Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Where did the old (blogging) years go?

I considered making a compilation recording of New Year's Greetings I have written over the past decade, but this link works just as well. The most recent one, to greet 2020, is here. (You can also scroll down a few posts and find it on this blog.)

In the spirit of old acquaintances being forgotten and never being brought to mind, I'm using this post to turn my blogospheric time machine, for your nostalgic pleasure and mine, back ten years to the year 2010.

You can enter the portal here.

I found a few articles to share about the state of the 2010 blogosphere by Brian Solis, Ryan Singel (Wired), and Jacob Friedman. Facebook and Twitter had not yet dominated on-line interaction, and I don't think that people could really see what was coming over the horizon for the blogosphere. Following the 2010 post links on the Wired website have been very interesting for me.

I wish I could use my (corrected with glasses) 20-20 vision to look into the future as easily as it is to look at the past. But most predictions are wrong. The only thing I do know is that if the blogosphere is sill around, I will be too.

A Happy New Year to all who happen by this post today.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Nobility of the Musical Blogosphere and an Introduction to Linda Shaver-Gleason

Joshua Kosman wrote a beautiful article in the San Francisco Chronicle in honor of Linda Shaver-Gleason, a musicologist (and blogger) who, in her own words, is "(soon to be) assassinated by cancer." Her Twitter handle is @LindaHyphen (the hyphen signifies that she is the last of the Shaver family, her family of origin), and as a sign of support and respect scores of musicians and musicologists in the Twitter-sphere have added "hyphen" to their names.

I have only come to know Linda's work recently, and have just put her blog, Not Another Music History Cliché, in the sidebar.

I wish I had gotten to know her work earlier!

Update: an interview in National Sawdust.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A ramble on this upcoming Beethoven year

Some people are making a big deal of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in December of 2020 with festivals and special programming, and some people are reacting to the hubbub by vowing to avoid listening to Beethoven for the year. While looking for some kind of middle ground in these internets, I found my way to this proposal to spend 2020 listening to a wider variety of music than usual.

Unfortunately everything on this list seems to involve recorded music, and I, as a recovering classical radio professional and CD reviewer, rarely get the kind of pleasure from recorded music that I do from live music. I also rarely derive as much pleasure from hearing other people play a piece of music as I do playing it myself. Following the score while listening to a recording helps. So does watching videos taken from concerts. Sometimes I play along with recordings, but only as a tool to help me learn the viola part of an unfamiliar orchestral piece.

As I grow older I notice that the musicological community has grown younger, and those young musicologists have a formidable presence in these internets. Their mission is (in part) to challenge the status quo, and make a case for more gender equity and racial equity in music. There's nothing wrong with doing that. The world of music is full of people who are biased, egocentric, opportunistic, bigoted, and sexist. It always has been that way, and it will probably always will be. (Beethoven probably had many of the above characteristics.)

When I was in my twenties I thought I knew a lot about music. When I think about how little I know now, I can't imagine how musically "provincial" I must have been as a young person. My musical coming of age coincided with the beginning of the HIP (historically informed performance) movement, and after I learned about the recorder and the baroque flute, I had a goal of only performing pieces of music on the instrument they were intended to be played on. Some of the Handel sonatas, for example, were written to be played on the recorder. That worked for a while, until I got frustrated with the limitations of the repertoire. (It was before musicologists discovered the thousands of pieces of flute music that fell out of print, only to be woken up again with the advent of the Werner Icking Archive and the IMSLP.)

During my twenties and thirties I worked as the person who programmed the music for the local college radio station (four or five hours every day). I was not happy with the state of public radio programming at the time, and was eager, in my innocence, to provide the local radio audience with an alternative. In order to attract and maintain their listeners NPR stations played single movements of pieces rather than entire works. They also played select pieces of music over and over again. Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances was big. So was Rhapsody in Blue. There was a moratorium on twelve-tone music, and one on vocal music, so it's no wonder that driving across the country (or at least from Illinois to New Jersey and Boston), I could recognize every piece on the radio. Usually in two or three notes.

Our radio station was different. We played whole pieces. We played vocal music (song cycles during the week, and on Sundays I would often play an opera). Fridays were devoted entirely to early music played on period instruments (and sung, of course). We played new (twentieth-century) music. We played twelve-tone music. We played as much commercially recorded music as we could find that was written by women, as well as concert tapes of new music written by women. Beethoven was in our regular rotation, but we usually played each of his symphonies about once a year. A year would also include a single playing of each of his string quartets and other chamber music, as well as his sonatas.

I felt kind of "cutting edge" at the time because nobody in the "larger world" of radio could get away with the kind of self-indulgent programming that I could get away with. Our station was not part of NPR, and the powers in the University that were in control of the radio station did not do anything to measure listener response. Many of the recordings that went into the station's library were bonus recordings sent to me by the CD reviewing magazine I wrote for (they sent a list every month, and I checked off the things I wanted for the library). I had a friend at Naxos (the father of the vice president), so I got their whole catalog during their early years, and added the recordings to the station's library. The Marco Polo recordings of unusual music from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were mind expanding. Every monthly shipment was an education. I would, of course, only allow excellent recordings in the library. Less-than-excellent recordings were (ahem) "traded" in order to pay for expenses (like my salary).

This radio paradise all came to an unfortunate end twenty years ago. At that point I went to graduate school to study composition, and I learned to love Beethoven's string quartets through their viola parts. I also spent a few years learning all of Beethoven's violin sonatas, and performing most of them. I have only played the viola parts of the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies, along with a handful of overtures, and have played the violin parts of the sixth and seventh. I have played the flute parts of them all (including piccolo in the ninth). I really hope I get a chance to play the viola part in the second, third, eighth, and ninth symphonies before my playing anatomy gives out.

Now that I have reached an age four years after the age that Beethoven ultimately reached, I look forward to this upcoming celebration of his work. My feeling about Beethoven during the past thirty-five years has grown. At first I regarded him as a perhaps over-played composer that I would put in equal rotation with other classical-period composers, and now I believe that he was a remarkable composer who is worthy of all the accolades associated with this 2020 celebration of his work.

You might find these posts about radio and these posts about Beethoven I have made here over the year interesting reading.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

New Rhythm Block Labels


I finally sat down and plotted out a set of really useful labels to use with 1/2 inch blocks. A set of 200 1/2 inch blocks will give you enough for the whole set plus two music dice. This one costs about $6, this one costs a few dollars more, but the quality seems better, and this one costs twice as much for what looks like the exact same thing. If you go to a crafts store you can evaluate the quality of the wood yourself.

Everything on the PDF fits on three sheets, and it can be printed as is, at full size. I pre-adjusted the sizes of the note groups so that they will all fit on their corresponding blocks (no more printing pages at different percentages, which proved to be a confusing, wasteful, and messy endeavor).

You can find the PDF here.

I played with the idea of colors, for both the paper and the blocks, but it seems that natural wood and white paper proves to be the most effective and the least distracting. We do, after all, read music in black and white. And this is a tool to help people learn to read music. You can certainly paint them, if you want colors, but I have found that glue holds natural wood blocks together better than blocks that have been painted. For that reason I would glue the blocks before spray-painting.

You can find older posts about these rhythm blocks here. Have I really been working on this since October?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

New Year's Greeting for 2020!

I'm getting a jump start on the New Year, so I'm sharing this here today. The text is a poem by Margaret E. Sangster that was published in Harper's Young People on January 3, 1882 with the title "A Child's Puzzles."



I made an instrumental version for alto recorder (or violin) and piano:



and I made one (of course) for viola and piano:



It can be played on any instrument, really. I like the way it sounds on the alto recorder, but it does have a few (playable with practice) challenging measures.

You can find the music for both versions on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to a recording of it here.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday Music, and Music in General

Michael and I have been living in what could be called the "buckle of the bible belt" for a third of a century. When we arrived I was welcomed with open arms by the small (but not as small as it is now) Jewish community, but in the larger community, being Jewish had the distinction of being "other." At one point when we had half a dozen children from Jewish families in the public schools, one family put pressure on one of the elementary schools to include a Hannukah song in its Christmas program. Who did they choose for a soloist? Our son.

Since adolescence I have had difficulty with Christianity. It invaded my family of origin, and ultimately tore it apart. After I left my adolescent home for Juilliard, I lived in an apartment with born-again Christian roommates who held prayer meetings in the apartment; and they prayed for my conversion. That didn't help things at all. Then I got married and moved to a small town in downstate Illinois.

Living in a Christianity-dominated community for more than half of my life has had its challenges, but it has become my home. The community has changed during the past three decades. There are some things that are worse, and there are some things that are better. Members of the musical community (school-age kids and adults) used to be mostly university professors, spouses of university professors (like me), or children of university professors (like our kids). Now only one of my students is in a family that is connected with the university. Forty-some-odd years ago the string program in the public schools was discontinued. The public schools still don't have a string program, but we have private teachers who have built a string program that is not connected with the school system.

In our little world the making of music seems to be seeping away from academia into the community (where I believe it belongs).

One of my students told me that they were doing a Hanukkah song for their elementary school chorus concert. It had a violin part, and her music teacher was wondering if my student could learn it. I know for a fact that there are no Jewish kids in the school (or in any school in the area), and there are no parents vying for representation during the holidays. It seems that as our community is becoming more racially and culturally diverse, it is also becoming open to more musical possibilities.

[When I think of that time in the grocery store when the father of a family of string players asked me how I felt about playing Christian music during this time of year (I was too shocked at his question to respond at the time), I realize that our musical community (and its parents) has also grown. No parent of a string student would ever ask me such a question now. Now they give me Hanukkah cards with words of thanks for teaching their kids.]

This part of the country is divided politically, and you can imagine the dominant political worldview is a republican one. I am pretty sure that the majority of people I teach, make music with, and write music for have a different political mindset from the one I have. But I will never know for sure because we NEVER TALK ABOUT POLITICS!

Music is a safe haven from all that is happening in the outer world. It is a safe place for people to make the kind of vital connections that we need in order to feel like human beings. I believe it always has been, and hope that it always will be.



This ensemble, made of people of all ages and abilities (for two of my students this was their very first concert), had about two hours of rehearsal time for this concert ('tis the season of snow interfering with plans to rehearse). The program included a Hanukkah song: the string version of my own "Hanukkah Latkes," which you can listen to here, if you like. Everybody enjoyed playing it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Charleston Consort Concert Sunday, December 22



The Charleston Consort will be playing a free holiday concert this Sunday, December 22 at 2:00 at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 2206 Fourth Street, in Charleston, Illinois.

The program will include multiple polyphonic settings of "Es ist ein ros entsprungen," "Nun komm der heiden Heiland," "In dulci jubilo," and "Vom Himmel hoch," along with Christmas music that was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We also have a bunch of familiar carols and other musical treats.

Our ensemble has grown over the past decades, and, in addition to multiple recorders, capped reeds, double reeds, strings (with multiple strings), and percussion, we are proud to incorporate our four fine singers into our arrangements.

Please join Rosemary Buck, Tony Cox, Peter Hesterman, Charles Hughes, Jeri Matteston-Hughes, Ruth Riegel, and me for a nice afternoon of festive music.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Holiday Strings Concert Tomorrow Night



Any local readers of this blog are welcome to come! We have a 30-member string ensemble that will be playing a wide variety of musical holiday treats (including new arrangements by me that will be performed for the first time tomorrow).

I understand that there will also be food . . .

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Rewind: Ben shows us the WGBH transmitter

The Snow Queen and Other Plans

Like most people who enter graduate school, I had a lot of energy, many resources, and high hopes for success. I decided to write an opera based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen as a thesis project, and I finished the opera, my thesis, and my degree in 2002.

Plans were underway in the university to build a theater as part of a renovation, and the chair of the music department had plans to mount a production of my opera when the renovation was finished--as a way of opening the theater. Thanks to budget impasses in the state, the renovation was delayed. Then the chair of the music department left the university for a position elsewhere. All plans to perform my opera were simply forgotten.

While things were looking positive for a performance, my son Ben and I designed some nifty snow globes to give to people who would have been involved in the production. A box of Snow Queen snow globes is sitting in the garage, and one snow globe is still sitting on my desk. Here's a photo:



And here's a clearer image of the rune that Ben and I designed to go inside:



Fortunately Raoul Ronson of Seesaw Music was interested in publishing the opera. I made friends with Seymour Barab over the piece (we exchanged scores of operas based on the same story to see how the other person handled the malevolence of the Snow Queen's character). My opera won an honor from an organization in Vienna. When Raoul Ronson died, The Snow Queen went to Subito along with the other Seesaw material. But nobody seems to know about it. I think the piece (and the thesis) has some merit.

The entry for The Snow Queen in my thematic catalog blog that has links a couple of recordings of excerpts from the opera.

So, I'm just leaving this post about the opera here for someone to find one of these days. The orchestral score and parts are available for rental from Subito Music. There are piano/vocal scores in a few university libraries. Here's the Subito link to the piano/vocal score.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

A small degree of success is no small thing

Many children dream of fame. They want the world to appreciate their talents, and they want to be rewarded for that appreciation.

I was pretty well known in the elite musical circles of Boston when I was a kid, simply because I was the daughter of a prominent Boston musician. That legacy got me into Juilliard, and helped "buffer" my musical life for decades after I graduated. It gave me access to excellent musicians and chances to play with them. It even gave me some international clout since my father was the principal violist of an orchestra that was respected all over the world. My association with Julius Baker, during my days as a flutist, also helped (even though he didn't do anything personally to help me, even while I was studying with him).

A few years after I moved to a small college town in the Midwest, I transformed myself into a string player. I have also come to enjoy living in the rural Midwest, and have found a great deal of happiness here.

My first experience as a violist was in a string quartet with professional players that had decades more experience than I did. I'm pretty sure that they might have played with me partly because of who my father was. I worked VERY hard to give the impression that I could play, but I was huffing, puffing, and guessing every step of the way. I practiced like crazy, and made slow progress. Because I played in this quartet, I played principal viola in an orchestra (along with my quartet colleagues) when I hadn't had enough experience as a section player to tell a good bowing from a bad one. I shudder to think about the poor people in the viola sections I tried to lead. I knew so little about how to be a leader or how to be an orchestral violist. Now I know better, but it has taken me a good twenty-five years to get here.

Now that I have acquired enough technique to play the viola (and the violin) well enough to keep pace with my (now mostly younger) colleagues, and now that most of my younger colleagues have no idea who my once-famous (and now retired) father is, I feel like I have achieved a small degree of success as a string player on my own merits. That small degree of success is a big thing for me. The small degree of success I have achieved as a composer is a big thing for me as well, because I have done it on my own, and on my own terms.

As a child I never dreamed of fame. I dreamed of being taken seriously because of my ideas and accomplishments. Because I don't make a point of "tooting my horn" (aside from keeping this blog) and selling my "wares," (aside from the pieces that I have published that other people sell) I sometimes feel lost in the fame-seeking society that has developed during the half century that separates me from my childhood. But I believe that I have gotten to a point in my musical and my personal life where people do take me and my ideas seriously.

I know how to choose good fingerings and bowings, and I can play in tune. I can also play with the kind of sound, phrasing, and expression I want to play with, which is no small accomplishment. I’m also confident that I can develop my ideas and solve all the difficulties I encounter when I’m writing or arranging a piece of music. And I'm proud of the body of music I have written during the past twenty years.

I just need to keep reminding my self that a small degree of success is, indeed, no small thing.

Friday, December 06, 2019

The Rewind: Ben takes us to the Antiques Roadshow to see the actual Pearl Harbor radio logs

Music Block Activities: Compound Time


To learn more about these DYI blocks you can look here and here.

You can find a simple time activity here.

You can go here for a free PDF of labels to cut out for 200 1/2" blocks.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Music Block Activities: Simple Time

I have a pair of very young students (age three and five) who need an activity to do with their father while the other sibling is having her lesson. This is a simple-time group of activities that I am excited to start using with my students. You can find a compound time (6/8, 9/8, 12/8) set of activities here.

If you like this idea, please feel free to use this or adapt it for your students' needs.


[click for a larger and more detailed view.]

You can learn more about these DYI blocks here, and here.

You can go here for a free PDF of labels to cut out for 200 1/2" blocks.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Monstrous Regiment of Women

I came across an excellent blog while looking for information about the composer Maddalena Laura Sirmen, who was a student of Giuseppe Tartini. Sharon L. Jansen, the keeper of the blog, sent me back to the IMSLP to find a letter from Tartini to Sirmen, where he implores her to practice playing open strings for an hour every day. In the letter he also clarifies the terms "half shift" and "full shift," and "double shift," that I recall W.A. Mozart writing about in a letter. I have always wondered exactly what those terms meant. Now I know. And so will you.

The half shift is a shift from first position to second position.
The full shift if a shift from first position to third position.
The double shift is a shift from first position to fifth position.

Tartini refers to fourth position in this letter, but he doesn't discuss shifting to it. It is just something you pass through on the way to fifth position.

I have put a link to the Monstrous Regiment of Women in the sidebar, for your reference and mine.

Friday, November 29, 2019

And the mystery composer is (naturally) Anton Titz!

This shouldn't surprise my friends. But the quality of the music might. It impressed Gluck, Prince Lobkowitz and Catherine the Great (Anton Titz's employer in Russia). And now, thanks to the power of the musical internets (and thanks to the IMSLP), his music can be enjoyed and played anywhere, and by anyone.

This edition is available on this page of the IMSLP. I also put a computer-generated recording of the whole thing there. I left off the second repeat of the Allegro agitato because I don't think that section needs to be repeated in this particular piece.



There are two more Violin Sonatas, so keep an eye on this space!

And, while you are waiting, you can read some posts I have written about Anton Titz through this link.

While we are waiting for approval from the IMSLP, here's an audio link to the first movement and part of the second movement that I generated from my Finale file.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Mystery Composer, Mystery Piece

I found the only printed edition of this piece in the IMSLP. That edition has a separate part for the violin and a separate part for the keyboard, but no score. I am in the process of engraving it in Finale because I think it should be part of the repertoire, and in order for that to happen there needs to be a score.

Very few people have heard this piece (there have only been a handful of downloads of the IMSLP file), and only a relative handful of people have heard of this composer.

I'm curious to see what you, the faithful (or casual) reader of this blog, think. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Here's an audio link to the first movement and part of the second movement that I generated from a Finale file.

I will tell you the name of this composer in a few days, after I have finished the engraving.

The Rewind: Ben, Robert MacNeil, and Jim Lehrer tell us a little about vegetarians and Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Being Seen, Being Heard

Our two-month-old granddaughter is an expert at seeing and being seen. Even at two weeks, when I first met her, she would look deep into my eyes. I could see her, and she could see me. Our two-year-old granddaughter has become an expert at all kinds of other things, but she still has the ability to look deeply into a person's eyes, and to know that she is being seen.

Some of us are not as adept at looking into someone's eyes with the intention of seeing his or her essence. Some of us had the ability in early childhood, but lost it, and some of us who never quite felt "seen" enough in childhood find it difficult to understand the connection between seeing and being seen. For some of us, it becomes a life-long goal to learn to see and learn to be seen. It takes work, but it can be done, though the paths to take are sometimes hard to find.

When we look at a photograph or an image on the television, we are not being seen by that image. When we scroll through images on line we see, but we are not seen. There a lot of people who spend a lot of time "lurking" in the online world who to want to "see" without being seen.

It is unusually easy these days to navigate through life without having much physical interaction. A person can get a college education (and even a K-12 eduction) without much in the way of interaction, and there are ample opportunities to do professional work via computer, thus avoiding seeing and being seen by our co-workers.

We often listen to music under a cloak of invisibility. As lovely as many recordings are, the relationship that any recording has to a person listening to it is one sided. The recording cannot respond to you. You can listen deeply, and pay attention to scads of details. Each listening experience can become more intense for you as you get closer to understanding the way the music is constructed. You can react personally to the particular way the people playing connect to one another, but your presence as a listener will never change the recording.

If you go to a concert and are seen by the people performing, even if it is just as part of a mass audience, the energy and the way you listen can have an effect on the performance. If you are sitting in the front row sleeping, the people playing will notice and react accordingly. So will the members of the audience. Your physical presence at a concert can never really be anonymous, even if you don't know anyone and nobody knows you.

If people are listening attentively, the performing musicians feel it. And there is a sense of communication among members of an audience that you NEVER get when people are sitting in their individual houses or cars listening to a recording.

One of the reasons I love working with children is that we can interact on a deep level: I can see them, and I know that they can see me. If I am working with a child in a lesson and her mind wanders, I can draw her back to the work at hand if I simply listen to her and watch her. Then she can listen to me and watch me. My students LOVE it when they catch me in a mistake: particularly a wrong note or a wrong bowing. I love it when my students see me and hear me. I always present myself as I am, and because of that I expect them to present themselves to me as they are.

When I listen to my students and I ask them to listen to themselves, I believe that they eventually begin to hear themselves. I believe that once they hear themselves they can accept the feelings that come out in their music making. And once they are able to hear themselves, they have a little more of an idea of who they are, at least as musicians.

Every person has stuff to express, and having the means to do it is like an emotional super power.

Because of the illusory and remote nature of internet-dominated interactions, it is easy to feel invisible. And if we aren't constantly raising our "digital voices," whatever we had to say yesterday or last week or last year is no longer interesting to people we are forced to refer to as "followers" or "friends." We are not heard. When we do not engage in those digital platforms, the people we called "friends" no longer "see" us. Unless we really see them in daily off-line life, they are invisible to us, and we are invisible to them.

Yet we all have the same burning need to be seen and heard. Some of us have, for whatever reason (lack of attention when we were children, perhaps) a greater need to keep the flow of energy going in order to communicate what we feel and experience.

Maybe that's why I need musical interaction, and maybe that's why I need it to happen in real time, and in real space. I believe playing music with people (and for people) helps fulfill the need to see and be seen, and the need to hear and be heard. And for those of us who may feel socially awkward (and who doesn't feel that way some time), the music to be played dilutes the awkwardness. In many cases I find that the music obliterates it.

I keep this blog because it helps me to remember that I am a valid human being with things to say. And it's the same with the music I write. I feel that the true value of music exists in the currency of self expression and interaction.

I think that the best gift I can give is to write music and make arrangements that people can use to communicate with one another. And the greatest gift I can receive is to see and hear people enjoying themselves and expressing themselves through my work (the next best gift is being told about it). It's nice to remember that prose, poetry, art, and music can continue to do what it does, even when the people who first "brought it to life" are no longer around.

This piece, that I wrote around 20 years ago, is a musical response to a memorial reading (included without attribution, and most certainly written by someone who is no longer alive) from the New Union Prayer Book:
In light we see; in light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair, for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our lives we give life. Something of us can never die: we move in the eternal cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.



Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Mister Rogers Who Saw Us

This New York Times article about Fred Rogers is a beautiful portrait of a beautiful human being, written by a person who had the great good fortune to be a co-worker and a close family friend.

When I was a child we didn't have a television. But I was able to occasionally watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood at a friend's house. I was skeptical. I remember hating Lady Elaine. She was scary and ugly, and she had my name. I didn't like that. I remember having a hard time trusting Mister Rogers, and remember wondering how a grown-up person could be so, well, nice. I confess that I had little to do with "the neighborhood" during my childhood. My cousins liked Mister Rogers very much. I just didn't trust grown-ups who were nice.

But when I grew up and became a parent, Fred Rogers became a fixture in our house. Michael always liked him, and through the experience of raising children with Michael, I learned to trust Mister Rogers. Then, once I started watching his operas, I started to love Mister Rogers. Perhaps it was a little late, but I was able to benefit from the experience of knowing Mister Rogers through the television during a kind of second childhood: the one I was living with my children. Better late than never, right?

From this article I now understand that he was making his show for grown-ups as well as for children. How many of us grown-ups can relate to this:
“It’s so very hard, receiving,” he said. “When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.

“I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.”
or this:
“I think that the need to create has to do with a gap,” he said. “A gap between what is and what might be. Or what you’d like to be. I think that the need to create is the need to bridge that gap. And I do believe it’s a universal need. Unless there is somebody out there who feels that what is, is also what might be.

“I don’t know anybody who has complete satisfaction with everything. Do you?”
or this:
“There are those of us who have been deprived of human confidence. Those who have not been able to develop the conviction that they have anything of value within. Their gap is rather a chasm. And they most often despair of creating any bridges to the land of what might be. They were not accepted as little children. … They were never truly loved by any important human other. … And so it seems to me that the most essential element in the development of any creation, any art or science, must be love. A love that begins with the simple expressions of care for a little child.

“When people help us to feel good about who we are, they are really helping us to love the meaning of what we create.”
and this:
“It’s so hard, isn’t it?” he said. “I think there are many people who bring a whole lot of baggage from their past and a whole lot of anxiety about the future to the present moment. What’s so great is that people can be in relationship with each other for the now.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If we can somehow rid ourselves of illusions,” he said. “The illusion that we are greater or lesser than we are. The illusion that we’re going to save the world. There are a lot of illusions that people walk around with. I would love to be able to be present in every moment I have.”

I have been working on a post about seeing and being seen (and heard and being heard), and in it I mention that images we see on television are not seeing us. But maybe Fred Rogers is different. Maybe he was seeing us: a greater, needier, truly collective "us," and, maybe, by doing so he was teaching that "us" to learn to trust that there is goodness in the world.

BONUS:

I'm just leaving this bit of Fred Rogers here to watch after reading the article:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Fan Letter to Papa Haydn

Dear Papa Haydn,

I am so grateful for your string quartets. My first experience with them was playing viola in your Opus 33 and Opus 76 quartets, and the experience of playing them gave me the courage to start composing. I know I am not alone. You would blush if you knew how much influence you have had among composers and quartet players all over the world, and throughout three centuries. It hasn't always been rosy. You would be shocked to learn the fate and checkered history of what happened with the theme you wrote for the exquisite set of variations in the "Kaiser" Quartet.

Though I am a professional violist (i.e. I make money playing the viola), I consider myself an amateur violinist. A couple of years ago I started playing with a group of amateur adults, none of whom had ever played in a string quartet before. Our plan was to play through all of your string quartets in the order they were published. Playing the first violin parts in your string quartets has been my first (and best) experience playing chamber music as a violinist. Some of those first violin parts are really tricky, and it takes a lot of ingenuity to figure out fingerings that work. Some of the solutions, which end up being the ONLY practical solutions, border on silliness. When I finally figure out the left-hand puzzle, I feel like I'm exchanging smiles with you across the centuries and continents. It's nice to know that some things, like the navigation of the violin fingerboard, never change.

Every time we meet to play one of your Quartets it is an adventure! And the adventure becomes more and more exotic and more and more rewarding. Everybody is becoming more familiar with the idiom that you took from being an entertaining pastime for musicians to a vehicle that makes possible the highest level of sophistication in their musical discourse. You have given us musical material that amuses us AND makes us think.

Today we read the F minor Quartet, Opus 20, No. 5, the one with the double fugue and the pastorale Adagio with the extremely florid first violin part. It is our favorite quartet so far, and I imagine that it will remain a favorite forever. I was following the score for the fugue. Some members of this quartet of novices, who are still cutting their quartet teeth (on your quartets), can find it difficult to count rests and come in at the right time. But everybody came in correctly when we read the fugue today. The writing compelled us to do so.

We will play the fugue (and the rest of the Quartet) with a little more tempo when we next meet.

See you in the ether!

Your devoted fan,

Elaine Fine

P.S. Now, after learning Opus 17, and embarking on a study of Opus 20, I have a feeling that Mozart might have been impressed by them as well as the Opus 33 quartets that compelled him to write the set of quartets he dedicated to you. I also have a feeling that Beethoven might have had some fascination for Opus 17, particularly the fifth quartet, the one in G major. The recitative sections of G minor Adagio seem to have "informed" the opening of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. If, as some imagine, you have some access to him in your version of an after-life, you might point that out to him. Tell him that it is fairly obvious to those of us who play your quartets.

P.P.S. You would laugh if you could see the way your quartets have been numbered and collected. Each quartet holds at least three numbers: the opus, the number according to the first published editions, and the number used by Anthony van Hoboken, who spent from 1934 until 1978 re-cataloging your work.

P.P.P.S Our oldest granddaughter calls my husband (her grandfather) "Papa."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A brief look into Ethel Smyth's Leipzig



John David and I will be performing this viola transcription of Ethel Smyth's Opus 5 Cello Sonata in March. I made the transcription this past summer, and John David and I played it for the first time yesterday. It is just too good a piece to keep to myself until March, so I just put it in the IMSLP. You can find it here. You can also find free digital copies of Ethel Smyth's various memoirs on these pages in the Internet Archive.

I was deeply impressed by Smyth's descriptions of life in Leipzig when I read her memoirs some twenty-five years ago, but I did not know many of the "players" at that time (aside from Brahms, of course, and Reinecke). Now that I have encountered many of those people through their music, re-visiting Smyth's writing (and playing her music) gives me a clearer and deeper picture of Leipzig during the last decades of the 19th-century.

Smyth grew up in England arrived at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1877 to study composition with Carl Reinecke. She found the Conservatory disappointing.
At the time I signed on as a pupil of the Conservatorium, that institution was merely trading on its Mendelssohnian reputation, though of course we in England did not know that. . . . The lessons with Reinecke were rather a farce; he was one of those composers who turn out music by the yard without effort or inspiration, the only emotion connected with them being the ever-boiling fury of his third wife--a tall, thin woman with a mop of frizzy black hair--at the world's preferring Brahms's music to that of her adored husband.

Like most of her contemporaries, Smyth admired Brahms. She had a letter of introduction to Brahms from the singer and conductor George Henschel from December 28, 1877:
The bearer of this [letter] is a jolly English girl, Miss Smyth, as talented as she is amusing. She wrote some quite charming little songs, even before she had had any lessons, and she is burning with longing to say just one word to you, or better still to hear you say it. Grant her that word, even if it were only, "Get out of here!"

Besides all this she jumps over chairs, back and all, rides, hunts, fishes, swims, etc., etc. The Härtels, through whom she hoped to see you, are in Leipzig momentarily, and therefore I have taken the liberty of sending these lines of introduction, whose purpose would be fulfilled, I am told, by one word from you.
With devoted greetings, always your

Henschel

Along with getting to know Brahms, Smyth became very close with Heinrich von Herzogenberg (who became her teacher when she left the Conservatory) and his wife Elizabeth, with whom Smyth fell head-over-heels in love. Brahms also adored "Frau Lisl." Smyth's feelings about Brahms were mixed.
[Brahms] was extraordinarily kind and fatherly to me; yet I cannot say I really liked or felt happy with him, though if ever he was to be seen at his best it was in that house. A salient trait of his was the greediness I consider one of the hallmarks of the true artist . . . I think what chiefly angered me was his views on women.

Brahms, as artist and bachelor, was free to adopt what may be called the poetical variant of the Kinder, Kirche, Küche axiom, namely that women are playthings. He made one or two exceptions, as such men will, and chief among these was Lisl, to whom his attitude was perfect . . . reverential, admiring and affectionate, without a tinge of amorousness. It specially melted him that she was such a spendid Hausfrau, and during his visits she was never happier than when concocting some exquisite dish to set before the king; like a glorified Frau Röntgen she would come in, flushed with stooping over the range, her golden hair wavier than ever from the heat, and cry, "Begin that movement again; that much you owe me!" and Brahms's worship would flame up in unison with the blaze in the kitchen. In short he was adorable with Lisl.

Brahms also tried to charm Lili Wach (1845-1910), the youngest daughter of Felix Mendelssohn, but Wach was not impressed with Brahms's manner. Smyth's recollections of Wach are the only recollections I have been able to find.

Smyth's Cello Sonata was published in 1887 as Opus 5. She had been steeped in the personal/musical culture of Leipzig for a decade, and you can hear the clear influence of Johannes Brahms and both Clara and Robert Schumann in this early work. It is also not dissimilar in organization and quality to the music of Amanda Maier, who was part of the Brahms/
Herzogenberg circle of friends. Maier was married to the pianist and composer Julius Röntgen, who was the cousin of Julius Klengel, who spent a lot of time, along with his violist-violinist brother Paul, playing chamber music at "papa" Engelbert Röntgen's home. Smyth studied violin with Engelbert Röntgen, who had had also been Amanda Maier's violin teacher. Cousin Julius Klengel was the dedicatee of Smyth's Opus 5 Sonata.

I kind of have an inkling that Smyth, who was not a cellist, might have worked some of this Opus 5 Sonata out on the viola. It just seems so nicely at home on the instrument.

The Rewind: Ben shows us about how photos are used in documentaries

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Daffodil Perspective

Elizabeth de Brito of The Daffodil Perspective hosts a UK-based streaming radio program that plays recordings of classical music from the past 400 years. She gives equal time to music by male and female composers. As far as I know, she is the first person to do this over any extended period of time.

Here's a graphic of what she has done this year (you can click for a larger view).



One of her goals is to "rewrite the past." I don't think that the past can be re-written, because the "past" was never "written" in the first place. I still appreciate the gesture.

I have added Elizabeth's blog to the sidebar, and will be following her progress over the next year.

Hierarchy, musical and otherwise (a ramble)

I have been trying to write about hierarchy in music for quite a while, but I always find myself stumped, because I don't believe I actually understand what hierarchy is. I recently read that hierarchy is the way that men organize the world, but I don't totally buy it. Perhaps it works in some professions, but not in others. The idea that one adult person can actually be considered "better" (a more reliable player, perhaps, a person who arrives on time, perhaps, a person who is flexible with rehearsal time, perhaps) than another still baffles me, even though I have encountered it (and have been alternately attracted and repelled by it) for half a century.

I have always thought of imposing a hierarchy on a group of people as a childish way of organizing a world where s/he doesn't have much say in how things are going. My first encounter with hierarchy was as a kid violinist in all-city elementary school orchestra. My second year I was in the first violin section, so I childishly believed that I was "better" than the kids in the second violins. I also knew that since I was judged to be equal to my stand partner (who grew up to be a stellar violinist), I figured that I must have been as good as he was. He was my measuring stick. But those kids who sat on the first stand were a different kind of better. And I had no idea how to bridge that gap. My older brother was that "different kind of better," and I just assumed that it was an inborn trait.

I was an awfully competitive kid. In elementary school one of my goals was to read every book in the library. Another goal was to be the strongest kid in my school, and the time when my name was at the very top of the "monkey club" because of my prowess at climbing ropes, was one of the great achievements of my childhood.

When it came to school plays, I was never the princess. That role, and roles like it, were all given to girls who were prettier and more feminine than me. And once I was in junior high school, with its ample opportunities for being in after-school shows, I found myself to be cast as a member of the chorus. I knew every line of every show, and went to every rehearsal, but was never one of the people prized for their on-stage abilities.

In high school, as a flutist, I never ventured beyond the orchestra pit, but I set my musical sights high. I noticed that my flute-playing peers practiced, and I figured that if I practiced all the time, I could become a really good flutist. Great, even. There was no other option. I woke every morning at 5:00, practiced scales and arpeggios in the basement until 7:10, and then went off to school. I practiced at school during my free periods, and then practiced after school. Sometimes I went to concerts after dinner (Boston University and the New England Conservatory were a trolley ride away, and I might have read and done homework on the trolley) and sometimes I practiced into the night. I was driven to succeed.

But it wasn't until I returned to string playing after devoting sixteen years to the flute that I found any musical happiness.

I also found musical hierarchy again. I found string players who judged themselves by where they were seated in the section, and I found string players judging me for where I was seated in a section. Once when I played an Ellington program at the University of Illinois and was seated as principal viola (probably because I was the only grown-up amid a bunch of students), one of the section mates told me what an honor it was for her to play in my section, and how much she could learn from me because I knew so much about the music.

(You can all laugh here--I knew very little about the idiom, but the viola parts were easy and clearly bowed. This person was clearly doing what she thought she should do in order to get "ahead.")

After that experience I started noticing some social hierarchies that unfolded in orchestral situations. But those social musical hierarchies were happening in a "world" where everyone is insecure. And musicians who are not insecure about their playing are sometimes insecure about interacting socially. But among young people in their "pre-career" phase of musical life, I still find a deep love for music, though they might not want to reveal it to the casual section mate, for fear of seeming unprofessional. Then there are also issues of ego, passive-aggressive behavior, and the occasional narcissist-in-training to deal with from time to time.

If hierarchy is a male way of organizing the world, I don't think it applies to the musical organizations I participate in. There are more women than men in my day-to-day world of music, and there are more people who do not to ascribe to typical gender-based norms.

The musical possibilities for the listener have exploded lately. Even within the confines of European music from the 16th through the 18th centuries, there is more available to hear than ever before. And now we are hearing music by women from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that rivals the music written by men from the same periods in quality. I still notice that adults (mostly non-musicians) who "consume" music (i.e. go to concerts) often choose their concerts by hierarchy: a known ensemble in a big hall, wins out over a lesser-known ensemble in a church somewhere, and known repertoire wins out over music that may be unfamiliar. My youngest brother, who goes to as many concerts as he can in the Greater Boston Area, which often means five or more times per week, has started organizing his concert-going by the ease of driving and of parking. That makes sense to me.

And then there's the musical social media world. Like in any field, a presence in the big social media apps (you know, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) is the thing that people think makes a musician stand out from the crowd. And when you gather musicians from all over the world and from multiple generations who spend their time playing "classical music" together, and give them smart phones, they can enter into an algorithmically-organized hierarchy that makes some people more visible than others. I guess you can also pay for visibility. I guess in that crowd and with that din you need to pay for visibility if you want to be seen or heard.

Any given group of children will organize themselves into a hierarchy. And physically grown-up children who go into politics or business, or education, or any field that depends on a hierarchy to succeed, will come to depend on that hierarchy in order to determine whether they are succeeding or failing in their lives. And then we have the price tag thing: how much someone is willing to ask for something they are selling determines its value, and from that we get a whole hierarchy of values based solely on how much something is perceived to be worth (the art market, the market for musical instruments). People talk about "marrying up," and that implies that they are marrying their way into a "higher" place in society, but for some "marrying up" means finding a spouse who has more ability to love, to listen, and to care for children than the family someone came from.

Maybe it's time to look at the childish evaluation of position in the world by hierarchy as just that. Childish. Why do we assume that because it is natural for children to organize themselves in hierarchies that it is appropriate adult behavior?

Friday, November 08, 2019

The Rewind: Ben shows us Eleanor Roosevelt hosting a show, with Henry Kissinger as a guest

The discussion here further explores the question of how the atomic bomb could be used by the US as a deterrent during the cold war, but it doesn't seem partisan to me. How times have changed.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Autographs

I have been searching the internets trying to find a few lines of French written in an autograph by Pauline Viardot about her ideal heaven as a vast library where she could find anything she wanted and could read to her heart's content. I can't remember the exact words (they were in French), but the sentiment has stayed with me for a very long time. I wish I could read them again.

My search did lead me to a website that sells musical autographs, and I did find quite a few of Pauline Viardot's autographs there. I also learned that Viardot was an avid collector of autographs herself. I can't imagine that Viardot was thinking about the monetary value of her autographs. Collecting autographs during the 19th century was all about connection and sentiment. Autographs were meaningful. Now they have monetary value.

It baffles me that monetary value can be assigned to pieces of paper that bear the signatures of people who are no longer living. Do the autographs of people who gave autographs often have a lesser value than the autographs of people who gave fewer autographs? And how is a value determined for musical manuscripts of lesser-known pieces? Do people collect autographs as investments? Do they appreciate?

And why is it that the same autograph seems to be sold by different companies? If you click on the screenshot below you will see that the same letter written by Pauline Viardot is being sold by eBay, AbeBooks, and Biblio, (for different prices). What's with that?

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

A little bit about cellist Keith Harvey (1938 - 2017)

The cellist who plays Ravel on the soundtrack of Un coeur en hiver (see yesterday's post) is so remarkable that I would like to offer a few links to his recordings. Listening to him play makes me very happy.



Harvey studied with Douglas Cameron at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and, directly upon graduation, became the principal cellist of the London Philharmonic. He stayed with the London Philharmonic for five years, and then joined the English Chamber Orchestra. He formed the Gabrieli Ensemble (violin, clarinet, cello, and piano) and spent a lot of time performing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, and then the group became the Gabrieli Quartet.

Here's a wonderful camcorder video of a 1988 rehearsal of the Ravel Quartet with Harvey and the Gabrieli Quartet.
And here's a recording of a transcription of Achron's "Hebrew Melody," and one of the Ravel Pavane. These might "autoplay" forward to more tracks from this recording (called "Dedications") that he made with pianist Lynn Hendry for Cello Classics in 2012, but if that doesn't work, you can do a YouTube search for Keith Harvey and cello, and you will find more.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Un coeur en hiver

Claude Sautet's 1992 Un coeur en hiver is one of the very best films about music and musicians I have seen.



The substance of story is steeped in the music of Maurice Ravel: his Violin Sonata, his Duo for Violin and Cello, and his Piano Trio. The main characters are a luthier, his violin dealer partner (and friend), and a beautiful female violinist. The luthier loves his work, loves his friends, and loves music, but he is skeptical about the romantic idea of love. He engages in close friendships that do not involve intimacy (a little like Maurice Ravel, perhaps?).

The violin dealer, who moves effortlessly through the social demands of his profession, understands the emotions and desires of musicians. He is in love with a beautiful young violinist who is in the process of making a recording of music by Ravel, with the luthier taking special pains to get her violin to sound at its best for the recording sessions.

The credits begin with the Trio, but the "action shots" in the first half of the film, which involves relationships between two people, are of Ravel's music for two players. The action of the Trio enters into the narrative at the halfway point of the film, when it becomes clear that an unusual love triangle is forming.

I offer no spoilers, but I know that anyone reading this will appreciate the beautiful shots of the quiet violin shop, the relationship between a master craftsman and an apprentice, the gluing of violin ribs, the cutting and installing of a violin bridge, and witnessing the way a neck is attached to the body of a violin.

There is dinner discussion about the value of music and art that echoes the kinds of musical conversations that happen during the Ravel Piano Trio. We get to look at the world of music from the standpoint of some musicians, an instrument maker, a dealer, a manager, a few clients, a teacher, and a few intellectuals. We also get some nice shots of a French book store.

The acting is excellent, and the miming of violin playing by Emanuelle Béart is perfectly acceptable to the non-violinist, and perfectly adequate for people in the physically-violinistic know. The cellist (who does not speak) is played by cellist Dominique de Williencourt and the equally silent pianist Jeffrey Grice, who doesn't even get a name, are perfect in their roles, though the musicians on the excellent soundtrack of the movie are violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow, cellist Keith Harvey, and pianist Howard Shelley

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Cheshvan: Prelude #2 from Preludes for 5775

In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a set of twelve piano preludes for the months in the Jewish calendar. I wrote this set in memory of my brother, Marshall Fine. Grief proceeds slowly, and the memories and nuances associated with family life seem to take at least one lifetime to understand.

I plan to post the preludes individually on YouTube, one for each month of the year. You can find the music for the whole set on this page of the IMSLP.



UPDATE: You can find a video of Prelude #1 (Tishri) here, and a video of Prelude #3 (Kislev) here.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

J.D. Salinger Exhibit at the New York Public Library

Last week Michael and I spent part of our one day in New York at the J.D Salinger Exhibit in the New York Public Library. We had to surrender our jackets and our cell phones, which meant that everything we saw had to be taken in in real time (no photographing and reading later). The experience was different because of that. I had to really pay attention to what I was reading.

I imagine that Colleen Salinger, J.D. Salinger's widow, and J.D. Salinger's son, Matt Salinger, who organized the exhibit, will eventually publish the letters and images of "stuff" in the exhibit, but for now I can hold the things I saw in a (freshly "cleared") corner of my memory.

As part of the Four Seasons Reading Club, Michael and I are reading through all of Salinger's published work (except for The Catcher in the Rye which is still fresh in my mind after fifty years). Michael has read all and taught some of Salinger's work. I never made it beyond The Catcher in the Rye, and now I know how much I missed.

I thought that Salinger spent his life as a recluse, and I also thought that he had stopped writing once he stopped publishing his work. But now I know that he continued to work (i.e. write) all of his life. He also moved (in plain sight) about the world without fanfare, because he didn't do anything to feed the publicity machine. He was able to live his life in quiet comfort because his books sold well (and still continue to sell well).

I learned a lot about Salinger's need for privacy. This was refreshing to me, particularly when we live in an era where people who have had success feel compelled to do everything they can in order to remain "relevant."

One of the display cases in the exhibit held Salinger's movie projector and a few reels of the many movies he owned like Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes . And there were VHS tapes of those movies, some Marx Brothers movies, and Oliver!. Another case had his typewriter, little black books that he wrote in, yellow highlighting pencils, and a key ring with ideas written on punched little pieces of card stock. Another case held a little copper bowl that he made at camp when he was a child.

But it was reading his correspondence that really provided a window into who Salinger was, and knowing certain details about his life really helps me to understand and appreciate his work.

If you live in New York City (or plan to visit) I would highly recommend spending an hour or so in the Salinger exhibit.

Here's Salinger's obituary in The Guardian.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Rewind: Ben shares a Halloween surprise featuring the art of Edward Gorey

Oh that crazy Indiana weather!

Shades of “Stranger Things.” I snapped this screenshot from our trip home from parts east today.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Rewind: Ben introduces us to Mercedes Sosa



This is the first I have heard of the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa (1925-2009), and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Meritocracy

I was going to write a post today to voice my opposition to the notion that the musical world is "organized" as a meritocracy, but then I reconsidered because I learned that the term "meritocracy" was "coined" as satire in 1958 by Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington. One of his books, The Rise of the Meritocracy is mentioned in this Wikipedia article on Meritocracy.

A google search for the term gave four and a half million results, and to my surprise many of them seem to take the term seriously.



Go figure.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks

A hundred more blocks arrived today, and now my collection includes examples of compound time:





My meter dice allow me to make different time signatures, and I can generate lots of rhythmic ideas:





I abandoned my search for line-shaped objects to serve as bar lines, and mounted some hand-drawn bar lines on blocks; but then I printed some bar lines, which do look a little more spiffy:



All 134 blocks fit into a tea tin (and I used the 135th to decorate the top of the tin)!



UPDATE: You can go here for a free PDF of labels to cut out for 200 1/2" blocks.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I was ALSO dreaming of the number three

This morning Michael told me that I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that I was also dreaming of the number three. Perhaps it is because I have been plotting a way to use rhythm cubes to explain compound time.

I'm anxiously awaiting a set of 100 unpainted half-inch cubes to arrive in the mail. I want to use them to make comprehensive set of rhythm cubes, complete with ties, and triplets. I will, of course, post the results. Colored cubes are fun, but I think that plain wooden cubes might get the point across more effectively.

I also plotted out a set of meter dice that correspond to basic meters. These dice could be used in combination with the rhythm cubes to generate random rhythmic ideas for pieces of music, or they can be used to explain meter to students.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Helping kids learn to count with blocks!

I made a teaching tool to help my beginning students understand rhythmic notation.



I bought a set of 70 very inexpensive wooden cubes, and, using the eighth note as the smallest unit, I taped groups of them together and labeled them with their corresponding note values using Finale-printed notes (eliminating the staff lines, and setting the page size to 150%). My main goal was to have my students see and feel just how many eighth notes it takes to equal a half note, or how two single eighth notes and a set of two beamed eighth notes are equal in value.

I'm considering making a set to explain compound time, and am still trying to figure out how to incorporate the idea of the pesky dot into something that would make sense to novice music readers. I will be adding sixteenth notes soon, but I'll have to wait until I have more blocks (only half my order arrived).

A crude version of this worked well with the one beginner I taught today. I'm looking forward to how this more elegant set works with the beginners I'm teaching next week!

UPDATE!

Now with sixteenth notes, dots, and rests, not to mention proper glue!



You can go here for a free PDF of labels to cut out for 200 1/2" blocks.

From the comments, here's a clickable link to a page that has free music fonts (thanks Matthew Hindson and Daniel Harper).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Stephen Malinowski's Animations for Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets



Haydn's fugal writing is simply extraordinary. I first encountered it while singing his Creation when I was thirteen, and have thought of his fugal writing as "exalted reigns" ever since. My invented term comes from the passage "He sole on high, exalted reigns," in the "Achieved is his glorious work" section of the Creation. Here's a post I wrote in 2007 about those "exalted reigns."

Here's Malinowski's Haydn Opus 20 playlist (so far, it is a work in progress).

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jessye Norman Sings Les chemins de l'amour

I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to hear Jessye Norman sing in concert, and feel fortunate to still be able to hear her sing by way of recordings. There are really no adequate words to describe Jessye Norman as a singer and as a musician, but I believe that this performance of Poulenc's "Les Chemins de l'amour" shows her at her most spectacular. It moves me deeply. It leaves me speechless.



The Sigal Music Museum!

Marlowe Sigal's amazing collection of musical instruments, which was formerly housed on Gray Cliff Road in my home town of Newton, Massachusetts, has a new home in Greenville, South Carolina. Sigal's contribution to the museum is so great that the Carolina Music Museum will be changing its name.

I wrote a review of Sigal's book, Four Centuries of Musical Instruments in April of 2015, and wrote about visiting his collection a month later.

When I learned of Mr. Sigal's death in 2018, I hoped that his collection would be able to be preserved intact. What we saw of his collection on our visit took up a full basement (floor and shelves on all the walls), most of the first floor of the house (including the organ that was built into the house), and four or five large rooms on the second floor.

Here's an article about Mr. Sigal's gift in the Greenville Journal.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Rewind: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day with Traditional Music and Dancing

Ben takes us in the vault to share this performance recorded by KYUK in Alaska.



Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Beethoven String Quartets "einmal anders" with Animated Graphical Scores

Go ahead and watch before you read further:



I have enjoyed Stephen Malinowski's animated graphical scores ever since they first appeared on YouTube. I used them in my music appreciation classes to help students who didn't read music follow the scores of pieces we were studying. I imagine there isn't a reader here who hasn't come across one of Malinowski's animations in these musical internets. It's hard to imagine the amount of thought and time and work and love that he has put into this project.

This Beethoven String Quartet project is a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. He used the Beethoven cycle they recorded for Arte Nova in 2010.

During my decades (!) of being a CD reviewer, I combed through at least a dozen sets of Beethoven Quartets with score in hand. My task was to evaluate the playing and the quality of the recordings and write about the differences between this or that interpretation. Sometimes those differences are difficult to put into words, and sometimes those differences are extremely difficult to put into words. From what I have heard so far (and I'll be listening one quartet at a time, just like you) the recordings are expertly balanced (am I just hearing the viola in this movement from Opus 18 no. 2 more because I can see it--"dressed" in green--or has the engineer brought up the level on that voice when it should be heard?). The playing is excellent, and the interpretation seems to be more equally-voiced than those first-violin-dominant recordings of yore when microphones and mixing boards were far less sophisticated.

Through his work as a composer, as a person fascinated by graphical representation of music (which many of us did by hand with graph paper before we had computers), and as a pioneer in applied computer graphics, Malinowski has found a direct way to explain the way pieces of music work from the inside, and in real time, so that people without any musical background can have a more complete sensory experience with these quartets than they would listening to a recording on its own.

For those of us who get non-computer-aided stimulation from reading scores, I can say that what Malinowski has represented graphically with color, light, and shape, is right on the money. Or non money, because he distributes it for free.

He writes about his methods here.
You can find the complete Beethoven Cycle (on YouTube) here.
And you can follow links from this page that show the history of Malinowski's work and the tools he uses (and has used over the years) to do it.

If you want some more guidance, you can go to my 2010 post about listening to Beethoven String Quartets.

I just learned that Malinowski has just started working on animations of the Haydn Opus 20 Quartets. Coincidentally my Haydn Quartet Project quartet (playing through all the Haydn Quartets in order with a group of quartet novices--people who have never played in a string quartet before) is finishing up Opus 17 and embarking on Opus 20 soon.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Rewind: Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America



Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

In Praise of Martin Stock

It’s hard to believe that I would be writing a blog post about the value of the German film composer Martin Stock’s ambient piano music, but when our two-week-old granddaughter is having baby tummy trouble and needs to be comforted, it does the trick. And it calms parents and grandparents too. The odd thing about listening to this music (on shuffle via our daughter’s Alexa machine) is that it allows you to still have thoughts (the quality of which I won’t evaluate in this Stock-stunned state). Normally when I listen to music, I think mainly about the music, and can’t think about much else. This music plants itself firmly in the background, which, I am learning, has a purpose.

If this is music that serves as furniture (was it Satie who thought about music as furniture? I am rendered immobile—bad pun—by this music, and looking it up in another tab on my phone is too much work) this furniture would be soft and supportive, with a womb-like contour. It would have clean wooden frames made from Kindergarten-room birch. And it would be 73 degrees and sunny, with a slight bit of misty humidity here and there, carrying the scent of lemongrass.

Is it musical Soma? I dunno. Listen for yourself and decide.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Whistleblower Complaint

Someone had to write it!



September 27, 2019

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

I would love to post recordings of actual flutists playing this piece (which is pretty cathartic to play). If you make one, please send it to me!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gnostical Turpitude

Imagine my surprise and delight to find this lovely piece by Amanda Morrell after searching the internets for a definition of "gnostical turpitude" while reading Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

It captures the comedic pantomime quality of the novel beautifully.



Here's a link to more of her work.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Curious George Goes to the Conservatory (Marshall Fine, guest blogger)

CURIOUS GEORGE GOES TO THE CONSERVATORY
by Marshall Fine after H. A. Rey
(Based on Scherzo from Shostakovich Symphony #1)

I have it on very good authority that the piece you are about to hear was written with help from a monkey.

Interested? Curious to know why?

One day Curious George was wandering down a city street, when he heard all sorts of noise coming from the music conservatory. He knew what music was, but was this music? And why was this noise being made at all, when every other building in the area was quiet? So he decided to go in at the big front door. Then he saw another set of doors--so he opened those too. It was a big concert hall. But instead of music, there was an ugly sound from the string instruments on stage:

(Shostakovich Symphony #1, Scherzo, first two bars)

“Hold it! Cellos and basses!” called the conductor, rapping the stand with his baton. “Can’t you people play together? Let’s try that again. Slower and not so loud.”

(Fig. 11 to fig. 12, cellos and basses only)

“No, no, no, it’s still not together,” the conductor complained again. “Do it again, please. Slow and soft this time. And make sure it’s clear!”

(last six bars before fig. 23, violas and cellos only)

Rap! Rap! Rap! The conductor stopped again. “Check the parts at break,” he growled disgustedly. “Let’s try another place. From 4 to 5. And make sure it’s in tune!”

(Fig. 4 to fig. 5, tutti strings)

It made such an ugly noise that Curious George clapped his hands over his ears and screamed as only a monkey can!

“What was that??” exclaimed the conductor. Then he turned and saw George. “You! Out!!” Poor George had to leave the concert hall.

He went down a flight of stairs, through a door, and found himself in a long hall with door after door stretching out on either side. Practice rooms, he realized. It wasn’t getting any better. The noise from all these rooms sounded just like the concert hall. In the first one he came to, he heard a piano, just banging chords at the bottom and top of its range.

(First three bars of fig. 22)

Interesting! He went in quietly and sat on the pedals, so that he could see what the player was doing. But the very next chord just hung on and on! The pianist looked down, saw George, and the next instant gave him a terrific kick. George fled in a great fright down the hall.

He stopped again to catch his breath and found himself in front of a violinist who was playing nothing but his open E string. (Beginning here and concurrent with narration: 2nd violins, from fig. 6 and cut off on cue) The door was ajar. He went in; luckily the violinist had his eyes closed. But soon enough he opened his eyes to look at his bow, and saw Curious George as well. (Cutoff cue!!) Once again George had to flee to evade a kick.

Then he found himself in front of a door behind which a snare drum was beating:

(Fig. 7-8, snare drum)

Next door to this was a pair of clarinetists. They were arguing over a tune.


(Fig. 8-9, clarinets. 2nd clarinet mistuned in B-flat)

“You’ve got the wrong instrument!” yelled the first. “No, you’re just plain out of tune!” rejoined the other.

Actually George was getting the hang of this music, so he pointed at the first one, whose clarinet seemed a little longer.

“Who the blazes are you?” the second growled at George; then suddenly he looked at his own clarinet and realized he did in fact have the wrong one. He changed instruments and they played again.

(Repeat excerpt, 2nd clarinet in A)

But then the argument broke out afresh! The second said, “It’s in three, like that drummer next door.” But the first replied, “No, it’s in four, can’t you feel the phrase?”

George didn’t know what three or four meant here, but he could hear that some notes still seemed out of tune. “Hu-hu-hu-hu!” he exclaimed, putting his hands over his ears. That sent the players mad! “Who asked you? Dirty monkey! Out!!” And again George had to flee.

This time he found himself in front of a larger room with a brass quartet, three trombones and a tuba. They were practicing long held chords. The tuba player was running out of breath before the others.

(Fig. 21-22, trombones and tuba only)

Manners, it seemed, were called for, so he did the same as he’d seen his master do: he knocked. The door opened.

“Who...who...” he fumbled out, in his most refined monkey talk. They introduced themselves, but George could not understand a word.

There was a word, somewhere, that meant he wanted to know something. There! he had it! “Why...why...” he addressed the tuba player.

But that was as far as he got! The tubist exploded, “It’s all about you, monkey. What gives you the nerve to teach us? Get out!”

At this point the conservatory director came up. Student after student had been to his office, all saying the same thing. The brass players laid their horns aside, took one limb each of Curious George, and marched him out the front door with the director leading the way. BUMP! OOF! he went flying and landed hard on the bottom step. And there he lay, hurting with pain and shame. Was this what music-making was like? Forget it!

Just as he had made his mind up to go home and never come back again, a young man came down the steps. “You must be the monkey I’ve just heard of.”

Curious George just nodded.

“You just come back in with me. I’ll hide you. Then you can tell me your story--oops, I mean, show me.” And he took George by the hand and led him back into the building.

George took the young man downstairs to the practice rooms. First he showed the young man the piano room. The young man nodded. “That’s called voicing. She’s just beginning. Her teacher says she has to learn to balance the notes in a chord. I know because I play piano too.”

Then George showed him the violinist’s room, where the poor boy was still trying to make a good sound on his open E. “His bow isn’t straight,” the young man explained. “His teacher sent him down here after only ten minutes of his lesson.”

Then they went to the clarinetists’ room, where the drummer was still hard at work next door as well, though he had changed over to a triangle.

(Fig. 8-9, clarinets 1-2 and triangle)

“My God, what an interesting rhythm! I wonder...I think I can make something of that.” Then, bypassing the brass room, the young man took George to a back staircase, where they went up and listened through a door without opening it. It must have been the back door of the concert hall, for there was the same thing as George had first heard...

(Repeat first two bars)

...the music was still falling apart the same way no matter how they rehearsed...

(Repeat the last two bars before fig. 5, tutti strings)

...the conductor was still yelling that it was out of tune! And no one came by to disturb them.

“Upstairs, come on now,” said the young man. I know a room where I can hide you. It’s my teacher’s office. He has not been pleased with me. He doesn’t understand the music I’ve been writing lately. But come, he is not here anymore today. We will stay tonight and you can show me what to write. A satire on this place. I’ll get even with my teacher, and I’ll get you even with the people who kicked you around.”

And that was what they did! Young Dmitri Shostakovich wrote, and played, and wrote, and played some more, always based on the noises George had heard; and whenever he did something George liked, George would let out a robust “Hu-hu-hu-hu!!” They produced this piece in a day and a night; and then the next morning he set George free outside the conservatory to return to his master.

The rest, as everyone who knows Soviet music recognizes, is history.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the piece written with the aid of Curious George: the Scherzo of Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Symphony.