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.