Friday, August 30, 2019

Success

I decided, for the third (and probably last) time, I guess, that twitter is not for me. The first true downward turn of my stomach happened when I saw a tweet by a twitter-active musician that read (and I paraphrase), "Success is not something that happens. It is something you have to go after." S/he clearly made this tweet without irony. I have never thought of success as something to go after and eventually achieve.

From my vantage point at the beginning of my seventh decade of being a human being, I can only think of spending my time trying to do my best work for the sake of doing the work as well as I can. If I feel that I have done good work on any given day, I have had success. If I have helped a student overcome an obstacle in a lesson, I have had success. If, while practicing, I find a fingering or bowing that works for a difficult passage, I have had success. If I play in a way that I feel expresses the way I want a phrase of music to go, I have had success. If I can accompany a violin or viola student on the piano and give ninety percent of my attention to the student (playing piano is still difficult for me), I have had success.

If I make it through another Haydn quartet with my ensemble of chamber music novices, we have achieved success. If I have solved a problem in a piece I am writing, I have achieved success. If I finish a piece and still like it when the process of writing is done, I have succeeded. If someone enjoys playing something I have written or arranged, I feel honored to have contributed to the possibility of their musical success. If somebody needs a piece of music for a particular ensemble or occasion and I have made it easily available to them, we have all succeeded.

If my students remain excited about music, I have succeeded in teaching them by example. If the musical community in my small and rural corner of the world becomes richer because of the work I do, I have succeeded in my quest to make the musical world I encounter a better place, one note at a time.

Related posts: Ambition, Humility


The Rewind Episode 8: Ben takes us to a 1967 draft card "burn in" at the Arlington Street Church in Boston.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Enigmatic Henri Eccles

"Just you wait, Henri Eccles, just you wait."
This was a household joke thirty-seven-odd years ago, back in the days when my father and his wife, Susan Miron, used to perform their viola and harp transcription of the "Eccles" sonata.

We know very little about Henri Eccles (also known as Henry Eccles). His father, Solomon Eccles (also known as Solomon Eagle), was a violinist and composer who burned all of his compositions when he became a Quaker in order to distance himself from the church music of the middle 17th century. Henri's older brother John (1668-1735) was a composer for the theater in London, and as Master of the Kings Musick he served William III, Queen Anne, and King George I and II.

Henri Eccles, who left London for Paris, published two sets of sonatas for violin and continuo, one in 1720 and the other in 1723. In a 1923 letter to the Musical Times, the British music scholar and critic W. Barclay Squire noted that Eccles appropriated 18 movements of 1720 set from works by Giuseppi Valentini and Francesco Antonio Bonporti.

The G minor Sonata is the eleventh sonata of the 1720 set, and if we take account of Mr. Squire’s observations, it may not have been written by Mr. Eccles. Still, this charming, catchy, and probably pilfered piece of Italian loveliness has remained in the repertoire of violinists, violists, double bass players, and cellists for centuries, making Henri Eccles a household name.

Look at the second movement of this 1713 Bonporti Sonata. Eccles might have supplied the continuo realization (see the link below for the 1720 publication), but he clearly lifted the violin line from Bonporti.



Given this pedigree of pilferage, I had to arrange it for string orchestra. There are copyist errors in the 1720 publication which are pretty easy to spot. It served me well as a basis for this arrangement. I hope that people will enjoy playing it and listening to it.



You can listen to it here, and get the score and parts here.

The music will also be available on this page of the IMSLP.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Peter Maxwell Davies Eight Songs for a Mad King

Peter Maxwell Davies, best known in recent decades for his lovely Farewell to Stromness, used to write music that was far from lovely. It was music that depicted insanity.

I first heard this piece performed at Tanglewood when I was a teenager, and I was able to talk about it (and many other things musical) with the composer. Knowing Max as I did, I believe he would want me to post this video (complete with score) here since we are (and not just those of us living in the US) faced with the presence of a world leader who acts like a mad king.



Here's another fantastic performance of the piece where you can see the masked musicians playing, and you can follow the text with subtitles. You can watch a discussion between Kelvin Thomas and Michael McCarthy about the piece here.

Here's a Wikipedia article about the piece, and, for the sake of comparison, we can see that George III was no match for Trumposaurus Rex (T-Rex!) in the madness department. The current US president even makes Peter the Great look like a statesman.

Ben shares a 1974 interview with a Boston-based suffragette with us

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Unfairness, Competition, and Self-doubt

I really enjoy reading the posts that young musicians put on Reddit. It almost makes up for the lost art of commenting in the blogosphere. The anonymous nature of the posts and replies makes it very different from the other social media forums I know where people discuss musical matters.

Musicians usually do not go onto Reddit looking for praise for the things that they are doing in their musical lives (like they do on Facebook), but many are looking for affirmation of their abilities. Many are young people looking for some kind of support from people outside of their regular musical lives (people other than their peers and teachers). High school can be a competitive musical place. So can college. People are often evaluated unfairly, and everyone is worried about having some kind of future in music, particularly if music is their major.

I remember the unfairness. I remember the competition. I remember the sense of self doubt that permeates during early adulthood and festers throughout later adulthood.

I can't do anything in my adult life about unfairness except to do my best to be fair. And I actually think that competition among students can be a positive thing, so I don't discourage it. Nobody was better, smarter, more fearless, or more imaginative, in my experience, than the musicians I grew up with. I imagine that for most adults nobody looms as large as their contempoary childhood heroes.

When I was young I thought I was the only person who lived with a high degree of self doubt. Everyone at Juilliard seemed confident about how good they were. They talked about it all the time, and they demonstrated it in the way they played. The people who had teachers who berated them rose to the occasion and used the experience as a way to become stronger. I kind of envied those people, because my teacher, Julius Baker, never berated anyone. He also never told me what I needed to do in order to improve. He always said that I needed to find my own way.

When I told my friend Seymour Barab this, he said that he never knew that Julius Baker was such a good teacher. I could not agree. I believe that the job of a teacher of conservatory students is to teach students how to be better at playing their instruments and to help them grow as musicians.

At one point I was considering leaving Juilliard. My friends at Juilliard who had been to regular college seemed so much happier and smarter than I was at the time. My father, having seen my SAT scores, advised me to continue at Juilliard.

One day I asked my teacher if he thought I had any talent. I asked him because he always talked about how talented the other students were, but never seemed to care about what I was doing. The only way I could learn from him was to study the way he played, and try to intuit his thoughts when he taught other students during the lesson time that I thought was meant for me. I had to clear the afternoon to get a lesson, and I spent most of those afternoons listening to other students play.

My teacher's response to my question was, and I can quote, "You will say that Julius Baker gave you the best advice of your life. Go see a psychiatrist."

I took his advice immediately. I hauled myself down to the school's office, and I got a referral to a psychiatrist, one Dr. Richard Kopff (!!!) who saw Juilliard students. I had to have a diagnosis made up so that my father's insurance would cover it, so I was treated under the generic label "anxiety nervosa."

My sessions consisted of me coming in and talking about my teacher not showing up for lessons. Dr. Kopff did ask me about family things occasionally, and, since I was a young person, there was a certain amount of drama in my life to talk about. But I was pretty sure that Dr. Kopff assumed the reason my teacher didn't show up at lessons or teach me was because I didn't have any talent. I know this because I invited Dr. Kopff to come to a recital I played, after which the whole direction of our therapy changed.

I suppose the experience taught me that I did indeed have business staying in music, I didn't need a psychiatrist, and that my teacher's lack of interest in teaching me had nothing to do with my talent or lack of talent. Fortunately, during the course of my therapy (but not as a result of it) I found two friend-teachers (a flutist and a cellist) who were more than willing to make up for my teacher's inadequacy (out of the kindness of their hearts--no money was ever involved).

I believe both of them were "paying forward" musical kindnesses. I know I was extremely fortunate, and I continue to express my gratitude for what they did for me by doing what I can to help other musicians.

I actually have found my own way, but, thanks to Julius Baker, it is as a composer and as a string player who keeps a blog rather than as a flutist. I have found my own way the hard way. I am much happier now than I could ever have imagined being when I was a young adult, but it came as a result of building up my musical life from scratch ten years after graduating from Juilliard.

I did stay in touch with Julius Baker after leaving Juilliard, and I sent a tape of my violin playing to him a year or two after I started playing. He called me up to ask me why I was playing the violin. I explained why, and he said, "But you were such a good flutist." Too little too late, I say.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Leonard Rose and Leonid Hambro in 1951

My friend Danny Morganstern pointed me to this FANTASTIC recital recording from 1951, and now I'm sharing it with you. There's so much to love here.



Beethoven Sonata in D Major, Opus 102, No. 2
Debussy Sonata
Kodály Sonata, Opus 4
Brahms Sonata in F Major, Opus 99

I didn't know the Kodaly (it's not the famous solo sonata), so I enjoyed listening to the score, which you can find here.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Nuit de Vielle



You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP. And you can listen to a computer-generated recording here. The percussive flute sounds on the computer-generated recording are only an approximation. Hopefully I will have a humanly-generated recording to post soon!

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,

l'chaim!

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!