Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Greeting for Three

As is my custom, I have been spending this earlier part of New Year's Eve writing a short piece to greet the new year. This one is a bit austere, but it really can't be helped.

Here's a link to an audio file (with yours truly playing the violin part and the oboe part on the violin), and a link to the music (which is also on this page of the IMSLP).

"The Collar" Performed by Barbara Hedlund and Ronald Hedlund

Here's a link to the score.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Music Holder "Life Hack" Number 2

In 2011 I made a post about using a 15-inch laptop sleeve as a music holder. Though my laptop sleeves have served me well, they do not work for larger pieces of music. I tried looking for a larger laptop sleeve, but I couldn't stand the smell of the only larger neoprene sleeve I found on line (perhaps more are available now that don't smell). After a few days of letting the neoprene sleeve outgas, I tried washing it. It still smelled terrible, so I threw it away.

I searched around the house in search of a better solution, and happened upon a set of "Skylite" packing cubes (which are actually rectangles) that I bought for (literally) a few dollars at Aldi. It turned out that the largest sleeve would fit the 10 by 13 piece of music that I needed to cart around. I safety-pinned the sleeve to the inside of my inside of my case cover, where it keeps all my music contained, safe, and supported.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Dictionary of Musical Themes

I found this amazing 1948 musical reference book (published in New York by Crown) in a used bookstore in Champaign, Illinois several months ago. The songwriter Harold Barlow and the composer Sam Morgenstern sought to make a musical parallel to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. This volume contains 10,000 themes from orchestral and chamber music. Barlow and Morgenstern made a volume of vocal themes in 1950, and in 1962 they made a volume of opera and song themes.

You can buy copies all over the place on line. Mine is a first edition without a dust cover, and I paid $10 for it.

You can read the introductory material for the book here.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

La Soleá from Cante Jondo played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

This is the fourth piece "Cante Jondo" (five pieces based on poems of Federico Garcia Lorca) performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning.

Here is Michael Leddy's translation Lorca's "La Soleá"

Sad Andalusian Song

Cloaked in black
she thinks the world small
and the heart immense.

Cloaked in black.

She thinks the tender sigh and cry
in the wind.

Cloaked in black.

She left the window open
and dawn emptied out
the whole sky there.

Ah, ah,
cloaked in black!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Organizing my Musical Assumptions

I have been doing a bit of housekeeping of late, and have decided to use the nifty labels tool to organize some of my older posts into categories. It feels kind of like taking books out of boxes and putting them on shelves. You can see the labels I have made on the sidebar to the right.

You can also line up all the rambles I have collected (so far) by clicking here.

Happy rambling!

Mnozil Brass Antics from 2011

One of my middle-school students told me about this video, so I thought I'd share it here. It's set to start where the actual auction begins. I imagine that this is being enjoyed, especially today, this final day of the semester, by middle-school band kids everywhere.

This might have drawn inspiration from this single-cello and multiple-player Bolero video from 2006.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Musical Economics Ramble

I was working with a seven-year-old student the other day, and while we were discussing the weight of the bow on the string, the subject of gravity came up. My student told me that they studied gravity in Kindergarten, and that in first grade they were now learning about economics. Maybe it's a fancy way of talking about money: dividing dollars into quarters, dimes, and nickels, which could be useful when introducing physical concepts of math. It is interesting and amusing to consider various scenarios of costs and benefits through the eyes of a first grader.

Anyway, I have been thinking about musical economics lately.

Most of the people reading this blog know that I stopped working with commercial publishers years ago, and since 2006 I have made everything that that I have written available by way of the IMSLP. It's free to download and free to perform. It simply isn't worth my while to work through a publisher and not be able to distribute the music I write for free. The IMSLP makes it possible for me to participate in the exchange of music without dealing with ideas of ownership or money. I am also very fortunate that being married to a now retired academic professional, and living in a place that has an extremely low cost of living, I don't have to sell music to pay the bills. If I were a different kind of person I could even say that I had a "patron." Anyway, the quality of what I write would remain the same regardless of whether I were to exchange it for money or offer it to musicians for free.

But everything you read tells you that nothing is really free.

If I perform the prelude from a Bach Cello Suite (and we violists practice them all the time and perform them occasionally) it is a reflection of thousands of hours of concentrated practice. The "cost" to me is the time I have spent building up enough technique to allow me to shepherd the groups of notes into formations that please me and please the people listening to me. If I play a Bach Prelude for a wedding and get paid money for doing so, that money hardly compensates for the time I have spent hard at work on the piece. It does, however, compensate for my travel and for the time I spend sitting quietly during a wedding ceremony.

The benefit for Bach is negligible. He has been dead for a long time, and his name and his work is well known. But there might be someone at that wedding who has never heard a Bach prelude before. There might be a child (or even an adult) who thinks that the viola is the most beautiful instrument she has ever heard, and will want to play it. There might be a person or two who is better able to connect to appropriate feelings for the event because of the safety of the music.

But being hard at work is really being hard at play for me. And all that work (play) makes me a better musician. I imagine Bach would have been happy to know that his music has proven useful after all these years.

And what are the economics relating to a person (or group) playing music that I write? The cost for the player is measured in hours of practice time and rehearsal time, and the benefit is having new music to play. The major benefit for me is having the music I write "live" in other places besides the inside of my head. I also know that most musicians are poorly paid for their work. It brings me no joy to think about musicians as customers. It does bring me joy to know that people who might not be able to afford music for their students to play (school orchestra budgets being limited) can find new music to perform without spending money they do not have.

The costs of creating a publishing company are the similar to the costs of setting up any small business. You need space for production (including large-format printing equipment and binding equipment) and supplies (high-quality paper and ink). You have to either understand accounting or hire an accountant, have a professional website, set yourself up to do e-commerce, and protect your intellectual property. You might need to hire a lawyer to help with those protections, if need be. You have to understand business, advertise, go to conferences, and be ever-present on Facebook (gasp) and Twitter. The expenditures you have to make will be reflected in the price of the music so that you actually make some money from owning the publishing company. And that price might be higher than it would be from a larger publisher.

The company that handles my published music is now offering services to self-publishing composers (i.e. composers who do not have a relationship with an established publisher and would like to sell their music). In exchange for a yearly fee, they will print and mail your music, and list it on their website. Unlike the non-self-published composers (like me) they allow the composer to retain ownership of the music (saving themselves the expense of filing for copyright).

The publisher takes a hefty percentage (45%) of the money that customers pay in retail sales (that's less than the 90% that they take from the composers they publish). The company also will sell self-publishing composers copies of their own music at a 70% discount. I suppose that the company thinks of would-be self-publishing composers as customers rather than as people who produce items of value. I suppose that adding this new "consumer class" of composer elevates me up a tier in the company's hierarchy, though I still can't imagine ever seeing this company actively promoting my work.

So I keep sending my new work to the IMSLP, where it can be accessed by people everywhere who are looking for music to play. It costs me nothing and it benefits anyone who is interested. And it leaves me time to write music. And blog posts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Life After Facebook

I made the decision to no longer engage in virtual life on Facebook before reading the New York Times article that appeared today concerning the way the powers that be at Facebook have been violating the privacy of the people who use the application.

I made my decision because I was tired of being marketed to by the entity itself. And I did not like the way I was relating to the content I saw. I would always see posts made by a handful of people, commercial posts, and ads, but would rarely see most of what my 500 Facebook friends wrote. It was as if the application was telling me who and what was important for me to see. I imagine that its algorithms also pick what people see from the posts I have made there.

There are things about the Facebook experience that I have enjoyed. Who doesn't like receiving birthday wishes from hundreds of people (most of whom otherwise wouldn't have remembered my birthday)? I am grateful that I had the opportunity to give my father a "Facebook birthday" where hundreds of people from his past got the chance to wish him a happy birthday. He did get a kick out of it.

I enjoy having had the opportunity to send links to pieces I have written to groups that engage in discussions about specific instruments, and have enjoyed learning that people in these groups have shown interest in them. I have enjoyed being able to share life events (weddings, births, and deaths) with people I have known over the years, and I have enjoyed been able to congratulate, console, and advise people from my past that I know and people I have "met" on Facebook but do not otherwise know.

I have done all this without putting out much in the way of effort. I have found that the value of any relationship springs, in great part, from the effort put into it. Correspondence (whether through email or on paper) requires time and effort. It also involves trust. Since Facebook has become dominant in my life (and I guess in the lives of the people I know), correspondence has dwindled down to almost nothing. And I have posted less frequently on this blog, which I think of as a kind of a correspondence.

Before I end this post (and end my relationship with Facebook, which I am planning to do right after I publish this post), I would like to mention that I joined Facebook in 2009, and then I left it for a few years. When I bumped into a friend in town who told me that my brother Marshall was on Facebook, I joined again. I was surprised to find that all my "data" was still there.

Marshall died a few years ago. He rarely posted on his Facebook page, but his ex-wife and his friends would post things on his page that they thought he'd like to see. They still keep Marshall's Facebook page viable, and they still write posts on it. The latest one wishes him a happy birthday "in heaven."

Seeing this makes me cringe.

I'm getting ready to pull the plug now, folks!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Thinking about Equality in Musical Institutions

Every day seems to bring another piece of bad news about a high-level musical person who occupies a position of power in a partially closed and often merit-based musical institution. It seems that so far the people who have been exposed by adding the role of sexual predator to their role of teacher have been male. Is it because women don't usually abuse their power within musical institutions? Is it because women, no matter how well they play, write, conduct, sing, or administrate, don't have the same kind of power/entitlement mix that men have?

Operating to the extent that I do in the larger musical world, I do know that women participate in power struggles. And there are a multitude of hierarchies that women in every stage of the game of music have to work within. Women who men see as having power are feared. Men who men see as having power are admired.

When I was a CD reviewer I believe that I must have had power. Most readers had no idea about my gender because only my last name appeared on reviews. I know that I was despised by some (everyone hates a critic unless that critic gives a glowing review). Could I ever have inspired fear? Was I ever admired? Did it matter? Does it matter now?

I know that I was a "token" woman on the reviewing staff of the American Record Guide. Sometimes, out of a reviewing staff of 60 or so, there were two or three women writing reviews. And when the musical blogosphere was in its heyday, most of the musical bloggers were men. Now it seems that the field of musical bloggery is dominated by women, but the field of musical bloggery is a ghost of its former self. There are far fewer people who read blogs now. And, perhaps because of the degree of difficulty leaving a comment by way of a cell phone is, there are fewer still who engage by making comments.

Yet we persist.

Let me reflect on my youth a bit. When I was a teenager with a fierce dedication to music and a serious desire to engage in discussions about music as an equal, I believe I might have had the respect of my male peers. I know that I had the respect of the professional musicians (teachers and colleagues of my father) I interacted with. But I was a child with the kind of eagerness and dedication that projected an optimism nobody wanted to negate. Everyone likes a smart kid.

Once I was a college-age woman I found it harder to engage as an equal with my male peers because of the obsession with attractiveness that permeated all of our lives. If I was not attractive to a (straight) male musician, I was not worth talking to. If I was attractive to a male musician, I was rarely taken seriously as a thinking person or as a person with talent or a person with high aspirations. In a world where attractiveness-fueled self-esteem was currency, I was piss poor.

I did have wonderful encounters in the hallways with older male faculty members (I remember talking with Paul Doktor, David Diamond, and Rolf Fjelde) who were all gracious and interested in talking with me for the sake of talking about interesting stuff. I also did have great friends among my peers, and my fellow students who came to Juilliard with a college education served as inspiring teachers. And I had wonderful friends who were women.

My own teacher was deficient in the "teaching" department, but I was fortunate to find two teachers on the outside who taught me for free. One was a flutist who was just getting started in what has turned out to be a fantastic teaching career. He was appalled at the neglect that my teacher demonstrated, and he was eager to have a really good student who would take his (then way out-of-the-box) ideas seriously. The other teacher was not a flutist, but he wanted to "pay forward" the kindness of lessons that had been given to him, and wanted to emulate his teacher and keep his teacher's ideas alive. Both these teachers were men, and there was NEVER A HINT of impropriety in either relationship. I owe my life to these people. One is still a very close friend, and the other is inaccessible.

Some of my friends have experienced the dark side of trying to balance studying seriously and having to cope with the complications of having student/teacher relationship become intimate. Some people thought of it as a kind of flattery--that such a relationship was a relationship between equals. Some people felt trapped, and so no way of getting away without compromising their careers. This happened to students who were women and students who were men.

There are cases when cross-generational relationships can be relationships between equals, but the larger number of cross-generational relations between teachers and their students are not relationships between equals. They are exercises of power on the part of the person who has the career, has the influence, and often has a family.

Perhaps we are headed into a healthier musical world now, or at least a musical world where people who have, in the past, been able to get away with abusing their power, are seeing the consequences of that abuse.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Schubert Trout Quintet from November 8, 1976 NEC Faculty Chamber Music Concert

[Featuring my favorite violist!]

Thanks to my friend Dan Barrett for this!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Composing music and exercising free will

I enjoyed listening to the November 16th edition of the This American Life podcast called "Where There is a Will". In the last segment producer David Kestenbaum and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky discuss the question of whether or not any of us actually has free will, and that got me thinking about the idea of exercising free will when writing music.

Speaking as a composer of music, I really have no idea how anybody writes a piece of music. Even me. All I know is that, whether I like it or not, I rely on a lot of subconscious activity when I find myself writing something.

It's not that the music writes itself, but once I string a few notes together, either horizontally or vertically, they set the tone (no pun intended), the feeling, and the vocabulary of what will come after. They also lay the groundwork for material that will be written later and inserted into the piece.

As soon as I have the thematic material in hand, it becomes the leader. It tells me what must be done, and lets me know what doesn't work. I can try expanding or contracting the material. I can fit the material into this or that meter, and I can manipulate it so it slides into another mode or key. I can set it to avoid tonality if I want. I can choose which registers it will inhabit on which instruments or groupings of instruments. I believe that I have the free will to make any choices I want, which makes me the master of my musical domain. While I am moving my tin soldiers around their battlefield or the stage of their theater, I feel all powerful.

But that feeling doesn't last because some of the choices I might have made in my illusory state of power haven't turned out to be as good as they first seemed to be (and some turned out downright lousy). My thematic material, which, by this point has taken on a life of its own, will not allow itself to be put in compromising situations (like being buried in less-than-resonant parts of an instrument or being awkward or uncomfortable to play). If something I do with the material doesn't work, it becomes obvious. I sometimes spend hours trying to fix a deficient phrase. Sometimes the best solution is to scrap a section altogether.

When musical material makes its way into situations where there is conflict, it demands resolution. And that resolution needs to be paced and voiced so that it is satisfying. These things keep me up at night. Sometimes they loop through my dreams. Sometimes I feel like my unconscious mind takes over and "does" what my so-called free will would have done if I could rely on it.

Then there are wrong notes that have to be replaced with better ones. After the wrong notes have been replaced, there is the question of phrase direction. I find that durable themes often proscribe fairly obvious phrase directions, so it becomes my job to make sure I put the slurs and articulations in the right places. It's my job to make sure that the dynamic levels on the page correspond to the dynamic levels demanded by the ebb and flow of the material.

It is at this point when I wonder if I have exercised any free will at all. I console myself by realizing that my job is finished once all the notes, dynamics, and articulations are in their best of all possible places. It is up to the people playing the music to make choices about how it should be performed.

Maybe once we begin to create something (music, poetry, a drawing or painting, dinner, a game, a party, a relationship, a blog post like this one) the idea of free will evaporates, and the thing itself takes over. And a piece of music has the possibility of having many lives that are all quite independent from the life of its "creator."

Naming Names

During a lesson this afternoon I revealed the silly words that I had in my mind for the piece my student was playing. The words were not particularly good (and I'm not repeating them here), but they were THE words that I gave to the melody nearly 30 years ago, and they will forever be married to the melody. Having words did help my student understand the rhythm, so sharing them proved successful.

I told her that once you give a melody words, you don't usually change the words. It's kind of like naming a stuffed animal or a doll. I have never changed the name of a stuffed animal or a doll. I have never known anyone else to change the name of a stuffed animal. Once you give something a name, you have named it. And that's that.

It's the same with people. You can use nicknames, but it doesn't change the fact that there was once an official name. If you make a legal name change as an adult, that name change becomes permanent. It's just that you name yourself rather than go with a name given to you by a parent.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Hannukah Latkes

Back in 2009 I shared this song with my friend Seymour Barab, and he told me that it should be on the "hit parade." I laughed. And he said that he was serious.

I always wanted to write a Christmas song, but my heart has never been in it. Hannukah, however, is a different story.

December 11, 2009

The music is available here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Geoffrey Seitz's Magical Violin Shop

St. Louis is kind of a hotbed for string-instrument activity, but no violin shop is as magical to me as Geoffrey Seitz's shop.

I met Mr. Seitz many years ago when he produced, as if by magic, a beautiful violin for our daughter. It apparently passed for a Chanot for about a century, but was in actuality a Bohemian violin with a false label. The quality of the instrument reflected its "life" as a fine fiddle, but the price reflected its humble (yet artful) Bohemian heritage.

My next encounter was with one of Seitz's own instruments, a beautiful violin with a huge sound that a family friend bought for his daughter. Several years later I met a little five-string violin that my friend Ruth, who has known Geoff for several decades, bought from him. I sent one of my violin students to his shop (where I had not yet visited) and she came back to Illinois with four excellent violins that were all reasonably priced. My student told me that going into his shop was one of the greatest experiences of her life (she was 17 at the time) and fell deeply in love with one of the four violins (as did I).

Earlier this year Ruth showed me a gorgeous small viola she was thinking of buying from Geoff, and asked me if I would go to St. Louis with her to try it "against" other similarly-sized instruments at his shop. I brought along my viola d'amore, which needed some cracks repaired, so off we went.

This violin shop is like no other. Most of the violin shops I have visited have elegant sitting rooms and oriental rugs on the floor. Most violin shops are intentionally intimidating. Not Seitz's shop. It is a storefront shop in what could be described as a strip mall that is packed to the gills with instruments of all kinds. There are paths to many of them, but there are areas that are so packed that the instruments seem to be inaccessible. If there were oriental rugs on the floor, they were covered by larger instruments. There were piles of empty cases everywhere (including one with crocodile skin), big cardboard boxes of bows, and instruments on every surface scattered shoulder to neck in seemingly ramshackle order. Seitz also has an impressive backlog of work (my viola d'amore took half a year to repair, but the repair made it sound fantastic, so it was worth the wait), and seems to do it all with just one helper. And of course Geoff knows the back story for every instrument in the shop.

My friend's viola was the best (for her) of the lot, and the price Geoff gave her was amazing considering the high quality of the instrument.

Ruth and I went back to the shop last week with Judy, a friend who was looking for a new violin. We were pretty sure that Geoff would have something special for her, and we were right. We made our choice very easily and then asked to try a few bows. We were all in agreement about the bow that was best.

Geoff asked us if we would like to look at an instrument made in Charleston (the town where Ruth, Judy, and I live). Ruth wondered if it might have been a violin made by her late brother-in-law Garry Harrison, but it turned out to be a violin made in 1989 by my old friend (the second person I met when I moved to Charleston--his wife Barbara was the first) Burton Hardin. I actually recognized the instrument which he gave me to try once I began my switch from flute to violin. I even seem to remember when Burton was making the instrument.

Ruth, Judy, and I all knew Burton Hardin, but Geoff had never met him.

Geoff cut $200 off the price of the bow, and threw in a brand new lovely (and light) case for the violin for free. Then he refigured the cost of my repair, lowering it by $100 or so. When Ruth and I asked about buying rosin, he threw two nice cakes in for free.

You can hear one of Geoff's instruments here (and see his shop in the background):

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Leap Frog and New Year's Greeting

Here are both pieces in their full glory played by Scott Slapin and Tanya Solomon:

Now THIS is something to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Excerpts from the Slapin-Solomon Duo Concert in South Hadley, MA!

Yesterday the Slapin-Solomon Duo played a concert that included my "Leap Frog" and "New Year's Greeting" for two violas. They put a short "collage" from the concert on YouTube, and I'm sharing it here.

Friday, November 16, 2018

La Lola from "Cante Jondo" played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here's the third piece in "Cante Jondo" (five pieces based on poems of Federico Garcia Lorca) performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning.

Lola (La Lola)

Under the orange tree
she washes cotton underthings.
Her eyes green
and her voice violet.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

The water in the ditch
filling up with sun,

in the olive grove
a sparrow singing.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

Soon, when
the soap’s gone,
the young bullfighters will come.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

[English translation by Michael Leddy]

Sunday, November 11, 2018

More Photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 Class at Yale

George Hunter's daughter (George is #4) sent me two photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 composition class at Yale. It would be great if we could use them to help identify the rest of the people in this photo:

You can see the original post from 2010 with a larger numbered photo and lots of comments here.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Autumnal Ramble with Luther

I haven't had any original musical ideas lately. Spring and Summer were productive for me, so I'm not terribly bothered by it. I seem to have more room in my head now for appreciating music written by other people. It's fun to have my creative musical parts listen with new ears, and show me how to move from note to note and phrase to phrase with greater purpose.

I'm six months away from the beginning of my sixth decade, and though expression is an absolute necessity, expressing myself is sometimes painful. It is not painful while I am playing, but my muscles are sore after I stop. Still, with the national dialogue gone all topsy-turvy, and with anxiety-producing proclamations coming from the highest offices in the country a few times a day, playing music, particularly music by Bach, is the only way for me to keep sane.

I'm excited about this weekend's musical adventures! The Charleston Consort, our local Medieval/Renaissance band, is playing a concert on Sunday of settings of Martin Luther's best-known melodies by his contemporaries and compatriots.

There will be settings of Ein feste Burg (1529), Nun comm, der Heiden Heiland (1524), Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (1539), Aus tiefer Not (1524), Verleih uns Frieden (1529) by Georg Forster, Bartholomäus Gesius, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Eccard, Michael Praetorius, Benedictus Ducis, Balthasar Resinarius, Lupus Hellinck, Johann Kugelmann, Kaspar Othmayr, Johann Walther, Johann Hermann Schein, Lukas Osiander, Melchior Franck, Heinrich Schütz, and Michael Altenburg. In addition we will be playing "Non mortar sed vivam," the only know contrapuntal piece by Martin Luther (though I imagine he must have written many more).

The miracle is that all these settings have been fitted, like a mosaic, into logical sequences. The program should last a little over an hour. It took us a good chunk of this "Luther year" to get everything to work.

For readers and music lovers who do not live in the area: The Wesley Methodist Church is on Fourth Street in Charleston, Illinois. If you are coming from the north, just follow Fourth street towards the university. The church will be on your right just after the last of the university's parking lots. The concert begins at 3:00 and admission is free.

Monday, November 05, 2018


[drawn by Ben Leddy]

Sunday, November 04, 2018

"El Grito" Performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here is Michael Leddy's translation of the Lorca Poem this piece is based on:

II. The Cry (El Grito)

The ellipse of a cry
goes from mountain
to mountain.

From the olive trees
it will be a black rainbow
over the blue night.


Like a viola bow
the cry has made
the wind’s long strings sound.


(The people in the cellars
light their lamps.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Canción de Jinete" performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

This piece for flute and piano is based on a song I wrote for countertenor and piano to a poem by Lorca. Here is an English translation by Michael Leddy of the poem.

I. Rider’s Song (Canción de Jinete)

A long way alone.

Black pony, big moon,
and olives in my pack.
Though I know the way
I’ll never reach Córdoba.

Across the plain, through the wind,
black pony, red moon.
Death is watching me
from the towers of Córdoba.

Ah what a long way!
Ah my brave pony!
Oh that death waits for me
Before I reach Córdoba.

A long way alone.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Shaking my head

The person who holds the position with the greatest power in the world is unable to address the issue of gun control as a possibility for preventing mass shootings like the one today in Pittsburgh because of his allegiance to the NRA. He has the audacity to blame victims for not being armed, claiming that the outcome would have been far "better" (who uses the word "better" in this situation?) if they had.

It has become clear to me that the greatest power in the world now lies with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

I imagine that leaders of other countries that engage in despicable activity are laughing at the person I don't want to name (I don't want it to appear in this blog). They are laughing at his incompetence and inability to provide moral leadership. They are also laughing at us, the citizens of the United States, because people in our country (and in our Congress) continue to support him.

November 6 can't come soon enough for me. I already voted, using a paper ballot.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In light we see, in light we are seen

This is the next installment of a video project with flutist Rebecca Johnson and pianist Cara Chowning.

This piece is a musical commentary on a memorial reading from the New Union Prayer Book:
In light we see; in light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair, for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our lives we give life. Something of us can never die: we move in the eternal cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Two performances tomorrow!

I'm looking forward to playing "Evening Music" for a meeting of the Tuesday Morning Music Club tomorrow morning, in Urbana, Illinois, and then I am looking forward to listening to a performance of "The Collar" in the evening. The (enchanted) evening concert, which is just south of Urbana in Savoy, Illinois, is private, but the poster is lovely, so I'm sharing it here.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Illusion of Social Media

I feel nostalgic for the musical communities that this format of blogging made possible during its first decade, and I remember how much I enjoyed participating in long and interesting discussions on other blog posts in the musical blogosphere. Everything changed once Google Reader stopped making a lively blogosphere possible.

I was an early participant (I began in 2005), and I am one of the few musical bloggers from those days who posts with any regularity. Musicians seem to have moved their musical lives to Facebook, where they can find groups of people with specific musical interests and people from their musical pasts (and other pasts) to interact with. I use Facebook as well, and sometimes I put links to posts from this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog there. Those posts are read by a relative handful of people, and "liked" by many who scroll by without reading.

That is the way Facebook has "trained" us to engage. Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

One thing that Facebook seems to do is to make some posts available to a lot of people who "like" them. One recent post I made from a moving car got "liked" by seventy people:

It was an iPhone picture with very little in the way of text. It took very little in the way of thought, and even less in the way of effort to post. Other posts I have made on Facebook, particularly posts I have made in musically oriented forums that have links to this blog or to my Thematic Catalog blog, seem to only be seen by a handful of people.

Oddly, except for birthday notices, I see very few of the posts that my Facebook friends make in my Facebook feed. It seems, in a way, that Facebook has narrowed my online social world, and it has turned social interaction into something more like window shopping.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

There are "pages" on Facebook, and these seem to be offered for free. I "host" a few of these pages. There's one for my Thematic Catalog, there's one for Summer Strings, and there's one for Downstate Strings (my string quartet). I regularly get "suggestions" from Facebook that if I were to pay a small amount of money, those pages and the posts I put on them could be seen by a lot of people. It is the same with "events." If I want people to know about a free concert I am giving, I guess can pay money for my notice to go to Facebook feeds.

I wonder if by not paying into the "service" I am limiting my ability to communicate through Facebook. I have nothing to gain monetarily through my participation in this kind of Facebook world, so I don't feel that I should throw money at the problem of not feeling engaged. Making more Facebook posts doesn't help me feel more socially engaged, except on birthdays. A Facebook birthday is something extraordinary.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

I think that the problem is our social interactions are being streamlined and directed by the automatons that regulate the Facebook "highway." Some of us choose to no longer engage in the social ways of Facebook. But in a post-Facebook world it is difficult to find a sense of community anywhere, even in our own physical communities. Facebook is either where the "audience" is, or we are given the illusion that Facebook is where the audience is.

Now I will wax nostalgic. When we first arrived at our little university town in the mid 1980s, there was a newspaper that reported on much of what went on in town. There was an insert in the paper that listed all the concerts that were being given at the university, and there were articles promoting events. We used to write letters to the editor. Our kids used to write letters to the editor. Local people used to write columns. The paper was a big deal. The paper felt like a vital organ in our community until the early 2000s.

Now our local paper is owned by a conglomerate, and aside from the obituaries, there is very little of local interest. We stopped subscribing because there is nothing worth reading. The (no longer) local paper does host a Facebook page, but it does very little in the way of creating a feeling of community for our town.

I try to get out. I participate in the local university orchestra in order to try connect with people in my community. I play in a local Renaissance ensemble. In the summer I get to connect with people through Summer Strings. I go to political forums, to funerals, and to concerts. And I go to the grocery store, which sometimes provides for a meaningful social interaction.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"For Poulenc" played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

This is the first installment in a video project:

The music, written by me, is published by Seesaw and is available from Subito.

I originally wrote the piece as a setting of Frank O'Hara's poem "For Poulenc," and then re-worked it as a piece for flute and piano.

Here is the poem:

My first day in Paris I walked
from Saint Germain to the Point Mirabeau
in soft amber light and leaves
and love was running out

city of light and hearts
city of dusk and dismay
the Seine believed it to be true
that I was unloved and alone

how lonely is that bridge
without your song
the Avenue Mozart, the rue Pergolèse
the tobaccos and the nuns

all Paris is alone for this
brief leafless moment
and snow falls down upon
the streets of our peculiar hearts

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Speak, Vladimir!

From Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita:
I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader’s mind. No matter how many times we reopen “King Lear,” never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert’s father’s timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.

This little gem, unearthed from Chapter 27 of Nabokov's engaging and enraging 1955 novel, speaks volumes.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Off (Left) Hand Thoughts

I pay special attention to the way the fingers of my left hand relate to one another (in half steps and whole steps) when I am playing the viola or the violin. I try to keep the structure of my left hand in mind all the time, and when I am teaching I pay special attention to the structure of my student's left hand. I try my best to get my student to do the same.

It can be difficult to feel half-steps between the fingers when you are holding your hand in the kind of twist necessary to play the violin or the viola.

(I like to call half-steps "kisses" with my younger students. When you have a lot of half-steps in a piece, you have really romantic music.)

The other day during a lesson I likened the experience of feeling half-steps to the experience you have when you put a piece of dark chocolate (75% cocoa is my favorite) on your tongue. At first you can barely taste it, but after a few moments of concentration (and perhaps a few drops of saliva) you "find" the flavor.

I just thought I'd share this here.

Friday, September 28, 2018

100 Pieces of Music in the IMSLP!

I'm pleased to say that I submitted my 100th piece of music into the IMSLP today!

You can see everything much more clearly on this page of the IMSLP. Go look around! Everything is in the public domain, and it can be downloaded for free.

If you are interested to see what number 100 is, you can find a listing of it on this page of my thematic catalog blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Very Good Composerly Day Yesterday

I might remember September 25, 2018 as the best "composerly" day of my life so far. It began with a rehearsal and then a performance of three pieces for four violas and bass that I played with my fellow violists Jiyeon Schleicher, Anne Heiles, and Robin Kearton, and bass player Margaret Briskin. I recorded the performance, so you can listen through these Dropbox links:

Red Hot Dots
Mary Jane Waltz

After the concert I went to listen to a rehearsal of "The Collar" that its dedicatees Ronald Hedlund and Barbara Hedlund are performing next month. Ron is a truly great opera singer, and an equally great actor, and Barbara is an excellent cellist who is willing and able to participate in the dialogue between narrator and cello as a dramatic equal. They had wonderful ideas, asked interesting questions, and found what I hope is the last typographical error in the text.

Then I returned home and found an email message from the conductor of Nicholas Yee, who conducts the seventh- and eighth-grade string orchestra at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California. He and his students made a recording for me of a run-through of my Scarborough Fair Fantasy, which they are performing on Friday at Symphony Hall in Santa Ana. It was so heartfelt a reading that it made me cry. Really.

I'll see if I can share a recording from the concert.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Funeral Music

A succession of funerals and memorial services seem to form a kind of dotted line winding its way through my fifth decade of my life. It's been four years since my brother's death, and the two memorial services we had for him in Memphis (hosted by his friends there) and in Newton (hosted by my mother). And then three years ago in August we had a memorial for my father-in-law, James Leddy that was followed the next year by a memorial service for my mother.

There are people in our town in Illinois that I see regularly at the funerals of our older friends, many of whom were either musicians or people who loved to attend concerts. 'Tis, in the spirit of the writer of Ecclesiastes, the season, I suppose.

I watched the public funerals of Aretha Franklin and John McCain on television, and engaged in public on-line mourning on the internets for two people most of us never would have met.

I was really moved by Franklin's family talking about her as a mother, a grandmother, and an aunt, making dinner, giving presents, and being extremely generous to her community. I carry an indelible imprint of her voice and musicianship in my inner ear, which can, thankfully, be reinforced by listening to her recordings. That public part of her will, for that reason, never die. The private part we heard about through her family remains in the memory of those fortunate to have known her.

The funeral for John McCain moved me in a very different way. I have rarely agreed with his positions, and seriously questioned many of his choices (particularly is running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign). He is responsible for opening up that particular "Pandora's box" which brought us closer to the political atmosphere of 2018. Still, the words spoken about him by Henry Kissinger (another person who I have never been in sympathy with) moved me. And what Barack Obama said about him touched my heart. One of the last threads of decency in the Republican party died with John McCain.

I loved the music for John McCain's funeral, particularly a setting of the 23rd Psalm by John Rutter and an arrangement for soprano, string quartet and accordion of "Danny Boy" by Bruce Coughlin played on tuned-up baroque-period instruments. There were also many inventive choral and orchestral settings of well-known American songs.

I found myself writing a piece of funeral music for trombone and piano that I titled "Obsequy" after a movement of a piece for solo viola that my brother Marshall wrote. We played a recording of Marshall's "Obsequy" during a memorial service for our mother. You can hear Daniele Colombo's beautiful recording of it here.

I dedicated my Obsequy, which is very different from Marshall's Obsequy, to Abbie Conant, my favorite trombone player. You can see the music on this page of my Thematic Catalog blog. You can also listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Thoughts about Memory

When I was a child I had a good memory. I could play lots of things by memory on the violin and the recorder. I even have visual musical memories from that time. I can visualize the pages of the "A Tune A Day" book that I first learned from. I remember the wallpaper in the room of the blue house (soldiers on a blue background) on 4 Post Road that we rented in Lenox, Mass during the Tanglewood season. I remember being really happy that I finally had arms long enough to play the 1/2-size violin that someone was kind enough to bring along for the summer. I don't remember asking for it, but I must have. I had just turned seven.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about memory and not memories, so I will leave the blue house, and jump ahead to when I started playing flute a couple of years after I had abandoned the violin. I do remember that the last childhood piece I played on the violin with the first movement of the Seitz 5th Pupil's Concerto.

I started playing flute casually in the seventh grade, and started taking it VERY seriously in eighth grade. I had to practice really diligently to make up for lost time in order to keep up with my peers. I was very competitive, so my goal was to play better than my peers.

I practiced constantly, and found that I could play just about everything I learned by memory. I liked practicing outside (it was good for building up the sound production), so it was also practical. I never actually memorized, because it wasn't necessary. With the flute all the notes are always in the same places on the instrument, so playing from memory was essentially playing by ear. I never thought about the names of the notes I was playing. I never paid attention to what keys I was playing while running through my daily hour of scales and arpeggios. The tune was always the same. My fingers obeyed my ear without any necessary intervention by my brain.

I did occasionally marvel at the fact that I could play all kinds of patterns of notes without thinking about anything except for my sound production. I could probably play my whole set of scales and the excerpts that Julius Baker had his students play as part of a daily routine right now. All the orchestral excerpts I practiced for all the auditions I took are still hard-wired, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what key any one of them is in without having a flute in my hands.

In 1980 I participated in an international competition in Budapest where everything had to be memorized. I worked all summer on my repertoire, playing it from memory on the streets of Graz just about every day. I arrived in Budapest in September and discovered that there were people from all over the world who had unusual and enticing ways of playing that were very different from the "Baker" way of playing I had "cloned."

I met a Hungarian harpsichord player who was eager to share his (then revolutionary) ideas about playing Bach. It was so exciting and interesting to learn that some of the Bach Flute Sonatas were modeled on Italian ideas, and that some were modeled on German ideas. I started listening for the differences. I remember hearing a flutist from Italy named Massimo (he was really tall--so tall that he couldn't stay in the dormitory with the other flutists because he too tall for the beds that they had) play the C major Bach Sonata in a way that sounded so beautifully Italian. I discovered that the E-major Sonata I was planning to play was also Italianate, but I discovered it too late to "inform" my interpretation. I had memorized the piece, and couldn't incorporate what my heart wanted to do with it. I didn't make any mistakes, but I didn't make the kind of music I had wanted to make.

I didn't make it into the finals. The person who won the competition was not one of the musically-interesting flutists I had heard. Oh well.

I keep thinking that I could have been far freer with my interpretation if I had the music to play from. Using the written notes and articulation as a starting point rather than an ending point is something that I have always found liberating. I hated playing from memory in such a setting. Where other people feel musically free without music in front of them, I felt (and still feel) musically confined.

I might have performed "Syrinx" from memory a few times after that, but otherwise I don't think I have ever performed from memory again.

When I started playing the violin in my early 30s I realized that I could not play the instrument properly without thinking about the notes I was playing. I could play passages and even occasionally pages without looking at music, but I no longer had the skill to memorize. Having to remember not only the notes and rhythms, but also what position the left hand needed to be in, and what direction my bow was supposed to go was too much for me.

My recurring phrase for my memory was "mind like a sieve." But with such an attitude every musical experience can be unique. Every trip around the fish bowl is a new experience. I can play pieces that I have played every day for years (really) and experience them in new ways if I open my mind up to musical possibilities (phrasing, organization of phrases, colors, dynamics, inner rhythms). It is almost exactly the opposite of my musical experience as a flutist.

From time to time I still try to play pieces from memory. A few years ago I tried to memorize the Gavotte en Rondeau from the Bach E-major Partita (in A major on the viola). I figured the repetitive structure might be one I could work with. It was a very difficult proposition. I don't know if I succeeded, but I do know that I tried.

Last week I decided to try the later movements of the G Major Cello Suite, and I somehow succeeded at being able to play the Courante, the Minuets, and the Gigue from memory. I tried my hand at the D minor Suite this morning. I can play some of it by ear, but not by memory. I found the process of "stapling" down my interpretation and "imprinting" it into my brain is not something I want to do with this endlessly-fascinating piece that I want to still be "new" every time I play it.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

My Ramble on the The New Yorker's Survey of the "New-Music Landscape"

This week's The New Yorker includes a book review by Alex Ross that is identified in the table of contents as (oh how I remember the days when The New Yorker stood apart from all other magazines because it didn't have a table of contents) "Surveying the new-musical landscape." You can read it on page 81 of the magazine, or you can read it here. Oddly the link gives the title of the article as "the sounds of music in the twenty-first century," but what's in a title anyway, right?

The book review concerns Music after the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989 by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. Like Ross, I know Rutherford-Johnson from his blog "The Rambler". Rutherford-Johnson has a post on his blog about the book that includes a table of contents, a short summary, and a link to a bunch of glowing reviews. The book looks interesting, and I do plan to read it.

From reading his blog from time to time over the years, I know Rutherford-Johnson is interested in a lot of music that I know little about, and have found that he doesn't write much about music that I am interested in, which is fine. There is much to know in this musical world. The menu is vast, and there is only so much room in any reasonable human stomach during any meal to consume more than a fraction of its (table of) contents at a time. And there are many restaurants in many cities, and in many towns.

Alex Ross says that Rutherford-Johnson's book has changed the way he listens to music. Wow. No book has ever done that for me.

Making the transition from living musical life as a flute player to living musical life as a violist changed the way I listen to music. As a flutist, and even as a violinist, I would listen from the top (which is so often the tune) down. Once I started playing viola in ensembles, I could actively listen to the treble from a position in the middle and to the bass from above. Even the most familiar music sounded completely different, and it drastically increased the dimension of my experience. Composing changes the way I listen to music because I can't help noticing the way other composers (both past and present) use the same elements of music I use, but in vastly different ways. Practicing Bach and Haydn on the piano also changes the way I listen to music, as well as the experience of playing the viola part of a familiar orchestral piece for the first time. Actually, every time.

Ross has sprinkled his review with the names of many female as well as male composers in this piece, even stating parenthetically, "The suffocating maleness of music history is at an end, even if the news has yet to reach most big-league orchestras and opera houses." One of these days Ross might "step out" and make the same statement without the "cloak" of parentheses. Still, it's a big leap from the days of The Rest is Noise, which I wrote a post about back in 2007. He even spends several paragraphs quoting Susan McClary. Even though I have a very different "world view" from McClary (she is an academic, I am a practicing musician), I appreciate Ross making mention of her.

He quotes McClary in relation to Steve Reich's "Different Trains," (written one year before the time Rutherford-Johnson has for the beginning of his survey). Ross says "Different Trains" "typifies the late-twentieth-century return to fundamentals--what McClary describes as 'composing for people.'"

If composers didn't compose for people before, who (or what) were they composing for?

There is a contemporary trend that some careerist composers (i.e. composers who want to make a living from composing and seek out commissions and partnerships that will keep them involved the musical "economic food chain") use to their benefit. It's the notion that music should be immediately accessible to audiences. In order to be that way it should be programmatic, and draw upon subject matter that can be explained, so that it makes the listening experience "relatable." Unfortunately the people who get left out of this equation can be the musicians themselves.

When music is written in a way that does not allow for physical grace and instrumental resonance, it is not a joy to practice, rehearse, or play. When the purpose of a musical gesture of phrase does not involve the creativity of the musicians who will be playing it (either by recognizing where it is compelled to go by the way it is written or by having a handful of equally good choices to make) what is printed on the page is merely an arrangement of pitches, rhythms, articulations, and dynamics with programmatic directions.

The minimalist repetitions that hypnotize listeners can cause tension in musicians (either from the movement or from not knowing if you are counting the repetitions correctly). In some situations complex rhythms can create tension without the opportunity for physical release. When that happens, the physical tension gets transferred to the people who are listening, and nobody has a good time.

I guess you could take McClary's comment in reference to the era that followed the prominence of strict twelve-tone music. It could easily be said that in the second part of the 20th century a lot of strict twelve-tone music (and other serial music) was written for the enjoyment of the composers who wrote it. Twelve-tone music is a lot of fun to write, and while you are in twelve-tone limbo land, where dissonance is good ("dissonance good") and consonance is to be avoided ("consonance bad"), lots of unusual and pleasurable things can happen, particularly at the keyboard, where the uniform tempered scale helps with consistency. Once you have an ensemble made of instruments that are not tempered like the piano, and once you take away any sense of tonic or dominant, playing in tune becomes a problem. You need a lot of rehearsal time to have a successful and rewarding performance.

Composers who end up writing music that is a joy to play, a joy to rehearse, and a joy to hear, are usually composers who write music for the pleasure of the musicians who will be playing it. It is the way it has always been, and as long as people blow into tubes, hit things, sing, and either draw horsehair across strings or pluck them, I believe it is the way it always will be.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Confessions of a Recovering Recovered CD Reviewer

I suppose that during the 23 twenty years I spent as a CD reviewer for the American Record Guide, my opinions about music were valid. I did listen carefully to all of the recordings I received, and I did always try to write statements that were true. How I managed write more than 50 reviews every year is a mystery to me.

I started reviewing while I working at the local university's radio station. During the Thanksgiving break of 1992, Michael and I went to the library to get a bunch of periodicals to read over the break. With a faculty card he could take periodicals out for more than one day. I remember that I got a few copies of The Strad and several issues of the American Record Guide, which I had never read.

I took issue with an essay written by the editor concerning "historically informed performance," and wrote him a long letter. He wrote back saying, "Too bad you can't write for us." I wrote back asking why I couldn't. A few weeks later a box of flute CDs and a style sheet arrived by mail. After a few months I asked if I could (please) have recordings other than flute recordings to review, and I became one of the chamber music reviewers.

I used to play the recordings I received to review on the air, where I could listen using high-quality speakers. It was actually an ideal situation because our (very small and underfunded) radio station could finally play brand new recordings of often unusual repertoire, providing an alternative to the repertoire of classical “hits” played by the other classical stations (well, we were classical in the morning) in our listening area. I donated some of the review copies to the station's library, and I put them into regular rotation, which made our library current and good (my goal for the radio station library was to have only excellent recordings to play). The writing, which took far more time than the listening, was something that I generally did at home, while raising two children and trying to learn to play a new instrument.

In 2000, when I left the radio station and went to graduate school (with a "grading" assistantship), things became far more difficult. I listened using headphones and a portable CD player, and I had to sandwich my review writing between marathon exam grading sessions and general graduate school work, in addition to composing and practicing. I suppose it was good practice for my days teaching music appreciation (which I was doing concurrently with private teaching and freelance orchestral playing, not to mention practicing and composing).

There were a few years when I also worked as the advertising manager for the magazine, a job that I wasn't at all cut out for, and it was then that I realized how much I disliked the whole business aspect of recordings. I was a little embarrassed when things I wrote in the ARG as "FINE" were quoted on people's websites and on CD covers. People also treated me differently when I was a reviewer. Famous people called me. Really.

I also had a CD storage problem, and an American Record Guide issue storage problem (we reviewers were supposed to make reference to old reviews). I dispensed with the plastic CD cases, and kept the CDs in large loose-leaf binders. Those still took up a great deal of shelf space. Since I rarely listened to those CDs for pleasure, they mostly sat there.

I stopped writing for the ARG a few years ago. I moved the books of CDs to the garage, where they sit undisturbed. I cut out the pages in the ARG issues that had my reviews, and put those pages in a zipped binder where they sit in the garage, next to the CD binders. I might even throw them away one of these days.

I mostly listen to live music now, and have made a point of going to more concerts. I do sometimes listen to music on the radio when I am in the car, and I do listen on YouTube now and again. Now that I don't have to make judgements about what I hear, I have a far greater appreciation for music than ever before.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sleep Thou

This "fruit" (or flower) of the summer of 2018 sat around in my "abandoned music" file for about four years. I wrote in response to a call for scores setting the lullaby that Tatania sings to Bottom in Act IV, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night's Dream for flute and soprano without accompaniment:
Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms.
Fairies, begone, and be all ways away.

[fairies exit]

So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!

[they sleep]
It was not accepted by the performers, so I put it in a file and forgot about it.

My life this summer has been enhanced by vines (cucumber, zucchini, and tomato, mostly), and I found myself singing this song while working in the garden. I dusted it off and made a lot of improvements, and now I'm sharing it here.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here, and you can find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP.

The songs mentions woodbine, which is another name for the the European kind of honeysuckle (Lonicera peliclymenum), and not the invasive Asian kind that is my nemesis.

And, just to be complete, here's a nice botanical drawing of some Ivy (I'm assuming the female parts are the little curly tendrils):

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Red Hot Dots for Five Violas or Four Violas and Bass

I'm sharing a brand-new polka written for viola ensemble or viola ensemble with double bass.

You can listen to the version for five violas here, and the version for four violas and bass here.

The music is available on this page of the IMSLP.

Composer Diversity Database

Here's an interesting new database tool to help find composers who are not necessarily male, not necessarily female, not necessarily white, not necessarily American, and not necessarily dead.

The project, created by Rob Deemer, is in its beginning stages, so I am putting the link here for future reference.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marshall Fine's "Missouriana"

In honor and in memory of my brother, Marshall Fine, I'm posting his Missouriana, a delightful short piece for orchestra that he wrote in 1985. Here is what he wrote about piece:
Missouriana, op. 44, is based on Missouri folk themes and fiddle tunes, developed in my style without ever sacrificing the hoedown premise--not even in the fully worked-out fugue in the middle. I wrote it in 1985 for Hugo Vianello, who premiered it the next year, repeated it in the fateful year of 1989, and revived it again in 1994. Yet it is Alan Balter’s interpretation, done in 1989 with the MSO, that I find the best. It is also the first orchestral work that I committed to Sibelius notation; and Carl Fischer, who had published the manuscript original on a rental basis, was overjoyed when I submitted the printed score and parts to them in the spring of 2013.
Here is a link to a recording that could be from either the 1989 Memphis Symphony concert with Alan Balter conducting or the 1994 performance.

The score is available to look at at the Theodore Presser website. I have written to the company to ask them to make it available to be purchased or rented (they don't seem to have a way to do that through the page they have for the piece). I hope that they make the necessary adjustments so that the piece can have more performances.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

La roue

Michael and I spent a few evenings watching the 2008 reconstruction of Abel Gance's La roue (1923) with music by Robert Israel, and it was a remarkable experience. The idea of watching a four-hour-long silent movie put us off for several weeks, but once we started watching I knew those four hours would pass quickly. The film is so visually compelling, has such superb acting, and has such engaging music, some of the time did pass quickly, and some of the time didn't. In this "modern day" Sisyphus story the weight of the moment or the full emotional exploration of a situation at hand is part of the quality of the experience.

The film was first shown with Arthur Honegger supplying the music (I happily noticed the influence of Honegger's "Pacific 231,").

Robert Israel (who shares my birthday, though he is four years my junior), did a fantastic job writing music for the film. He incorporates all kinds of techniques that were around during the time of the film like Poulenc-ish harmonies, and nods to Honegger and his colleagues in "Les Six." There are also tone rows here and there, and a striking fugue during a train-platform fight. One of the characters is a violin maker, so there is a lovely violin-rich musical subtext which provides a late-19th-century contrast to the "modern" steam engine music that surrounds it. We do get some film-music memes, like nods to Hermann's "Vertigo" here and there. Israel also incorporates a familiar pavane, a verse of Josquin's "El Grillo," a momentary homage to Sarasate, and a modified 1812 Overture.

A thrilling moment for me came during the first hour of the film. The violin maker imagines what it would have been like to live as a violin maker in days of yore (with costumes that looked like they could be used in a Shakespeare play), and on his bench he happened to have a seven-string viola d'amore, which he picked up and played. The instrument looked very similar to my viola d'amore!

The viola d'amore was making the first of its "comebacks" during the early part of the 20th century, and was considered to be an ancient instrument. We now know, of course, that the seven-string instrument wasn't around during Shakespeare's time, but Gance probably loved the way the instrument looked and the name it had (another set of obsessions that the characters of the film "enjoy"), so he used it in the scene.

[Just as an aside, the viola d'amore has a flat back like a viol, and it can fit really well in a Renaissance-era consort.]

You can see the unrestored silent film (without music) on YouTube:

And you can watched a few clips there of the restored film with the Robert Israel score:

Here's one:

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Applying Julie Landsman's rhythmic subdivision to practicing Kreutzer Etude #1

Though they share a common register, viola playing and horn playing are different animals. But all musicians share some similar concerns, and Landsman's Caruso method of subdivision is extremely helpful for understanding the most difficult part of playing any instrument: knowing exactly when.

I found it interesting to watch her subdivide while her student was playing long notes. She was not subdividing in constant sixteenth notes,

but instead she was mixing subdivisions within the measure like this:

or this.

I put that kind of subdivision (why had I never thought of consciously mixing subdivisions within the measure before?) into great use with the Kreutzer Etude #1 today (shown here in its violin form):

Using the mixed sixteenth note subdivisions during the long notes helps with bow distribution, and dividing the beat before the shift, and then during the last beat of the measure into secure sixteenth notes gives the shifted-to note a definite place to be in time, which helps it secure a place to be on the fingerboard.

It also reduces fatigue, both physical and mental.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Julie Landsman Teaches the Carmine Caruso Method of Subdivision

I am deeply impressed with the way that Julie Landsman teaches, thinks, and expresses herself. I believe that everything she has to say can translate to the viola, in some way (and to any other instrument), so I'm sharing this first video here:

Here's a link to a page that has the whole series of videos.

And here she is in 1985 playing Schumann with Claude Frank:

(We violists play this piece too, so there is much to learn.)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Mary Jane Waltz

A favorite candy from my Boston-based childhood deserves a sweet piece of music to honor it.

The Mary Jane, a peanut-butter and molasses taffy, was invented by the Boston-based candy maker Charles N. Miller in 1914. In 1989 the Miller candy company was sold to Stark Candy, and the recipe and rights for the Mary Jane were sold to the NECCO candy company. NECCO made the candy in Revere, Massachusetts until the factory closed abruptly in July of 2018. This "Boston" waltz (with its slight hesitations) seems appropriate to celebrate the Boston-based treat.

You can listen to this piece here, and the score and parts are available on this page of the IMSLP.

You can learn more about the interesting history of the Mary Jane here.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mozart in the Jungle Television Series

I spent two 3 1/2 hour airplane trips (Dallas to Los Angeles) watching the first season (2015) of the Mozart in the Jungle television series, which is only available to watch on an airplane or through Amazon Prime. The airplane trip is certainly the more expensive route to watch the series. I would not join Amazon Prime in order to watch any more of this show, but I might "hate watch" future seasons on future flights to California.

Implausibility in this series reigns supreme, as does the spoiler content of this post.

A 26-year-old oboist named Hailey lives in a funky apartment in New York that has a street-level fire escape. She has a wise-ass roommate who is not a musician, but is interested in music and musicians. The mystery oboe player who plays Hailey's oboe "voice" is excellent (none of the musicians who do the actual playing are credited, though the list of people involved in the show in the IMDB is about the longest list I have ever seen). We find that out that Hailey is a great oboe player when her roommate and some friends play a (invented-for-the-series) drinking game where you spin a dial to pick a musical era, drink the requisite number of shots of booze for that era, and then play an orchestral excerpt of your choosing. If you make a mistake you lose.

At the time of the drinking game, Hailey had just returned from a gig where she met the assistant principal cellist of the "New York Symphony." A few days later (I guess--time in this series is very strange), the cellist tells Hailey about an open audition for an oboist in the orchestra that is happening right away. There is a cute scene where Hailey scrapes reeds while she is traveling to the orchestra hall in a sort of rickshaw. She makes it to the hall after the auditions are over. The audience knows that the new conductor of the orchestra hasn't picked anyone (now there's some realism). Hailey decides to sit in the chair behind the screen and play her audition in the empty hall. But the conductor (somehow) hears her, and he decides that he wants her to play the fifth oboe part in the Mahler 8th Symphony (which does indeed call for four oboes and English Horn). Hailey makes it though some of a rehearsal (where, for some reason, she's playing second oboe) and then drops her instrument on the floor and swears loudly. She immediately loses her chance to play with the orchestra, but the conductor eventually hires her as his assistant (not as an assistant conductor, but as an assistant who makes him tea and drives him places).

Lola Kirke, the lovely actress who plays Hailey, looks plausible from the chest up when she plays the oboe, but her fingers don't behave like the fingers of an oboist. She is, however, more convincing than the man who plays the concertmaster, the woman who plays the assistant principal cellist, and the backwards (she holds the fiddle in her right hand and the bow in the left) solo violinist who is the wife of the conductor. They are unwatchable. The actor who plays Rodgrigo (the conductor) seems to have put some time into learning how to hold the violin and the bow, and he seems to have the physical sense of what it is like to stand up in front of an orchestra. The part written for him is demanding: he needs to be impulsive, immature, manipulative, unorthodox, self-absorbed, possessed, haunted, annoying, and endearing.

Bernadette Peters is actually quite good as the president of the orchestra (though CEO is the usual term, if there is one). She seems to have modeled her character on Deborah Borda, and added a host of enticing distortions.

Hailey's roommate (who might have escaped from an episode of "Girls") is, unbeknownst to Hailey, a member of the New York upper crust. Hailey only finds out when she spies her roommate at a party for the "donor class" that she attended because she drove the conductor of the orchestra there.

Hailey's boyfriend, a dancer from Juilliard who happens upon the drinking and excerpt party I mentioned above, is as uninteresting as he is implausible. Like everyone else in the series, he is attractive. Everyone I noticed in the series is straight, aside from the inter-racial gay couple in the orchestra who share a quick kiss before a concert.

The assistant principal cellist, who seems to have emerged from the television series "Sex and the City," develops an addiction to pain killers, which she gets from the orchestra's drug-dealing timpanist. She takes these drugs because she has tendonitis. I have had tendonitis, and I have known countless people with tendonitis. Most of us treat it with Aleve or Ibuprophen, wraps, ice packs, and the occasional cortisone shot. Most musicians would see a doctor.

Perhaps the most ludicrous quarter of an hour comes in an episode called "The Rehearsal." It begins with a note left at the hall stating that the rehearsal location has been changed to a vacant lot. Rodrigo (the conductor) used some wire cutters to cut a hole in a chain-link fence in front of the lot, and beckons the orchestra members to climb in through the opening. How the basses and timpani made it in is anyone's guess. Folding chairs magically appear, but not music stands. No worries: Rodrigo tells them that they will be playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, so they "play" without music. Hailey stands next to the timpani player and holds some cymbals. She looks very happy.

After playing the 1812 Overture the assembled audience (with school-age children in it--must have been a weekend) enjoy some pizza that Rodrigo has had delivered. Some of the musicians jam jazzily, and everyone enjoys the party. Eventually a few police officers show up and take everyone to jail. The president of the orchestra bails everyone out, and she gives the police chief season tickets for the upcoming season.

What started as a book by Blair Tindall that exposed some of the underbelly of the classical music scene in New York during the 70s and 80s has become a fantasy television series that has nothing to do with the reality of the classical music scene anywhere, at any time. It's kind of like looking at a paint-on-velvet rendering of something by Hieronymus Bosch.