to be true for the rest of my life.

I used to think I knew a lot about music, and I did know a lot of stuff about a relatively small amount of music when I was a teenager. I knew the flute repertoire inside and out (and would study the 1967 Frans Vester catalog of flute music to strengthen my knowledge).

I read Grout and Lang, knew most of Brahms' chamber music by opus number, and could identify most of Bach's instrumental music and some of his cantatas. I knew much of the standard symphonic repertoire from going to concerts and from listening to the radio, and I read the books about music that were in the house. When I re-read those books now, and re-visit music that I used to think I knew really well, I can see how shallow my understanding of music history (and of music and musicians) once was. I appeared to have learned enough in the process of reading and listening to give the impression of being far more knowledgeable than I was.

Now, thanks to our friends at the IMSLP, thanks to 13 years of working at a radio station, thanks to 20 years of reviewing recordings, thanks to escaping the confines of the pre-1967 flute repertoire, and thanks to the musical arm of the internet, I am pleased to say that I now know far less about music than I ever have known in my life.

It makes life exciting when every day can be an adventure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Using an AED Machine

This, of course, has nothing to do with music. But a musician friend sent it to me, and I watched it, and now I know that if I were in a public place like a shopping mall, and someone were to collapse from a heart attack, I could feel confident about hopefully keeping that person alive until the paramedics arrived.

Here's the video.

You never know when something like this might happen, so it is good to be prepared.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Marlene Dietrich as You Have Never Seen Her Before

Margie King Barab writes all about her first encounter with Marlene Dietrich!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Dot and the Line: Music by Eugene Poddany

This wonderful piece of classic animation, with music by Eugene Poddany, came bundled with "The Glass Bottom Boat," a Doris Day movie that Michael and I found funny mainly for its large helping of prop-related double entendre. Doris Day, who was 40 at the time, plays a young widow who catches the eye of a big shot rocket scientist where she works (NASA). He asks her to be his personal biographer. Hmm.

I won't mention anything about the CIA director who has an important part in the film, but I will mention that Paul Lynde appears in drag.

Charles Gounod on Composers and Society

The society of artists is dying on its feet. . . . Each member pivots around his neighbor. There is no progress toward an avowed purpose, toward a clearly perceived end. . . . This anarchy is a sad spectacle; time will put an end to it, but when will that time come? I think it will be when the masses develop a tendency of some kind to opinions of their own. . . . The public accepts an infinite number of productions, varied and even opposed to their points of view; and they enjoy the very contradictions. They split their affection and their sympathies, and necessarily divide the effectiveness of their stimulus to such a degree that they no longer even give an impetus to artists. . . . It seems to me that the principle of evil lies in this absence of a universal need. I believe, in a word, that the artist's growth stems from all the power and all the moral, intellectual, and religious energy of the epoch to which he belongs, and that society expresses itself through him in proportion to the vitality and activity it transmits to him.
This is part of a letter that Gounod wrote to a friend in 1847 when he was living in a Carmelite monastery. [Translated by Mina Curtiss and published on page 29 of her 1958 book, Bizet and His World. I find the contradictions very interesting, and I find it particularly interesting to think about what Gounod says in relation to life in the 21st century.]

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts on Art and Entertainment

As I've said a million times, there has been an attempt, largely successful, to confuse what you might call art and what you might call entertainment. I think there's a very simple distinction, and it doesn't diminish entertainment in any way, because we all want it and we all enjoy it. Entertainment is that which you receive without effort. Art is something where you must make some kind of effort, and you get more than you had before.
Charles Wuorinen said this in a 2005 New York Times interview.

It would be nice to think that what we call art, in any sense of the word, requires a person to somehow, for better or for worse, give something of himself or herself to the material at hand. We all know that a person listening or looking at or reading or even touching art can become somehow changed by it--even in a very tiny way--if he or she makes a certain effort to "meet" it. Unfortunately, without that effort (and the media through which we now experience art doesn't always require effort), even something intended to be experienced as art can be, at best, experienced as entertainment, and if it isn't entertaining enough to be absorbed without effort, it is sometimes ignored completely, or immediately forgotten.

Friday, November 09, 2012

What am I? Chopped Liver?

I use this phrase from time to time, but I only recently learned what it means. According to Jewish culinary tradition, chopped liver was served as a side dish and not as a main dish, so the meaning of the phrase was obvious to everyone who ate. But these days chopped liver is a far cry from your normal side dish, particularly in America, and particularly in the non-urban mid-west. I would actually have to drive three hours north to the Chicago suburbs, or two hours west, to Indianapolis, to even order chopped liver as a side dish at a restaurant (but someone else would have to eat it).

It turns out that I have been using the phrase incorrectly anyway. Most of the time I feel like I should be saying, "I'm not even chopped liver," because more and more it feels like what I do doesn't even classify as a side dish in the dinner party of life. But that doesn't sound as good. I'm hoping that the feeling will pass, like the indigestion and heartburn that would eventually pass after eating real chopped liver.

It is possible to make mock chopped liver out of cooked lentils, sautéed onions, ground-up walnuts, a bit of soy sauce, a bit of miso, and a bit of broth. There's another recipe I found that uses sautéed, chopped mushrooms rather than lentils.

Eternally Young Elliott Carter

I never thought I would fall into the Carter obituary vortex, but here I am.

I find this video so interesting. Alisa Weilerstein, who is quite young, has the kind of guarded "grown up" affectation (and diction) that I often observe in successful string players in their 20s and 30s (perhaps she was nervous). Elliott Carter, who is quite old (103 in this video) actually seems young and free in comparison.

He is so physically IN the music when he talks about it. The way he speaks is never guarded. It is expressive and honest, both when he is talking with Alisa, and when he is coaching her.

Carter Eight Etudes and a Fantasy

I'll never forget the day that a woodwind quartet from the California School of the Arts came to my high school on a recruiting trip, and played Elliott Carter's Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for us. The piece, written in 1950, was a revelation to me back in 1975, and it still continues to be extremely and eternally inspiring, particularly because you can hear the obvious joy Carter had during the process of writing it.

I could describe how the piece works in more detail, but Jeremy Grimshaw has already written a fine analysis.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Our President Thanks the Young People who Ran his Campaign

This is great to watch for more reasons than I can articulate:

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Building Listening Skills

I find so often that my community college students (many who are grown-up products of "no child left behind") have a great deal of trouble listening. There is not that much of a problem during class, when the visual help of a study guide (and a study guide guide, like a teacher) can help them keep on track while listening to a piece of music, but left to their own devices, many of them are at sea.

The problem affects every subject.

It is difficult for many people to keep "stuff" you hear in a class in the foreground, and it is easy to let constant internal chatter drown out what a teacher might be saying. It is also easy, in a world where music is mostly thought of as "background" to simply tune it out.

Thanks to the popularity of video games, children are quite visually sophisticated these days. When they play video games, they respond to visual stimulation immediately and physically by moving a mouse or pressing buttons on a touch screen. They make strategic decisions based on what they see, and have a great deal of fun doing it.

I wish there were some compelling and sophisticated games that all children, regardless of musical aptitude, could use to learn to practice listening to patterns attentively without the aid of visual stimulation. There seem to be so many children and young adults who can identify visual patterns with ease, and, it seems, there are relatively few young adults who can follow arguments, or write a compelling ones themselves. Very small children love language. They love rhythm, they love rhymes, and many love singing. Why should they lose this when they become old enough to go to school?

Following a piece of music is not that difficult when you know what to listen for. There are repetition schemes that help you keep your place, if you pay attention to where you are. Following an argument (in any discipline) takes similar skills. When you write an argument of your own, you need to know where you've been, where you are, and where you are going in order to express your point successfully.

I think that the skills developed by listening attentively (and with guidance) to music that is written using dance forms, song forms, and the basic classical instrumental forms might enhance these skills.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Four More Years!

Large sigh of relief! Here's to a better world!

Trio for Violin, Viola, and Piano

Here's a link to new piece I wrote for this (sadly) often ignored kind of piano trio.


Vigo county, our neighbor to the east in Indiana, has always been a bellwether county, or, rather THE bellwether county, since it has forecasted the winner of every presidential election since 1956. Here, with 100% of the votes in, we can see how close this election really is. Obama won by a whopping 162 votes.

162 thanks!

Now I feel less anxious.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Lengthy Reflections on "A Late Quartet"

Now that the "A Late Quartet" is playing in a few major cities, I'll let free some observations that might be interesting to people who have seen the film (I wrote a "preview" review that had very few plot details a few weeks ago). If you haven't seen the film you might want to wait a while to read this post. I have read several reviews from its LA and New York showings, and have found very little written about details that make me STILL think about the film every day. Nobody seems, for example, to mention the props and the sets and they way they relate to the characters, so I will begin with those.

First, there are the households. Robert and Juliette Gelbart, the second violinist and violist of the quartet, clearly live on the upper west side of New York. Everything about their apartment not only screams "Upper West Side," but it screams of the Upper West Side I knew during the 1980s, and occasionally observed during the 1990s. My father used to call the Upper West Side "Piano Town," because that's where all the pianists he knew lived, but I learned (when I moved there) that it is populated by musicians of every stripe. The rents used to be rather cheap, the walls were thick (good for practicing), and it was easy to get where you needed to go to play or teach.

Their apartment is relatively small, and we see "Jules," as she is called, practicing in her bedroom. It's hard to imagine where Alex, their daughter, might have fit in that apartment, but when we learn that the Fugue was on tour for eight months out of the year, I imagine that the three Gelbarts didn't spend that much time together there.

The apartment of Daniel, the first violinist, has an area by a bay window where he makes bows. There are bow makers who play quartets, but I can't think of any quartet violinists with serious performing schedules who have the time to make bows. I suppose that his bow making shows that he doesn't have much of a life outside of music. He begins a bow around the time of the beginning of his relationship with Daniel and Juliette's daughter, and the relationship comes to an end after he presents a finished bow to her as a present. The making of the bow measures their relationship.

Daniel's apartment is austere, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and that bay window, which normally would give warmth to a living space, simply supplies light for his bow-making equipment. It could be anywhere in the city, anywhere where you could keep a car.

We see Daniel's car parked right outside Alex's apartment, which is probably in Brooklyn, because nobody could find that kind of "Doris Day Parking" in Manhattan. Everything about Alex is colorful and bright (and beautiful). She has a striped violin case and a really brightly colored apartment that she moves into after returning from what I imagine would have been four years at Curtis in Philadelphia (where the getting in isn't easy for anyone, and the tuition is free). Alex is presented as a serious violinist with aspirations to become a successful quartet musician herself, but she seems more serious about rebelling against her mother, who bears the brunt of everyone's "issues," in addition to coming to grips with her own life-long sense of loss. That's often the position of a violist in a quartet musically, and it's the position of many violists who are involved in musical life "à quatre."

The Fugue Quartet rehearses in Peter's house. It must be a house because it has two floors, and the whole downstairs seems to be panelled in wood. It's old-school (like him), and in nearly every frame taken in his house there is a framed picture of Miriam, his late wife. She died one year before the action of the film takes place, and her presence and absence in Peter's life is palpable. Peter, who is supposed to be in his later 70s or early 80s, seems to be surrounded by death. When he and Juliette (who love one another like father and daughter) go to the Frick together to look at Rembrandt self portraits, he sees them as living things that look at the people looking at them. Towards the end of the movie, we see him holding an LP cover and listening to a recording that the quartet made with his wife, who was a mezzo-soprano. He (and we) have a vision of her singing (it's Anne Sophie von Otter), and the piece she is singing is from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City).

It is tempting to think about the way the seven-movement structure of Beethoven's Opus 131 could correspond to the film's seven major characters. The members of the Fugue are the central four, and Alex, Miriam, and the Flamenco dancer all pull at the fibers that hold the ensemble together. Calling the ensemble "The Fugue Quartet" is a stroke of brilliance. (Quartets take their names from composers, cities, people, mythological characters, and musical expressions, but I can't think of another quartet that took its name from a musical construction). A fugue is, of course, made of four voices that are highly dependent on one another, echo one another's material in ways that good composers present in uncanny ways, struggle with one another (the stretto is a major component of most big fugues), chase one another around, and keep asserting their identity by stating the subject and countersubject in their different voices. Adding more voices to a fugue complicates things.

Beethoven's Opus 131 begins with a fugue. As far as I know, it is the first string quartet ever written that begins with a fugue. The first movement changes keys several times (also unusual), and when the fugue is over, both the meter and tempo change. We know that the second movement has started. The third movement is kind of an interlude (it accompanies the "interlude" between Robert and Pilar, the flamenco dancer), and the fourth movement develops and reverses the motive of the interlude. Director Yaron Zilberman uses the fourth movement as the background of the meeting between Juliette and Daniel on a bridge in Central Park, and bits and pieces from it (it is a very long movement with a lot of material and many changes in tempo and meter) punctuate other parts of the action. There are grand pauses between fragments towards the end of the fourth movement, and the fifth movement feels like a scherzo but behaves like a rondo. Then everything goes all ponticello, and all the members of the quartet start bowing on the bridge and making eerily ghostly sounds. The sixth movement acts like a slow introduction to the seventh movement, which seems to take many of the seemingly disparate themes and motives of the movements that preceded it, and present them with a sense of unity, as if byegons are byegons, and all is well, albeit in C sharp minor.

The last scene of the film happens during a concert. Robert has been living in a hotel room because Juliette kicked him out of the apartment. Robert reacted to Daniel's relationship with his daughter physically, and things are not good between them, but they still have the first concert of their new season to play and Opus 131 is on the program. Peter is really suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's, but has agreed to play anyway.

The Fugue Quartet plays the beginning of each movement (edited nicely), and we get the sense that in spite of all they have been through and how they may feel about one another, they can still do what they are there to do. After the beginning of the seventh movement, Peter suddenly stops playing. He stands up and tells the audience that everything is moving too quickly for him and that he cannot continue. Then he asks Nina Lee, the cellist of the Brentano Quartet to take his place. She walks on stage from the wings, cello in hand. Robert and Juliette have a brief, spontaneous, and tender reconciliation (perhaps it was the power of playing Beethoven together in concert), and Nina sits down to play.

Robert (the risk taker in the ensemble, who has threatened the unity of the quartet by suggesting that the two violinist take turns playing first violin) made it clear in the beginning of the movie that he has always wanted to perform Opus 131 from memory (a few quartets have done this, but it is not common quartet practice). After Daniel stands up to tell the audience that you can't "ride the horses" of the seventh movement without being prepared by the sixth movement, he spontaneously decides to close his music and play to the end of the piece from memory. Robert reacts by closing his music, and then Juliette closes her music. It looks like Nina might even have closed her music (she must have played the piece with them before). Since Nina is a real cellist, something kind of magical happens when she puts bow to string and plays. The non- (or novice) string player actors react physically to her physical presence on the instrument, and it made me laugh out loud, because they all became more physically engaged than they had in all their carefully-choreographed playing scenes from earlier in the movie.

There is one detail that I found quaint and rather of implausible. Robert and Juliette go to an auction to buy their daughter a violin. The instrument they are interested in is a Gagliano. Robert "plays" a single phrase of Ziegeunerweisen on the instrument, and decides it is good for his daughter. The bidding begins, and it ends with a guy in a business suit bidding $25,000 for it, and Robert and Juliette storming out after they were outbid. $25,000 for a Gagliano? Regardless of which Gagliano the instrument was made by, only in a fantasy world would it sell at auction for that little. $250,000 would be more like it!

Friday, November 02, 2012

A Level-headed Look at Musical Prodigies

Half the prodigies I studied seemed to be under pressure to be even more astonishing than they naturally were, and the other half, to be more ordinary than their talents. Studying their families, I gradually recognized that all parenting is guesswork, and that difference of any kind, positive or negative, makes the guessing harder.
This comes from a very sane article by Andrew Solomon in Sunday's New York Times Magazine about musical prodigies and the parents that raise them. It is interesting to note that many parents who find they have unusually smart children start them on music because it gives them something challenging to do that offers them constant stimulation and the personal rewards that only music can bring. It seems almost like the polar opposite motive of a "Tiger Mother" who tries to make her children smart and accomplished by giving them music lessons, and insisting that they excel in order to feel that they are loved.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Amateurish Ramble

When I was in high school there were three kinds of musicians. There were people who were equally good at music and academic subjects, there were people who did music as an activity, but put their studies and sports ahead of what they did with music, and then there were the people who didn't worry about their grades because they knew that practicing was ultimately more important. Music was what they were planning to do, and everything else was, well, everything else.

I, of course, fit into the latter category.

I grew up in a boom time for music, and had all the advantages of being a music insider in a boom town (Boston), which led me to feel very comfortable in New York. I never had any doubts that I would be able to make my living as a musician, but being a flutist I knew I had to work at least ten times as hard as a string player to get a job, and that the job that I would get might not be in America. I considered this a fair challenge, and met it with energy and enthusiasm. I was not equipped to embark on adult life as an amateur. I didn't have the skills.

I graduated from Juilliard in 1980, but I didn't want to get a master's degree (you could get one in a single year at Juilliard) and look for a university job (you only needed a master's back in the 70s and 80s) because I was well aware of the employment limitations for flute players and the competitiveness that they would encounter. I didn't want to be in the professional position of "encouraging" the next generation of flutists to major in performance and enter the competition for orchestral jobs. Orchestras only carry three or four flutists, and most of them hang onto their jobs for life. If I were teaching in a college and not playing in an orchestra, what credibility would I have with students anyway?

There were plenty of jobs for string players, and even plenty of jobs for pianists and singers during the 1970s, particularly in New York. The wind, brass, and percussion players who played really well and knew a bit about the politics of getting work had work to do. When I left New York in 1980 for personal reasons, I figured that I could always return and would always be able to find playing work. When I did return after the first Recession, there was very little flute playing work. There was still work for string players, so I considered the problem a flute-related one: New York had become, in my absence, overpopulated with good flutists.

When I returned I found that synthesized music had started taking over the Broadway pits. Now, in 2012, the very nature of music for the Broadway and Off-Broadway theater has changed entirely. Whatever studio work remains has been dispersed across the country (though not into my neck of the woods), and it is harder and harder to find an orchestra that can guarantee that it will continue to exist from season to season. There are more highly accomplished musicians (including string players) in America than I imagine there have ever been, and even if there were as many places for them to do professional work as there were in the 1970s and 80s, I imagine only a fraction of them would be able to make ends meet, particularly in an expensive city like New York.

Then there's academia, which was once a haven for musicians who were willing to, for better or for worse, encourage their students to make music their livelihood. The students that succeed need to have marketing skills that are as good as their musical skills. Youth, good looks, great social skills, and a financial cushion help, as well as the willingness to think and move outside of the "classical box." Meanwhile, tenure-track positions are rare, and people are lining up for whatever adjunct positions happen to open up. Anywhere. (And now in any discipline of the arts and the humanities, but that's the subject for a future rant.)

So the rest of us are now faced with playing for money once in a while, and making most of our living working at something else. Does that make us amateurs? If we are, we certainly don't fall under the usual definition of an amateur! Perhaps we can't support ourselves by our playing or our composing (I heard that laugh), but we can, if we are not beaten down by the greater culture, play and write just as well as if we were paid great sums of money. When the market economy (i.e. the private sector) tells us that what we are doing is essentially useless because it isn't popular with a significant part of the population, we can let it get to us, or we can rise above it, and keep practicing until things change.

Maybe, once this 30-year era of ridiculous greed has passed (and I wonder if Hurricane Sandy might have stuck a serious blow to it), more people will develop a relationship with music (particularly the "classical" kind), and will want to hear it played for them in real time and in real space rather than through electronic reproduction of a rendered performance delivered in mp3 quality directly into their heads, where nobody else can share the experience. Perhaps they will even want to pay for the experience, again and again. There are certainly enough musicians around to fill that kind of need.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Please Give to the Red Cross

If everyone helps, even just a little bit, putting the east coast back together will be a little less difficult. Just click the image below, and it will take you to the "donate" page for the Red Cross.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Voice Talk and Ear Talk

I just came across Daniel James Shigo's fascinating blog about singing. A post from yesterday describes ear dominance, and uses the two presidential candidates as examples to study.

I have always felt a great imbalance between the two hemispheres of my body, which is why I think I only feel truly whole as a string player. The two hands doing the same exact kind of thing, with only the central air mechanism being expressive and active often makes me feel like I am in an expressive box. My hands have different strengths, sizes, weights, and temperatures, and until I became a string player I never even noticed. I am right handed and, according to all accounts, left brain dominant. I should "lead" with the right, but I always "lead" with the left. I always look left first when crossing the street and when turning around. I always have to be on the right side when Michael and I walk together, so that he is on my left. I far prefer being on the right side of a music stand so that I can look to the left to read the music. The "right" is an area of mystery, and sometimes even discomfort.

I have read studies about eye dominance (I'm highly left eye dominant), and I have always been aware that my two ears hear differently from one another, but this is the first time I have seen an actual study about it. I know that my left ear is dominant, so I have to remember to listen with both ears, which sometimes requires a small amount of effort. When I do, the world brightens up. I hear more.

I guess I must be mixed dominant.

When I walk down the street listening to music or even listening to the sounds around me, people always smile at me. I never really understood why until now: I must look happy when I am listening with both ears. I like what Shigo says about students trying to appear happy in order to sing better.
Of course, the student can't fake happiness. But they can pretend. And this can go a long way. The brain will accept an image more than a fact. Did I mention that my student had a breakthrough, singing up the scale into her head voice with great beauty? To emphasize my point: she 'got' what it looked and sounded like when she wasn't tense around the eyes. Now. Will she be able to keep it? That's another matter. Changes in audio-vocal control have to carefully nurtured until they become integrated.
Shigo sings beautifully, by the way. Listen to him singing Joseph Turrin's setting of "She Walks in Beauty."

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Yesterday I finished writing a set of Divisions on a Ground for alto recorder that will be part of a collection curated by Daniel Wolf that he is calling "The New Division." I am one of 24 composers who are each taking a different ground from John Walsh's The Division Flute and writing new Divisions (you could also call them variations) on the grounds that Walsh collected in 1706.

I had so much fun writing my "New Divisions on an Old Italian Ground" that I want, like a cell, to keep dividing. I'm currently working on a piece for violin, viola, and piano that could easily benefit from this kind of thing (a ground round, perhaps?), so I decided to check out Christopher Simpson's The Division Viol, which is an actual method book for writing divisions from 1655. (Perhaps it might have, in retrospect, been a good idea to read this before writing my set of recorder divisions, huh?)

The text and illustrations are as interesting as the Divisions themselves. This lovely orb, for example, shows the relationship of music to the zodiac "The outmoft Circle reprefents the Zodiack, and the Aspects of the Planets, to which you fee the Diapason with its Interfections exactly agreeing . . ." The bottom drawing shows that "all the Sounds that can poffibly be joyned together in Mufical Concordance, are ftill but the reiterated Harmony of Three."

Here's taste of Simposon's prose: a passage that explains his concept of music in relation to the zodiac. This is the 13th section of the second part of this book, his "Reflections upon the Concords of Music" (I have modernized the spellings, but have retained the capitalization):
And here I cannot but wonder, even to amazement, that from no more than Three Concords, (with some intervening Discords) there should arise such an infinite variety, as all the Music that ever has been or ever shall be composed. And my wonder is increased by a consideration of the Seven Gradual Sounds or Tones, from whose various positions and Intermixtures those Concords and Discords do arise. These Gradual Sounds are distinguished in the Scale of Music by the same seven Letters which in the Calendar distinguish the seven days of the Week; to either of which, the adding of more is but a repetition of the former over again.

This Mysterious number of seven, leads me into a contemplation of the Universe, whose Creation is delivered unto our Capacity (not without some mystery) as begun and finished in seven days, which is thought to be figured long since by Orpheus his seven stringed Lyre. Within the Circumference of this great Universe, be seven Globes or Spherical Bodies in continual Motion, producing still new and various figures, according to their diverse positions one to another. When with these I compare my seven Gradual Sounds, I cannot but admire the Resemblance of their Harmonies, the Concords of the one so exactly answering to the Aspects of the other; as a Unison to a Conjunction, an Octave to an Opposition; the middle Consonants in a Diapason, to the middle Aspects in an Orb; as a Third, Fifth, Sixth, in Music, to a Trine, Quartile, Sextile in the Zodiac. And as these by moving into such and such Aspects transmit their Influences into Elementary Bodies; So those, by passing into such and such Concords, transmit into the Ear an Influence of Sound, which doth not only strike the sense, but even affect the very soul, stirring it up to a devout Contemplation of that Division PRINCIPLE from whence all Harmony proceeds; and therefore very fitly applying to sing and sound forth his Glory and Praise.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stories about Music by Arnold Steinhardt

The violinist Arnold Steinhardt (of Guarneri Quartet fame) has started a short story website about his musical adventures called "In the Key of Strawberry."

Here's the first story.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Driverless Cars Following the Path of Automated Music?

I just came across this article in The Economist about the ways fully-automated cars, which are, at this point, significantly more than a pipe dream, will change life as we know it. It is kind of like the way digitally-recorded and delivered music has already changed musical life as we know it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Times are Tough, But Music is Tougher

Be grateful that I spared you the spoils of the "spell" I have been in over the past couple of days. Now that I have come to the other side, I have come to accept that, professionally speaking, things are not going to get better for me where I live. I can't imagine any act of fate that would suddenly compel enough community college students to sign up for music appreciation classes in sufficient numbers to make it necessary to add another class (or two) for me to teach, so I have decided not to let it bother all that much. Perhaps other professional opportunities in the world of music (but outside my geographical area) will come my way.

I think about the really tough times in history that the composers I admire lived through. I think about the oppression, the bigotry, the unfairness, the poverty, the wars, the famine, and the sexism that would have made it difficult for me to live and work during any time before the second half of the 20th century. Anyway, the reward for a composer is in the work itself: doing it, which brings daily pleasure (and challenge) and then hearing it played (which brings a different kind of collaborative pleasure), and not in recognition, which is illusive anyway.

It is clearly a lousy time to be a wedding musician, and a lean time to be an orchestral musician, but that's the way it is now, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it. Playing better (the only thing we really can control is the quality of our playing) does not mean that there will be more work, or that we will be fairly compensated for our time. And there is no such thing as going back. It just doesn't work, because time moves forward. Sometimes I think about what it might be like return to the time when the musical establishment frowned upon women participating in musical life in any way aside from singing, the occasional functional keyboard playing, as patronnesses of the arts, and as muses. When I do this, I get extremely uncomfortable.

When times get tough, I think of Beethoven working on his "Harp" Quartet (Opus 74) while Napoleon was bombing Vienna. Napoleon kicked the Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's friend and student, out of his palace, and was living there. Napoleon had lousy musical taste too. He didn't think much of Beethoven's music. What do we musicians and music lovers have from this time of difficulty? A lot of great music that people wrote to brighten up a dismal, unstable, and often dangerous world.

Perhaps that is what we need to keep reminding ourselves. Music is something that brightens the world, or at least it brightens the lives of people who care about it. It always has, and I just have to keep remembering that it always will.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Welsh Singing

". . . for singing is in my people as sight is in the eye"
Michael and I watched How Green was My Valley last night.

You can watch the whole movie on YouTube here.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Bravo Barack!
"We have got to name this condition he is going through. I think it is called Romnesia. I think that's what it is called. Now I'm not a medical doctor. But I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you because I want to make sure nobody else catches it.

If you say you're for equal pay for equal work but you keep refusing to say whether or not you will sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have Romnesia.

If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let employers deny contraceptive care, you might have a case of Romnesia.

If you say you will protect a women's right to choose but you stand up in a primary debate and say you'd be delighted to sign a law outlawing that right to choose in all cases, then you have definitely got Romnesia. . .

. . . If you come down with a case of Romnesia and you can't seem to remember the policies that are still on your website, or the promises you have made over the six years you've been running for president, here is the good news: Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions. . . We can fix you up. We've got a cure. We can make you well."

Musings About The Yard

The only thing about this post that has anything to do with music is the fact that while I am out in the yard pulling up vines, the last movement of Brahms Third Symphony seems constantly to be weaving its way through my brain.

We are having a strange year out in Illinois. Normally I don't spend time looking at the ground (I'm usually looking up), but this year I noticed that our back yard is a jungle of all kinds of vines. It didn't rain this summer, so we didn't mow (and therefore didn't know what was happening out there). It has been rather wet for the past month, and all the plants seem to be making up for the time that they lost during the summer. The vines in the yard seem to have the sole purpose climbing to the top of the hill, and I have taken a sacred oath to make sure that they never get there.

It's rough going, but I have been dedicated. It's raining now, which is the only reason I'm not pulling up vines, so I'm entertaining you by writing about the experience.

I'm rather new to thinking horticulturally. The culture part I get, but the "horti" part is another matter. I would love to know more of exactly what is in my basket.

I know this is a wild strawberry. I kind of like having wild strawberries growing in the yard because the birds and squirrels eat them.

and this is the wild strawberry flower. Yes. We have flowers and fruit both present (and thriving) during this odd Fall in Illinois.

This pine-like plant pops up everywhere. Here it is in its young form (in the ground), and then in its mature form (out of the ground). I would love to know what this one is. It smells like an evergreen, and it looks like a bonsai.

Then there's Vinca, my foe. Vinca looks really beautiful when it is contained, but it squeezes the life out of anything grasslike in its path when it is allowed to roam, undetected, like a snake in the grass. It is, however, rather rewarding to pull. It comes up in long ropes, and its young roots separate from the ground with just the slightest tug. Pulling it up does give a kind of "ping" of satisfaction, and with satisfaction being relatively rare in life outside of the back yard, I confess that I sort of enjoy the fact that it's there for me to pull, though I also want to win the battle for the hill. The pine vine likes to keep company with the Vinca. Here they are together.

and here's the battlefield:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New Music Quartet Plays Beethoven Opus 59, No. 3

Broadus Erle and Matthew Raimondi, violins; Walter Trampler, viola; Claus Adam, cello

[Thanks David!]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: A Late Quartet

I had the great fortune to watch a preview of Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet, a film that will be released in theaters in New York and in Los Angeles on November 2nd. If you like string quartets (the music and those who play it), I imagine you will find watching this film as enjoyable and worthwhile as I did.

The movie is about (I'm not giving any plot spoilers here) The Fugue, a highly-successful New York-based string quartet that has played together for 25 years. Their oldest member, a cellist named Peter Mitchell (played by Christopher Walken), is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, and has made the decision to retire from the quartet. This change, along with influences from people outside of the quartet, begins to erode the delicate balances (musical and familial) that allowed the quartet to function as a successful musical organization.

Walkin plays the elder-statesman-musician very well. Peter Mitchell does not seem to be modeled on a particular cellist or, for that matter, on any musician in particular, but he has qualities of humanity, humility, wisdom, generosity, and morality that many of us like to expect from our chamber music mentors (some have actually lived up to our expectations). Daniel Lerner, the quartet's first violinist, is played by Mark Ivanir. Lerner came to Juilliard as a foreign student, and formed the quartet with Mitchell and two of his equally-young colleagues. He is a self-absorbed perfectionist who makes bows as a hobby. Robert Gelbart, the second violinist in the quartet (who takes risks in his private life and wants to take risks in his musical life as well) is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is married to Juliette Gelbart, the quartet's violist, who is played by Catherine Keener. They have a 24-year-old daughter named Alexandra, played by Imogen Poots, who takes lessons from Daniel Lerner and plays in a quartet that is coached by Peter Mitchell.

Much is made of the unorthodox seven-movement structure of Beethoven's 13th Quartet, his Opus 131. It frames the film, beginning with the opening fugue subject from the first movement, and ending with the final Allegro. Opus 131 accompanies and punctuates much of the action (there is also some non-Beethoven music) and becomes almost like a character. Motives from the first four movements serve as leitmotives for the various relationships between pairs of characters during the exposition. The relationships reveal themselves gradually, and though they end up being quite complicated, they are never implausible.

These quartet musicians are human, and some of them make very human (and often risky) mistakes. I believe that this film does a lot to show people who are not musicians how delicate the personal balances can be in a chamber music ensemble. They are as delicate and as fragile as the complications and balances in the music itself.

The superb actors have clearly spent time becoming familiar with their instruments. Their left hand positions, and the way the vibrato looks compared to what it sounds like might bother some string players a bit, but it is not enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the movie. After all, this is a movie about who we (string players) are and what we do, and these excellent actors are taking certain risks by entering our world and exploring the music that we love and the kinds of relationships that we have. I am particularly grateful for the care that the actors, their coaches, and the camera people put into focusing on the beauty of a straight bow stroke, whether the strokes are made by the actors or "bow arm doubles." Some of the off-the-string strokes show a valiant effort (it takes a good 20 years to develop a fully-functional bow arm). The synchronization between the actors' fingers and the actual sounds, made by the very fine Brentano String Quartet (celebrating their 20th year together), is very good, and the instruments (supplied by Rare Violins of New York) are simply beautiful.

After watching the film I opened my score to Opus 131, and I have to say that the film helped me to "see" it in a new way. Although Opus 131 is not the ideal starting place for people new to Beethoven quartets, the film serves as a perfectly good gateway to the kind of lifetime obsession that many musicians and music lovers through many generations have had with these 16 enduring and constantly-relevant masterpieces.

What better "lay" spokespeople for Beethoven and for string quartets could we ask for than this particular group of actors and actresses and this director?

Watch the Trailer.