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.