Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We Are Still Far From Eradicating Gender Bias in Music, Folks

I like to believe that in the field of music we are making serious progress towards eradicating gender bias. Blind (internet) tests have shown that nobody listening to a performance of a piece of music can tell the gender of the person performing it. But in spite of the fact that everyone agrees that the quality of a person's playing matters far, far, more than the gender of the person playing, and the fact that orchestras are often populated by more women than men, and that some of the best 21st-century conductors around happen to be women, gender bias is still lurking under the surface of the world where I swim. And even though women composers have been given a small share of prizes and such, the real proof is in the concert programs.

This article by Max Moran pokes at some nerves.
The notion that someone can objectively determine quality assumes that they are “living in some patriarchy-free universe somewhere,” Curtis added.

“We all know that gender bias exists, and even those of us who work every day against it can never be free of it,” she said, sharing an anecdote about seeing conductor Susanna Malkki walk on stage and thinking, “Who’s the soloist?”

Yet the labels “women composers” and “men composers” still have a place in this discussion, Curtis concluded. “We need these labels to point out the presence of men without women and the lack of women and the lack of inclusion,” she said. “We both need special events that celebrate women, and we also need more women in the mainstream.” She added that orchestras are making some progress, especially smaller orchestras playing women composers, but that there is still more progress to be made.
I'm pleased to notice that Emilie Mayer is among the "common practice" composers Moran mentions. And though he doesn't mention her partronymic homophone, Amanda Maier, this is as good a place as any to let everyone know that an excellent edition, with orchestral parts and a piano reduction, of her Violin Concerto is available for free in the IMSLP. I find it terribly sad, given the quality of the piece and the importance of the composer, that it only seems to have been downloaded around 35 times. If any piece should be played by major symphony orchestras that feed their audiences a diet of 19th-century music, this one should. And the score and parts are available for free.

Not available for free, but very much worth paying for, is an excellent edition of Amanda Maier's Piano Quartet (another GREAT piece). I can't help myself from thinking that if these pieces had been written by a man they would be hailed as great 19th-century discoveries.

Gregory Maytan, a great champion of Amanda Maier's music, made a soon-to-be-released recording Maier's Violin Concerto and her Piano Quartet. Keep your eyes on this spot for a review.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spread Ahead

Beginning violin students often have a hard time being sure where their fourth fingers are going to land, particularly after playing a note with a lowered second finger (in the case of C natural on the A string). Here is a sample pattern.

The open A string that begins the sequence notes tells the student what the stopped A at the end of the measure needs to sound like, so if the fourth finger note is out of tune the student knows it immediately, feels frustrated, and then tenses both hands.

My solution? Spread the hand during the open D so that the fourth finger can simply drop into place.

Yesterday, while I was teaching a lesson, I wrote the words "spread ahead" on my student's music. I was amused by the rhyming catch-phrase-ness of the words, and when she walked out the door I realized that I had forgotten the exact words I had written on her music. I figured that I would see them the next time she had a lesson, so all was not lost.

Fortunately my next student found herself in a similar situation. It involved a shift in position, an open string, and the need to spread the hand. The phrase came to mind immediately, so I wrote it on her music.

Then I forgot it again.

So I'm writing the story of my new catch phrase here. I hope that it is useful to other string players, whether they be teachers, students, or both.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Musical Pioneers

From Willa Cather's O Pioneers!
"Yes, sometimes, when I think about father and mother and those who are gone; so many of our old neighbors." Alexandra paused and looked up thoughtfully at the stars. "We can remember the graveyard when it was wild prairie, Carl, and now --"

"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Is n't it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."

Friday, September 09, 2016

What Helium Does to Clarinet Playing!

This demonstration will lighten up your day. Wonder what it does for other instruments? Here is a recorder player using helium bagpipe style. He is a scientist, so he is not about to do anything to mess with his brain cells. He also compares helium-driven recorder playing with carbon-dioxide-driven recorder playing (did I hyphenate that properly Michael?).