Thursday, March 31, 2016

It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere.

I simply can't tell you how enjoyable it is reading Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark so I'll just share a paragraph here:
Of this feeling Thea had never spoken to any human being until that day when she told Harsanyi that "there had always been—something." Hitherto she had felt but one obligation toward it—secrecy; to protect it even from herself. She had always believed that by doing all that was required of her by her family, her teachers, her pupils, she kept that part of herself from being caught up in the meshes of common things. She took it for granted that some day, when she was older, she would know a great deal more about it. It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere. It was moving to meet her and she was moving to meet it. That meeting awaited her, just as surely as, for the poor girl in the seat behind her, there awaited a hole in the earth, already dug.
You can read the whole novel on Project Gutenberg.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Excellent Recording of Marshall's Third Viola Sonata by Daniele Colombo

My brother has a true champion of his music in the Italian violinist/violist Daniele Colombo. It makes me and my family so proud to hear his music played so beautifully and so thoughtfully (not to mention impeccably). I can only imagine how happy this would make him if he were still alive.

Marshall Fine (1956-2014) - Sonata no.3 for Unaccompanied Viola op.121 (2011-12)

I. Obsequy
II. Rap-Fugue (03:17)
III. Rhapsody (07:29)
IV. Moto Perpetuo (13:25)

Daniele Colombo, viola

[Roma, AG Studios, 25-3-2016
Sound Engineer: Pierangeli Ambroselli]

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Space Around Us When We Play

I just returned from a few well-deserved days of vacation in Los Angeles away from playing or even thinking about playing, but when our daughter showed me and Michael a yoga-influenced exercise yesterday that involved a series of movements that raise awareness of the experience of right and left balance, I immediately thought of how the exercises could be applied to violin and viola playing.

A good 24 hours occupied by travel and sleep (sometimes at the same time) passed between the exercise we did and the time I finally picked up my viola back in Illinois. I closed my eyes (I didn't feel like changing into music glasses) and experienced a totally new kind of spacial relationship with my instrument. I will attempt to describe it here.

[It felt as if I were in a dream state having some kind of "vision." I'm writing about here to share, but I'm also writing about it so that I don't forget it!]

While I was playing the Bach G major Prelude I thought of my bow arm traveling along the circumference of a pie chart.

The A string was the yellow 10%, the blue 10% corresponded to the D String, the Green to the G string, and the red to the C string. This all makes perfect sense, and shouldn't be news to any string player reading this. What came as kind of a revelation to me is that my pie chart image was a not-very-thick disc, and that the circumference of the pie chart changed with where in the bow I happened to be. This gave the shape of each of the wedges a new kind of meaning for me.

Then I realized that I so often think of the "where" of my bow as being the "where" of my hand, when, in fact, the "where" of the bow goes both right (towards my hand) and left, towards the mysterious and exciting space that surrounds the tip of the bow on the "other side" of the wheel.

The core of my body (my heart and breathing mechanism) are at the very center of the wheel. I often give my students the image of a fulcrum on a teeter-totter to think of the bow on the string, but the image of a disk or wheel is so much more intense and useful because the space is solid and filled in.

So often as a flute player I thought of projecting my sound either forward or upward. I tried to imagine my sound going to other places in the room by focusing my eyes on different objects, but it always seemed directional, as if there were a dotted line connecting my mouth to the object. It was also very difficult to sustain attention on projecting towards different objects, because it was all something that happened in my imagination. I could sustain attention on it when playing long tones, but not when playing music when there was counting to be done and accidentals to pay attention to. All the "action" in flute playing happens on the right, so the mysterious area to the left is often left unexplored, particularly while practicing.

It IS really different with a string instrument. The movements that cut into in the surrounding space are the very things that make the sound.

I'll go practice now . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bach and Serendipity

Michael and I just returned from an extremely satisfying concert of Bach played by Richard Goode. He played a couple of Preludes and Fugues from the second book of the WTC, all the Sinfonias, the Fifth French Suite, the C minor Partita, and the Italian Concerto. His encore was the Serenade from the B-flat Partita.

The concert made us both very happy.

On the way home Michael asked me how I thought Richard Goode compared to Angela Hewitt. It's hard for me to compare pianists unless I hear them play the same repertoire.

We eventually turned on the car radio, and would you believe that the Italian Concerto was playing? We got to hear nearly the whole thing. The pianist? Angela Hewitt!

And both of us preferred the way Richard Goode played the Italian Concerto this evening to the way Angela Hewitt played it on her recording.

Van Gogh on the Work of an Artist and the Future

These excerpts from a letter Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo on May 20, 1888 resonate for me (and probably will for other composers):
. . . At the height of artistic life therein, and remains, and returns time and again, a hankering after real life--ideal and unattainable.

And sometimes one lacks the will to throw oneself back wholeheartedly into art, and to regain one's capacity for it. One knows one is a cab horse, and that one is going to be hitched up to the same old cab again--and that one would rather not, and would prefer to live in a meadow, with sunshine, a river, other horses for company as free as oneself, and the act of procreation.

And perhaps, in the end, the heart complaint is caused by that. I shouldn't be at all surprised if it is to some extent. One no longer rebels against things, but neither is one resigned--one is ill and does not get better--and one cannot find a precise cure.

I'm not sure who called this condition "being stricken by death and immortality." The cab one is pulling along must be of some use to people one doesn't know. And so, if we believe in the new art, in the artists of the future, our presentiment will not play us false.

When good old Corot said a few days before his death, "Last night in a dream, I saw landscapes with skies all pink," well, they've arrived, haven't they, those pink skies, and yellow and green ones into the bargain, in the impressionist landscape? Which means that some things one can force in the future do indeed come about.

And those of us who are, as I am led to believe, still fairly far from death, nevertheless feel that these things are bigger than we are and will outlive us.

We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel that in reality we count for little, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we are paying a high price in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than does the cab horse pulling a coachload of people out enjoying themselves in spring.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Cloak of Invisibility

Some people fantasize about the power wearing a cloak of invisibility might give them. I'm just the opposite. There is nothing that makes me feel more powerless than the feeling of being invisible. Perhaps it is a "middle child" thing, but I often go through life doing what I do and taking up the space I take up without the feeling that I am being seen. It might have something to do with being short of stature in a world where most adult heads hover six inches above mine. It might even have something to do with being a violist, since in orchestral and chamber music situations we are often invisible (though sorely missed when we are not there).

I have had periods of what I tend to think of as "visibility by association." Over the years I have been thought of as Marshall's sister, Burton's daughter, Baker's student, Michael's wife, Rachel's mom, Ben's mom, or this or that person's friend. When I worked at a radio station and wrote CD reviews, there were people who seemed interested in getting to know me because they believed that I was in some kind of position to help them with their career objectives. Some of those people actually got to know me as a person rather than as a "contact," and became good friends.

There are long-time residents of our small university town who know me by what I do or what I have done, but to most of the newer musicians in town, I am invisible. It is sad that I am also invisible to their students. I am not invisible to the musicians I associate with in the larger towns where I do most of my playing, which helps me to keep going when my internal motivation mechanism gets overwhelmed.

I know that my situation is not unique to me or to musicians. There are a great many people who feel powerless because they have been rendered invisible. My heart goes out to the people in Flint, Michigan. My heart goes out to the faculty and staff at our local university. Many people have lost their jobs, and many more are anticipating pay cuts because our governor will not pass a budget to provide funding for state universities. People may demonstrate (I will demonstrate with them) but in this situation we are essentially powerless and invisible. There is too much power in the hands of our governor, and he has not shown that he is a person to be trusted with power. I feel sorry for the people who voted for him in good conscience. Especially the people who have lost their jobs because of him and the local elected officials who support him.

Perhaps one of the reasons I admire Bernie Sanders so much is that for decade after decade after decade he has spoken out about inequality and has maintained his search for truth by "walking the walk." The corporate media is trying to make him invisible, and they are doing it because they are afraid of having a president in office who might change the way elections are funded. A Sanders presidency would mean, in part, that the various institutions of the corporate media might lose out on the huge amount of money and power they acquire every time we have a big election.

The absence of coverage for Bernie Sanders's accomplishments in this presidential race has become noticeable. And if it continues (and I believe that Sanders's success will) the press might have to make some significant changes on its own. Let's hope that day arrives soon.