Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some of What I Learned in 2013

I learned how to use my bow.
I learned how to play double stops confidently and comfortably.
I learned that I love to play the piano.
I learned that playing the piano can help my violin playing and my viola playing.
I learned to love Mozart and Haydn in totally new ways.
I learned that Facebook isn't all that bad. It fills a need in a fragmented world.
I learned that blogging no longer has the community feeling it once had.
I learned that in spite of the lack of community feeling, there are people who appreciate what I write here.
I learned that there are also people who enjoy playing the music I write.
I learned that things I do like can change.
I learned that things I don't like can change for the better.
I learned that it really doesn't matter.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Musical Preparation for Retirement

Sherman Walt, the former principal bassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra decided to learn to play the viola when he retired. He bought an instrument from my father, and had a lifetime of making reeds and playing solos moving towards his rear-view mirror. I was devastated by his sudden death in 1989 at age 66 when he was struck by a car while walking across the street in the Chestnut Hill section of Brookline. Reflecting on Mr. Walt's desire to play the viola was one of the things that gave me courage to become a string player. I told myself that as soon as I found a steady job I would start playing a string instrument again. I remembered noodling around on the viola that my father would sell to Mr. Walt, and I felt a special connection. Even a responsibility.

I suppose I can say that the job I got at the university radio station was steady. Year after year the powers that "were" suggested that my job was slated to be a full time job, but year after year I ended up being paid for just 15 hours per week. I though that those 15 hours came without benefits, but one important benefit came as a surprise. After twelve years in the job (regardless of the meager number of hours), I became vested in the university retirement plan, which in Illinois is the state retirement plan. I left the job (for reasons too complicated to discuss) after 13 years, and a portion of the small amount of money that I have drawn over the years since leaving the radio station (teaching at a community college) has made its way into this fund. The upshot is that when I officially retire I will probably "make" more money than I have ever made as a working-age person (not that it's enough to live on). The "steady" aspect of the job, and my personal vow made it possible for me to find a very full musical life after a frustrating one as a flutist without prospects, and keeping that promise to myself has become its own great reward.

That's not the point of this post, however. The point of this post is that viola may not be a usual retirement for bassoonists, but is a common retirement instrument for violinists. Some go to the viola because the high register of the violin becomes physically difficult to hear, and some go to the viola because they imagine that viola parts are less demanding than the first violin parts in chamber music and in orchestra (many are).

I know from experience that playing the viola can be physically taxing, and I also know from experience that the strain on shoulders and elbows grows as the body ages. I know that vibrato slows down and that hearing changes. I know that the pleasure of playing both the violin and the viola has a lot to do with having the hands and arms respond quickly to the musical landscape, and I know that eventually the response begins to slow.

I have many older friends who can no longer play. I know that I could not bear to not make music on a daily basis, particularly when I get into my 80s and 90s, and the world as I will know it will be as drastically different for me as it is now for my friends in their 80s and 90s today. It is for that reason that my preparation for retirement is to continue my daily piano practice, and approach the instrument and its music seriously (it isn't hard to do at all).

I imagine that when fiscal retirement comes, I will be one of the few people around to have a pension without ever working steadily for more than 15 hours a week. I imagine that when I reach the age when I will have to put down the fiddle and bow, I will be a pretty good pianist. I will also probably be able to get along fine without ever developing any kind of virtuosic technique. I will have a built-in excuse: I'll be old. But I'll be happy in my musical company.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

30-minute Cinnamon Christmas Crisps

These cookies use the exact same dough as my 30-Minute Hamantaschen recipe. I guess these have become a holiday tradition in our house.

This evening my daughter Rachel and I made them as round crisps topped with cinnamon and sugar, and they taste great.

Here's the recipe for the above cookies:

This dough recipe makes about two-dozen cookies and uses two cookie trays that I line with parchment paper. You might notice that the ingredients in the dough, with the exception of the salt, descend in a ratio of two to one.

In order to make these cookies in 30 minutes, you need to locate a rolling pin and a glass to serve as a cookie cutter (I used an 8-oz juice glass this evening). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, cut the parchment paper and place it on your cookie sheets, and you're ready to go. You can, of course, use any kind of cookie cutter you like.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 T soy milk (or a little more, or a little less, depending on the weather)
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
cinnamon and sugar mixture for topping

Mix all the ingredients with a spoon, adding the soymilk last, a bit at a time, and knead the dough for a minute or two until it is smooth. Roll it out on a floured board so that it is fairly thin, and cut it into circles. Put the circles onto your parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet (you can put them fairly close together because they don't rise), sprinkle the circles with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and pop them in the oven. Let them cook for 11 minutes, and then use what remains of your 30-minute time period to let them cool so that they become crisp.

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Ash Grove for Strings and Harp

I just put this arrangement into the Petrucci Library.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here. This setting for strings is actually older than the setting I made for four guitars back in September, but it only made its way into its final form yesterday.

Yes, the little nod near the end to the Jupiter Symphony (which you can't really hear in the guitar version) is intentional.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chopin: Now I Understand

I have always enjoyed listening to Chopin, and confess that when playing in the orchestra for his piano concertos, I can get a little bit emotionally connected, but I have never felt about Chopin the way I did yesterday.

I have been filling in the pianistic gaps in my life by playing the piano every day (with limited exceptions). First there was Haydn. I went through the Haydn Sonatas with my limited technique, and marveled at the genius of the man as a composer. Then there was Mozart, and I started to understand about how it feels to play particular harmonies, and how they sound different when they are coming from my hands. I admired (and still admire) the harmonic audacity of Mozart, and the way he manipulates form (and coming to know that there will usually be some more development in the recapitulation). Then I noticed how differently Mendelssohn made the piano sound from Mozart and Haydn, and wondered how this was possible. Perhaps it has something to do with Beethoven, a composer I feel I am still unequipped to meet personally through his piano music.

My brother's piano music (that I brought to Illinois with me from my father's basement a few years ago) included a volume of Chopin Mazurkas. I thought I'd try one or two in order to learn to use the pedal.

Now I have Chopin cravings. I wake up in the morning, and I want to play Chopin. The Mazurkas have a lot of repetition, so after the tenth or twentieth time playing a particular figure, my hand begins to learn it. My left hand wants to go to those singular, strange harmonies found in regions of the piano that Chopin bushwhacked, and my right hand wants to pounce, cat-like, on those non-chord tones, and then bring them to their resolutions, no matter where they lead.

I have heard great pianists play Chopin, and I have enjoyed listening immensely. But it is different when you can play it yourself. My Chopin will NEVER sound as good as Rubinstein, Horowitz, Argerich, Richter, Pressler, or even your average high school or college piano student, but that's not the point at all. The point is that playing Chopin is a different experience from listening to it.

Now I understand.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Excellence Impostor Complex Ramble

I grew up in a household of excellence. I took excellence for granted. My parents and brothers were far smarter than I was, and they seemed to be able to do things that I just couldn't do (like math). I remember wishing that I had a different kind of mind than I had (or have), so that I could operate in their intellectual and musical ranks.

I also had friends in high school in Newton who were fantastic musicians, and the Greater Boston high school musical scene was packed with people with extraordinary talent and ability. I had people to admire who were New England Conservatory students, and people to admire in the Boston Symphony. I had my musical heroes very close to home.

I figured out how to fool people pretty early on. I could hold my own in adult conversation when I was a teenager, and I could use my highly developed intuition to give people the illusion that I was smart. I was on a personal search for truth, and I read a lot about music. I also loved music deeply. I did see myself as having certain advantages through what one person on the outside referred to as my "breeding" (though I would never use that word myself), and I fought vigilantly to break down the barriers that got in my way. Some of those barriers might have been imaginary, but a good many of them were real.

It was pretty crazy for me to feel that if I began playing the flute in the seventh grade (a late age in a competitive field), I could, through sheer perseverance and hard work, rise to the top of the "pack," and get into a good school as a performance major. I thought that if I worked harder than anyone else, it would make up for what I lacked in experience and brain power. Ultimately, I confess, what got me into Juilliard was my "breeding." Julius Baker taught my mother, and he admired my father's playing. I also studied with one of his students. I managed to fool him with my armor of charm, and, after being initially rejected because of my less-than-perfect orchestral audition (the first of many), he pulled some strings and got me accepted. I never really felt like I belonged at Juilliard, until I found out that my path there was not all that unusual.

I still think that my audition for Baker was a brilliant "wool-over-the-eyes-pulling" moment. I played the slow movement of a Mozart concerto, and I prepared my interpretation by listening to Julius Baker's recording of it. Every time he changed color, I made a little mark in my music. Those were the places I changed the color of my sound or made some kind of musical inflection, but I intentionally didn't inflect the same way he did. I intuited that those places were moments of sensitivity for him, and I suppose I was correct.

I suppose that getting into Juilliard became a mark of excellence. I was surrounded by people who were excellent players, and made friends with people who were fine musicians. I was a champion practicer.

I have applied my late-starter mentality to everything I have done musically: learning new instruments, writing about music, and writing music. I love having a long road ahead of me, and I love encountering real brilliance and real talent, but now, at the age of 54, I'm starting to understand my limits. I am turning more into a consumer of music than a producer because there is so much to play, particularly on the piano, that is far greater than anything I could imagine writing.

Specializing has never been my strength. I am polyamorous as a musician. I can't commit to a single instrument or a general era. I can't commit to writing in a particular style. My tastes go all over the map. I admire those who do specialize, though. I also admire people who can write about music in a compelling way.

I wonder if Richard Taruskin ever has feelings of inadequacy. I wonder if he ever feels like an impostor. When I read his essays, particularly the ones collected in The Danger of Music, I understand how directly, cleverly, and correctly a person can write about music. I also understand, particularly through Taruskin's eyes (and hand) that composers are all complicated people. I am grateful to him for quoting Debussy:
"The emotional satisfaction one gets from putting the right chord in the right place can't be equaled in any of the arts," he wrote exultantly in 1915, after a year of blocked inactivity. "Forgive me. I sound as if I've just discovered music. But in all humility, that's rather what I feel like."
Taruskin's 1988 response in the New Republic to Harvey Sachs' Music in Fascist Italy called in this volume "The Dark Side of the Moon," discusses details about the prejudices of many early 20th century musical icons that most of us really don't want to acknowledge.

So ends my ramble. Perhaps I should go and do something productive. Or read more Taruskin.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Music and Money

I just read a post on On An Overgrown Path concerning the fact that wealthy people who sit on boards of major music festivals are the people calling the shots about the future of "classical" music.

I can only quote Captain Renault:

Rich people who love music have ALWAYS been the reason that "classical music" institutions survive. When I was young I used to distrust them, but now that I see things in a much broader historical way, I understand that the only reason that music and art continue to be made available to people who don't have large amounts of money is through the generosity (or obsessive love) of those who do.

Some of us who believe in social justice observe that some of the people who love music as much as we musicians want to play it (and write it) are of a very different kind of political mind. Sometimes that different kind of political mind is one that acts exploitatively and manipulates politicians.

The only solace we have is that this kind of thing has gone on since the Renaissance. The music and art survives, though. And it still will, as long as there are people who have both money and taste.

One big problem that we face is that often times people who have extreme wealth lack taste. This happens among people who don't have wealth as well. Money can't buy taste. Unfortunately. It can buy instruments, excellent instruction, and even influential friends, but it can't buy talent.

So the future of classical music is like a volleyball passed between people of serious financial means who love music deeply, and those that have personal preferences that may not have much to do with anything that lies below the surface of the combination of good looks, a flashy (and reliable) technique, and stage presence (in composers as well as in performing musicians).

I know that as a working musician (performing and writing), who is not of the flashy ilk, it is not likely that I will see vast sums of cash and support come my way (miracles can happen, but I'm not holding my breath). But I do know that if a "culture maker" were to ask me for something and reward me with exposure, press, accolades, and money, I would probably do my best to deliver whatever it is they ask of me.

That is the tradition of "classical music." It always has been, and I believe it always will be.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Serendipity: Lucien Capet Saves the Day

This morning I was practicing double stops on the violin. I always seem to have more trouble playing double stops on the violin than on the viola because of the strong presence of difference tones in the upper register. Sometimes I feel like I have to "fight" a great deal of "noise" just to get them to resonate evenly.

Then, out of the blue, I got an email message from David Mendes, a person who reads this blog, with a link to a dissertation about Lucien Capet. Capet's analysis of the way the bow works is fascinating, and also extremely useful. This image, however, proved to be a revelation for me.

[You can click on it for a larger view.]

The gist of the image is that when playing different double stops it is best to put the weight of the bow in different places in order for them to sound properly. It has nothing to do with the musical direction of a phrase, or voice leading, though sometimes a nice coincidence does happen. It has everything to do with the ease of getting both pitches of a double-stop to sound and resonate.

When you play the interval of a second, you put more weight on the lower string (or pitch).

When you play the interval of a third, you also put more weight on the lower pitch, but you don't need quite as much as you do for a second.

A fourth is only slightly weighted to the lower pitch, and a fifth is exactly even.

For sixths, the weight goes toward the higher pitch, and for octaves even more weight goes toward the higher pitch. The most weight goes to the higher pitch for ninths and tenths.

I just tried this with solo Bach, and found the results remarkable. It really makes you think and feel. It's so much easier to make music when the double-stops come out sounding clearly.

There's a German edition of Capet's La technique supérieure de l'archet in the IMSLP.

Thank you, David.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Stravinsky on Film Rehearsing (and Recording) L'Historie du Soldat

Alexander Schneider is the violinist; Julius Levine is the bass player; David Oppenheim is the clarinetist; Loren Glickman is the bassoonist; Robert Nagel is the trumpet player; Erwin Price is the trombonist; and Alfred Howard is the percussionist. The film is from 1954.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Being Irresponsible

I suppose I put in a little more time at the piano today than I have in recent days. I usually limit myself to one or two movements of Mozart and one of Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words," but today I got a bit carried away because playing the piano has become my latest exercise in irresponsibility. I guess I played two whole Mozart Sonatas, and then, just for fun, I played some Haydn.

The beautiful thing is that it's just about me and the music, and I can play as slowly as I like. When I make mistakes, I go back and correct them simply so that I get to hear the right notes in the right order. I'm not practicing when I play the piano. I'm playing.

But I am getting better at playing, and I find that I don't need to look at my hands as much as I used to. I also don't tense my shoulders anymore, and I find that I can breathe normally while I am playing.

Don't get me wrong: I love practicing the viola and the violin, but I crossed the threshold of responsibility years ago. Now it is always a responsible act, and practicing does often feel like hard work (not that there's anything wrong with hard work).

Now that I have developed my daily piano routine, I look at music differently when I am away from the instrument. I look at piano music much more physically. I imagine myself playing it, and consequently I hear it more clearly in my head as piano music rather than as notes and chords.

Sergio Fiorentino's Bach

My friend Dan Barrett introduced me to this extraordinary recording of Bach's Partita No. 1, and I'm sharing it with you. The pauses between movements are a bit long, but the wait is worth it.

Here's Fiorentono's obituary, and a link to all of his recordings on YouTube.

Here's one where he plays whatever comes to mind, including the beginning of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, "Some Day My Prince Will Come," a bit of Gershwin, and some Paganini, followed by a paraphrase.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A few words from Lorin Maazel to those of us who "march to different tunes."

Lorin Maazel has been around. He has enjoyed celebrity for all of his professional life, which happens to be most of his physical life. He made this post on Facebook, which I think readers here might appreciate. I'm sparing you the photograph.

Kim Kardashian Goes Without Underwear, Takes Bathroom Selfie

Living in the backwaters of the Arts, I have to rely on services that inform the public about things that matter, like Yahoo's "Trending Now".

I thus can keep abreast of significant events such as Kim K. not wearing underwear.

We classical musicians wrestle year after year with the intricacies of orchestration, the philosophical implications of a phrase, the challenge of matching sonorities of orchestral groupings, the agogic of an interpretation, the goal of identifying a basic tempo for each composition performed, plotting rehearsal strategy so that maximum results can be achieved within the confines of a pre-determined time frame and adapting to acoustical properties of each venue for maximum effect. How comforting to know that there are millions out there who tremble at the very thought of KK's skin, her every word, her boyfriend.

How foolish I feel never having heard of the lady until a few weeks ago.

More power to her. May she enjoy the clout given her by worshiping fans.

Tempted as I am to chuck it all in favor of hoping to share a KK Selfie, I seem to be unable to distance myself from the Titans of Classical Music.

This week I'm having a bout with Richard Strauss.
I'll sum up my impressions in a separate posting but I'd like it to be known that as admirable as underwear-less Kim's moving through the ether of the real world may sound, there are still a few of us who march to different tunes.

- Lorin Maazel

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Six Pieces for Violin and Piano by Amanda Maier

Violinists and lovers of violin music will be happy to know that I just put two editions of Amanda Maier's Six Pieces for Violin and Piano on her page in the IMSLP Petrucci Library The first is a scan of the 19th-century original, and the second is a modern "engraving" edited by the violinist Gregory Maytan, who has made excellent recordings of both the Six Pieces and her B minor Violin Sonata.

For readers new to Amanda Maier (1853-1894), here are several posts I made about her over the past few years.

I am happy to report that Maier's Swedische Weisen und Tanze are also in the IMSLP, along with these pieces and her Sonata.

Here's a link where you can buy Gregory Maytan's recording of the Sonata and his recording (the first and only, so far) of the Six Pieces.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Skye Boat Fantasie Performances in Charlotte, North Carolina December 6 and 8

I was thrilled when the members of the SkyeProMusica asked me to make a transcription of my Skye Boat Fantasie for their ensemble, and am happy to let you know that they will be performing it on their Winter concert next week.

Here's the concert information:
Classical chamber trio SkyeProMusica will be performing works by Reinecke, Martinu, Rachmaninoff, and a world premiere of a work called Skye Boat Fantasie, transcribed for SkyeProMusica by the composer, Elaine Fine. Performances will be on December 6th at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Rea Rd in Union County, and December 8th at 2:00pm at St. John's Episcopal Church on Carmel Rd in Charlotte.
You can get additional information here.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rooftops of Teaneck

A Farewell to A Farewell to Arms

When I lived in Schladming back in 1980, the very small Austrian city had a tiny library. There were only a couple of English books in it, so A Farewell to Arms was a relief to read since I spent so much of my life communicating clumsily in German. As an expatriate I suppose I connected with the protagonist, and as a young person I suppose I connected with the intensity of the love relationship (based, it seems, mostly on an attraction I would now consider kind of superficial).

There are phrases here and there that I find evocative. (Notice that I didn't say "charming.") The short sentences without much in the way of punctuation are also a bit infectious, but as a 54-year-old I just can't stand them. I have this terrible habit of picking up the prose style of fiction writers, so I think it's a good idea to donate my copy of the book to the hospital library, and be done with it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Urban Hospital Music

I love hearing the music in the voices of people speaking languages I do not understand.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Radio Silence

I haven't been posting for a few days (and won't be for a few days to come) because I am spending my days in the hospital keeping Michael's father company while he recovers from an operation. It is very difficult to be away from my instruments, and my good friends Mozart and Bach, not to mention my sometime nemesis Arnold Bax, whose difficult viola part of his Trio in One Movement I was just beginning to get under my fingers. There is work to do, but the work will just have to wait.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Tremendous Expression of Grief: November 22, 1963

Read the article about it here. It was my father's first season in the orchestra (he began as the last stand of the second violins and became the principal violist the next season). I talked with him about it for the first time the other day. He told me that the conductor, Eric Leinsdorf, told the orchestra right before they played.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm Not Naming Names

I actually don't have to, because it seems that the bulk e-mail message I got yesterday from a well-known and well-respected conductor (at least a conductor I respected prior to receiving this message) could have come from any one of a thousand people. This message lauded a particular soloist (could be any instrument--I'm not naming names) as "the most exciting __________ alive today."

I was intrigued, so I looked the soloist up on YouTube and found this person (I'm not giving away gender) to be one of the most tasteless musicians I have ever heard. I could even venture to say that s/he is the most tasteless musician alive today, but because I limit my exposure to such players, I am (thankfully) not in a position to make such judgements.

It really bothers me that conductors feel the need to sell concerts the way some people sell cars. It also bothers me that the people new to "classical music" who buy the hype and go to the concert will echo the sentiments of the sales pitch even if the playing has left a bad taste in their collective mouths.

This kind of publicity shows a lack of respect to listeners, and I believe it ultimately thwarts the greater efforts of musicians who devote their lives to trying to play tastefully.

I do know that the city where this conductor conducts has a lively set of musical offerings, and some of them come from tasteful musicians. I hope that fewer and fewer of them buy the used cars hype that this individual is trying to sell, and go spend their leisure dollars elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More from Charles Villiers Stanford

". . . At the same time music has one advantage of other arts, in that, being itself a subtle and intangible entity, it can create its own forms and vary them more completely than they can. But one rule is common to them all; no matter how free the design, the proportions must be preserved if the work is to make any sensible appeal to human intelligence. A new form in music may require study and frequent hearing to understand it, but if it is logical and founded on a thorough knowledge and control of means, time will endorse it. Such modifications grow (like folk-songs in Hungary) and are not made. To have any value at all they must in their nature be children of their fathers. The laws of evolution apply as rigidly to musical art as they do to nature itself. It is not necessary to go out of the way to seek for novelty of design any more than for novelty of expression. No two faces are exactly alike, although the are, eyes, nose and mouth are in the same relative position. To paint a face with two noses or four ears would not suggest novelty of form, but only the imbecility of the artist. Polyphemus, with his one eye in the centre of his forehead, will always be a grotesque monstrosity. In the treatment of form, as in the control of invention, the only path to originality is through sincerity of expression on the lines of natural beauty. The moment originality is forced, extravagance, exaggeration, and bizarrerie become inevitable."

Charles Villiers Stanford

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charles Villiers Stanford's Short Treatise on Writing Music

I came upon this bit of treasure on the IMSLP this evening. It is just about the best practical guide for writing tonal (i.e. common practice) music I have read. Stanford is sincere, brilliant, and gets to the heart of the how of writing music.

Here are a few choice excerpts from the 116-page book.
Trust to inspiration for a melody.

Do not necessarily be satisfied with the form in which it first presents itself, but work at the details while preserving its balance.

When your melody satisfies you, get a bass for it which is as melodious as you can make it without allowing it to overshadow the melody proper. The bass will probably be in your mind as you write the melody.

Practice as much as possible in old rhythmical dance-forms, such as minuets, sarabands, allemandes. Vary the number of bars in your phrases, and be careful to balance them satisfactorily to the ear. Remember that sentences to be intelligible must have commas, semicolons, colons, and full stops, and apply this principle to your music. By doing so you will make your phrases as clear to the listener as they are, even in their cruder form, to yourself.

Found your melodies on the diatonic scale, and treat chromatics as reinforcements and decorations only, until your themes move easily in diatonic intervals.

Study counterpoint first, and through counterpoint master harmony.

Study strict counterpoint only.

Study the pure scale and accustom yourself to think in it. [N.B. The pure scale is an I tempered scale, the kind of scales played on a non-keyboard instrument.]

Practice canonic and fugal writing until the results sound quite easy, natural and musical.

Write always some music in any free style, without thinking about rules, alongside your technical work.

Learn the value of using plenty of rests.

When an artist, who has made a design for mosaic, proceeds to put his picture together, he must make his tesserae so even-edged as to fit easily to each other; if the edges are rough and unfinished, he will not improve the effect of his design by hammering them together and chipping them; nor can he excuse such methods by pleading that the mosaic picture is so far off that no one will see the flaws. The flaws will let in the dust and damp, and the laziness of the inferior workmanship will be exposed by the great enemy of all charlatans, Time.
I believe that his advice is still as relevant for composers of the 21st century as it was for composers of the early 20th century. The analogy Stanford makes about the maker of mosaics holds true for every type of artistic endeavor.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Are What You Eat, Musically Speaking

Perhaps what I love so much about Alma Deutscher is that the music she writes reflects what she knows. She seems to be having the ideal musical childhood, filled with a steady diet of Haydn, Mozart, and Scarlatti. Her father, Guy Deutscher, is an accomplished linguist and an amateur flute and recorder player, and I understand that her mother is also an academic. They are able to give Alma lessons with excellent teachers, provide her with high-quality instruments, and educate her at home, so that she can devote her time to music and childhood. She is a delightful child, filled with real wit and a true musical personality.

She clearly has spent time listening to and studying Haydn's Opus 33 Quartets (make sure to listen to the end).

She had some seriously original musical ideas when she was six (make sure to listen to the development section about 2 1/2 minutes in).

I love the way her interpretation of this Scarlatti Sonata is personal, and appropriately quirky.

Some day I hope to play the piano as well as this eight-year-old.

Viola Organista: A Peek into an Alternative Musical Universe

Imagine if Leonardo da Vinci had actually built this instrument 500 years ago (when he designed it)!

Here's how it works. Here's a view from a turning wheel which demonstrates the concept. You can see the person turning the wheel at the end of the instrument in this clip. Here's an animation of the "action" (that's horsehair, not water).

Here's a news broadcast about the first crude example from 2009, and an article about Slawomir Zubrzycki's improved model.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Some Excitement in Laramie, Wyoming on Monday

It's the first performance of a piece I wrote in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Laramie Guitar Ensemble.

How I wish I could be there.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We don't see it, but it's still there

The thing I love about this video of a violin string in motion, as seen from behind the bridge, is the way the vibrations of the note (started at the tip, where instability is always a possibility) gradually achieve properties that remind me of a jump rope at full swing.

With normal vision (in real time) we don't see the parts of a bowstroke that are less stable, but we can hear them. The image of the jump rope and the idea of getting and maintaining full swing as quickly as possible and for as long as possible during any given note helps me focus my attention in a new and exciting way.

I love the fact that the swing of the string, once set into motion, continues after the bow leaves it. We all need to pay attention to the microscopic corners and ends of the notes we play. Since a sound wave is a sound wave, I imagine that this image would be useful for all musicians, not just those of us who play bowed strings (there is no way to slow down the visual image of the physical way sound comes out of a wind instrument or a set of vocal chords). What a rare and useful piece of video!

I wrote a piece about jump rope for two violins a few years ago. Who knew?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lorca's Guitar: Seis docellas bailan

Last summer, after visiting an exhibit at the New York Public Library that displayed, among other things, Federico Garcia Lorca's guitar, I wrote a set of six pieces for the guitar based on lines from some of his guitar-related poems. If you look at the titles here, you will see that each contains a number, and that the third piece of the set is about the three strings of gut and three of silver that are used on Lorca's guitar.

I just put the music for the set in the Petrucci Library, and thought I'd share a computer-generated "reading" (which we can call fauxdio) of the last piece of the set here:

Kevin Hart, the dedicatee of the piece, is planning to record them this winter. Special note to Kevin: the tempo of this is really too fast for a real instrument. Composers always pick tempos that are too fast, so I'm just doing what comes naturally.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grand Cultural Shift: Watch Fred Rogers talking to the Senate

This was 1969. I was ten, and the world was a confusing and large place. Like most children, I had issues with identity. I was one of a few people who found Mister Rogers' Neighborhood frightening because of the creepy Lady Elaine, who shared my name, and therefore I didn't believe that very calm man who told me that he liked me just the way I was. I only watched the show occasionally. I imagine that the relatively small handful of people named Elaine in my generation understand.

I really fell in love with the show when I watched it with my own children, beginning in 1987 when our daughter was born. It was then that I learned to like Lady Elaine "just the way she was," and I began to understand that Fred Rogers was, in addition to speaking to children, was setting an example for parents to try to look at the world from a child's point of view. I imagine that there are other adults can respond to the show from our inner-child's point of view, because so many of the things that trip adults up are fears and habits of response acquired (for whatever reasons) when we are children.

The 7 minutes above are very meaningful. I can't imagine such a response from a member of the Senate concerning a request 20 million dollars in our current cultural climate. In many ways Fred Rogers accomplished his task, and we have a few decades of proof, because many people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s who had the chance to watch the show as children are trying to make the world a kinder, gentler, and more understanding place.

PBS no longer shows Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (it stopped airing in 2007), and there are too many things in our consumer-driven culture that trip us up. Those things come from the outside, but the do affect everybody on the inside, children and adults alike. It is wonderful that some of the shows are available to watch by way of YouTube, but because of all the din that is the internet, a small still voice speaking reasonably about things that matter is not always the one that we hear.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Paganini Project

Peter Sheppard Skærved demonstrates Paganini's tricks and techniques, shows his travel journal, explores iconography of the time, and demonstrates Paganini's steel bow (and explains why Paganini held his bow so high on the stick). The nifty bow stuff starts about 47 minutes into the film.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Learn Your 50 States with This Song!

Violin Soloist Barbie

One of my students has a violin-playing American Girl doll, and it looks like the folks at Mattel are trying to jump on the, er, bandwagon.

My first impulse when I saw this was to groan loudly. The doll is made for the Chinese market, where lots of young girls play the violin. Many young girls see the attractive array of young women who grace the tubes with their grown-up playing. They also see a wide array of adorable little girls in fancy party dress playing the violin. I have had many a young girl student come for lessons because they were inspired by seeing and hearing a video or two of someone pretty and talented playing the violin. I even had a boy (who is now a young man, and still a violinist) come to me because he loved seeing and hearing Andre Rieu, who is just about as "Barbie" as a male violinist can get.

It doesn't look like Barbie's arms would bend to hold the fiddle or the bow, but there is a certain kind of violin-playing kid who would want such a doll. We grown-ups forget about the value of play and imagination.

Practically Barbie would not be able to play with that necklace, and those shoes would NOT be comfortable for playing, even if it's imaginary playing.

Perhaps the viola version of the doll could be "Viola Soloist Midge." Remember Midge? (Like most viola soloists, and important solo repertoire, she doesn't come to the front of the brain like Barbie.)

How would "Viola Section Player Midge" sell?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

What is your brand?

The question that came up the other day:

What is your brand?

The first thing that popped into my mind was "Henle."

Yes Michael. This is a hint. I'm three Sonatas into volume I, and would really like to own volume II.

What's your brand?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Beware the Whims of a Music Editor!

I decided it was time to listen to a few recordings of Paul Juon's Opus 15 Sonata since I'm playing it in a week or so. I'm using an edition published in 1946 by International Music that was edited by Milton Katims. The only reason I'm using the Katims is because the edition in the IMSLP prints out rather small. I need all the clarity I can get, so I chose to use the International edition. I figured that an edition from a reputable publisher wouldn't have wrong notes in it.

I was wrong.

For some reason Katims decided to change one of the notes in the main theme from the C-natural (clearly indicated in the part by the composer, in both the first statement and in the recapitulation) to a C-sharp. [For non-alto-clef readers, it's the eighth note that the viola plays, and it gets repeated three times in the measure.]

Here it is in context:

That altered note (as you will hear in the videos below) changes the main theme considerably.

Spencer Martin plays from the Katims edition:

These very fine (and unnamed players, who are probably Russian) use the 1910 German edition:

I put a query to the 1000-plus-member group of violists on Facebook about the problem, and I didn't hear a peep (though my flutist friend Jean Petree, whose mother is a violist, knew the piece). I imagine that nobody gave that C-sharp (or those C-sharps) a second thought. I wouldn't have questioned it myself if I hadn't come across that Russian recording. Thank goodness for the IMSLP!

(For the record, Katims also changed the measure before the 5/4 section in both the exposition and the recapitulation.)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Monday, November 04, 2013

Hall Overton Sonata for Viola and Piano Played by the Zaslav Duo

It is with great pride that I am able to share this fantastic reading of Hall Overton's Sonata for Viola and Piano that was recorded on June 22, 1989 during the 17th International Viola Congress at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. The Zaslav Duo (Bernard Zaslav, viola, and Naomi Zaslav, piano) had a long and distinguished career, and they spent much of it playing new music.

A big thanks to Bernie and Naomi for allowing me to put this recording on line!

Bernie's head didn't make it into the image on YouTube, so here is the original picture of the Zaslav Duo (from 1962) in all its glory.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


I'm playing a concert in two weeks. You will, no doubt, notice that between the pictures of two composers of works on the program (i.e., Paul Juon and York Bowen), people not known to most of the non-viola-playing world, there is a mystery composer.

I found this group of sonatas by this "mystery" composer in the "Anonymous" section of the IMSLP. It was "discovered" by the violinist Ferdinand David and transcribed for viola by Friedrich Hermann, who was the principal violist of Mendelssohn's orchestra. It exudes the spirit of Leipzig in the second half of the 19th century, a time when musicians were discovering (and devouring) the music of J.S. Bach after its hundred years of relative obscurity.

The burning question I have while I am practicing is whether to incorporate baroque conventions into the 19th-century phrasing (i.e. changing the articuation). This brings up the larger question of authenticity and a composer's intentions (even if s/he didn't attach a name to the work). For the record, I think it's a "he," and I believe his name is Ferdinand David, the first editor of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, and the dedicatee of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. David probably knew very little about 17th- and 18th-century instruments and bows. He also knew little, if anything, about the harpsichord, but he was still a pioneer in the field of baroque music. He was also an excellent composer.

This piece for "un-figured bass" is great fun to play. Playing it makes me thumb my nose at claims of authenticity, and it reminds me that the real mandate that this piece of music (or any piece of music) has is to work towards an interpretation that is true to its spirit.

Friday, November 01, 2013

If It's November, It Must Be Mozart

I spent some of August, all of September, and a few weeks of October playing through Haydn's Piano Sonatas in order to learn something about piano playing and something about Haydn. I learned a great deal, and had a wonderful time doing so. I have decided to spend the month of November playing through the Mozart Piano Sonatas. Yesterday I played the first, and today I played the second.

Now, with this little bit of experience, I understand why pianists love Mozart so much. These Sonatas simply feel good under the hands, and it is so easy to play expressively without having to do anything physically unnatural. What a treat this is! And it's a treat that anyone with a keyboard and minimal piano skills (thanks to nearly three months of daily practice I can finally trill with one hand and play an Alberti Bass with the other) can give him or herself. And the music is even available for free in the IMSLP.

Perhaps some readers might like to join me in this adventure! The word "Movember" has already been taken by people who are capable of growing facial hair, so, perhaps those of us who enjoy playing the piano can have our own "Movember" by playing Mozart every day. Of course people who play other instruments are welcome to join, though there would have to be considerable repetition to fill all 30 days of November (not that there's anything wrong with that).

If you're a man, you could do both. Grow a beard and play Mozart. I imagine that at some time in his life Mozart might have had some facial hair.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just in Time for Halloween!

Having trouble figuring out what to wear for Halloween? What could be scarier than this?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Categorical Ramble

When I worked as the classical music director for a college radio station during the later 1980s and 1990s I marveled at the way the students who maintained the library put recordings into categories. There was jazz, cool jazz, bebop, new age, folk, hard bop, blues, hip-hop, soul, rock, world, and a whole slew of modifiers that divided each "genre" into specific sub-genres. I believe doing it gave the students who assigned the recordings their labels a sense of accomplishment and importance.

Then there was "classical," which was divided into two categories: general, and "short-takes." As far as most of the students were concerned (except for the ones who I worked with) "classical" was just one thing. Boring is one word that comes to mind. I never really let it bother me, since most the students I worked with found out that their preconceptions were wrong. After spending a few months working on the "classical" music programs, some of them even became knowledgeable, and some found music that they really liked in the vast sea of the "classical" section.

My music appreciation students begin every semester with similar preconceptions about this music we insist on referring to as "classical." Most of them come into the class knowing country music and whatever popular music happens to be saturating the commercial airwaves at the time. A few of them are eclectic and have developed specialized tastes, but they still initially see the vast world of all that is "not classical" as having far greater variety than the music they will be learning about in class.

I take great pleasure in breaking them of this preconception, and always get a mid-term "lift" when I read the papers they write about their experiences listening to the radio (we have two NPR stations in our area) and going to concerts. Nearly every student is surprised at the variety of music that he or she hears, and nearly every student is pleased that s/he can identify music from the different periods we have studied (and at mid-term we haven't even gone beyond the Viennese Classical Period--the only application of the word "classical" I feel comfortable with). Semester after semester the students who stay in the class (i.e. the students who do the assignments and come to class) let me know how surprised they are to find that they actually enjoy listening to "classical" music.

There are probably more excellent "classical" recordings being made now than ever before. More people have the tools and practical knowledge to make a recording sound professional than ever before, and, with a little bit of money, people can easily create their own recording labels and arrange for their own marketing and distribution. "Classical" recordings are still a small sliver of the genre-rich recording market, and though there are a vast number of "stars," there are only a handful of living "classical" musicians who are recognized by the general public. Those musicians are people who have been well marketed, and many of the most prominent "classical" stars are simply not the best musicians. Some of them are downright lousy.

High-profile people in the musical blogosphere talk about "classical music's problems." They have been talking about them for years. Some people find fault with the way organizations that perform "classical music" promote their concerts and reach out to audiences. Others find fault with the kind of programming that orchestras offer. Lately people take issue with the way managers of "classical" organizations treat the musicians that they employ.

These are not "classical music's" problems. "Classical music" is not an institution. "Classical music" is not an organization. "Classical music" is not dying, because "it" is not a living organism.

Musicians simply go on with their work, whether it is something they can make a living from or not. Some play beautifully, and some play well. Some don't play so well. Composers write music because they write music. Some of it is great, some is good, and some is not. A small amount of the music that people compose gets recorded, and relatively little of it gets performed, but people still do play newly-written music for pleasure. People play older music for pleasure too. They take lessons, play with their friends, play concerts for audiences large and small, and they practice.

What we do is really not that different from what people have always done. The problems I encounter while practicing a piece of Mozart are the same problems that countless other musicians have encountered during the 19th century and the 20th, and in all parts of the world. The joys that I get from getting a passage to sound good through analysis and repetition are the same joys that countless other musicians have enjoyed. The intimate exchanges that happen during concerts are the same kinds of intimate exchanges that have always happened, regardless of the size of the hall, the size of the audience, or the size of the city.

"Classical music" doesn't have a problem; just a lousy name that reduces the size and scope of centuries of music from all over the world so that it can be safely tucked away from view and effectively marginalized.

The Difference Between Music and Electronic Sound

This interruption of the Haydn Piano Concerto is so very interesting . . .

Watch all the way through. What happens when the musicians resume is very special and quietly empowering. The title of this video "Haydn Killed by Cell Phone" is wrong. Absolutely wrong. It should read "Haydn Triumphs" because he does. The smile and gleam in the eye of the concertmaster says it all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Baseball Brass

I remember being in Boston during the 2004 World Series. During one of the games (that the Red Sox won) I was at a Boston Philharmonic concert at Jordan Hall with my brother (the program was Mahler 1 and Songs of a Wayfarer), and my father was playing a BSO concert across the street. I went backstage at intermission to see my old friends (I used to play piccolo in the Boston Philharmonic), and all the brass players were fixated on the game, which was playing silently on a television. Our concert was over first, so we went to Symphony Hall and hung out backstage until our father's concert was over. There was just as much excitement among the BSO brass as there was at Jordan Hall. The excitement on the street was extreme (Fenway Park is just down the street from Symphony Hall). At that point I understood something about Boston that I never understood before.

I really enjoyed watching this video, so I'm sharing it here. I love the engraving on the BSO tuba player's instrument, and I love the spirit of the whole thing.

I can no longer recognize a single face in the current BSO brass section, but now that I live in the midwest I actually recognize some of the St. Louis Symphony brass players (that bearded trombonist is hard not to miss). Go figure. Time marches on. I'm still rooting for the Red Sox.

Quintet for Flute, Oboe, and String Trio

My friend Allison Brewster Franzetti, who coaches a group of chamber-music-playing adults at Rutgers in New Jersey, asked me if I had written anything for flute, oboe, and string trio. To my surprise, I hadn't. It's one of my favorite instrumental combinations, thanks to Johann Christian Bach.

My new two-movement piece is now in the Petrucci Library, and if you want to hear it right now (before the recording uploads itself into the library), you can listen here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mystery Musicians

I found this on picture on Mike Brubaker's TempoSenzaTempo blog (it's well worth spending a lot of time there), and thought I'd open up the mystery here. Perhaps someone reading might be able to identify one or more of the musicians (or the art on the walls).

Here's his fascinating post about the photo.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Something I Learned about Writing Music from Mr. Matisse

Yesterday Michael and I went to a Matisse exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures exhibit came from the Baltimore Museum of Art's Cone Collection, which is the largest private collection of Matisse's work. It was but a sliver of his total output, but it was enough to get the gist of what made him "tick" as an artist.

Like Picasso, Matisse had an extraordinary amount of pure technique. He could do anything, and he did everything constantly, working from the purely representational through all kinds of abstraction in search of what he wanted to say for that particular piece. There are, of course, many ways of saying the same thing. One might not be more successful than the other, but that doesn't matter. Presenting an image from one perspective may not be better than presenting it from another. Today I prefer the first image of this scene, but tomorrow I may prefer the second (I did see the first in the "flesh" yesterday).

Maybe Matisse's attraction to sculpture had something to do with the inside-out nature of three-dimensional art: the sculpture is seen from many different angles, and the "composition" is supplied by the viewer.

Neither of these piano-oriented paintings were in yesterday's exhibit, but I learned a great deal about looking at them from having seen the Matisse works in the exhibit that used the same scenes or the same objects.

The Peters Haydn edition on the piano in the first image has special meaning for me, and so does the Pleyel Piano. I love the way these two paintings work together. One is lively and interactive, with a sense of everything belonging to everything else (including the otherwise-absorbed father of the child, and the person listening outside). In the second image the boy is left alone, and a metronome sits on the piano. The light is the same, and the art on the wall has changed somewhat. Matisse changed the painting-within-the-painting too, giving the the woman the illusion of a face that is turned towards the boy. The father has been replaced with a female sculpture (which seems to be more attentive than the father), and the boy has a different face. The violin has vanished. Both are complete paintings that "say" very different things.

Something I learned from Mr. Matisse about writing music (or what I am learning from Mr. Matisse about writing music) is that everything is about composition. What goes where. Something complete and lively can be just as satisfying as something with fewer elements in it. The way to get those elements to work best together comes from a mixture of technique, intuition, trial, error, and taking many risks.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Haydn Piano Sonatas

In my quest to learn more about the piano, more about music, and more about Haydn, I have almost completed my first run through the 43 Haydn Piano Sonatas in my four-volume Peters Edition set. I usually limit myself to a movement or two, but today I played through the whole C major Sonata, Hoboken 16/50, because I found it so fascinating, so beautiful, and so much fun to play. My intuition tells me that Schubert probably loved this sonata too.

Here it is played (at the proper tempo) by Brendel:

My daily Haydn has become my refuge. I think that after tomorrow I'll just go back to volume one and start again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Bit of Tuba Excitement in Pullman, Washington

On Thursday, October 17th, Chris Dickey will be giving a faculty recital at Washington State University in Pullman, and he will be playing the world premiere of a Sonata for Tuba and Piano that I wrote for him.

A Most Exciting of Musical Families

I have just discovered the wonderful piano playing of Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983), and also just learned that she is the sister of Clara Rockmore, (1911-1998) the great Theremin virtuoso, and the mother of WQXR's "The Listening Room" host Robert Sherman.

New Strings, Old Habits

I put new strings on my viola last night (at long last), and this morning I had a little bit of time to break them in. Instead of doing the normal three-octave scales that use all four of the strings, I decided to break in one string at a time. My mind, ear, and hand went to the Taffanel-Gaubert tetrachord exercise that I used to play on the flute every day for at least 15 years. Perhaps even 20.

Like all students of Julius Baker (and all students of students of Julius Baker), I began every day with this. It was a kind of mindless meditation, where my fingers just "did" (I really had no idea what the names of the notes I was playing were, nor did I really stop to consider what the configuration of half and whole steps actually was), and my main concern was the feeling of my breathing and the uniform quality of the sound I was making.

I began on the D string, and went all the way up, shifting with a different finger for each repetition, and changing the number of repetitions I would keep in one bow occasionally. I have always said that the flute was kind of like a violin (or viola) with one string, and the challenge of playing the flute is to use the air and the tongue to manipulate the natural color of the pitches in order to get variety.

My breathing started to get very deep as soon as I began, and I noticed that I could use my deep breathing to allow tension to slip away from my left hand and arm as I played the notes that I could generate without thinking. There was time, due to the repetitions, to consider my bow changes, and there was time and "head space" to consider the quality and process of my shifting.

The strange thing for me is the physical relaxation response that results from playing the same series of pitches on a different instrument. How I wish I could communicate with another flutist (one who studied seriously and played at professional level) who switched to violin or viola and plays at a professional level on his or her new instrument.

I used to do these exercises on the alto flute too (which is pitched in G), so I imagine that all sorts of alto-flute-related sensations will come to mind when I do these exercises on that string, now that my D is broken in. It's funny that doing this exercise on the A string doesn't bring flute sensations to mind for me, but doing this exercise from Marcel Moyse does.

Well, it's time to go and break in my G string.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Yet Another Study Reveals that Studying Music is Good for Young Minds

Ironically, these findings come at a time when 1.3 million of the nation’s public elementary school students receive no specific instruction in music—and the children who do not have access to music education are disproportionately those who attend high-poverty schools. While wealthier school districts can compensate for budget cuts that reduce or eliminate music programs with private funding, low-income school districts cannot, so the kids who might benefit most from music education are often the least likely to get it. “One certainly hopes,” Iversen says, “that the results of these kinds of studies will cause a re-evaluation of the role of arts education in schools.”
Everybody reading this probably already knows the findings of the latest study about why music should be part of every child's education, particularly in districts where money is not flowing, but I thought I'd share this new article from the The Atlantic by Lori Miller Kase here anyway.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Performing is Such a Strange Word

I do not consider myself to be a "performer," but I find the concentration that I experience when playing concerts exhilarating. It makes me feel so truly alive and truly involved (even relaxed) when I am playing chamber music or orchestral music for a group of people who are listening. When the concert at hand is over, I want to have the experience again; but the only way I can "get" it is through playing music with people for people. I suppose it is kind of an addiction.

Doesn't the word "performing" seem very much out of place?

Friday, October 04, 2013

A Brief History of a Musical Failure

Catherine Tice, the Associate Publisher of the New York Review of Books began her expressive life as a violinist. She writes about her relationship with her piano-playing father, and studying with Henryk Szeryng in this beautiful piece in Granta called, "A Brief History of a Musical Failure."

Tice writes from the vantage point of one who was not able to make a career in music because of her lack of some essential qualities that must be present in a child prodigy:
I never had the makings of a prodigy. I had something else. Easy to say that I have this in common with thousands of others who took up, or were persuaded to take up, and eventually to put down, perhaps with some relief, a musical instrument. The ‘something else’ is what is sometimes called musicianship, which I am too inexpert to define, but at the time when it was just shy of full flower, I nearly gave myself over to the violin completely. I became musically exceptional for a child, but I lacked an essential psychological immunity to the dark side of self-criticism. When essential support was withdrawn by degrees it became increasingly difficult for me to do and be what I initially had no intention whatsoever of doing and being. Moreover, it simply isn’t enough to be good.
This bit of memoir tears at my heartstrings. I imagine that Catherine Tice's life is full, and that she is busy with obligations, but reading this makes me want to put a fiddle into her hands and tell her that she can return to playing if she wants to. That she doesn't have to consider herself a musical failure simply because she didn't make it as a child prodigy or that she disappointed her father.

Here's a personal note to Ms. Tice (that I'm putting here to share with others who share the same kind of disappointment): My father told me that I had that "something else" too. My older brother was a prodigy, and for that matter my father was as well. I was normal. I loved music. I loved the violin, but as a daughter I felt crushed when he referred to my time playing as a child as something of a failure, so I took up the flute, which was a way to continue in music. The flute was not the "voice" I wanted in music, but I figured it would do. It didn't. In my very early 30s I retaliated, and I started playing violin again. I built up technique from scratch (literally), gave myself permission to fail, both in private and in public, and have found a kind of musical fulfillment that keeps giving because it's all mine. Nobody "gave" it to me.

Readers of this blog know about my devotion to Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi's blog Frantic: the Memoir. You might enjoy it too. And then you might consider that playing the violin is something that you can still have in your life. There is even a late starters orchestra you could play with in New York.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What Teachers Make

Inadvertent Guest Blogger: Michael Drapkin

My cousin Michael Drapkin made a post and comment on Facebook, and I'm sharing it here. First the post:
My heart goes out to the concert going public in Minnesota - the real losers in this conflict. Not the administration or orchestra musicians. I don't really care about right or wrong; it doesn't matter...the orchestra doesn't exist for the benefit of the musicians or the board: they exist SOLELY for the people that attend concerts.

Our government and tax laws allow organizations like this to collect tax-deductible donations, operate without paying taxes and run tax-free endowments in order to benefit the PUBLIC TRUST. In this case, that means the people - the American Public - that are supposed to benefit from an orchestra that is granted these privileges. The fact that these two warring groups - the board and players - cannot get along in the sandbox is the sideshow.

The real problem? Music is huge in America, but classical music is dying; yet we still graduate 12 - 15,000 music performance majors from our colleges each year - at their annual juries they are made to play orchestral excerpts from pieces that they will never get to perform. Similarly, orchestras are not sustainable as playthings of the rich, as is their legacy, nor is their music of "dead white European men" a part of our culture. Labor and operating costs are TOO expensive for them to be run as a hobby by rich patrons, performing 200 year old music from Europe. Leonard Slatkin was quoted in Polyphonic as saying, "we know that our music only appeals to 2% of the concert going audience." Until you start addressing the 98% and stop the deluge of unemployable orchestra musicians, you'll continue to have debacles like Minnesota.

And the loser will be the public and the 98% that don't know why we need orchestras in the first place.
And then a later comment:
Maybe what we should make music school more like med school - difficult to get in and even harder to complete. The only hazing system similar to med school at Eastman was rushing for the insignificant Phi Mu Alpha fraternity. But seriously, my late father, by some miracle, was in the US Army as a drill sergeant and took and passed a medical aptitude test which sent him to Northwestern Medical School on a free ride courtesy of the US Government. He used to tell me that on his first day, all of the new students were in a big hall and they said, "take a look at the person on your right and left. One of you will be gone before the end of the year." The problem I observed at Eastman was that the hardest part of the school was just getting in! Once you were in, you could sail along and you'd still graduate, even if you did not fulfill the potential that got you there to begin with.

I think some of the challenges of med school are some enormously difficult classes - labs where you have to cut people open, anatomy, etc. It is a difficult and not particularly fun curriculum. Maybe that is the problem with music school - it is too much fun! You get to continue to take private lessons like before, and get an absurd number of credit hours for it, even though non-majors take the same lessons and only get one third of the credit. You get to play in ensembles - see? There's that word: "play." Playtime. Music school is fun, and it shouldn't be. You should be made to do unpleasant things like they do in Med School to prepare future doctors for the challenges ahead.

Wait! That's what I am proposing for the Drapkin Institute! Instead of cutting open bodies, my students will have to cut open business models and understand what make them tick. They're going to have to do a lot of things that not only go beyond their current understanding, but actually change the way they think. Things like learning that just because you practice hard and learn excerpts that you are not entitled to an orchestra job that earns you a living. Realizing that you need to find other ways to express your passion for music and finding out which of the other ways appeals to you. Gaining the business acumen to make this passion a reality, and when you fail you can't blame it on the executive director or the board of directors - YOU will be the chairman of the board with either only yourself to blame, or to cheer on with your own success.

I've been blessed to have had two trajectories in my life that both started when I was in grade school - business and music. I wish to gawd that there was a program of the type that we are proposing. Instead I had to learn it the hard way: empirically and on the job. So instead, we are planning on sharing that through our nascent institute.

We need not be defined by the narrow criteria for what constitutes success that was hammered into us in music school, that if you didn't get a job in a major orchestra you weren't successful. Indeed, I have been disgusted by the past ClarinetFests because they always deify industrial clarinet players that have no personality or individuality since they know that they wouldn't get hired if they did. We also have NO model for teaching leadership. In fact, we are hammered into learning followership: from the very first time we set foot in an ensemble, we are taught to follow. Who will be the leaders that arise from this constricted and outdated music school curriculum that is insidiously protected by NASM? No wonder why the orchestra world is a disaster: no individuality, no creative ideamaking, no leadership. Just a whole head of musicians recreating Nero fiddling obliviously as Rome burns and orchestras melt down like the Minnesota Orchestra. There are better ways - much better ways, and I intend to prove it.
I'm pretty sure that Michael's savvy with business is something that flourishes on part of the family genome that I don't share, but that's one reason I find his particular talents so intriguing. Chutzpah he has always had, and success too. Perhaps with the way things are going in the music profession it might be a good idea to try his ideas and see if they work.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Michael

After being married for 29 years to the person the blogosphere knows as Mr. Orange Crate Art, I'm happy to say that we also keep one another entertained at home (i.e. in real life).

His glasses may be fogged, but mine are not. Life is great in our little house in our little town, and we are still very, very happy together.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Marcel Tabuteau Interview

The last part of this video has an interview with Marcel Tabuteau. By demonstration he makes the case that musicianship has everything to do with personality, while stating that his method of teaching makes music into a disciplined intellectual activity rather than one of feelings (because there are days when you might not feel that good). Clearly his cup ran over with an abundance of both.

Friday, September 27, 2013

White, Tye, and Tallis

Next Sunday, October 6th at 2:00 the Eastern Illinois University Collegium Consort will play a concert of English Renassance music at the Wesley Methodist Church on South Fourth Street in Charleston, Illinois. We're playing the concert to honor the 90th birthday of Robert W. Weidner, the scholar who transcribed the music into modern notation. Dr. Weidner spent his career teaching music history at Eastern Illinois University, and people around the world have benefited from his work making instrumental music of the English Renaissance accessible.

Here's a sample from "Sit Fast" by Christopher Tye in the original notation (the three parts are notated separately):

and here's a complicated section from the above manuscript in modern score notation:

We will also be playing several instrumental pieces that use the "In Nomine" section of a mass by John Taverner as a cantus firmus. One is by Taverner himself, and the rest are by Christopher Tye, Robert White, Alfonso Ferrabosco, and Thomas Tallis.

Dr. Weidner came to our rehearsal today, and he described one of the cadences as "very handsome." I like that. A handsome cadence.

Rosemary Buck, Elaine Fine, Peter Hesterman, Charles Hughes, Jeri Matteson-Hughes, Ruth Riegel, and I will be playing various recorders and stringed instruments, dulcian, sackbut, and crummhorns.

The concert is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and admission is free.