Sunday, February 24, 2019

Training a New Voice

Very early on in my musical life a singer friend told me that she had to build her vocal instrument in much the way a violin maker builds a violin. There are people who are naturally gifted with beautiful voices, but to make a voice project requires serious training. I have always wondered how trans people who sing (and their teachers) deal with the vocal-instrument-specific changes that happen when taking hormones.

I was so happy to find this article by Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The article includes a clip of the Bass-Baritone Lucia Lucas. She trained as a baritone before going through transition, and was able to keep her voice and her career, now dressing up to play male roles. But I imagine that she has her challenges. I'm planning to read her blog, which I'm linking to here and on the sidebar. I found the post she made about how to learn a role efficiently particularly fascinating.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Using a Tablet for Music: 2019 Edition

Nine years ago I wrote a blog post about what I would like to have in an electronic tablet for reading music. You can find the post here. I'm a week into working with my new iPad Pro, and it seems that all my requirements (and more) have been fulfilled. Here's the text of my 2010 post:
I was seriously disappointed when I found that the ipad is not capable of turning the orientation of PDF files (like the ones available on the Werner Icking Music Archive or the Petrucci Library) from landscape to portrait. I also found that it is not possible to conveniently turn pages or even conveniently scroll through music.

I'm not holding my breath, but I'm secretly hoping that some very smart music-loving technical person will eventually develop a mac- and windows-friendly music-reader (wouldn't it be appropriate to call it a "notebook?") that would really work for musicians. It wouldn't have as large a potential buying "audience" as the ipad, but it would help a lot of musicians. This is what my machine would require:

1. A screen that can be viewed clearly under all lighting conditions, including strong stage lights. It would need to have a viewing area that would be at least 8.5 x 11. 9 x 12 would be better. CHECK

2. A button on the lower and/or upper right hand side of the machine that would function as a page-turning button. It would need to go in both directions to account for repeats. CHECK

3. A method for annotation (fingerings and bowings) on the downloaded copy (a stylus, perhaps), and the option to save an annotated copy in an easily-accessible format. CHECK

4. It would have to have a very smart and flexible filing system that could organize sheet music into categories: period, genre, instrumentation, etc.CHECK

5. It would have to be silent, like the ipad. CHECK

6. It would have to have the capacity to do e-mail and send attachments, so there would need to be a functional keyboard--either internal or external (I can't stand to type on the ipad touchscreen). CHECK

7. It would need to have a long battery life and would need to be easily recharged. CHECK

8. It would have to be sturdy, but it would have to be light enough to sit on a music stand. CHECK

9. It would have to be affordable for musicians. CHECK

10. Here's my pie-in-the-sky dream for such a machine: it would work as a scanner as well as a reader (hence the ideal larger screen size). CHECK

Using the Forscore program on my iPad, which I can use in landscape or portrait orientation, I am able to make corrections (in red!) directly on a PDF file, and then I can transfer those corrections into my Finale file. The display is clear, and it is very easy to see the kinds of details that I often miss when working with paper and red pen. Proofing directly in Finale is inadequate because of the tool handles and the colors of the layers.

I have some practical considerations that I would like to share here. I'm only a week into the process, so expect updates!

1. Using a foot pedal to turn pages does have a learning curve. When making a PDF from a Finale (or other notation program) file, it is best to have the ends of the pages in places other than key changes, changes of register, clef changes, and changes of technique (like going from arco to pizzicato).

2. When you use Forscore for playing, the page-turning system doesn't work when the image is blown up to fill the screen completely. Since page margins are not an issue with music that doesn't need to bound, I have reduced my page margins to half an inch (and I guess I could even make them smaller) on either side. I have also increased my page size to as close to 100% as possible, because that makes the notes bigger. And who over the age of 50 doesn't prefer to read larger notes?

3. Use a bold font for fingerings. Maestro 14 point works for me. It does make a difference.

4. Get a soft external case that has a pocket to hold your page-turning foot pedal, so you can keep everything in one place. I even have a little plastic container of AA batteries stuffed in mine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Speech and Music

I have always that a composer's speaking voice has a huge impact on how s/he writes music. I'm so happy to know that I am not alone!

Friday, February 08, 2019

Jack Benny's Bow Arm

I like to share videos of Jack Benny with my students so that they can observe his beautiful bow arm, and so that they can understand that being able to "play" at being a "lousy" violinist takes a great amount of technique.

I love this performance of the Bach Double that he does with Isaac Stern because he knows how to play with questionable taste (articulation, intonation, rhythm, sound quality) while still playing the violin extremely well. I enjoy the points where Benny lapses into good musicianship.

And just look at his bow arm:

I do with I could hear a recording of him playing in a non-comedic situations. If there were recordings it would probably have been worth his while (for professional reasons) to keep them private.

Jack Benny (née Benjamin Kubelsky) was born in Waukegan, Illinois. The Waukegan Historical Society has an excellent timeline that details events in his life. There is an excellent Wikipedia article about him that mentions Otto Graham Sr. as his teacher. I imagine that Benny must have learned that bow arm from Graham.

I recall either reading or watching an interview with the 70-something Jack Benny where he talked about his love of chamber music and about how he spent his time practicing the violin. I wish I could find it somewhere!

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Sanford Sylvan memorials around the blogosphere

I first met Sanford Sylvan when he was a very young man, and I was a teenager. I remember the sound of his gentle speaking voice when he introduced himself to me one afternoon at Tanglewood. I heard him sing later in the week, and became a devoted fan. I have enjoyed hearing him sing in concerts, masterclasses, in stage productions, and on recordings.

Michael we went to a production of "Mother Courage" that was directed by Peter Sellars (at a theater in Boston) for our third date. I was happily surprised to find that Sandy was singing in it. The music for that production was written by Van Dyke Parks, who Michael and I became friends with a couple of decades later.

The musical world is small.

A few people in the musical blogosphere who knew him have been writing posts, so I thought I'd list them here:

Matthew Guerrieri (Soho the Dog) played piano for his masterclasses at the Boston Conservatory, and describes Sandy's clearly professional approach to singing.

Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight) heard him sing when she was in college. She gives a very touching personal tribute.

Alex Ross (The Rest is Noise) didn't know him personally, but heard him sing Die Winterreise (which comes pretty close).

Robert Hurwitz (Nonesuch Records) produced many of his records.

I'm not surprised that so many of the tributes to Sandy include a link to his recording of "The Monk and His Cat" from Samuel Barber's "Hermit Songs." I'll do the same.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Kunc Engraving Triumphs

These two measures from the third movement of the Kunc took me more than an hour to "Finaliaze." (I finished a draft of the second movement last night.) I just thought I'd commemorate this little triumph. I had to use all four layers (black, red, green, and blue), and I had to use all sorts of tools to get everything to fit and look right. And they still need a bit of tweaking . . .

. . . And here they are in context (with a few more corrections):

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Kunc Update!

I'm having a moment of celebration here. The first movement of the Viola Sonata (all 25 pages of it) is now engraved, and I have a PDF file (probably with a few errors) that I would be happy to send to any interested violists. And all violists should be interested . . .

Just send me an email, and I will keep you in the Kunc loop.