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.