Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mozart's Thematic Catalog

You can see (and read) Mozart's Thematic Catalog online at the British Library. It is hyped as being a diary where he composed his later works (which it is not), but it is still remarkable to see.

The viewer takes some time to load, and the pages take some time to resolve, so exercise patience . . .

Monday, March 26, 2018

Private Thoughts (made public here)

Yesterday flutist Rebecca Johnson and pianist Cara Chowning played three pieces of mine ("For Poulenc," "In light we see, in light we are seen," and "Cante Jondo") on a concert of music written by living American women.

I went to the concert alone, and sat by myself. My experience in this public setting felt very private. I marveled at the creativity of the musicians, and observed that there were "things" in the music that were new to me ("things" being more than the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations). It was overwhelming to encounter the combined emotions of Rebecca and Cara through music that I thought I knew really well. And there were moments during the performance when I actually had chills. All my pieces were new to everyone in yesterday's audience (except for me, of course). Now they are pieces that "belong" in some way to everyone who was there.

Listening to this concert made me realize a little more about the enormity of music. Music is far more than what is written on the page by the composer. It is far more than any one musician's individual sound, technique, style, or sense of line. It is far more than any one person's particular emotional relationship with the materials at hand, and even more than the combined emotional relationship that the musicians enjoy through the music and share with the audience.

In this case the audience happened to be members of my own community, since this concert happened in my own small college town. People play my music all over the world, but there's something especially meaningful to me when it is played in my own neighborhood, and for my neighbors.

A few months ago Rebecca and Cara made some video recordings of these three pieces, and when the videos are all finished (the audio and the video need to be mysteriously merged), I will post them here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

It has been a very strange couple of weeks for me. I had a really strange virus that somehow allowed me (thanks to DayQuil) to play a concert, teach a few lessons, and go about my daily business while it lingered. It's not unusual for me not to be able to taste much of anything or smell much of anything when I am sick, but once my nose was no longer stuffy I found that I could not smell anything at all. Nothing.

My friend took me into a soap store in St. Louis, and I could not smell soap. It was the first time I realized that something was really wrong. I could taste salty and sweet foods, but I couldn't smell anything.

I looked online and found that it is possible for a virus to permanently obliterate a person's sense of smell. I tried all the suggested remedies like eating raw ginger (which I couldn't taste), and drinking cider vinegar and honey (which I could taste a little bit). I read somewhere that the brain can shut off the sense of smell and needs to learn to smell again, so I regularly (every hour or so) stuck my nose in a mason jar of ground coffee, ate a piece of raw ginger, and tried to smell the (strongly-scented) almond hand soap we use in the bathroom.

Days passed.

Then Michael suggested taking pseudoephedrine and using saline-solution nasal spray. I took the pseudoephedrine once a day, and sprayed my nose many times every day. I did this for a couple of days.

Yesterday I stuck my nose in the coffee jar, and I smelled something. It was faint, but there was definitely something there. It was kind of like hearing muffled voices through a closed door.

Today I woke up, and I actually smelled the coffee. It made my heart sing.

I'm not at 100%, but I'm definitely on the way to getting my sense of smell back. I'm hoping that when I make banana bread later today, I will be able to smell it.

I vow here, in this humble blogosphere, never to take any of my senses for granted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Music for Woodwind Trio

After writing "A Little Drama for Woodwind Trio" I found that it isn't common at all to have clarinet, English horn, and piccolo together in a woodwind trio. There are a small number of trios for flute, oboe, and clarinet, and I found a few of them in the IMSLP: a set of pieces by Martin Hill and The Reunion Trio by Joseph Nicholas Fried. On YouTube I found performances of the Divertimento by Malcolm Arnold, and a trio by Michael Kibbe, but none of these pieces use English horn and piccolo together with the clarinet.

Here's my addition to the repertoire:

I have a computer-generated recording of "A Little Drama for Woodwind Trio" to share here, and you can get the music on this page of the IMSLP.

In my virtual travels I found A Survey of Literature for the Oboe and English Horn, a 1959 dissertation by Virginia Downing Snodgrass, which I found interesting, and thorough. I can say with some authority that prior to 1959 (the year of my birth!) there was nothing in the published literature that used piccolo, English Horn, and clarinet together in a trio.

I would love to have this list augmented! If you know of any other pieces for the combination of flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), and B-flat clarinet, please list them (with links, if possible) in the comments!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Tipping Point: A bit about my learning curve with the bow

I never realized how many puns and clichés could be used in a post title about bowing! What will follow is fascinating to me, but will probably not be fascinating to anyone who doesn't draw his or her bow across a set of strings for pleasure or for profit, so I will not be offended if you look elsewhere for something to read.

Twenty-five years ago I began my second life as a string player, and my father gave me some serious advice. I remember when and where he said it: in the west pavilion in Morton Park, in my town of Charleston, Illinois. He told me never to play with flat hair. I didn't understand what he was talking about. He explained that playing with flat hair kills the overtones in the sound. I took him seriously (as I always have), and spent the next twenty-five years playing on the outer edge of the bow's hair, making sure not to kill any overtones.

This past January I was practicing my viola transcription of the Ravel Sonata. I was frustrated at the bumpiness of the phrases. I switched to my lighter bow, and I realized I had been using too much bow pressure and not enough bow speed. For some reason, while I was increasing speed and reducing pressure, I decided to try flattening the hair of my bow as I approached the tip. Suddenly I had control of the whole length of the bow, and the phrases lost their bumpiness. The "when" of the flattening became a tool, and the "where" became a fluid solution to make phrases go where I wanted them to go.

What goes down (as in a down-bow) must come up, so the act of moving toward the outer edge of the hair as I made my way through the middle of the bow was another adventure in possibilities.

I showed this discovery to my students, and they were all completely amazed at the results. I imagine that there are geometric equations concerning the hypotenuse that is created when you move diagonally across the ribbon of bow hair that confirm that the bow becomes effectively longer when you play this way. But the upshot of the story is that the extremes of the bow are now each treasured destinations rather than being the "end of the line."

I told my father about my discovery, and he knew all about it. He asked me whether I used my arm or wrist to make the motion (both work).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Marie Jaëll Sonata in A minor

Marie Jaëll (1846-1925) wrote her only sonata for cello and piano in 1881, and it was published in Paris in 1886, the year that Franz Liszt died. John David and I enjoyed playing it so much on our concert yesterday that I would like to share my transcription for viola with people who might be interested in playing the piece.

(You can listen to a recording from Sunday's concert here.)

You can get a PDF file here, and on this page of the IMSLP. The piano part (which I did not engrave and do not have available) does not have to be altered in any way to work with this viola transcription. A modern edition of the piece was published by Hildegard in 1996, but it is no longer listed in their catalog. Fortunately there are copies of the score in several libraries.

Friday, March 02, 2018

WHAM Concert 2018 on March 11

This year's WHAM Concert will have music by Germaine Tailleferre, Cecilia McDowall, Mel Bonis, Marie Jaëll, and me. The concert is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and admission is free.