Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Going up in Space and Playing Music

I have never had the desire to travel outside of the Earth's atmosphere. I never really understood why anyone would want to do such a thing until I heard an Inquiring Minds interview with Cady Coleman. She describes life and work in a space station kind of like the way I would describe playing a Mozart String Quintet.

Then again Coleman IS a musician.

I wonder what you would have to do in zero gravity to keep a bow on the string?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Local Culture

Last night I went to an excellent piano recital at a local university. The program was difficult and impressive, and the pianist, who had been an undergraduate student at that university, is on his way towards what I am certain will be a brilliant career (and I "know from good").

When this pianist was a college student his recitals were filled to capacity with members of the university community, students, friends, townspeople, and people from his home town. He was the pride and joy of the music department and the community at large. Last night's concert had an audience of ten or twelve people, and I spied only three members of the music faculty in attendance. I feel (and have always felt) privileged to hear him play. I imagine that everyone who was in the audience last night felt as privileged as I did.

Perhaps more people would have come to the concert if the university (or the music department) had publicized it adequately. Or maybe it is the fault of the local paper. Like many smaller cities in America, the once local newspaper, which runs out of a central corporate office in a distant state, does not understand the value of printing press releases about recitals. The people who make editorial decisions are not involved in the communities they are "serving." One "event" is just as important as another "event," I guess (unless it is a sporting event).

I like to believe that local culture is necessary for the health of a community. We are now, because of technology, closely in touch with one another through email (though fewer and fewer people write email message--or even read their email) and Facebook (where friends who live elsewhere feel as close as if they lived nearby, and friends who live nearby may as well be elsewhere). Perhaps all this access to things "elsewhere" makes keeping culture in a small community more difficult than it should be.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Off the Beaten Path

Back in my flute-playing days I learned an interesting metronome technique that involved off-setting the clicks of the metronome so that the clicks would sound on the off beats. I start my off-beat "machine" kind of like the way you start a game of jumprope (when someone else is doing the turning). In simple meter (divisions of two or four) I set it up so that the clicks happen on 2 and 4, and then feel the emphasis on the silent 1 and the silent 3. It sets up a nice even groove (as it should).

I often use this method to "notch" a passage from a slow tempo to a faster tempo. On the slow end of the tempo spectrum it feels kind of like ironing. You can almost watch groups of sixteenth notes become more even. As you "notch" up the tempo it's easy to see and hear the exact configurations of pitches that need attention. On the slower end of the notching experience it is easy to concentrate on how the bow or the tongue need to behave to insure that the notes are even. The places that rush become immediately apparent as you notch up the off-beats.

It is difficult, at first, to play more than a line or two of constant sixteenth notes without creeping into "downbeat" mode, but with practice, observations, patience, and forgiveness, practicing this way is really rewarding.

Last night I decided to practice a slower lyrical passage that was giving me trouble using off beats. The passage in question actually has off beats in the piano part. My challenge was (and still is) to play the on-the-beat notes with enough oomph and gusto (not to mention vibrato) to allow the music to ebb and flow the way I wanted it to. I found myself having trouble beginning held notes with vibrato because I had gotten so used to depending on the on-beat impulse to propel the vibrato. I also noticed, at the slower tempo, that concentrating on off beats and playing sustained double stops are difficult things to do simultaneously.

So I "notched" the passage down, doing just the opposite of what I would do if I were practicing a passage that I wanted to play fluently at a faster tempo. Doing this proved to be a sort of clean window into the body of the sustained notes, and after about half an hour of frustration I was able to have better control over the whole span of any given note in the passage, not just its beginning and its end.

We so often forget that the duration of a note is where the music happens. And our awareness of that fact is something that we face anew every day.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Viola and Piano Recital November 15

The composers on our program were contemporaries of Johannes Brahms. Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903) was Brahms's preferred arranger (he arranged Brahms's songs for piano solo). Kirchner also courted Clara Schumann during the 1860s (they kept their relationship secret from Brahms). Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) also knew Brahms well. He served as a pallbearer for Brahms's funeral.

We don't know if Friedrich Kiel (1821-1885), one of the founding faculty members of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, knew Brahms personally, but we do know that Brahms knew Kiel's violin music.

It's great fun to practice and rehearse this music, and I'm sure that we will have a great time performing it.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Plastic Trumpet

I was really surprised to see this video of Alison Balsam playing a red plastic trumpet:

Wow. An instrument that really plays for under $200.00! And they are light weight and come in many different colors. What kid could resist?

Now we get to see and hear Alison Balsam teach:

What a treat!