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).