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: