Friday, October 31, 2014

The Noonday Witch (for Halloween)

When I hosted a radio program that ended at noon, this was my usual selection for the last quarter hour on October 31.

Here's the score.

Here's a synopsis of the story (courtesy of a good Wikipedia article)

A mother warns her son that if he does not behave she will summon the Noon Witch to take him away. He does not behave, and the witch arrives at the stroke of noon. The witch, described as a horrible creature, demands the child. The mother, terrified that the witch has actually come, grabs her son, and the witch begins chasing them. Finally the mother faints, grasping her child. Later that day, the father arrives home, and finds his wife passed out with the dead body of their son in her arms. The mother had accidentally smothered their child, while protecting him from the witch. The story ends with the family's lament over the terrible event.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weighing in on Suzuki

The latest discussions about whether or not Shinichi Suzuki fictionalized his credentials as a violinist make more sense after watching this film clip:

Here's the blog post that started the current ruckus, and a response from 2013 to O'Connor's earlier blog post.

I should mention that there are many excellent alternatives to the Suzuki method, and there are excellent ones that are available for free in the IMSLP. I have always believed that it is the teacher and not the method that makes for a successful musical experience.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rant on Immortality

My mother, who painted the above watercolor, is very much alive, but she no longer paints because she can no longer see. When I told her that I wanted to put her paintings on a blog so that her friends and acquaintances could see her work, she remarked that she wasn't able to get much money for the paintings she sold because she was a living artist. I wonder why is it that after someone dies their work becomes more valuable. It is because there is a finite end to their output? My mother's finite end to her work came when she could no longer see lines and colors, but I believe talking about her work with people enriches her life as well as the lives of people who are able to see it.

Why is it that people so often wait until someone is no longer alive to voice appreciation for a body of work, be it musical, literary, or artistic? Much of our human culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of some kind of afterlife and/or some kind of immortality, but not being a person who believes in an afterlife or immortality, I know that will not derive any pleasure or benefit from having a posthumous career. Many people struggle to get their work known beyond a small circle of friends, but more often than not it isn't until an obituary hits the newspapers or the internet that people in the "outside world" pay attention.

Writing music is only part of music making. A piece of music, no matter who wrote it (or Whom) only comes alive when people play it. A good composer tries to make an interpretation inevitable through the writing, but the composer's input really stops once the music is notated and distributed or published. A piece of music is a gift to musicians of future generations, but once the composer's life is over s/he will never know where it is played, or by whom.

Recordings give an illusion that a person who is no longer alive is somehow present. The larger the musical personality, the more convincing the illusion will be. But it is still an illusion. Recordings give the illusion that someone who is alive but not within earshot is present. Writing is similar. I still find it miraculous that someone's "voice" can be transmitted into another person's head centuries upon centuries after the writer put pen to paper (or knife to tablet). A writer can also transmit his or her written voice instantly to just about anywhere in the world.

A visual artist can capture an image (moving or still) of a time that can never be revisited, but it is just an illusion because no time can be revisited. We move on and unconsciously filter our memories so that we have room for new thoughts. We need visual art to remind us of where we have been, or not been.

All we really have is the present, and we can use the powerful tools of communication we wear on our faces and carry in our pockets to communicate with people we care about in real time. I think that it is important to celebrate the work of the living. They (and we, as long as I am here) are trying to make the present matter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Using a Product Logo as a Teaching Tool

My violin students need to be constantly reminded to keep their left arms under the violin while they are playing. Today, while I was (once again) reminding a pre-teen student to keep her arm under, I noticed that all her clothes had the "Under Armour" logo on them. I drew it in her music to remind her to keep her arm under. Under Armour = Arm Under.

We both laughed. I told her that I would share this idea with other violin teachers on line, so here it is. Remember that you read it here first!

Friday, October 17, 2014


While I was slowly and carefully playing through the last of Bach's English Suites until a few minutes ago, I kept thinking about how many rules of counterpoint Bach breaks, and how often he breaks them. Then it occurred to me that Fux (1660-1741), the guy who wrote the rules of counterpoint as we know them, may have predated Bach by a generation, but he didn't write his Gradus Ad Parnassum until 1725, and by the time Bach could have even gotten his hands on a copy he could no longer see.

I have nothing against Fux. I cut several sets of teeth on Gradus Ad Parnassum. I just had a sudden realization about Bach today, and appreciate his deviations from what is to be expected even more than I did yesterday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I used to enjoy teaching music appreciation classes at our local community college. In the early years of the 21st century I had students in my classes who were genuinely interested in the material. Some were adult students who had returned to college after having children, some were adult students who were trying to make a new start by getting an education after unproductive early adulthood, and some were students who had served in the military. I had extremely smart students of normal college age who were using community college as an inexpensive way of taking courses that could be transferred to a four-year university. I also had students who had very little in the way of reading and writing skills, because the college had an open admissions policy. Some of these students found that they were genuinely interested in music (some, of course, were not). I even had a composer one semester, and I had to keep him stimulated while trying to get novices to understand the rudiments of listening to form in music.

During the past five years we have been suffering from some kind of a shift in our university community, and for various reasons college enrollment is down. I watched the abilities of my students slide downward, and found that very few students were able to get by with more than a passing grade during the last two semesters. Too many of them couldn't pass. Now most of the music appreciation classes have been cancelled, and mine, which met at 8:00 in the morning, was one of the first to go.

For a while I really didn't know what I would do.

Thanks to the kindness of one of my dear friends, and the departure from town by another friend who taught a handful of violinists, I now have eight new violin students who range in age from 9 to 14. It's been years since I worked with this many young people, and it is really refreshing to teach people who want to learn to play just for the sake of playing.

Everyone seems to be making progress, and I am making progress as well, because I make a point of practicing what I teach.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Meet the Composer Podcast from WQXR

I listened to an interview with Caroline Shaw today on "Meet the Composer," the new podcast from WQXR's Q2 station. I was impressed with the way Nadia Sirota conducted the interview, impressed by Shaw, and impressed with her music and the way she explained the extended vocal techniques used by Roomful of Teeth, the vocal ensemble she sings with and writes for.

I plan to listen to this podcast regularly.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


When I taught flute students I would often observe their throats getting tight when they found themselves in the musical land of many sharps. I noticed it in myself as well, and always had to work to counteract the tendency.

Lately I have noticed the tendency of my bow arm to stray from the optimum sounding point when I find myself crossing strings in musical landscapes that have many flats.

Hmm . . .

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Honour Bound: The Exile of Adolf Busch

I have spent the past two days being blown away by the beauty of Adolf Busch's bow arm and his overall musicianship, but this film, a kind of animated graphic novel with Busch's Opus 40 String Sextet as its soundtrack, increases my admiration for this tremendous musician even more.

The String Sextet was never published, and the manuscript is in the Brüder-Busch-Archiv in Karlsruhe. Perhaps an administrator for that archive might find a way to scan the score and parts and add it to this page of the IMSLP.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Tipping Point (Cyber and Otherwise)

On the bottom of my blogger screen is a little tab that reads "Complaints," so I'm using this moment to register some of my complaints about what seems to have turned into a life as a targeted consumer.

I usually look at my email first thing in the morning. I used to engage in lengthy correspondence with friends from near and far, but now my email experience consists of deleting sale notices from stores where I happen to have shopped once and notices about musical events far removed from my realm of interest and my location. Sometimes I find a message from a friend, colleague, or family member, and once in a while I get a notice about a comment to this blog, but it is always the exception. There are sometimes work-related email messages, which I always welcome. I have actually come to cherish those.

I delete between eight and ten messages before breakfast. By lunch time there are usually eight more. I always try to "clean house" in my inbox before I go to bed.

If I look at Facebook these days, I am bombarded by "posts" from people who have paid to have their "posts" reach me, along with ads from places where I might have shopped on line. I bought some socks on line last week, and ads enticing me to buy more socks popped up everywhere (and not just on Facebook). Facebook seems to have become the de-facto vehicle for personal communication, and I hate the fact that I have had to use it as such in family matters. "It" is kind of making "itself" indispensable (and in some ways it is making me feel dispensable). I have decided, for the sake of my health, to limit my Facebook time to 17 minutes per day.

[We used to have a "17 minute rule" back when all four members of the family lived under one roof and shared a single desktop computer.]

Today's US mail brought two letters. One was an official looking one from Washington, DC marked "Finance Department." It was, of course, a plea for money from a political organization. The other had a hand-written address (which, upon further study, I realized was just a very well-designed handwriting font). Then there was a card from a business that sends us catalogs, and a New Yorker magazine.

Somehow, around the time when the ads in my email inbox started increasing, the annoying robo telephone calls started decreasing. If the phone rings now (and it does rarely) it is usually from someone in the family, or an automated reminder from our HMO to get a flu shot (which just happened--while I was writing this very paragraph).

I have to say that thanks to technology I have NEVER felt so emotionally disconnected from the outside world, which appears from this end to be an endless stream of people trying to sell me stuff.

My patience is exhausted.

Thank goodness for music. End of rant. Time to practice and (thankfully) teach a few lessons later this afternoon.