Saturday, August 17, 2019

Nuit de Vielle

I’m having a sleepless night after having finished a piece about having a sleepless night. Now, after a glass of Akvavit, I’m sharing the link to my piece here with the hope that it will finally get out of my head and leave me to get some sleep!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Little Boccherini to Brighten Your Day

My friend Danny Morganstern just put this lovely vintage recording on YouTube:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Austin Kleon's Interview with Debbie Millman

I was delighted to listen to this episode of Design Matters, because I was delighted to get to know Austin Kleon. Kleon comes a world quite familiar to me. His father taught at a state university in the midwest, and he went to a state school for college. He talks about work in a way that people in my family understand work, as a verb rather than as a noun. He has had great success, but doesn't seem to dwell on the work he has done, at least in the interview.

He talks about blogging in the interview. And he writes about blogging. His website seems to be the place he blogs, which makes sense. Austin Kleon shares traits with various people in our family (music, drawing, writing, love of kids), which is probably part of the reason for my delight.

He talks about being a parent in the interview, and I enjoyed reading this article about being a parent. You might too.

I am also willing to wager (and I'm not a betting woman) that he is an occasional reader of Michael's blog.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Holiday Music for Strings

I just finished a group of string orchestra arrangements for our Summer Strings group to play during the winter holidays, and have sent those that use material that is in the public domain to the IMSLP. You can find the arrangements with their appropriate links here.

These arrangements all have a very easy "Violin 2b" part (for violinists to be) that sits entirely in first position and is devoid of difficult rhythms and difficult bowings.

I hope that these can be put to good use!

If you would like to have access to a larger body of arrangements, please send me a email message. Tell me about your ensemble, and I’ll send you a link to acces a HUGE Dropbox folder filled with goodies.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Maybe we need a little Hannukah right now

Now that the Summer Strings season is over, I'm putting together a group of string orchestra pieces to play with our ensemble during the winter, and we are calling our project "Holiday Strings." In the usual mix of Christmas songs and Winter songs arranged for string orchestra (with easy 2b parts for violinists and violists "to be"), I have included my 2009 song, "Hannukah Latkes."

When I wrote the words and music back in 2009, my intention was to be light-hearted and celebratory, but with a core of seriousness:
Oh give me
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

Hannukah candles
lots of candles
eight bright nights of
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
candles burning bright.

Eight days of oil, (and latkes!)
Eight days of oil, (and donuts!)
Eight days of oil, (and dreydle!

Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

Ages of strife,
Ages of strength,
Ages of faith,
Ages of life,


Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

But ten years ago was a very different time. Now "our people" means something different to me. It means something larger than a historical group of Jewish people struggling to maintain their way of life. I now think of American people of all "stripes" who are threatened by the random actions of mass murderers armed with assault weapons (and that is all and any of us) who are spurred on by the elected leader of the country.

"Our people," in this song, now means "We the People" to me.

Many of us were tricked into believing that this president, if elected, wouldn't do anything to truly destroy our way of life. But that assumption is looking "wronger" every day that this narcissistic trickster is in office. Every day brings another blow to the dignity that built this country and the strides we have made since the Civil War. Every day brings another blow the dignity that we built since McCarthyism and the fight for civil rights. Every day we live under the "rule" of this president is an assault on morality. It is difficult to be hopeful about the future. It is difficult to even imagine the future.

I don't believe that history actually repeats itself. But the present does mirror the past. And as mirrors go sometimes things are rendered backwards or inverted.

The Maccabees, if I understand the story correctly, were a small band of Jewish people who had to defend themselves in order to practice their religion. Looking in the mirror of history, what we have now are a small number of people (most republican members of congress, people who serve at the pleasure of the president (his staff), television and talk radio personalities and their employing executives, a relatively small number people who have positioned themselves to believe that they will reap rewards from the financial activities of this administration, a relatively small number of mean-spirited people who embrace racist ideology (for whatever reasons), and people who believe that their constitutional right to own a gun means that their ownership of weapons of war gives them power.

As we see on what seems like an almost daily basis, these people, spurred on by the triggering tweets that are fed to them every day by a person who is in a position of great power, feel they have a right to use those weapons of war on their fellow human beings. And then there are the (perhaps) hypnotized and (certainly) deluded followers who watch the television shows and celebrate the tweets who don't consider themselves to be racist or xenophobic.

But the villains are the people in power who allow weapons of war to be used by anyone who can buy them. This can't go on.
Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

This was going through my head constantly while working on this arrangement. And it gives me the strength to fight back, so I'm sharing it here today.

God help us all.

Monday, August 05, 2019

A few words from A. H. Sidgwick

At the start this coat was a glorious thing to face the world in: now it is merely an outer skin. At the start this stick was mine: now it is myself.
The passage from Sidgwick's Walking Essays made me think of his coat being, for me, like my instrument, and his stick being, for me, like my bow. First the bow was mine, and now it is myself.

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, not being a string player, had other purposes though.
When it is all over the coat will go back to the cupboard and the curved suspensor, and the shirts and stockings will go to the wash, to resume conventional form and texture, and take their place in the humdrum world. But the stick will stand in the corner unchanged, with mellowed memories of the miles we went together, with every dent upon it recalling the austerities of the high hills, and every tear in its bark reminding me of the rocks of the Gable and Bowfell. And in the darkest hours of urban depression I will sometimes take out that dog's-eared map and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that once I was a free man on the hills, and sang the Seventh Symphony to the sheep on Wetherlam.
I imagine that this could have of been the passage that he sang to the sheep.

Just a hunch.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Ben, Barack, and Bell

Ben introduces archival WGBH video footage of Harvard student Barack Obama introducing Derrick Bell.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Up-bow Staccato, Down-bow Staccato, Paganini 5, and Locatelli 6

After having such a great time working through the different editions of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are in the IMSLP, I decided to look at the Paganini Caprices. My special goal was to play the Fifth Caprice with the bowing indicated in my edition in every measure. The indicated bowing: three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, and then four down-bow staccato notes followed by four up-bow staccato notes, works beautifully for some measures, but it is clumsy and awkward in others.

Needless to say, I have failed at all my attempts towards consistency, so my only option is to do what feels most natural and most musical.

Paganini indicated a regular bowing of three down-bow staccato notes followed by an up-bow to be repeated throughout, which is easier on the brain (though not the arm) than doing the mixed bowing:

[click on the images for a larger view]

It was printed beautifully in the first edition:

but there is a little ambiguity about whether the second half of each measure has the same bowing as the first half:

The second edition, published by Ricordi in 1836, ignored the manuscript and the ambiguity presented in the first edition, and went for four staccato notes per bow in either direction:

The ambiguity in the first edition festered in later editions like this one from Breitkopf and Härtel:

This edition offered options:

And the more "modern" editions made the bowing that works sometimes, but not always to the best musical end, the rule.

This one was edited by Carl Flesch around 1900:

and this edition from 1922 was edited by Emil Kross

And now we get to the Locatelli part of this post. The Locatelli D major Cello Sonata is one of the most charming baroque pieces for cello. Here's the Allegro movement played by my friend Daniel Morganstern:

But we now know, thanks to the work of the librarians at the IMSLP, that the piece was originally written in 1740 as a chamber sonata for violin and continuo, and then transcribed as a virtuoso cello piece by Alfredo Piatti. Piatti's transcription begins with the Allegro of the original.

If you look at the image of the score below, you will see why I'm including this piece in a discussion about up-bow and down-bow staccato. I don't believe those chains of dots and slurs are bowing indications, but I could see why someone would!

Here's what Piatti did with the indications that look like the way people in the 19th century indicated the staccato stroke:

Anybody who has ever put bow to string would consider it awkward to play the charming opening phrase as a staccato passage, particularly at the not-so-speedy tempo that the harmonic rhythm of the piece suggests. Danny, being a naturally intuitive musician as well as a great cellist, ignored what Piatti interpreted as a bowing indication, and bowed it normally to give it a "gallant" feeling. I imagine that Piatti, who, like Paganini, wrote a set of Caprices, saw this as an opportunity to give cellists the technical challenge of trying to play lyrical passages of sixteenth notes with a good sound while bouncing the notes upwards and downwards across the bow.

Maybe they should spend their time practicing Paganini's Caprice No. 5 for that!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

All Night Long

Basil Deardon's 1962 adaption of Shakespeare's Othello is set in an all-night-long party in London to honor the wedding anniversary of Aurelius Rex and Delia Lane, Othello and Desdemona, respectively (and respectfully). If Verdi's Otello takes Shakespeare's English play that is set in Venice (and Cyprus) back to Venice, screenwriters Nel King and Paul Jarrico take the Boito/Verdi Otello opera, and turn it back into a play that takes place in London, with high-profile musicians taking the place of courtiers.

All the principal actors play their roles as if they were the personalities in the Shakespeare play, making the politics and power struggles in music truly close "cousins." The quotation marks around cousins refer to the "Iago" character Johnny Cousins, who is a drummer and a band leader. He's the person throwing the party.

I will give no spoilers regarding plot, but if you know your Shakespeare, you will appreciate the way characters translate into a group of American musicians and their supporters who might be on tour in London.

The music was excellent. The first musician we meet is Charles Mingus, comfortably playing himself and his bass (he says that he is the first one to arrive and the last to leave). Then other musicians pour into the two-story loft with private rooms upstairs, and a roof that looks over the Thames. The staging is very Shakespearian. All the action takes place within the tower and happens in the span of a couple of hours.

Rex has a lot of Duke Ellington in him, and Rex = King is obvious. Here he is on the roof with the Thames behind him, looking very Venetian:

Here he is playing some Ellington on the piano:

So we have Paul Harris playing the character of Othello filling a role that might be considered analogous to that of Duke Ellington in the Jazz world of 1962.

Here's Rex in the loft with Delia (played by Marti Stevens), a singer who put aside her high-profile career to be Rex's wife:

The musicians asked her to sing "All Night Long," her signature song. Here's a closer shot:

And Patrick McGoohan, who plays the hell out of the drums and hell out of the Johnny/Iago character does some "work" on some tape as well.

Dave Brubeck is featured, along with other musicians who play in different configurations. In addition to Mingus and Brubeck (who play together for a bit), the other musicians who play themselves are Bert Courtley, Keith Christie, Ray Dempsey, Allan Ganley, Tubby Hayes, Barry Morgan, Kenny Napper, Colin Purbrook, and John Scott (who is an excellent flutist). The only time you don't hear the music is when a scene is on the roof or in one of the upstairs rooms when the door is closed.

I was as impressed with the set as I was with the music, the script, the direction, and the acting. Here's a shot of some of the artwork in the loft:

And we can't forget the square-looking music business executives who are at the party:

You can see the full cast listing from the IMDB. And if you have the Criterion Channel, you can stream it from there!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Musical Dynasties

I came across an interesting article by Jeffrey Arlo Brown in Friction concerning the barriers to success that not coming from a musical family poses. The title of the article, "On Being a First Generation Classical Musician," echoes the perceived stigma of being the first person in a family to go to college. My parents, grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe, were the first generation in both of their families to go to college. It was part of the "American Dream," and college was available and affordable to people who worked hard in high school and lived at home. I don't recall an option for college when I was growing up other than "where."

My father looked at my SAT scores (results from a test I took without preparation in the beginning of my junior year of high school) and said it was a good thing I was going to music school. I really wanted to go to Oberlin where I hoped I could enter through the conservatory and make my way into the college. I got into the conservatory, but not the college. I spent the bulk of my teenage years practicing, which was not an unusual thing to do in my family.

I probably got into Juilliard because of my parents. They didn't do anything, but my father had a prominent position as a principal in one of the big five American orchestras, and my mother had studied flute with the teacher I wanted to study with. He always liked her name: June Blume. So I got in.

There were certainly "legacies" at Juilliard like the Rostropovich daughters, the Barere daughters, and the Greitzer daughters, but the majority of successful students at Juilliard had parents who were not connected with music. Their parents supported them by giving them good instruments, driving them to lessons, and making sure that they practiced. These are parents who instilled a work ethic in their children, applying the same "rules" that applied in the extra-musical world to a musical one.

When I was a teenage flutist I used to marvel at the way my great friend Liz Mann's parents used to support her musical activities. Liz's mother played a little piano, but she was a business person. Her father was too. Liz, who was extraordinarily talented and capable, grew up in an environment where "work ethic" was key. And that got translated into cultivating relationships. Her parents loved the fact that her daughter was friends with the child of a local musical celebrity. I was happy that Liz was my friend because she was a lovely person and a terrific musician. She was clearly from a higher economic class than I could ever imagine being in, so her possibilities for a future in music were not hampered by the usual practical things that get in the way, like having to get a job outside of music in order to pay the rent.

Jeffrey Arlo Brown asserts that people from musical families have an easier time with things like ear training. I don't think so. Everyone without absolute pitch struggles with the "training" part of ear training. But the struggle to know whether people like you because you are the child of someone "important" or whether you are a good person is real. And the constant questions about whether you measure up in musicianship and ability compared to your well-supported peers are real. And those struggles last for a lifetime.

I do have advantages. I know "from good." I heard it from infancy. My musical standards will always be high because they always have been high. And occasionally (though rarely) I live up to them. My official teachers haven't always been the best, but I have had the wherewithal to recognize people to learn from unofficially (i.e. friends). My business skills are terrible. Perhaps if I grew up with parents who taught me how to "network," I would have a commercially successful career. I have known people who are now in high places in the established hierarchies of the larger musical world, but I would never take advantage of those friendships and ask for favors. My built-in inferiority mechanism always takes precedence, because, like I mentioned above, I know from good.

So I would say to Jeffrey Arlo Brown that the advantages for me of growing up in a family of professional musicians were hanging out backstage at Tanglewood when I was a kid, thereby acquiring the skills of being able to enter any stage door and look like I belong (when I was a student I got into lots of concerts this way). The big advantage now of coming from a musical family is being able to talk with my father about the nuts and bolts of music, like the difficult passages in any given viola part. When I wrote CD reviews for the American Record Guide, I gave him a subscription to the magazine. He used to read the reviews I wrote, and he would call to discuss them with me. That was the best thing about writing reviews: it provided a way for me to communicate with my father. I love the fact that I can send him recordings of music I write with the score. Sometimes he has helpful and/or favorable things to say, and that means the world to me. And, thanks to his generosity, I have always had good instruments.

But, personalities aside, the advantages pretty much stop there. I have seen the ugly part of the professional classical music world for my whole life. I have never seen the classical music world as being safe from corruption, where dissonances resolve, and everyone is an "artist." It is a world filled with unfairness, pettiness, jealousy, lust, power, ego, ego, personal insecurity, more ego, disappointment, short-lived success, false hope, delusion, fakery, self promotion, rivalries, injuries, neuroses, and financial insecurity.

If you come from any other type of family, you can avoid expending the kind of extra emotional attention I do when new "creatures" from the underbelly of the musical world are exposed in the national news for their predatory behavior. I know people connected with almost all of them. And I know many more who haven't been exposed.

From Jeffrey Arlo Brown's perspective the grass over here looks greener, but I believe that the successful people he mentions in his article are outliers and exceptions.

Sometimes parents of students tell me that they have no idea where their child's interest in music comes from. I tell them that most children are musical, and I praise them for allowing that aspect of their child's life to flourish. I believe with all my heart that parents who support a child's interest in music contribute a great deal to the musical success of that child. And it doesn't matter whether the supporting parents are musicians or not. The guy in the article who was dancing the Hora around Jeffrey Kahane (Leonard Bernstein) was a first-generation musician who had to sneak behind his father's back to take piano lessons, but he had a mother who was proud of all her children, for whatever they did.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Lucien Capet's 1915 Edition of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas

I have been spending this summer exploring the various editions of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are available in the IMSLP. There is much to be learned about violin playing, about tradition, about musical phrasing, and about Bach from all of them, but the most fascinating one for me is the 1915 publication edited by Lucien Capet.

Since Lucien Capet taught both Ivan Galamian and *Jascha Brodsky, he is often referred to as the "grandfather of modern violin playing." But musical generations do not fit into the 30-year format of family generations, so we have some great-grandfathering going on as well.

Here's Capet's soulful opening note, with a google-translate-aided translation (click for a larger view):

Without wishing to dwell on the complexity of the elements constituting in my opinion as an artist in general, or a musician in particular, I desire nevertheless to attract the greatest attention of the students and the aspirants to the violinist's noble task (called to translate through his soul and his technique, the sublime works of the Great Creators) on the important role played by the bow in the art of violin; it is necessary to consider the role of the right hand with respect to the left hand, like that of the soul vis-à-vis the body; the correctness and precision of the mechanism of the left hand is the physical balance in the human body. It is therefore necessary above all, to be strengthened in the detailed study of this mechanism before undertaking the superior technique of the bow, which later puts at the disposal of the soul of the artist, the multiple manifestations of feelings and human aspirations provoked by intimate interaction with the works of the great creators.

This role is, of course, one of the noblest to which a human being can claim; and the deep joys mingled with the infinite consolations that it has given me, give rise in me to the desire to communicate the means that I have used myself to put the Soul of the String player at the service of Art.
Then comes the division of the bow (he wrote a whole book on the bow, which is available only in some countries through the IMSLP, and only in German).

The fingerings and bowings are really creative, and it's great fun to try them out. It's a drastically different take on Bach, using positions and harmonics that Bach would have never dreamed of using. Many of Capet's ideas didn't make their way into Galamian's Bach edition. If you are a violinist you will certainly enjoy trying out the last line of this passage from the B minor Partita:

(I had no idea that there even was a natural harmonic B up there on the G string!) Now go and download the whole thing! Let me know what you think in the comments!

* July 25th Update: Brodsky's lecherous past is all over the internet today.

Fred Rogers speaking at the 2002 Dartmouth College Commencement

I'm posting this here so that I can easily find it and watch it any time I need to. Which might be every day.

"Bloom where you are planted"

The title phrase of this post is credited to Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), but this post is about a walk we took yesterday through a huge reclaimed swath of prairie (technically a savanna) now filled with plant species native to Illinois.

I have a good friend who was born in this area, and after decades spent in various other parts of the country (she even worked for several years in the Boston suburb where I grew up), returned and married a transplanted person who has devoted his later adult life to restoring the land he owns to its pre-anthropogenic state. Michael and I joined a couple of dozen people (many, like us, who have moved here from far away cities) on a plant-identifying tour of this restored acreage of Illinois prairie in all its blooming glory.

It was a remarkable afternoon. Our walk, in bright sunshine, was flanked by periods of rain, so the prairie (pictured above) was refreshed after several days of blistering heat. A fledgeling bird lighted momentarily on another friend's pants pocket, and insects buzzed around happily. Afterwards we ate, drank, and talked. At around 7:00 in the evening the day was crowned by a rainbow.

Sometimes I think of the physical and psychological difference between where we live and the places we come from, but the beauty of the native Illinois prairie reminds me that creating beauty where you are planted is what we all try to do. I am very fond of so many of the people who have found themselves transplanted here and have made this out-of-the-way place their home.

My friend's husband routinely removes invasive plants that are flown and trotted in by various birds and animals (he spoke of fescue which looks to me like the grass that grows in our yard). This reminds me that the particular kind of beauty that is the natural prairie is fragile and needs loving attention.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Thank You, Anne Midgette

In her Washington Post article about the closing of the National Philharmonic yesterday, Anne Midgette said a few things that deserve serious amplification, so I will do my bit and amplify them here:
I often talk about the way the classical-music world tends to conflate institutions with the art form. When an orchestra closes, it’s seen as an assault on Beethoven and Brahms. By contrast, when a restaurant closes or a car company goes bankrupt, people may bitterly bemoan it, but they don’t see it as a threat to food, nor do they think that cars are endangered.

And while discussing the demise of a high-budget and high-profile institution, she mentions that there are a lot of excellent lower-profile ensembles that exist in the D.C. area that could use some support (and I imagine that these ensembles will be the ones employing the members of the National Philharmonic who have lost their jobs).

Then Midgette pulls back her camera and mentions that there are worthwhile musical things happening outside of Washington D.C.
How about the production your local shoebox-opera organization has managed to mount on a shoestring? Or the new music ensemble that’s putting together a small concert series in an unexpected space in your neighborhood? These stories are happening, literally, all over the country. Let’s try focusing on the positives that we do have, where our interest can do some good, rather than waiting until another institution shutters to let the field know how very much we profess to care about it.
In our retail-minded society so many things, tangible and intangible, seem to be evaluated by how much someone will pay for them (and that includes orchestras who employ soloists and guest conductors). But musical quality is not something that anyone can put a price tag on.

This brings to mind the joke about the teacher who offers three levels of hour-long lessons: $10 lessons (but nobody wants those), $50 lessons (the most popular), and $100 lessons (which most people can't afford). The real quality of any lesson with a good teacher, as we all know, depends on what the student brings to it. And there are times when teachers feel like they should be paying the student, because working with a prepared, serious, hard-working, and inspired student is a priceless experience.

This is turning into a ramble, so I will stop. But it is a good idea to follow Anne Midgette's advice. If you want to continue to have the opportunity to hear classical music played in real time, go to concerts and bring friends. If you have the resources to support institutions that put on concerts, but can't find the time to go to them yourself, give money to those institutions so that other people can have concerts to go to.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Memorizing Music

Mrs. Hansberry, my High School English teacher, told the class that after not playing for years she could play Chopin on the piano because of muscle memory. That was the first time I ever heard the term "muscle memory," and since other forms of memory didn't seem to work for me, I thought I'd give it a go. I set out right away to develop muscle memory. I practiced mindlessly during most of my waking hours that were not taken up by school, and got my fingers to obediently play scales, arpeggios, etudes, and pieces without incorporating much in the way of thought.

I etched these patterns into my reptilian brain so efficiently that I still could, a quarter-century after identifying as a flutist, whip through the whole "Baker warmup," and a handful of orchestral excerpts. My "interpretations" of music that I played from memory were one-dimensional. I didn't realize this one-dimensionality until I sat in on a lesson that Julius Baker was giving to Sandra Church, a fellow Juilliard student a few years older than I. Baker preferred the masterclass format for lessons, so by listening to other people have lessons we were supposed to learn something. Sandra Church played the Mozart G major Concerto in a way that was completely new and fresh. She played the same notes that I played, but she made phrases that I had worn down through endless repetition sound like they had brand-new tires, a full tank of gas, a back seat free of debris, and a spiffy exterior.

I couldn't figure out why her Mozart sounded like, well, Mozart. Sandy played the piece in a far more elegant way than my teacher did. I was hoping that eventually I would learn how to sound like Sandy, but I had no idea where to start, and nothing in the way of help. I eventually found out that changing instruments was an effective way to undo the damage that I had caused by exercising my muscle memory too much.

Nobody could diagnose my problem. Nobody knew that the kinetic and intellectual parts of my musical being were so disconnected. I did develop a kind of musical intuition in order to bridge the mysterious gap myself, which helped me to grow in other ways, I suppose, but it did not help me to become musically connected to the flute music I had simply practiced too much.

I switched to violin at thirty-two and had to build a physical technique from scratch. There was so much to pay attention to physically: so much movement, so much figuring out distances, and so much in the way of intellectual stimulation that I managed to avoid the play-by-rote method that got me into my musical flute prison. As a beginning violinist I consciously used written music as a way to experience the physicality of the music, even when playing scales and arpeggios. As a result of not memorizing on the violin and the viola, I am able to return to a piece of music day after day and have a new experience. I can continue to learn more from the pieces I have been playing for decades. I can concentrate on matters of sound, form, and bow control while I practice scales.

Some people memorize music visually, which I suppose means they are "reading" the music that is imprinted on the visual part of their brain. I have never been able to do this consistently, though I do tend to remember where a passage I am looking for is on the page. Some people memorize music kinetically with a connection to the inner ear. And then there are people who memorize music intellectually, keeping track of the names of the chords, and, I suppose the trajectory of the phrases.

I think that people who can memorize music intellectually have an advantage. I have tried, but I find that it doesn't stay in my memory for very long. And I never feel the freedom that some people speak of when they play from memory.

Aaron Rosand writes about the way he memorizes music. He does it visually:
Be honest with everything on the printed page. When beginning to learn a work, repeat a section many times while keeping your eyes on the page. As soon as you possibly can, close your eyes and play it from memory. Unknowingly, your eyes have already photographed the music. If you lose a note, open your eyes and look again at the page. Repeat the process until you can play it in your sleep.
He writes about memorizing by an aurally stimulated kinetic response (which is different from mechanical muscle memory):
Memorization is a process of hearing each note before you play it followed by motor reflex. You cannot fully express yourself in an interpretation if your eyes are riveted on the music.
He believes that memorization is the key to interpretation.
Memorization is the key to interpretation. The music must become a part of you if you are completely immersed in what you play. Remain focused on expressing what your inner ear wants to hear. Trust your memory and do not become preoccupied with fingerings and technical problems. Repetitive practice will do its part and motor reflex will take over. Concentrate on your bowing. The bow is your paint brush and capable of providing all of the textures and nuances required if sensitively employed. It is also your breathing process and breathes life into every note that you play. Imagine how gratifying it can be when you can control your sound and characterise your music making with the fingers of your right hand. Interpretation and memorization are within your grasp.

Aaron Rosand's friend Berl Senofsky once told me a story about playing the Bach G minor Fugue from memory and ending up in the A minor Fugue (which made his father furious). A friend told me a story about getting a call from his teacher Ruggero Ricci (a friend of both Rosand and Senofsky, bu the way), who was playing the Bach D minor Partita in a concert. He didn't have the music with him, and he couldn't remember the names and order of the movements!

I play the Sonatas and Partitas on both violin and viola, so it is very easy for me, if I try to play from memory, to find myself playing a fifth lower on the violin or a fifth higher on the viola and getting totally confused. Thank goodness I have no need to play from memory!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Summer Strings 2019

Last night our Summer Strings orchestra played its annual concert. We begin rehearsing Tuesday evenings as soon as school gets out (the last week of May), and we perform our program the third Tuesday of July, right before the county fair begins (where many of our participants show animals). That gives us seven ninety-minute-long rehearsals to learn an hour-long program of brand-new string orchestra arrangements (that I spend most of the year making). We are very efficient with time.

We always learn the program, and every year the group gets better and better. My goal for the group is to get from "can't" to "can" (and this year, with a difficult program, we made it way past a mere "can"). Adults who don't do much playing during the rest of the year are happy to have challenging music to practice. Kids and teenagers who don't have enough time to practice during the school year have time to practice in the summer. And they really do practice.

There are no auditions, and people can choose what part they want to play. I love it when violinists who spent previous years in the second violin section decide to play the first violin part. I also love it when people who normally prefer to sit in the back move towards the front (we do not have seating assignments). Rehearsals always begin promptly at 6:30 and end promptly at 8:00. We use our time efficiently.

One of the other coordinators of the group makes detailed instructional recordings of the first violin part, the second violin part, and the violin 2b part for every piece. We keep the audio files in a Dropbox folder, and people can use them when they practice. It's like having a personal trainer. My students get the added benefit of working with my colleague, both in the group and on tape.

The experience is kind of like participating in a summer camp program without having to do all the things involved with leaving home. No money trades hands between participants and organizers in our yearly adventure (though support comes in the way of donated rehearsal space and money that we turn into T shirts). We require no commitment: some people who have to be out of town for the concert come and play for the rehearsals. Sometimes people who played in Summer Strings in previous years and have moved away come to town and play with us for the concert.

If you want to listen to the concert (it takes about an hour), you can listen through this link.

You can find a link to the program here.

So many wonderful things happened this summer. A beginning student of mine (in her first year) who could not find her place in the music during the first rehearsal became one of the strongest players in the violin 2b section by concert time. One of my high school students became more confident, more aware of his ability to count, and perfectly comfortable going into third position, and another became confident in fifth and sixth positions. One cellist who used to come with her sometimes-reluctant teenage bass-player son eventually decided to try playing his bass herself. In two weeks she went from zero to sixty on the bass, and you will hear how great she sounds (and maybe be inspired to try playing bass yourself).

It is such a thrill for me to see people take musical risks.

If you are interested in joining the wider community of Summer Strings, I keep all my arrangements in a Dropbox folder and share them with anyone who wants to play them. Just send me an email, and tell me about your group.

Other Summer Strings posts

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Robert Musil on Destiny

From The Man Without Qualities, Part 3

When Ulrick was telling this to his sister afterward, late that afternoon, he happened to use the word "destiny," and it caught her attention. She wanted to know what "destiny" was.

"Something halfway between 'my toothache' and 'King Lear's daughters,'" Ulrich answered. "I'm not the sort of person who goes in for that word too much."

"But for young people it is part of the song of life; they want to have a destiny but don't know what it is."

"In times to come, when more is know, the word 'destiny' will probably have acquired a statistical meaning," Ulrich responded.

Agathe was twenty-seven. Young enough to have retained some of those hollow, sentimental concepts young people develop first; old enough to already have intimations of the content that reality pours into them.

"Growing old is probably a destiny in itself!" she answered, but was far from pleased with her answer, which expressed her youthful sadness in a way that seemed to her inane.

In the original German

Als das Ulrich nun nachträglich seiner Schwester am Spätnachmittag erzählte, gebrauchte er von ungefähr das Wort Schicksal, das ihre Anteilnahme erregte. Sie wollte wissen, was "Schicksal" ist.

"Ein Mittelding zwischen 'Meine Zahnschmerzen' und 'König Lears Töchter'!" erwiderte Ulrich. "Ich gehöre nicht zu den Menschen, die mit diesem Wort gern umgehn."

"Aber für junge Menschen gehört es zum Gesang des Lebens; sie möchten ein Schicksal haben und wissen nicht, was es ist."

Ulrich entgegnete ihr: "In späteren, besser unterrichteten Zeiten wird das Wort Schicksal wahrscheinlich einen statistischen Inhalt gewinnen."

Agathe war siebenundzwanzig. Jung genug, noch einige von den hohlen Empfindungsformen bewahrt zu haben, die man zuerst ausbildet; alt genug, schon den anderen Inhalt zu ahnen, den die Wirklichkeit einfüllt. Sie erwiderte:

"Altwerden ist wohl selbst schon ein Schicksal!" und war sehr unzufrieden mit dieser Antwort, in der sich ihre jugendliche Schwermut auf eine Weise ausdrückte, die ihr nichtssagend vorkam.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tanglewood, The Planets, French Bread, Brie, and Ben

You cannot imagine how proud we are of our son Ben, who, in addition to his other work at WGBH-TV in Boston, is hosting this weekly exploration of the WGBH archives.

One thing that makes this extremely poignant for me is the fact that Ben's grandfather (my father) was a new member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra when WGBH began their recording project at Tanglewood. And Ben is the person who gets to tell people all about it.

Here's the first program in the series, which appeared on the Fourth of July.

Ravel Kaddish Transcription adapted for Solo Cello and Strings!

This piece works so well for cello and strings! What a brilliant idea!

(I'm getting to work on a version to mirror this performance now.) You can soon find my arrangement for cello and strings on this page of the IMSLP.

It was performed by Yuri Karavayev and the Belarusian State Philharmonic with solo cellist Ivan Renansky playing the vocal part on January 21, 2018 in for their International Holocaust Remembrance Day concert:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dances from "The Harlot's House" performance from 2017

I just found this performance on YouTube, and thought I'd share it here. This is the first time I have heard it played by a full string orchestra, and I am thrilled.

Remembering Aaron Rosand

Rarely does a day go by when I don't do some Bach. And when I do it it's never the way I did it the time before.
Aaron Rosand (1927-2019)

I never got to meet Aaron Rosand, but I feel like I have known him for most of my life through his recordings and through stories told to me by his friends and colleagues. The Strad has an excellent collection of video links to performances and interviews, as well as links to articles about him and by him. I'm hoping that my friend Daniel Morganstern, who knew Aaron Rosand very well, will write a blog post about him.

My friend Bernard Zaslav, who died a few years ago, tells a story about a time Aaron Rosand visited him in Milwaukee in his memoir The Viola in My Life. I know that Bernie would want me to share this story here, so I will.
My good friend, the violinist Aaron Rosand, stayed with us when he came to town to play an outdoor concert with the Milwaukee Symphony in one of the city's parks. Nomi [Zaslav] and I attended the afternoon rehearsal, which was conducted by Alfredo Antonini. Aaron (his close friends usually called him Archie) stood holding his famous ex-Kochanski Guarneri del Jesu violin of 1741 in hand (perhaps the finest del Jesu of them all) on a platform with two enormous, eight-foot-high loudspeakers on either side of him. Before Archie played a note, the midwest summer breeze sharpened stiffly, and toppled one of the speakers, striking both Archie and Antonini. I ran to help Archie, and was able to grab the fiddle from him before he fell.

We followed the ambulance that carried the barely-conscious Archie with the slightly-injured Antonini to the hospital. When Archie opened his eyes, the first thing he asked was, "How's my fiddle?" (It was fine.) One the way back to our house, we passed a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Archie had to stop and order a whole bucket after his ordeal.

Then there's another story that isn't in the book which Bernie, Danny, Berl Senofsky, or another friend who knew him in New York told me. In order to have the resources to have a solo career in Europe, Rosand did a lot of commercial work in New York. He did so much commercial work that he would often arrive at recording sessions at the very last minute. When asked how he could do all this his response was, "I made all the lights."

I'm going over explore the article in The Strad I linked to in the first paragraph now. I hope you will too.

And here's his YouTube channel.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Pauline Viardot!

In the 1990s I became fascinated with the life, career, and music of Pauline Viardot, and I felt quite alone in my quest. I managed to get enough information to write this article for a small magazine devoted to the work of women in music (the article I wrote about Viardot and her family begins in page 13). Things sure have changed!

A very kind person has been uploading Pauline Viardot's songs and piano music into the IMSLP during the past week. I find this very exciting. You can find this ever-expanding motherlode here.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Vi Hart's "Peace for Triple Piano"

While going through the Musical Assumptions "archives," I was happy to find myself re-aquainted with Vi Hart, a brilliant mathematician/musician who tickles my love of things math-related even though I have no way of understanding any of it once she is finished explaining things with her magical set of markers.

You can watch a video about the making of this video here.

And then, if you want more (who wouldn't?) and you have half an hour to be enlightened/entertained, you might enjoy her take on twelve-tone music.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Eva Kor (1934 - 2019)

I heard about my friend Eva Kor's death through the national media today. (Well by text message from Michael, who heard it announced on NPR.) I have had Eva on my mind all afternoon.

During a massive power outage one Friday morning in February of 1994, I was at work at WEIU-FM, a college radio station in East Central Illinois. We had gone off the air. I knew there was an older guest coming to be interviewed that morning in the television station (WEIU-TV) that shared the building with the radio station. I grabbed the flashlight that was in the radio station and helped make sure that this guest could see her way to safety.

That's how I found myself spending two or three hours sitting in a darkened room with Eva Kor.

She had traveled the one-hour journey to Charleston from Terre Haute, Indiana where she sold real estate. A few years earlier Eva had taken a speech class at Indiana State University from Sue Kaufman, the newly-hired news director at WEIU-TV. She took the class in order to be able to learn to speak publicly about her experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz. Sue wanted to give Eva the chance to speak on television, and also thought it was a great chance for the (fledgling) television station to do something of real substance.

In those few hours Eva told me about her experiences as a victim of Mengele's experiments. She told me about the struggles she had to get people to take her seriously. She really needed to speak, and knew that what she had to say was important. Being taken seriously was a constant uphill struggle for her, and she was desperate for people to believe in her work. She told me that her dream was to create a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute. I offered my string quartet to play (as a gift) for the opening of her museum.

Once the date for the museum opening was set I started thinking about music to play. I couldn't find anything that was truly appropriate for the occasion, so I looked through a book of Chassidic melodies with the hope that I might be able to find something to arrange. I looked first at the texts, and I chose five that seemed to resonate with Eva's character and mission. Then I used the melodies associated with those texts as a basis for a set of pieces.

You can listen to a performance of the Five Pieces through these links:

I. Im en ani li
II. Mi ho ish
III. El male rachamim
IV. Rikud
V. Ani m'amin

Earlier this evening I picked up my copy of Echoes from Auschwitz (which I hope will go back into print) and found this inscription inside. I believe that date (my birthday!) was the date of the museum opening.

Eva and I continued to have a close relationship (sometimes a "surrogate" mother-daughter relationship) for many years. In 2005 Michael and I played for the museum's reopening after the building was destroyed by an arsonist.

Over the years Eva reached a wider and wider audience with her message of love and forgiveness (the only way she could see a way to heal from the trauma she experienced was to try to forgive the people that hurt her and her sister) and every time I read about her activities I would be filled with pride. I knew where she came from. I knew her struggles (and there are many I'm not sharing here). I knew her need to be taken seriously and to do what she could to try to ensure that the ugly part of history that robbed her of her family and her childhood would not repeat itself.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Sensitizing the Musical Palate

Maybe this post is just an excuse to talk about dark chocolate.

One thing I have noticed about dark chocolate, which is the only kind of chocolate I really like, is that it takes a while to actually taste it. You need to sort of "settle in" and "listen" for the flavor. It has to be the right temperature in order for chocolate to release its flavor, and if you don't really pay close attention you might miss something before it melts away to nothing.

There is music that behaves like chocolate, and there is music that behaves differently.

Sometimes it takes a while to get accustomed to the musical language of a piece, and sometimes it is difficult to understand the contours of the phrases. When music is mostly made of sound that seems unstructured, it is difficult to recognize and enjoy the "taste" of it. And for me, when there is too much repetitive musical color, my aural "taste buds" become dulled.

It's kind of like what happens when you taste highly spiced food while you are cooking it, and you become desensitized to the spice. If all goes well, though, and you taste carefully and knowingly, and if you use spices properly, the resulting flavors can be surprising and exciting.

So now, after this talk about flavor, you might be ready for this tasty set of variations I found today that Anton Reicha (1770-1836) wrote on Se vuol ballare from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.

Distressed Fourth

Michael Leddy, who posted this image today, cites 4 U.S. Code §8 which states that the flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

Michael's words eloquently express the distress I also feel today:
This Fourth of July, with its tanks and cages, is no ordinary Fourth. I am living in a country whose racist, xenophobic, predatory leader exhibits contempt for democracy and the institutions of government as he monetizes his office, demonizes his opponents, befriends autocrats and despots, welcomes foreign interference in elections, lies to the public and the press, and stages a cruel spectacle on the southern border. He is abetted by all those who cheer or shrug or whisper in dismay. Today’s flag is a signal of dire distress.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Metaphoric Musil Morsel

From chapter 115 of The Man Without Qualities:
He understood the relationship between a dream and what it expresses, which is no more than analogy, a metaphor, something he often thought about. A metaphor holds a truth and an untruth, felt as inextricably bound up with each other. If one takes it as it is and gives it some sensual form, in the shape of reality, one gets dreams and art; but between these two and real, full-scale life there is a glass partition. If one analyzes it for its rational content and separates the unverifiable from the verifiable, one gets truth and knowledge but kills the feeling. Like certain kinds of bacteria that split an organic substance into two parts, mankind splits the original living body of the metaphor into the first substance of reality and truth, and the glassy unreality of intuition, faith, and artifact. There seems to be nothing in between; and yet how often a vaguely conceived undertaking does succeed, if only one goes ahead without worrying it too much!

In the original German:
In diesem Augenblick trat jene Helle des Bewußtseins ein, wo man mit einem Blick seine Kulissen sieht, samt allem, was sich dazwischen abspielt, auch wenn man diesen Eindruck beiweitem nicht darlegen kann. Die Beziehung, die zwischen einem Traum und dem, was er ausdrückt, besteht, war ihm bekannt, denn es ist keine andere als die der Analogie, des Gleichnisses, die ihn schon des öfteren beschäftigt hatte. Ein Gleichnis enthält eine Wahrheit und eine Unwahrheit, für das Gefühl unlöslich miteinander verbunden. Nimmt man es, wie es ist, und gestaltet es mit den Sinnen, nach Art der Wirklichkeit aus, so entstehen Traum und Kunst, aber zwischen diesen und dem wirklichen, vollen Leben steht eine Glaswand. Nimmt man es mit dem Verstand und trennt das nicht Stimmende vom genau Übereinstimmenden ab, so entsteht Wahrheit und Wissen, aber man zerstört das Gefühl. Nach Art jener Bakterienstämme, die etwas Organisches in zwei Teile spalten, zerlebt der Menschenstamm den ursprünglichen Lebenszustand des Gleichnisses in die feste Materie der Wirklichkeit und Wahrheit und in die glasige Atmosphäre von Ahnung, Glaube und Künstlichkeit. Es scheint, daß es dazwischen keine dritte Möglichkeit gibt; aber wie oft endet etwas Ungewisses erwünscht, wenn man ohne viel Überlegen damit beginnt!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Nicola LeFanu talks about writing music

I enjoy what Nicola LeFanu, the daughter of Elizabeth Maconchy, has to say about writing music. And I like listening to her music.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Surprises from the BeeBC

Here's a beekeeper who uses a cello as a hive for bees

The BBC has a bunch of other bee videos there too!

Capitalism Defined, Musical Capitalism Explored

In Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, Paul Arnheim, one of the more interesting characters I have encountered in literature, defines capitalism in a way that I can understand it.
"But money is surely just as safe a means of managing human relationships as physical force, the crude uses of which it allows us to discontinue. Money is power in the abstract, a pliant, highly developed, and creative form, a unique form, of power. Isn't business really based on cunning and force, on outwitting and exploiting others, except that in business, cunning and force have become wholly civilized, internatlized in fact, so that they are actually clothed in the guise of man's liberty? Capitalism, as the organization of egotism based on a hierarchy in which one's rank depends on one's capacity for getting money, is simply the greatest and yet the most humane order we have been able to devise, to Your everlasting glory. There is no more precise measure than this for all human action." [Translated into English by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike]

In the original German:
»Aber ist das Geld nicht eine ebenso sichere Methode der Behandlung menschlicher Beziehungen wie die Gewalt und erlaubt uns, auf ihre naive Anwendung zu verzichten? Es ist vergeistigte Gewalt, eine geschmeidige, hochentwickelte und schöpferische Spezialform der Gewalt. Beruht nicht das Geschäft auf List und Zwang, auf Übervorteilung und Ausnützung, nur sind diese zivilisiert, ganz in das Innere des Menschen verlegt, ja geradezu in das Aussehen seiner Freiheit gekleidet? Der Kapitalismus, als Organisation der Ichsucht nach der Rangordnung der Kräfte, sich Geld zu verschaffen, ist geradezu die größte und dabei noch humanste Ordnung, die wir zu Deiner Ehre haben ausbilden können; ein genaueres Maß trägt das menschliche Tun nicht in sich!«
This makes me think about musical capitalism: composers being valued for how much money it costs to commission their works, or how much their orchestral music is worth to a publisher who can make money on renting parts, or how the name of a composer can attract audiences to performances, or how much the name of a soloist can attract audiences to performances, or how easily a composer or a performer can be publicized through media (social or otherwise), and how an image can be created that will suggest musical experiences of great value or of great controversy (which eventually translate into value).

I have participated in the capitalistic world of music. I wrote CD reviews for more than twenty years, and found my reviews being used to promote recordings. My words had some kind of value in the hierarchy of influence, and were used to sell CDs. Do the things I say on this blog, which are not intended to sell anything, and are accessible to anyone for free, have less value? If I were to put my posts together and sell them as a book, would they have more value?

Choosing not to participate in music from a capitalistic perspective has its low points (in the form of blows to the musical ego in this extremely hierarchical musical world) but I think I lead a more honest musical life by giving out an equal amount to what I have taken in over the years. And I have learned so much about music and musicianship that I will surely be paying it forward for the rest of my life.

I charge money for lessons because the time I spend with students is time when I direct all my attention to their needs. I save that time for them week after week, and they know that their lesson time is something they can count on to become better players and better musicians. I also know that if I didn't charge for that time, my students wouldn't practice. I charge money to playing for weddings and for other forms of entertainment, and I happily accept money for participating in orchestral rehearsals and concerts.

I also accept money for commissions, and the money paid to me guarantees that the commissioning people will be the first to perform the music I have written for them. But I no longer work with publishers because I want to continue to have full ownership of the music I write and arrange; and I find more value in sharing music with people than selling it. Selling through a publisher means that I make about 10% of the selling price. Selling music myself means I have to set myself up as a company, which means dealing with all the business-related stuff that constitutes that 90% that publishers make from the music I write. I also prefer to think of other musicians (who generally don't make tons of money) as colleagues rather than as customers. Does that mean that the music I write, keep in the public domain, and make available through the IMSLP is of lesser value than the music I have published? I don't think so!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Locatelli D major Cello Sonata Performed by Daniel Morganstern and Gordon Steel

My friend Daniel Morganstern and his friend Gordon Steel made this recording of the Locatelli a long time ago. Danny just made it available on YouTube. There is some absolutely beautiful "bel canto" cello playing here.

What I did on my summer vacation . . .

Summer seems to be a good time for me to write music. At least this summer has been, so far.

This piece started as a song that I set, for a lark, on a random piece of text. That melody became the first theme. I abandoned the text and started adding instruments, themes, and material. I had a narrative in mind (it's my secret, and I'll never tell), which I abandoned once the piece had a form that worked. And then came the countless hours of work making sure the right notes end up being in the right places. It is not a thankless task because every little improvement is cause for personal celebration. A lot of little improvements add up, and the piece ends up being better.

Some people ask how composers know when a piece of music is finished. It would be nice if a piece could be finished when you make that final double bar, like the way it is depicted in the (very) occasional movie about one composer or another. But the double bar just signifies the ending point of the piece. For me that is where most of the hard work begins. Sometimes I decide a piece is finished when I get tired of working on it. Once what has been running through my head long day and night (all day and all night) is accurately represented by what is written down, and what is written down is in a form that makes physical sense to play, it is done. When I cannot find ways to improve it, it is done.

I did toy with the idea of adding another movement, thus postponing the void created by not having this piece as my companion; but I abandoned that idea because I felt the piece was the right length.

So now I'm writing a blog post about it because I guess I am having a bit of difficulty letting go of it.

The score and parts are on this page of the IMSLP. You can also listen to a computer-generated recording here.

I guess I'll go practice some scales now.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I'm All Ears

Errol Morris's New York Times Opinion piece about Sviatoslav Richter, "The Pianist and the Lobster," is a fantastic piece of writing about one of the most enigmatic of an enigmatic breed of great pianists. And it includes interviews with Richter's video biographer Bruno Monsaingeon and pianist (and illustrious member of the musical blogosphere) Jeremy Denk.

I knew about Richter's problems with pitch as he got older, but I was struck by the peculiar nature of the way Richter's sense of pitch changed. Then again, why should Richter, who functioned on the on outer expressive margins of musical possibilities, have an experience with physical changes in his hearing that wasn't singular?
ERROL MORRIS Hearing things a half tone up or down — was this also a problem related to depression?

BRUNO MONSAINGEON It was probably related to depression. But actually, he mentioned that a bit later in our conversations. One day in a hotel room in Paris, he went to the Clavinova [an electric practice piano] which he had in his room. We had great problems plugging the machine in. And finally he started playing the “Carmen” overture. And he said, “This is in A major, isn’t it?” And I said, “Yes, yes of course, Maestro.” But he was playing the left hand in B major. There was a separation in his mind between the left and the right hand. One was playing one key and another in another key. It must have been a real nightmare for him.

ERROL MORRIS How can you play a piece when you’re transposing only one hand into a different key?

BRUNO MONSAINGEON Well, that’s why he stopped. At that time, he had stopped playing in public. He was trying, towards the very end, the very, very last weeks of his life, he was trying to go back to the keyboard and was even planning to play some concerts. But, during those three years, there was not one note played (except on occasion on that Clavinova). Not one note. And he was desperate about it. It’s a very sad ending. This mighty artist and great, great mind, affected by all these problems.

Both my parents, at least two of my grandparents, and all three of my brothers were born with absolute pitch. Even within the term "absolute pitch" there is a continuum. My father has it to a lesser degree than my brother Marshall, who had a pair of ears that might have compared to Richter's, but Marshall didn't live long enough to experience physical changes in his hearing. To the rest of the family perfect pitch was just a given utilitarian thing. I grew up feeling like I was missing something. In most families the person with absolute pitch is the "other." In my family of origin I was "other." And if I sang something in the wrong key, my brothers would always let me know.

"You're in the wrong key!"

Pitches and harmonies are magical to me. They always were. But like most magical things they are also illusive. Sometimes a piece of music running through my head is in the right key, but I just don't have the wherewithal to name the key or the particular pitches. I sometimes recognize pitches by their color when they are played on a particular instrument, and my string-playing arm will usually find them when prompted by visual (i.e. reading music) stimulation. But my navigation through the world of pitches is like the visual experience of walking through a seasonally changing stretch of woods, following a well-worn path, and looking up, down, and all around to find wonderful happenings. Some people who walk through the woods see (and name) species of trees, species of flowers, species of birds, species of insects, species of mold, numbers of living trees, numbers of dead trees, geologic formations, erosion, and diseases of all sorts. Their visual experience is different from mine.

In his later seventies father, who will be eighty-nine in August, noticed that he started hearing pitches half a tone sharp. Since he is a string player, and has the musical habits of someone with relative pitch, he has managed to adjust. My friend Susan Teicher told me that her father, the pianist Louis Teicher also had that problem. And when I learned about Richter's half-tone-off hearing, I started to wonder if this kind of change in hearing might be a general physical phenomenon, but one only noticed by the small segment of the population who are musicians with absolute pitch.

Musicianship is so much more than pitch memory or pitch labeling. And there are zillions of sounds in the world that are not classified as music: language, animal sounds, nature sounds, motors, anything that vibrates, anything that bangs or rubs against objects. There are certainly people with absolute pitch who are not musical. They just use their sense of pitch in other ways.

We do know that size and shape of our ears change as we get older. This video from the BBC shows how the outsides of our ears change over time. I imagine that the insides of our ears change as well. And I imagine that changes in the inner parts of our ears affect the way we hear pitches. I asked an audiologist about this when it was happening to my father, and he could not give me any information.

After reading the article about Richter last night, I did a little google search and came upon this livejournal discussion, which links to a 2007 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about aging and absolute pitch that confirms my suspicions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Robert Musil, guest blogger

In chapter 82 of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Musil's character Ulrich ______ speaks about the idea of the idea:
"You want to organize your life around an idea," he began. "And you'd like to know how to do that. But an idea is the most paradoxical thing in the world. The flesh in the grip of an idea is like a fetish. Bonded to an idea, it becomes magical. An ordinary slap in the face, bound up with ideas of honor, or of punishment and the like, can kill a man. And yet ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful; they're like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form. You've been through this often yourself. Because an idea is what you are: an idea in a particular state. You are touched by a breath of something, and it's like a note suddenly emerging from the humming of strings; in front of you there is something like a mirage; out of the confusion of your soul an endless parade is taking shape, with all the world's beauty looking on from the road side. All this can be the effect of a single idea. But after a while it comes to resemble all your previous ideas, it takes its place among them, becomes part of your outlook and your character, your principles or your moods; in the act of taking shape it has lost its wings and its mystery."
In the original German:
»Du möchtest nach deiner Idee leben« hatte er begonnen »und möchtest wissen, wie man das kann. Aber eine Idee, das ist das Paradoxeste von der Welt. Das Fleisch verbindet sich mit Ideen wie ein Fetisch. Es wird zauberhaft, wenn eine Idee dabei ist. Eine gemeine Ohrfeige kann durch die Idee von Ehre, Strafe und dergleichen tödlich werden. Und doch können sich Ideen niemals in dem Zustand, wo sie am stärksten sind, erhalten; sie gleichen jenen Stoffen, die sich sofort an der Luft in eine dauerhaftere andere, aber verdorbene Form umsetzen: Das hast du oft mitgemacht. Denn eine Idee: das bist du; in einem bestimmten Zustand. Irgendetwas haucht dich an; wie wenn in das Rauschen von Saiten plötzlich ein Ton kommt; es steht etwas vor dir wie eine Luftspiegelung; aus dem Gewirr deiner Seele hat sich ein unendlicher Zug geformt, und alle Schönheiten der Welt scheinen an seinem Wege zu stehn. Das bewirkt oft eine einzige Idee. Aber nach einer Weile wird sie allen anderen Ideen, die du schon gehabt hast, ähnlich, sie ordnet sich ihnen unter, sie wird ein Teil deiner Anschauungen und deines Charakters, deiner Grundsätze oder deiner Stimmungen, sie hat die Flügel verloren und eine geheimnislose Festigkeit angenommen.«

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Music Roll!

I have often read about music rolls, but I have never seen one. I had always imagined a piano roll to be some kind of tube. I wondered how large pieces of piano music could be rolled up in a tube, carried somewhere, opened up and used right away. Internet searches (and I have searched often) only seem to find the kind of piano roll you put in a player piano.

Michael and I watched The Scapegoat earlier tonight, and I was thrilled to see a piano roll in action. It seems to gently bend the music while giving it support so that it doesn't get damaged.

I took some photographs: