Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rice Pudding Scone Muffin

Yesterday I tried to find a recipe for muffins that incorporated leftover brown rice. I found several recipes of the gluten-free variety, which didn't interest me. Since I wanted to use a combination of wheat flour and rice, I ended up making up a recipe. The result was delicious and satisfying muffin that tasted like not-too-sweet rice pudding, and had the texture of a scone.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup leftover cooked short-grain brown rice

2 tablespoons coconut oil (you could also use butter, but I had some coconut oil around and wanted to experiment with it)
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used soy milk because that's what I had around, but I imagine regular milk would also work)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup (or so) of raisins
lots of cinnamon to shake on top

Warm the eggs and the milk to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a 12-muffin muffin tin with paper liners. Melt the butter or coconut oil so it is warm, but not hot.

Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl, and mix the eggs, milk, butter (or coconut oil), brown sugar, and vanilla together in another. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, then mix in the rice and the raisins.

The batter will be very stiff (I imagine that it would hold up if you dropped spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet like scones). Divide the mixture among the 12 muffin tins (it won't rise very much), and shake a generous amount of cinnamon on the muffins. Bake for 25 minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

In Praise of Now

I always remind my students that when we play we are always thinking about where we are, where we have been, and where we are going at the same time. In order to make for a meaningful performance, we have to be aware of where a phrase started and where it is heading. In order to make meaningful musical moments we need to set them up and release them. We need to be aware of the structure of the music we are playing, and we need to be hyper aware of what we happen to be doing at any given moment and where that action is taking us musically. Since no two turns around the fishbowl are identical, we strive to make the most out of the tiny nanoseconds of expressive difference, and, sometimes those little differences can make a world of difference in the way a piece "goes" in performance.

The air is electrified with the thrill of discovery. The beginning of each phrase becomes a "now," the duration of each phrase is an experience of "now," and the end of each phrase has a cadential (sometimes) sense of "now."

If we know the music well enough (and knowing something by memory doesn't always mean that we know the music beyond the notes, articulations, and dynamics), we can trust ourselves and be thrilled and entertained by whatever waves might come along, or whatever curve balls are thrown at us during the "now" of a performance. We can direct our awareness outward towards the people we are playing with, and follow their whims. We can enjoy the novelty and intimacy of the exchanges. And those intimate and novel exchanges are what we share with the people who are listening. We have an obligation to saturate the time with a meaningful sense of "now."

Perhaps it is because of that sense of "now" that I rarely listen to recordings more than once. A recorded performance is an image of something that was a "now," but a recording is always limited to what the microphone "hears" and/or what the camera "sees." I prefer to listen to recordings made in concert. A recording made in a studio, and submitted to scores of edits, does not offer me the same sense of "now" that a concert offers. A recording may be "perfect" (it certainly has to represent the intentions of the people playing and has to satisfy the people publishing it), and a concert may not be "perfect" (I distrust the idea of perfection in music), but the concert offers me and the other people in the room a meaningful "now." Lately I have been spending most of my musical time with live music: practicing myself, teaching students, rehearsing, playing with friends, or going to concerts.

In extra-musical life we enjoy the sense of now. My sense of smell during the particular "now" while I am writing this post is stimulated by the chicken stock I made last night reducing in the oven so that its flavor will become more concentrated. Come dinner time my sense of taste will be satisfied by those hours and hours of cooking time (not a "now" in itself, I guess, because it is a process), and dinner will be more meaningful because of the time spent letting the bones and vegetables cook. I have all day to anticipate it.

When someone plays a concert his or her weeks and months prior to the performance have been filled with figurative stock-making. That hour or hour and a half has been deemed "sacred" well ahead of time. Someone who performs a lot has a lot of "sacred" moments in his or her future, and someone who performs rarely has fewer, but they are just as sacred.

Our daily practice prepares us for whatever "now" happens to be in our immediate or distant future.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Birthday Greetings to JSB

Dear Mr. Bach,

I'm writing this letter in the form of a blog post so that it can be seen everywhere in the world on the same day. That concept might seem odd and impossible from where you lived during the 17th and 18th centuries, but that is nothing compared to the number of musicians in every country of the world who spend much of their lives playing the instrumental music you wrote for Prince Leopold, the keyboard music you wrote for your children, and the choral and vocal music you wrote for your church.

Your music for solo violin and for solo cello has been in my ear since I was born. During my infancy and the chaotic years of my childhood, I became grounded by the direction of the phrases in the cello suites that my father practiced on the viola, the transcriptions of your music that my mother played on the flute, and the preludes and fugues that my brothers played on the piano. Your flute sonatas and flute obbligatos from the cantatas, passions, and masses that I played on the flute sustained me through my teenage years, and then they taught me how to play the baroque flute (the instrument you wrote them for). Your Brandenburg Concertos taught me how to play the recorder, and your obbligato arias served as a doorway for the cantatas, masses, and passions as whole works. Through those awe-inspiring works I have learned (and continue to learn) how infinite and esoteric music can be.

Your music for violin taught me (and still teaches me) how to play the violin, and your Cello Suites (which I play on the viola) teach me daily how to get more from music and how to give more through music. I never tire of playing them, and I play them daily. They have helped me to teach students of all ages and experience about the infinite possibilities contained in a single line of music. They have helped me to express my feelings in times of sorrow and in times of joy. Even though I play them by myself, they help me feel that I am communicating something. They keep me company, and they help me recall one of the greatest joys of my childhood: listening to my father play your music on the viola. Once in a while I sound a little like the way he sounded in my idealized memory's ear, and that makes me feel wonderful.

Your Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier are my piano teachers. The incipient pianist in me goes through them methodically, and the composer in me marvels at how you get from one point to the next. The student in me climbs carefully through the musical landscapes filled with double sharps, and the teacher in me understands why you put some of your very best music into those rugged landscapes, making the difficult journey through well worth the mental gymnastics. Hearing accomplished pianists, organists, and harpsichordists play your keyboard music brings me great joy because I can step outside and marvel at the architecture.

This year musicians all over the world are celebrating your birthday by playing your music in public places. Any city dweller reading this who does not know about Bach in the Subways should see what is happening in their city right now.

Mit herzlichen Grüßen aus Charleston, Illinois,

Elaine Fine

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Seymour Barab's Complete Philip Marshall on Vimeo

Margie King Barab just let me know that a video of Philip Marshall, Seymour Barab's Civil War opera, is available to watch on line. This work would certainly be appropriate to revive during this Sesquicentennial observance of the end of the Civil War. Here's an excerpt from E. Thomas Glascow's review in Opera News of the first performance in 1974.

ON JULY 12 came the world premiere of Seymour Barab's Philip Marshall, a timeless, engrossing drama (libretto by the composer) about a Civil War veteran who, on returning home, finds life irrevocably altered by the conflict. Sandwiched between a spoken prologue and epilogue (Mrs. Hannon's visit to the doctor of the mentally crippled hero), the opera unfolds as flashback in the minds of Philip and Mrs. Hannon; a single, functional set served through the two long acts, with blackouts and prop changes behind one of the spotlit characters carrying on a sort of memory trip. The opera seemed tailor made for television.

Barab's lyrical, tastefully orchestrated score (with arias and ensembles) got sensitive treatment from the large orchestra under Wolfgang Schanzer. In the role of Maritha--the naive impetuous girl in love with Philip--Julia Lovett proved herself a singing actress of the highest caliber, with a soprano voice of exceptional purity and range. The other roles were well filled, from Theodor Uppman's sympathetic, war-weary hero to tenor David Griffith's war-dodging prodigal son, Jonathan Hannon. Soprano Suzanne Blum sang a passionate Rosellen (Philip's fiancé-turned-madam), and as Lucius, baritone Ronald Holgate developed from sinister bordello owner to heartsick, jealous lover...

Here's the first act:

Philip Marshall part one from Ronald Blumer on Vimeo.

. . . and here's the second act:

Philip Marshall act two from Ronald Blumer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"More Greek Myths" on YouTube!

A performance of "More Greek Myths," a piece I wrote in 2007 for Susan Nigro, is now on YouTube!

Here are some program notes:

I. Apollo (begins at 0:01)
II. Artemis (begins around 2:15)
III. The Labors of Heracles (begins around 3:45)
IV. Aphrodite (begins around 5:56)
V. Dionysus (begins around 8:09)

The basic idea of this set of pieces is a progression from the Apollonian to the Dionysian. Apollo, the god of the sun, represents the ideas of individuality, critical reason, the artistic possibilities of human beings, and the concept of perfection. He is cerebral while Dionysus, who ends this set of pieces, is ruled by passion and instinct. He is the god of wine and is associated with intoxication, pleasure, loss of individuality and dissolution of boundaries. He is the god of excess, while his brother Apollo (both are children of Zeus) is the god of self-control.

After Apollo we get Artemis, who is Apollo's twin sister. She is the virgin huntress. The meter of her piece is 6/8, the usual meter of hunt music (Mozart's "hunt" quartet, etc.), and the ascending arpeggios are supposed to be like arrows flying into the air. The music is kind of self-contained: Artemis is content with her life on her island (where she prefers to live alone with the animals). Before Dionysus comes Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She represents everything that Artemis is not. The image that I had while writing this piece was that of Aphrodite (represented by the sexy voice of the contrabassoon) rising up from sea foam, as represented by the piano's rhythmic ostinato.

In the middle of the set we get Heracles. He is the only mortal in the lot. While all the gods around him get to bask in tonality (and Aphrodite gets all kinds of rich 7th chords), Heracles labors with a tone row, made more difficult by irregular meters, dotted rhythms, and a relatively slow tempo.

The title "More Greek Myths" came about because this is the second set of Greek Myth pieces I have written for contrabassoon and piano. The first set is called "Four Greek Myths," and "illustrates" the stories of Hades and Persephone, Icarus and Daedalus, Pan and Syrinx, and Echo and Narcissus.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Marshall's Memorial Service

It was a beautiful service. Organist Joseph Fort, who is also a terrific pianist, played a bunch of pieces from the WTC and finished with the E-minor Fugue from the second book, which was Marshall's fugue (he claimed ownership, and nobody else was permitted to play it). My father and I played the slow movement from the Mozart g-major duo (the only other time I have played the violin part was with Marshall playing Viola), and Susan played a Celtic harp piece at the end. Grethen Grimshaw gave a most personal and moving account of her experience with Marshall, and my mother, father, and I each spoke about Marshall. My mother's friends were there, and I got the distinct feeling that everyone left the church feeling somehow changed. It was a transformative experience, and a service that Marshall would definitely have approved of because everyone spoke directly and honestly, and because the music was good.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Charlie Parker With Strings

The English Horn player definitely looks like Mitch Miller, and the violinist looks like David Nadien. The violist looks like he might be William Lincer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Marshall Fine's Tango in a Time of War and his Train Ride

A friend in Memphis is uploading my brother Marshall's manuscripts into the IMSLP, and his most recent addition is an orchestral piece that Marshall wrote for the IRIS Chamber Orchestra in 2002. As we prepare for a family memorial service in Newton, Mass this coming Friday (St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Walnut Street in Newton Highlands at 4:30) it seems appropriate to let people who read this blog know that this music, which is in the public domain, is available for anyone to play. Michael Stern conducted the first (and only) performance of the piece, and I can email the recording from it for anyone interested in hearing it.

Rather than putting a page of score here, I include a couple of excerpts from the first violin part. Marshall's hand, as you can see, is clear and crisp. The piece is too.

You can get the score and all the parts here.

Another manuscript that violinists might find interesting (and challenging) is Marshall's Train Ride for solo violin. I think I'll take out my violin and give it a try right now!