Sunday, December 31, 2017

Operas written since 1945: an impressive list

Vagne Thierry has created an impressive (and extensive) list of operas written since 1945. He includes the names of composers (with dates and nationalities), titles of their works, and links to their websites and to media (CDs and DVDs).

Just glancing through I learned that Beth Anderson wrote an opera about Queen Christina of Sweden (so now I don't have to), Giancarlo Aquilanti wrote an opera about Lot's women (so now I don't have to), and Hubert Bird wrote an opera about John Dee, the Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I (so now I don't have to).

I see friends on the list: Gary Bachlund's fable operas are on the list, and a good number of Seymour Barab's operas are there (with links).

Mr. Thierry kindly sent me an email message letting me know about the list (my operas The Snow Queen, Sister Beatrice, and EMMA are listed). I imagine he sent messages to all the living composers on the list with an email address, and that other composers are looking through the list and enjoying it as much as I am. I could spend all day with this (it took an hour just to make it through from A to C), but I will have to wait until later to dip in again. There's a lot to be learned from this list.

Writing an opera is a HUGE amount of work, and is, in my case, a labor of love. That love is so often unrequited because works by "unknown" composers are so rarely produced these days. I would venture to guess that most of the operas on this list have had few performances, and that many have never been produced.

Thierry is doing a great service for the musical community. I'm hoping opera-minded people (i.e. people who like to produce and perform operas) might find material for future productions here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Greeting the New Year With New Music

I'm greeting 2018 with a piece for two trumpets (which can also be played by two clarinets, two French horns, or two euphoniums).

Here it is played by computer-generated trumpets.

Listen to how different it sounds when played on computer-generated clarinets, French horns, and euphoniums.

You can find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Concert in January: Vasilenko, Bowen, and Ravel

On the program:

Vasilenko Viola Sonata, Opus 46
Ravel Sonata Posthume
Bowen 2nd Sonata for Viola and Piano

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

Ben Miller's article about James Levine

Ben Miller's relationship with the Boston Symphony was a lot like my relationship with the Boston Symphony, although the music director during Miller's childhood (a generation after mine) was a far greater musician as well as a far greater monster. The parents of the kids in Ben Miller's cohort (we used to refer to ourselves as "orchestra brats") made sure to inform their children about Levine's pedophilia in order protect them.

This eloquent article is well worth reading.

[I'm so impressed with Ben Miller's writing that I'm sharing his webpage here.]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Waltz

I really enjoy the way these young Californian musicians play my transcription of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Talia Trio for Oboe, Viola, and Piano

My love for granddaughter Talia just grows and grows, and, as you can see, it bursts out in sharps and flats. I finished this piece today. I don't think that I have ever written anything this happy. Having Talia in my life brings happiness to a whole new level.

You can follow the link above, or you can listen to the first movement here, and the second movement here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roger Sessions "From My Diary"

I have enjoyed reading Roger Sessions's book The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener (the source of the "guest post" from a few days ago) a great deal. I used to be afraid of Sessions's music, but now that I have read his prose about music, I am no longer afraid.

In fact, I like Robert Helps's performance of these Sessions piano pieces so much that I'm sharing them here:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fulcrum Point New Music Project Concert Wednesday, November 15 at 6:00

I am very excited to hear Stephen Burns and Kuang-Hao Huang play my Trumpet Sonata this Wednesday in Chicago. The concert is part of Fulcrum Point's "Hear and Be Heard" series, where people play new music and then members of the audience have an open discussion with the composers.

The other composer, who wrote her Notturno for Trumpet and Piano in 2016, is Lawren Brianna Ware.

The concert begins at 6:00, and takes place in Gottlieb Hall at the Merit School of Music, 38 South Peoria in Chicago, Illinois. Admission is free.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Roger Sessions, Guest Blogger

I picked up a copy of Roger Sessions's The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener at a library sale last month. It is a collection of six lectures that Mr. Sessions gave at the Juilliard School of Music in 1949. I thought that, being a small book, it would be something I could read on an airplane. I think that I'll just keep it with me all the time to read and re-read wherever I happen to be. Here's a sample from the second chapter, "The Musical Ear:"
As happens so often in speaking of music, the facts are much simpler than the words found to describe them. No one denies that music arouses emotions, no do most people deny that the values of music are both qualitatively and quantitatively connected with the emotions it arouses. Yet it is not easy to say just what this connection is. If we try to define the emotions aroused by specific pieces of music, we run into difficulties. I have referred elsewhere to cases in which the emotional purportedly expressed in a given work have been defined by different musicians in quite different terms. For instance, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony has been described by three composers, including Berlioz and Wagner, as "heroic" or "warlike," as "pastoral," or as the "apotheosis of the dance." This is a celebrated example, since two composers of genius and many musicians of lesser stature have been articulate about it. But you have only to read the various interpretive comments on almost any well-known work to find the same result.

Does this mean that the "message" or "emotional content" of music is an illusion, and that actually a given piece of music conveys one thing to one man, another thing to another, and that our illusion of specific emotional content derives entirely from the quite adventitious associations which we are able to bring to it? I do not believe this for a moment and I thoroughly dislike the terms, indeed the whole jargon, in general use. On the contrary, I believe that music "expresses" something very definite, and that it expresses it in the most precise way. In embodying movement, in the most subtle and most delicate manner possible, it communicates the attitudes inherent in, and implied by, that movement; its speed, its energy, its élan or impulse, its tenseness or relaxation, its agitation or its tranquility, its decisiveness or its hesitation. It communicates in a marvelously vivid and exact way the dynamics and the abstract qualities of emotion, but any specific emotional content the composer wishes to give to it must be furnished, as it were, from without, by means of an associative program. Music not only "expresses" movement, but embodies, defines, and qualifies it. Each musical phrase is a unique gesture and through the cumulative effect of such gestures we gain a clear sense of a quality of feeling behind them. But unless the composer directs our associations along definite lines, as composers of all times, to be sure, have frequently done, it will be the individual imagination of the listener, and not the music itself, which defines the emotion. What the music does is to animate the emotion; the music, in other words, develops and moves on a level that is essentially below the level of conscious emotion. Its realm is that of emotional energy rather than that of emotion in the specific sense.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Concert in Valencia, Spain

I'm very excited to report that three pieces of mine: High Speed Rail, Three Reflections for Flute and Strings, and Dances from the Harlot's House, will be performed in Spain on November 19th by an orchestra connected with the Conservatorio Profesional de Música de Valencia conducted by Josep Ribes. All the pieces on the program were written by women. The conductor asked me to send a 3-minute video recording of me talking about women and music to a group of young musicians, and I thought I'd share some of the text here:
When I was a child during the 1960s I was part of a very music family in Boston. Every piece of music I encountered was written by a man. Sometime during the 1970s a friend of my family started playing concerts that featured the music of Mrs. H.H. Beach. Amy Beach, we now know, was a very important composer in Boston during the early 20th century. She began her musical life as a pianist, and started writing music at an early age. After she married, her upper-class husband would not allow her to “work” as a concert pianist, but he was fine with her continuing to compose. Many of her works were published, and one was even performed by the Boston Symphony, but as her music went out of print, she was forgotten as a composer.

During the early part of the 20th century it was acceptable for a woman to be a great teacher, a great pianist (particularly an accompanist), or a great singer, but only a handful of women were accepted into professional orchestras. This began to change in the 1950s, and finally in 2017 we see equal numbers of men and women in professional orchestras.

Professional orchestras in America rarely program music by women. It is not because of lack of repertoire, it is due to lack of knowledge. Because I am curious, and because I am always looking for new music to play, I learn about new women composers from the 19th century and the 20th century all the time.

We are making progress: college composition programs in the 21st century admit as many women as they do men. And more and more people realize that when it comes to music, it is the voice of the individual that matters, not her gender. I would imagine that if you were to play pieces of lesser-known music written by both men and by women to people without revealing the gender of the composer, most people would be unable to guess the gender.

The quality of a piece of music is not reflected by how well known it is, just like the quality of a performance is not reflected by how well known the performer is. Fortunately programs like this one make it clear that even if you haven’t heard of a composer, her music can be enjoyable to hear and to play.

I hope you musicians have enjoyed working on these pieces, and I hope that your audience enjoys listening to them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrity Viola Library Copy

The copy of the Vasilenko Viola Sonata that I got, by way of interlibrary loan, from the Curtis Library (one of only three copies available through the WorldCat) was too fragile for me to photocopy in good conscience, so I sent it back right away. This edition also has a few errors in it (corrected in pencil) that are not in the earlier (and better) Russian edition (shown on my last post) that I am using (by way of a photocopy).

The piece hasn't been in print since 1931. I'm hoping that a violist who owns a less-fragile copy might scan it and submit it to the IMSLP. I have already sent an alert inquiry to a librarian I know at Curtis. We'll see what happens. Since the president of Curtis, Roberto Diaz, is a violist (who might, like most violists, not know the piece), he might be on board with the idea of digitizing and sharing the music before the paper deteriorates completely. The fingerings and bowings in the viola part are also instructive, if not historic.

Before sending the music back to Curtis, I took this photo. You can see that some very famous violists took this piece out of the library.

Louis Bailly, the violist of the Flonzaley Quartet before he began teaching at Curtis in 1925, was the first to take out the music. Leonard Mogill was next. He doesn't have a biography on line, but is known to all violists for his scale and double-stop books. He was an important teacher and a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 46 years. Toby Appel, who currently teaches at Curtis, took the music out in 1969 when he was a student there. It looks like the music had been sitting on the shelf since 1977 before I requested it on Interlibrary Loan.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Red Star Points to the Rescue!

I have been agonizing for months over this passage (and a few others like it) in the Serge Vasilenko Viola Sonata. There is a great deal of vertical information to take in (the spread of the notes, and the fingerings written above and below them) so I needed a bright and shiny reminder telling me clearly where to shift position. These points of red star stickers put in strategic places offer me peace of mind, satisfying my need to know exactly "when" something needs to happen. Unlike colored pencil marks, which are dull and permanent, these are temporary, so if I decide to change where I want to shift, I can just take the stickers off.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


I got a notice today telling me that Musical Assumptions is one of the top 100 music education blogs on the planet. Any attempt to resuscitate the musical blogosphere is a good thing, so since I have earned the right to display this badge, I will:

I also got a badge last week from my orchestra to commemorate ten years of membership:

And no list of badges would be complete without posting pictures of my swimming buttons. These are not my actual swimming buttons, which disappeared during the last half century. But I did work hard during my childhood in the 1960s to earn buttons that look exactly like these. I still remember how difficult it was to learn to float in order to get the "beginner" button. I also remember the solemnity of the button-giving ceremony.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Early Autumn Ramble

I suppose that autumn is a collecting time. And this autumn, while I'm waiting for a magnificent event (the upcoming birth of our first grandchild), I have been busy collecting my thoughts.

Mine is a rather consistent musical life, so I find it stimulating when I find myself among young (and not-so-young) ambitious and optimistic musicians who hope to make a mark on the world. I suppose that at age 58 I should be one of the people who has already made her mark, but as a person who started her string-playing life rather late (in my early 30s), I sometimes still feel like I am finding my way around the fingerboard. I sometimes bite off just a little more than I can technically chew, but I feel fortunate never to feel like I am "stuck" at a high technical level, as I was with the flute, with no way to grow musically and nowhere to go.

At this point in my life I am happy to be included in the dance, and I am happy to be able to play with young people who don't seem to have any trouble getting around their instruments at lightning speed. I can play in tune, make the kind of sound I want to make, and more often than not I like what I hear when I put notes together in phrases.

I am relieved that I have not become that kind of an older colleague who exudes a sense of authority and superiority. When I am physically too old to play, I would like my legacy to be that of a good section player and a welcoming colleague who does not judge younger colleagues, except to compliment them when a compliment is in order.

I also never want to project an air of superiority over musicians who play the music I write. As youngsters we are taught to think of the composer of a given work as an authority figure, and we dutifully follow the "rules" that are set out for us. Too often we think of "the composer" as a judge. I would rather be thought of like a tailor who offers attractive practical clothes that fit well, wear well, and are comfortable in all kinds of weather.

The more music I write, the more music of other composers that I arrange, and the more music I play, the more I understand that composers and players are collaborators, even if the composer is not in the room, or is no longer alive.

Dynamics are the essence of musical relativity. My friend Seymour Barab once said that he wished he could just write piano and forte and be done with it. Composers often indicate tempo markings that are too fast (I know I do). Nobody performs with a metronome, so we find our own tempos and allow the composer's indications to act as guidelines. Sometimes slurs, like rules, need to be broken. We all break them from time to time, and for all kinds of reasons.

The idea of success in musical life seems to go hand in hand with ambition and recognition. In order for music to be played, people have to know about it. There are composers who devote vast amounts of time towards promoting their work themselves, and there are composers who devote serious financial resources towards having other people promote their work. Making a living purely from composing commissioned music and having various residencies at festivals and with orchestras seems to be a goal for some composers. It seems to be a measure of success not to have to have a "day job," even if that "day job" is one connected with music. And then there's the pie-in-the-sky idea of being a household name.

(I have to put in a joke from Seymour Barab. He told me, jokingly, that he once thought of changing his name, and he had the perfect one picked out: Leonard Bernstein.)

I used to feel ashamed about not having the skills or the drive to promote my work so that I too can "compete" in the "marketplace," but I no longer feel ashamed about it. Even in my relative obscurity I have come to understand that it is mostly a waste of my time and energy. Thanks to this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog (see I can do a bit of informational self promotion), I make my work available to people who are interested. I also share work for string quartet and string orchestra that is not published and cannot be put in the IMSLP (i.e. arrangements of pieces that are not in the public domain) with people who want to play it (just send me an email message). That's enough for me.

Given the past 500 or so years of published music, there is a lot of music to play. There is also a lot of new music to play, and there are many more composers writing now than there were before computer technology made the physical nuts and bolts of the composition process easier. I think that it is a good thing, because I think that the act of writing music does a lot to help people grow as musicians. It helps musicians to understand what to value in music by great composers from the past like Joaquin, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, and sometimes contemporary composers get lucky and write something of real value.

There is a lot of music that we may play but do not necessarily perform. Consider the Bach Cello Suites and the Sonatas and Partitas. String players devote much of their lives to them, but only a relative handful of string players perform them. We still get a great deal of pleasure out of working on them. The idea of people getting together to play chamber music, and getting pleasure from interacting with one another musically while playing something that I have written is truly the best response I could ever hope for from my (still growing) body of work.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Creative Imperative Video Project

Marcia Butler (the writer of The Skin Above My Knee) asks the individual musicians of Orpheus about pieces of music that influenced their creatives lives, and what it feels like to perform. These interviews are very casual, and there is someone practicing in the background, but it adds to the feeling of being backstage during a rehearsal break.

I'll just leave one by violinist Ronny Bauch here, to begin. There are many more I have yet to watch:

Friday, September 29, 2017

In which Amanda Maier's Great Granddaughter shows us Amanda's violin, and Cecilia Zilliacus plays it

Cecilia Zilliacus meets the violin Amanda Maier played as a teenager, and very likely used to write her B-minor Sonata in this video.

The video below gives a taste of Zilliacus's new recording of Amanda Maier's violin music and some of her songs.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Alex Ross writes about Willa Cather!

What a treat it was to open up the October 2 issue of The New Yorker and find this piece by Alex Ross about Willa Cather. It is excellent reading, as are all of Willa Cather's novels and stories (and I am proud to say that I have read all of them).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Half-step marking hack

Students sometimes don't always pay enough attention to the pencil markings that string players typically use to indicate half steps.

Yesterday, while I was teaching a lesson, I looked at my "supplies" and found a sheet of stars.

I grabbed some scissors, and I cut the triangle-shaped points off one of the stars,

and I pasted them in the places in my student's music that called for half-steps. It worked like a charm!

They come off very easily when you no longer need to have them in the music.

[N.B. This is not the piece my student was playing. It is a passage from the Mel Bonis Violin Sonata.]

Monday, September 18, 2017

Columbus (the movie)

It has taken a while for me to formulate an opinion on Kagonada's 2017 film Columbus. After looking at Kagonada's other work, I think that I understand a little bit more about him as a director, and can therefore be more generous in my assessment of this film than I was while watching it.

Ultimately I think that Columbus is a more a film about photographing architecture than it is about architecture, and more a film at looking at relationships from the outside than it is a film about getting to understand characters.

The characters themselves are enigmas (and I hope I am not spoiling anything for anyone by describing them superficially, which is pretty much all we get in the movie).

Casey is a bright young woman (we don't know how young) who has an unusual attachment to the buildings in her home town in Indiana. She works in the public library (which has a Henry Moore sculpture in front of it) and doesn't want to leave town to go to college because she feels the need to take care of her mother (for reasons I will not disclose here).

Professor Jae Yong Lee is an architecture scholar who comes to Columbus to give a lecture and falls ill (that's literally all he does in the film).

Jin is Jae Yong Lee's son, who flies in from Korea to be with his father. He is older than Casey, but we don't really know how much older. John Cho, who is 45 but could easily pass for 30, keeps his age a mystery. Casey and Jin develop a friendship, which provides most of the film's substance.

Eleanor comes to Columbus with the professor. She is American, speaks Korean fluently, and calls Jae Yong Lee "professor," but it is not clear what the extent of their relationship is. Over a glass of wine Eleanor tells Jin how much she owes to his father. Her relationship with Jin is also not clear, though and they do eventually reveal that they had some kind of intimacy in their past.

Casey's mother is named Maria (I missed her name in the film, but found it in the cast list). She has the same coloring, haircut, voice type, and build as Eleanor, and is probably around the same age--whatever that might be. She is a woman of mystery who apparently can't cook, can't drive, and can't tell her daughter the truth about where she is much of the time. In the beginning of the movie she is often shot from the side or the back in a way that obscures her facial features. I have a feeling that we are supposed to confuse Maria with Eleanor.

There are architectural features that act almost like characters, and there are shots upon shots of doorways and hallways that seem to jump from one interior location to another. The shots are set up to be asymmetrical, yet balanced, and there is dialogue that lets us know that asymmetry and balance are important to modern architecture. The photography is beautiful.

Not everything in this compendium of architecture in Columbus, Indiana makes it into the film, and some buildings are featured more than others. The film got me thinking about architecture (and about visiting Columbus, Indiana one of these days), which is, I suppose, what Kagonada would like it to do.

It occurs to me that architecture is at once the most personal and the most impersonal of the arts. Architects design structures that provide shelter and safety, and they design interior spaces that determine personal boundaries and allow for shared experiences. When we are inside well-designed buildings and look out we feel a sense of connection with the outdoors, and when we look at buildings from the outside, we see them as sculptures that punctuate and enhance the natural landscape. We imagine what they might be like on the inside, but we cannot understand the real character of a building unless we are inside it. Even if we are watching it on film.

Watching this movie is, for me, like looking at the characters from the outside. We get small "windows," here and there, but even during periods of personal and revealing dialogue, I feel like the characters are about as comprehensible as the buildings they enter and exit. I like to think that this the director's intention.

There is one scene where Casey is parked outside her high school at night. She is dancing wildly to music that is playing on her car sound system. Jin is sleeping in the passenger seat of the car, and the headlights of the car are shining on her. She could be dancing as a reaction to what happened in previous scenes of the film, or she could just be dancing about architecture.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Finding Piatti

I have been thinking about Boccherini lately.

When he was in his twenties, Luigi Boccherini wrote six cello sonatas for cello with an accompanying bass line. They were first published in London 1770 in an edition that was not authorized by the composer (you can see it, a later edition, and a transcription for violin on this page of the IMSLP). None of the early publications have figures below the bass line, which would indicate to me that Boccherini either intended them as works for two cellos rather than as works for cello and basso continuo, or that he didn't intend to publish them at all.

It seems that the first person to make a full piano accompaniment from one of Boccherini's bass lines was Alfredo Patti (1822-1901). Luigi Forino (1868-1936), an important cello historian and composer, who served as the director of harmony and counterpoint at the National Conservatory in Buenos Aires, also had a hand in the piano part that Pablo Casals used for his recording of the Adagio and Allegro of the A major Sonata in the 1920s. It was published in 1946 by the International Music Company (designating Piatti and Forino as editors), and it was published in 1948 (without designation) by Carl Fischer as the "Feuermann" edition six years after Emanuel Feuermann's death.

I came across a reference to Morton Latham's 1901 book Alfredo Piatti: A Sketch while trying to learn something about piano part of the Boccherini sonatas. I found a difficult-to-read copy in Google Books, and was thrilled to find a lovingly transcribed edition presented by Lonely Peaks Records in an appropriately illustrated format. There is a lot of musical history in this portrait. It is teeming with famous composers, famous performers, and famous instruments. I imagine that Latham would have gotten all the stories directly from the cellist's mouth.

Here's a story about Piatti and one of the Boccherini Sonatas (as an example):

You can start reading here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Set of Five New Songs

For years my friend Daniel Morganstern has peppered our conversations with quotations from his mother's poems. I finally asked him to send me some of her poems with the hope of finding one or two that I could set to music. I was really pleased that I found five.

It is difficult finding poems to set to music because many of poems I like are complete within themselves, and they simply don't need music. And then there are poems that sound like they were written with the idea of music not far away. Milly Morganstern's poems are full of musical suggestions, so setting them was remarkably easy.

I felt, in a way, like I was getting to know Danny's mother through setting her poems. I did meet her briefly once, around 40 years ago. But I was very young (twenty), and she was my grown-up friend's mother. Milly Morganstern (1913-2000) was, according to Danny, a great pianist and a person with excellent musical instincts. I tried to imagine how she might have heard her poems as songs, and had a wonderful time doing so.

You can see the music on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to them here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Alan Schulman's 1970 Setting of Kol Nidre

This setting of the Kol Nidre just blows the Bruch out of the water for me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Skin in the Game

The score, parts, and a computer-generated recording of Skin in the Game are now available on this page of the IMSLP.

Enter the curiosity shop if you dare!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Writing Music is Bliss

It really is. Particularly when it involves completing a project that I have been working on for nearly 20 years.

I get a great deal of enjoyment out of moving notes around on staves. That sort of happiness could never be accurately weighed against any amount of money. Being able to do the work (having the material, time, technique, and passion) is its own reward; and when the piece I'm writing is completed, hearing a performance is an additional reward.

Right now I am in the middle of writing a piece based on Balzac's 1831 novel Le Peau de chagrin, known in English as The Wild Ass's Skin. I originally tried to set it as an opera, and I worked for years on a libretto, but no matter what I did, it didn't hold a candle to the novel. During the past two decades I worked out musical ideas here and there, and this summer I finally decided to put my musical ideas together in the form of a six-movement piece for a ten-piece chamber ensemble (or a chamber orchestra) that illustrates a few choice parts of the novel.

What do I love about writing for chamber orchestra? I love the choices of musical color and texture. I love exploring the personalities of the various instruments, as well as the musical personalities of the people--some who are real--that play them in the theater inside my head. I particularly love the way that articulations and dynamics work to shape phrases. And I feel so happy when I have all the notes, rhythms, and dynamics in the best of all possible places.

After this little bit of bloggery I'm excited to get back to work. So that's all for now . . .

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Stone Guest

I tend to equate events having to do with people who have risen to positions of power and abuse that power with what happens to the title character of Mozart's Don Giovanni. I did it in these pages back when John McCain was running for president, but I never would have imagined there would be so much to compare with the character of Don Giovanni in the current presidential administration (including the name).

We seem to be close to the end of the first act, where the Don is tricked into an intervention by the characters we know that he has harmed.

But with this new addition of statues into the mix, I can't help hoping for something like this to happen:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Mozart Requiem on BBC "Soul Music"

This podcast episode of the BBC Radio 4 series "Soul Music" demonstrates more about the "why" of music than I ever thought possible. If you have a spare 27 minutes, particularly if you are feeling discouraged or detached, it would be beneficial to listen.

One segment includes an interview with Michael Finnissy, a composer who was tasked with completing Mozart's Requiem for a performance at the school where he taught. I find it particularly touching that Finnissy decided to complete it in the style of Rossini, when you consider that Rossini was born 91 days after Mozart died.

Here is a link to a paper that I intend to read soon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Inventi Ensemble Recording

The Inventi Ensemble, an Australian ensemble made of flute, oboe, and string trio, made a lovely recording of the J.C. Bach D major Quintet, Op. 11 No. 6, the Britten Phantasy Quartet (one of my favorite pieces), the Mozart D major Flute Quartet, and their own excellent adaptation of my string quartet transcription of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria for flute, oboe, viola, and cello.

The recording is available here.

Monday, August 07, 2017

I Think This is Progress!

The National Flute Association is holding their convention this weekend. I had a look at their website and found a list of all the music that will be performed at the convention.

Since I had just come from scanning the new uploads in the IMSLP for music by women, I decided to see how many female composers have music being performed at this convention. Since my method of tallying was far from scientific (but I did look up names), please allow for a margin of error.

My rough results:
Out of 403 composers (including 25 or so listed as "traditional"), 44 of them are female. There are also 30 female arrangers (arrangers of the pieces marked "traditional" as well as arrangers of pieces that were not written originally for flute). Granted, some of the arrangers are also listed as composers, and some have made arrangements of their own music for flute.
That still means that 9% of the composers who are having music performed at this convention are women.

I was surprised. 9% is certainly a larger representation than what we come across at concerts by orchestras or at major chamber music festivals. I also found it refreshing that many of the composers (around 250 of them, both male and female) represented on this list are living.

I imagine that the body of flute music that is performed at the NFA that is written by living composers will increase (this is far from an exhaustive list), and I trust that a decent percentage of those composers will be women. It would be nice to hope that during my lifetime (and I am looking at the possibility of a few more decades) the percentage of music performed at NFA Conventions will increase to somewhere closer to 50%.

N.B. Only two pieces by Mozart will be performed, one piece by C.P.E. Bach, one piece by W.F. Bach, and six pieces by J.S. Bach (four of which are arrangements).

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Reasons for Being a Musician

I recently heard a former musician talk about her musical accomplishments. And then she said that her attraction to studying music had nothing to do with music. She really enjoyed the work of practicing, studying, and getting incrementally better at something.

To me that notion is akin to being in a marriage with someone without feeling love, but really enjoying the idea of being a better and better wife, and getting better at resolving conflict. It is a good thing that the person I heard make that statement no longer plays for a living. This person does, however, offer practical professional advice to musicians. Love of music itself does not seem to fall into any part of the equation, though.

I confess that I do love the work of being a musician. I enjoy writing counterpoint exercises. I get a big burst of musical love (my reward) when I can make something small and meaningless sound beautiful. And I enjoy practicing scales, particularly in thirds and sixths, because I enjoy the resonance that happens when they are in tune. I also know that if I practice thirds and sixths every day, I will get stronger, and making double-stop passages sound beautiful becomes more of a possibility than it would be if I didn't practice double-stops. I also love practicing difficult passages with a metronome, and I love solving musical problems.

For me, though, the reward has always been in the music. The better I understand the music at hand, the more I find to love.

I do know people who love music as much as I love music, but they are not devoted to the daily work. I suppose that we all fall short of our goals in music, our early goals as well as the goals that we find later in our lives. The balance between the tenacity of daily work and the humility connected with the ultimate realization that reaching our loftier goals might never happen causes a constant state of dissonance that is, from time to time, resolved. Then the "goal post" gets moved: we learn something, we hear something, generations shift, rules change.

There are always young musicians who are attracted to the musical life because they want to be in the company of other musicians. Being part of an organized musical group gives young people who might otherwise consider themselves outcasts (and I think that all adolescents feel like outcasts at one time or another) the chance to be part of something cooperative and fun. I guess I did this too, to a certain extent, but I kind of chose the people I spent time with based on the repertoire possibilities. I remember always having duets in my bag, and I spent much of my adolescent time hanging out with like-minded flutists and oboists I could play duets with.

Some people like performing simply for the sake of performing. There are people who shop for snazzy concert clothes and really dress up for their audience, and there are people who really enjoy being the center of attention. There are certainly musicians who get excited when hearing applause.

I like playing concerts because I love sharing music, and I always dress for comfort. I love the excitement that enters the room when people are listening. I love it when things happen in the music during a concert that have never happened before. I think of audience applause as a part of the musical dialogue. It offers a physical and non-verbal way for an audience to collectively respond to the physical (and usually non-verbal) alternation of tension and release that happens in a concert. It also allows the members of the audience to feel connected to one another in their response to the emotional journey they have been on together.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen: York Bowen's Phantasy played by Anna Kolotylina

It is pretty silly that the German music critic Oscar Schmitz's 1904 comment calling Great Britain “the land without music” was taken seriously for so long. York Bowen certainly proved Schmitz wrong. This piece, written in 1918, is still fresh after nearly 100 years.

I find it amusing that Oscar Schmitz doesn't seem to be known for anything aside from this (clearly faulty) claim.

Anna Kolotylina, who comes from the Ukraine, plays in the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eleanor Roosevelt's Wisdom as Applied to Music

These paragraphs from Eleanor Roosevelt's You Learn by Living (1960) resonate particularly well with me as I go about my daily business of practicing and writing music.

From her chapter on fear:
Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don't be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticizing you. The chances are that they aren't paying any attention to you. It's your attention to yourself that is so stultifying. But you have to disregard yourself as completely as possible. If you fail the first time then you'll just have to try harder the second time. After all, there's no real reason why you should fail. Just stop thinking about yourself.
From her chapter on the uses of time:
Since everybody is an individual, nobody can be you. You are unique. No one can tell you how to use your time. It is yours. Your life is your own. You mold it. You make it. All anyone can do is to point out ways and means which have been helpful to others. Perhaps they will serve as suggestions to stimulate your own thinking until you know what it is that will fulfill you, will help you to find out what you want to do with your life.
These apply to music-making on the level of the note, the phrase, or the overall conception of a piece, whether it is a piece that has been written (and needs to be practiced in order to be played) or a piece that has not yet been written (but needs to be).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Eleanor Roosevelt and Frank Sinatra

We all need a little bit of Eleanor Roosevelt these days. And she almost sings here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Musical Thoughts from the Vegetable Garden

I don't spend a lot of time in our vegetable garden, because the plants that live there do their growing by themselves, but the time I spend there is always meaningful. I observe the way the plants relate to one another, and I observe the way they compete for light and space within the confines of our two 4 X 8 raised beds.

And I can't help thinking about the whole thing in musical terms.

The plants have leaves that take up ample space. The leaves take in energy from the sun, and, as long as there is water, good soil, and something to do the pollinating, they use that energy to make fruit. The plants get more efficient at making fruit as the season progresses, and the fruit the make tastes better once they have figured out the most efficient way to make it.

It is my job, now that everything is planted and flourishing, to make sure that the cucumbers don't strangle the tomatoes, and that the pole beans don't cast a shadow on the eggplants (heh heh the former pole beans . . . I have my priorities). I am the master of the garden.

Building an instrumental technique and becoming a musician is not that different, and I am the master of my technique.

You need good "soil" (a good teacher, good material to work on, and a decent instrument). You also need "rain," which could be analogous to consistent and intelligent practicing. Then, like any good plant, you learn to convert energy as efficiently as possible into what becomes the fruits of your labor, which other people can enjoy.

In order to produce "fruit," you have to gather musical energy from the stuff around you that is not given to you by your "soil" and "rain." This means doing a lot of listening (to your teacher and to your inner teacher) and a lot of observing in order to learn the ways other musicians manage to build technique. This comes from going to concerts and playing with other people. It also comes from reading, and thinking about the things you read. It comes from learning about the music you practice, and about the way that music relates to the time and place where it was written.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Concerning Transcriptions

In the early 2000s, I thought about getting my string quartet arrangements published. The publisher I worked with did not publish transcriptions, so I contacted some publishers that did. I was told that it would be at least five years before the people who were interested in my transcriptions could publish anything. I considered self-publication, but I didn't have the physical space in my house for equipment and inventory, and I lacked the skills necessary to run a business.

I am good at writing music. I am good at making readable scores and parts. I am good at making arrangements, and I am good at playing music. I am also pretty good at writing about music, and teaching. As a person in my 40s, I preferred to spend my time doing the things I could do, and let my "learning" happen in my musical work.

In 2007 I started a blog to "advertise" my compositions. Raoul Ronson, the owner of Seesaw Music had died, and his inventory went to a company that did not do the kind of promotion that Ronson did (which really was exceptional and involved a great deal of personal contact). I used the internet-based tools I had at hand to try to point people to my 79 pieces of published music.

I was an avid user of the Werner Icking Music Archive, so I decided to contribute my transcriptions of public-domain pieces there. I posted a link to the WIMA listing for each transcription on my Thematic Catalog blog. I hoped that people would come to my Thematic Catalog blog for transcriptions of well-known pieces, and then stay a while and look at my published music.

When the curator of the WIMA invited me to contribute my own music, I gladly accepted. The WIMA became absorbed into the IMSLP, and I contributed to contribute. I encouraged other people to contribute as well. I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the IMSLP.

Thousands of people have gone to my Thematic Catalog blog in search of transcriptions of well-known pieces. Here's screenshot from my blogger "stats" page.

I am very happy to share my transcriptions with people who want to play them, and I am happy to share my own music with people who want to play it.

There are people who use my quartet arrangements to play weddings and parties. That's what the transcriptions are intended for, so it makes me very happy when people let me know that they enjoy playing them. I'm glad to know that my arrangements add something to the commercial value of their musical endeavors. I am happy when young people play my arrangements, particularly when they play my string orchestra arrangements, since school music programs rarely have the financial resources to buy new music that is both interesting and accessible for young people.

But the real reason I share my transcriptions is to promote my work as a composer. I don't know any other honest way to promote the work that I do.

So I am making a plea to people who play my transcriptions: look at the music I have in my Thematic Catalog. Every post has a page example and a link to an audio file. You might want to buy the pieces that are available from publishers (they are reasonably priced, and you can buy them online).

Look at the music I have in the IMSLP (and there are audio files there too). Play it with your friends. Play it on concerts (and please let me know when you do)! Let your friends know about it. Make recordings! Leave comments! Come back!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Done (a ramble)

I just finished listening to a particularly engaging episode of the Crushing Classical podcast called "Fireside Chat #20: Pondering the Myth of 'Done' and Your Legacy." The host, Tracy Friedlander, is a horn player who plays with the North Carolina Symphony (but makes it clear that she is not a member of the orchestra). Eileen Gordon, her conversation partner, is a musician from Tracy's past who followed a career in business rather than one in music.

As part of Tracy's struggle to figure out where she fits in the musical world, she created a podcast to interview musicians who have created ways of working as musicians other than the orchestral path that music schools claim to prepare their students for. The naked truth (that we all pretend to ignore) is that the number of highly prepared orchestral musicians far exceeds the number of openings for professional orchestral jobs that pay enough money to live a comfortable life. In order to make a living as a musician you really need to consider enhancements and alternatives to the traditional orchestral path.

I started listening from the beginning of the podcast (it has been going for about a year), and have enjoyed hearing how it has gotten better from a technical standpoint. But I appreciate the fact that Tracy Friedlander has kept the "blemishes" (moments that could have been edited out) in the earlier conversations. It keeps the whole thing honest.

There's enough deception in the workings of the professional musical world, and a little honesty is a breath of fresh air.

During the above podcast episode, Tracy and Eileen contemplate the idea of musicians who play classical music obsessing about the idea of being done. When we learn etudes as young musicians, some of our teachers will even write "done" on the etude. When we go through books of pieces, we often talk about them in the past tense: I played that, I finished that, etc. When we play a run of Nutcrackers, for example, we talk about each performance being "done," and then the season being "done." Maybe it has something to do with having a double bar at the end of every piece, but musicians seem to be obsessed with getting to an end point.

Tracy mentions early in the discussion that she always thought that once she "won" an orchestral job she would be "done." I know that she is not alone. Many people feel that way. I told myself in my 20s that as soon as I had established myself in a steady job, I would return to playing the violin. And I did.

Composers talk about "finishing" a piece of music when we feel it is finished. For me it happens when all the notes are where I want them to be, when all the expressions I can indicate are written into the music, and when the parts look the way I want them to look. A piece is finished when I have no more work to do on it, but I don't think of it as being "done," because I don't think of music as being real until it is played (and hopefully more often than once, and hopefully by different groups of musicians). Perhaps a composer's greatest fear is that a piece of music should be "done."

Eileen Gordon talks about an alternative way of looking at "being done" as coming to a point of arrival. She talks about those points of arrival as times where you need to double down on your efforts towards your next goal.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Measure of a Musician: Family Matters

I have always found that people respond differently to people who have, for whatever reason, achieved "status" in (or preferably outside of) the musical community. I grew up as a person perceived to be of "status" because of my father's position in the Boston Symphony. That status (my father did not intervene) got me into a youth orchestra that I had no business being in. I believe that status got me into Juilliard (again, my father did not intervene) because my teacher was impressed by my parentage. My sense of musical self worth was really screwed up, so I actually longed to be judged for what I could do. I actually envied people who got their positions in musical life without having grown up in a known musical family.

While I was at Juilliard there were four students who were daughters of principal violists of major orchestras: Two daughters of Sol Greitzer (Debby and Jody, a bassoonist and a flutist), the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, and the daughter of Abe Skernick (Linda, who was a harpsichordist), the principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra. I thought it would be fun to form an ensemble.

At lunch time in the Juilliard cafeteria, my teacher would always introduce he to his friends as my father's daughter. They all respected my father, even if they didn't know him. I met some interesting people, and had some wonderful conversations. I became friends with Paul Doktor who talked with me about his famous father.

After my last year of Juilliard I was accepted at two summer festivals: Tanglewood, and the American Institute for Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. I chose to go to Graz partially because I felt that in Europe I could test the waters and see if I really had what it would take to be a musician as an anonymous person. I will never know whether I was accepted at Tanglewood because of my family status or from my playing. From my European (and Asian) experience I learned that there is no such thing as anonymity in the international community of musicians. My family status followed me like a loyal dog, and it wagged its tail even when I wasn't paying attention.

When I moved to Illinois, my family status followed me. I had instant acceptance and respect from my new community because of it. So I made the most of it, and arranged for my father to come to Illinois and play concerts with me, first when I was a flutist, and later when I became a violist. It was great to introduce him to my friends and colleagues, not to mention the people who liked to go to concerts. Dinners were held in his honor. People came to the concerts.

My father is now retired from the Boston Symphony, and he gets a kick out of it when concert-goers from the neighborhood recognize him when he is in line at the pharmacy. He is enjoying his well-earned status as musical elder statesman, and I enjoy the fact that he is enjoying it.

Partially because of the natural generational shifts that have happened in the musical community, my father's name is no longer a (musical) household one. And I have had many affirmations that the work that I do, both as a violist and as a composer, is acceptable on its own terms.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Substance: A Rant

I have always tried to make my musical life one of substance. I have always tried to make the phrases that I play and the phrases that I write reflect the statement attributed to Coleridge, "Nothing can permanently please that does not contain within itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise." In 2012 I wrote a post about it that you might like to read. Five years is almost a lifetime in the digital world.

The idea of substance still makes sense in what I call the "real world" (as opposed to the digital world) but I am far behind the times, and I guess I have been for my whole life. The "digital world" is now a serious part of the "real world," and I have observed that it is nearly impossible to navigate musical waters (i.e. have a career in music) without doing so through digital pathways. And the problem with using digital pathways is that surface appearance becomes everything. And if you don't keep "repaving" those digital pathways, everything you do vanishes into less than thin air. It seems to take more effort to promote a musical "brand" (whatever that is) than it does to do the work of building and maintaining a musical vocabulary and the necessary technique to express what you need to express.

My first experiences of life with the internet had to do with finding like-minded people. It was truly thrilling to communicate with people who shared my (sometimes rarified) musical interests. Back in the glory days of newsgroups and email, I often had several serious correspondences going. Now I have to wade through (i.e. delete) scores of solicitations in order to find the work-related email messages that come into my inbox.

Another sad truth is that most of my email correspondence partners are no longer living.

But oddly through all of this, the music I love remains the same. Yesterday I had a rehearsal of the Haydn "Kaiser" Quartet. Every phrase of the music, written 220 years ago, retains the same set of possibilities for intimate interaction, and it holds the same surprises, cyclical references, treats, and rewards. And they are there every time you play them. Everything in the piece contains within itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise.

As individual people there are substantial things that we seek out and recognize when we find them (absolute emotions like love and hate). I wonder, however, if as a larger culture we have become more superficial and less substantial in the way we face the world. I wonder if the speed and ease with which news comes to us (both big news and small) dulls our senses, and makes it more difficult to give the weight of our feelings the time they deserve.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata for Viola published by International

Three editor's copies of this new viola transcription of the Rachmaninoff Sonata in G minor that I made for International Music greeted me in today's mail!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Lilacs for Piano Quartet

A while ago the Musical Delights Quartet asked me to make a piano quartet arrangement of "Lilacs," a piece I wrote in 2005 for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano. I just found a performance of it on YouTube, which you can hear here:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three Character Pieces (and one transcription) for Clarinet and Viola

Thank you to clarinetist Alan Schaffer and violist Heather Faust for such a terrific performance!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti

In his book about Balzac, Stefan Zweig introduces a most interesting musical character from history: Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti. The count was the husband of one of Balzac's lovers, and, according to Zweig, was a passionate violinist.
His real love was for music, and he was a character worthy of being immortalized in a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Though he was a descendant of the great condottieri, his greatest pleasure was to sit in a theater orchestra among the professional musicians and play the violin. At Versailles, where he had a house in the Avenue de Neuilly in addition to his palaces in Paris and Vienna, he would slink out every evening and take his place in the orchestra pit, and wherever he went he humbly requested the favor of being allowed to scrape away at the local theater. In the daytime he amused himself by playing at being a chemist. He would mix all sorts of ingredients, pour the result into bottles, and attach neat labels. Society bored him. He liked to keep in the background, so he was no bother at all to his wife's lovers. He was affable to every one of them, since they enabled him to devote his energies all the more uninterruptedly to his beloved music.
There is little to be found about this violin-playing count, but he does appear very briefly in Isabelle Aboulker's 1999 opera Monsieur de Balzac fait son theatre. He has one spoken line in the first act, and never returns again.

But Zweig, Balzac, and the Count have just led me to the music of Isabelle Aboulker, and I can, in turn, lead you there too. Aboulker's musical sense of humor reminds me a great deal of Seymour Barab's sense of musical humor.

Here's a whole recital of her songs set to text by Jean de la Fontaine, Jules Renard, Hans Christian Andersen (!!!!), Marie Curie, and Charles Cros, performed by soprano Elsa Tirel and pianist Eleonore Sandron.

What an excellent composer!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stadtkappelle Schladming!

When I taught flute and recorder in Schladming, Austria in 1980 and 1981, I played with the Stadtkappelle Schladming. Two of my flute students played with me. This video from the early 1980s shows the group at its very best (playing without music!) One of my flute students, Anita Stocker, is here, and it looks like the other flutist could be a teenage version of my recorder student Judith Pohle, or even Anita Ebenschweiger. The clarinetist who gets a few solo shots is Hans Plank, who was the director of the music school.

Here's a video from 1986:

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Escalators, Elevators, Facebook, and Bloggery

I live in a city that doesn't have escalators. We used to drive for an hour so that our kids could have the fun of riding a department store escalator. It was a treat for them. It was a novelty.

This was long before anyone thought about the internet as we know it. It was a treat and a novelty to those of us who live outside of bustling cities. When blogging became a way to share writing on the internet, it was like the opening up of a door.

The early days of the musical blogosphere were a lot of fun for me. The 2017 bloggery experience is only a shadow of what it was in 2007. Most of the musical bloggers have stopped writing. Some of them started as a way to find community in a world that dismisses classical music as a "genre," and then left in favor of communicating on Facebook where you can have the illusion of a community without devoting the time and care that maintaining a blog demands. It is also very iPhone friendly. Blog platforms like this one are difficult to use on an iPhone.

I have been thinking lately about how similar a Facebook experience is to an escalator experience, and how the rest of the internet (i.e. the blogosphere) is more like an elevator experience.

You summon an elevator and after a short wait you enter one of a few enclosed rooms that can hold a few people. You might be completely alone, or you might have company. You might smile at the other people in the elevator, or you might avoid eye contact. It's your choice. You will forget about your elevator mates as soon as they get off, and they will forget about you just as quickly, unless you have some meaningful contact. Your journey feels safe and private, even though it may not be either. Still it is possible to travel through the tubes of the non-social internets in search of information and enrichment in a way that is enjoyable and self directed. Elevators are almost always located near stairwells, so you can choose whether to ride or walk.

Facebook takes you for an escalator ride. There is an element of danger in the escalator ride. The ride stimulates your attention to both the presence and absence of your physical self as you look at reflections of other escalators. I find that when I am riding an escalator I have a strange sense of tension and a deep desire to reach the point where the escalator stops and I can step off safely.

I feel a similar mixture of danger and desire every time I step onto the Facebook "escalator." Like an escalator in a big department store, Facebook literally directs your attention where its advertisers want it to go. Once you go on Facebook a few times and look at the ads that register as "seen" in your newsfeed, they come up more often. The walls of the escalator entices you with mirrors (analogous to the people who validate your existence and "like" what you post) and shiny objects: friends who post pictures, clever commentary, and links to articles that you can sometimes, but not always, access via Facebook (magazine and newspaper articles are often behind a paywall).

Your friends and their friends leave projections of their best selves for you to glance at and feel a momentary sense of connection with, only to be forgotten when the "ride" stops. Stores are designed so that you can't miss featured products because they are placed near the end of the escalators. We have come to accept that. On a Facebook "ride" you see images of promoted products again and again, and you accept their presence in your news feed as part of the experience. I seems like the price you pay for having friends on Facebook.

Saturday, June 03, 2017


Michael and I are reading Stefan Zweig's biography of Balzac. I read it about twenty-five years ago, while I was at the height of a personal Balzac craze, and am enjoying Zweig's book with very fresh eyes. When I started writing music seriously around the time of my Balzac craze, I dreamed about setting one particular Balzac novel as an opera.

During these past twenty-five years I have written a libretto for the whole opera and music for the first scene. It is a crazy amount of work to write an opera, and it takes a crazy amount of work to try to get an opera performed. In my case all the effort I put into seeing even one of the four operas I have written on stage has largely been futile. It's a vicious circle: nobody in the field of opera wants to invest time and resources into the work of an unknown composer, and there doesn't seem to be a way to become "known" without having work performed.

I made a promise to myself not to write another opera until I had the chance to see and hear a performance of one of the operas I have written. But reading about Balzac and thinking about Balzac has motivated me to break my promise and get to work on my original opera idea. For me it is the work of writing that keeps me going, and even if the theater inside my head is the only one where it is played, that will just have to do.

I'm not saying anything here about the opera, but when I'm finished I'll put it in the IMSLP (my two published operas are probably the last pieces of mine that will ever be performed because they are buried in a publisher's catalog, and have expensive rental parts), and I will share it here.

Friday, June 02, 2017

(Mar-a) Largo al Factotum

With apologies to A.A. Milne, but it had to be done

King Don’s Christmas

King Don was not a good man—
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air—
And bad King Don stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King Don was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King Don was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King Don was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
by the antenna for the TV:
And signed it not “Donald J.”
But very humbly, “D.”
“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now.”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow—
The first I’ve had for years.”
“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King Don said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”
“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife—
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If Bach were to write his "Coffee Cantata" today:

Covfefe Cantata: Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht
(Keep quiet, don’t tweet)

Ei! wie schmeckt der Covfefe süße,
How I love the taste of sweet Covfefe,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
More than a thousand kisses,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Milder than Muscat wine.

Covfefe, Covfefe muss ich haben,
Covfefe, I must have Covfefe,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
Ach, so schenkt mir Covfefe ein!
Ah!, just give me some Covfefe!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Adventures in the yard: My dream of a mighty oak

About a week ago I found an oak seedling that popped up in our yard. I scooped it and its surrounding clump of grass up, and planted it in a place where I imagined a mighty oak tree would love to live. I surrounded it with mulch, and placed a milk crate over it to let in sunshine and water and keep animals away.

My happy and healthy little oak seedling was safe.

Last night I peered into the milk crate, and the seedling was gone. In its place was a small hole left by some underground woodland creature who must have enjoyed a nice meal.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Jumping Competition

My latest musical setting of an Andersen story is finished! You can listen to a computer-generated recording of it (it takes all of five minutes) with Elaine-generated narration here.

The music is on this page of the IMSLP.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Musical Assumption #2: Power in Music

We all have the power to create and the power to destroy. In the yard I have the power to decide which plants will grow where. I can exercise that power lovingly (as in planting, watering, and pruning) or I can exercise that power hatefully (as in digging up stumps and roots, and pulling weeds and vines). Some days I feel as mighty as nature herself, and some days I feel totally powerless.

My power in the yard is all subjective.

We talk about power in music, but that power is different from the traditional concepts of power. We certainly have hierarchies in musical relationships (consider the roles of conductors, contractors, teachers, section leaders, and the people who manage musical institutions), and we have hierarchies in volume and register (consider the contrast between the trumpet and the lute).

The "power" we encounter in hierarchical musical relationships has little to do with music. The "power" to write or play, the "power" to create or re-create something beautiful, resonant, and/or meaningful is a combination of experience, instinct, and knowledge, but it is also a kind of "dance" with the muse (which we could even call "nature").

Everyone participates in the dance, and everyone has challenges. Not everybody "dances" their best all the time, and we all have to do a combination of leading, following, and sitting dances out. As we become better musicians when we become more sensitive to others, and we notice when other musicians are sensitive to us. There is a feeling of shared "power" when we truly connect with other musicians. (I think of it as "might.")

Unlike the power struggles (and triumphs) with nature that happen in the yard, the "nature" in music is not seasonal. Frost, draught, flooding, and the onslaught of non-human creatures cannot hold power over me while I'm writing music or while I'm practicing or rehearsing (at least while I have a roof over my head).

It's a nice thing to remember.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hans Christian Andersen Stories

A couple of weeks ago I finished writing a piece for solo cello or solo viola and narrator based on "The Collar" a Hans Christian Andersen story about a collar, a garter, an iron, and a bootjack, and now I'm ready to start work on a musical setting of "The Jumping Competition." It has four characters: a flea, a grasshopper, a jumping jack, and a King, so my setting is going to be for woodwind quartet (flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon). The interesting twist here is that I am going to have the musicians alternate between playing and narrating.

I'm excited about how it will work itself out. I'll have to make maps and charts to figure out which voice does what, and then I'll need to make parts with truly functional cues. It is a nice set of challenges.

Thinking about musical stories brings me back twenty years, to the days when I used to make up musically-narrated stories with our son Ben. Ben would play the cello, I would play the viola, and we would improvise together, musically illustrating each other's contribution to the story. Sometimes we would get together with other string-playing kids, and make up stories with them. The stories usually included mystery, sadness, and scary stuff, but they almost always ended in chaos and laughter.

I'll keep you posted on my progress . . .

You can see the nine other Andersen stories I have set to music here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Good Day's Practice

A good day's practice is just rosin under the bridge.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Musical Assumption #1

I gave this title to a piece (now discarded) of electronic music I wrote for an electronic music class. I liked the title more than the piece, and the "Musical Assumptions" part of the title has a much better "life" as the title of this blog.

Now that this blog is in its second decade, I guess it is time to make, as adolescents often do, some assumptions. Here begins a series of assumptions about the musical world that might matter to someone other than me. Feel free to disagree. As my brother Marshall used to say, "When you assume you make an ass out of u and me."

Musical Assumption #1

Musicians in the 21st century can still engage in musical discourse almost exactly the way they engaged in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries when playing notated music of the time.

The instruments we play in modern times are less problematic, and we do have the undeniable benefits of climate control (heating and cooling), accessibility (the IMSLP, for example), recordings for reference and for rehearsal, ergonomic devices, indoor plumbing, comfortable clothing, instant communication (which helps for setting up rehearsals), and photocopy machines, computers, and printers.

Still, when it comes to figuring out what bowing or bow stroke to use, how to tune and balance a chord, or how to decide something about phrase direction, we are still faced with the same choices as musicians throughout time (and space). Nothing of modern life can really interfere with or add to the musical situation at hand. It is all there for us as it was for the string players who worked at Esterhazy.

When we play Haydn quartets that are clearly meant for the entertainment of the musicians playing them, we chuckle at the same bits of musical humor that our musical ancestors did. These "secret signs" unify our musical "species" across the centuries, and transcend cultural boundaries.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Music of Our Mothers Radio Program May 10th

Tomorrow, May 10th, between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m Eastern Time I will be one of the featured composers on a radio program called "Music of our Mothers" on WFCF, Flagler College's radio station, 88.5 in St. Augustine, Florida. You can listen to the live stream of the program through this link and read about the program on their website.

There will also be music by Cecilia Macdowell, Mercedes Zavala Gironés, Vivian Adelbert Rudow, Chen Yi, Joan Tower, Missy Mazzoli, and Nancy Dalberg on tomorrow's program.

They will be talking about and playing my set of pieces for contrabassoon and piano called "More Greek Myths."

Friday, May 05, 2017

Stefan Zweig on the writing of "La Marseillaise"

From "The Secret of Artistic Creation," written in 1938 by Stefan Zweig and translated from the German by Will Stone:
Rouget de l'Isle is not a poet proper, nor a composer. He was an officer of genius who during the French Revolution found himself in Strasbourg. On 25h April 1792 at midday came the news that the Republic had declared war on the kings of Europe. An atmosphere of drunken exaltation flooded the city. In the evening the mayor laid on a dinner for the officers. During the meal he turned to Rouget d l'Isle, to whom he said: why not write some jubilant verses, and in friendly fashion asked him to compose a song which the troops could sing as they marched into battle. And why not? Until midnight the officers remained assembled, then Rouget de l'Isle set off for home. He had fully participated in the general merriment and had drunk enough; his head rang with toasts and speeches, words such as "Allons, enfants de la Patrie!" and "Le jour de gloire est arrivé." He sat at the table and wrote straight out the required lines. Then he took up his violin and struck a melody. In two hours it was finished. The next morning at six, he went to find the mayor and presented him the finished song, the completed composition. Ignoring fatigue, and in a kind of trance, he had somehow created one of the most immortal poems in the world, one of the most immortal melodies, through sheer inspiration. it was not of course he himself who was author, but rather the genius of the hour.

You can read more about Rouget de l'Isle here.

This essay, which is part of a collection called Messages from a Lost World (published by the Pushkin Press) is outdated at times, especially when it comes to music (I don't know if anyone still subscribes to the idea that Mozart, Schubert, and Haydn never made sketches, for example), but much of it is terrific. Here's another morsel:

The true artist is then as occupied by his creation as the believer by his prayer, the dreamer by his dream. As a result, in contemplating the internal, he is unable to see clearly the external, or himself. This is why artists, poets, painters, [and] musicians are incapable, whilst they are creating, of observing themselves, still less of explaining themselves, or by what manner they have produced the work. They are bad witnesses, useless witnesses for the creation courtroom, and, like inceptions criminologists, it would be a mistake on our part to rely blindly on their testimony.