Friday, April 03, 2020

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Masks and Small Accomplishments

No matter how jolly the fabric (thank you Jean Petree), or how sturdy the design, these (now washed and hanging to dry) masks that I made give me little in the way of pleasure. Making them was challenging, and I do enjoy a challenge. I used two layers of cotton lawn and two layers of cotton T-shirt material, and made a pocket where we can insert further filters (I hear that vacuum cleaner filters work well). We will certainly use these to go to the grocery store next week, and they are sturdy enough to last during many other (well-spread-out) visits.

Small accomplishments yesterday:

After an on-line lesson with a student with a G-peg stuck on F sharp that wouldn't budge, his mother came for a "drive by" tuning. She handed the case to me through the passenger side of her van. I muscled the peg and tuned the instrument. Then I handed the case back, and she cleaned off the case and the pegs. I washed my hands.

Mission accomplished. Now my student has a chance for a better week of practice.

I finished helping a friend with some preparatory notes for an edition he is working on.

Michael and I finished watching yet another Netflix documentary. This one was "Wild Wild Country," and we both recommend it highly. Watching documentaries about insanity from the past can temporarily take our minds off the insanity of the present.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

April Fool from Four Spring Dances for Two Violins

In celebration of the day . . . [the music is from 2011, but the video is new]

Monday, March 30, 2020

Viola Quote of the Day (from Monkey Business)

Groucho : Ah, 'tis midsummer madness, the music is in my temples, the hot blood of youth! Come, Kapellmeister, let the violas throb. My regiment leaves at dawn!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 Finale for String Sextet

[click for a larger view]

A friend in Italy who lost his father to the Coronavirus asked me to arrange the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6, his father's favorite piece, for string sextet.

Working on it has been quite an emotional experience for me, and I hope that having this arrangement helps my friend and his mother in their grief. Not being able to grieve in conventional ways is one of the many tragic consequences of this pandemic. This movement of this particular piece sings of the essence of what we are all living through now. Remember that Tchaikovsky wrote this symphony during the cholera pandemic (1881-1896), and he didn't live to hear the premiere.

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP, and you can also find it here.

If you would like to listen to a computer-generated midi (it is rudimentary, and some of the tempo changes didn't make it through) you can listen here.

Does anyone reading this have skills to put together a video of six people playing this from their different places in isolation?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Augustin Hadelich, Augustin Hadelich, and Sergei Rachmaninoff

Berl Senofsky told me the story of the time, as a boy, he was having a lesson in New York with Ivan Galamian on the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, and it happened that Rachmaninoff was in the building. Rachmaninoff knocked on the door and asked if he could play it with Berl. Rachmaninoff wanted to play it over and over again, and he told Berl and Galamian that it was his favorite piece.

This absolutely amazing reading reminds me of what it might have been like to have been in that room with Rachmaninoff at that time. Thank you Augustin for letting us into your room, at this time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Ode to Joy in this time of social distancing

You can find more music played by members of the Colorado Symphony in isolation on their YouTube channel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Family Twitter Fame

The other day I saw a post on Twitter by a person who was trying to help her child with some Kindergarten schoolwork. Since school is closed now because of the virus, parents are trying to keep their kids up to speed at home. Kindergarten work should be child's play, right?

Not true at all.

I was curious about what the worksheet was trying to teach, so I sent the tweet to our daughter, who is a Kindergarten teacher. She figured it out instantly. She didn't have to think about it twice. Her Twitter account is private, so her response couldn't be read by the person posing the problem. A few hours (and a few dozen confused answers) later, I thought it might be a good idea to share Rachel's answer, which I quoted from her private tweet.

During the next day or two we watched the response get dozens, and then hundreds of "likes", and then the number of "likes" reached 1,600!

[I refuse to use that "v" word to describe what was happening.]

And now the whole discussion has made it to a post on Distractify. "Twitter user Elaine" is me.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Beethoven Berg Quartet Project

Of all the things I miss by not being able to interact with people outside of my household during this time of social distancing (or perhaps it is better to call it "physical distancing"), there is nothing I miss more than playing chamber music with people. My March and April schedules were so full of chamber music and orchestral music that I wondered how I could possibly make it through without getting some kind of physical injury.

So here we are.

Practicing solo Bach is fine. Learning new music and playing etudes is fine, but playing by myself isn't stimulating and life affirming for me the way playing chamber music is.

In February Michael decided to listen to the Guarneri Quartet recording of the Beethoven Quartets he bought many years ago. I enjoyed listening to some of the quartets with him, and I enjoyed talking with him about the quartets that he listened to by himself. The Beethoven Quartets are old and true friends.

So, in anticipation of a time when it will be possible to play chamber music again, I decided to learn the first violin parts of all the Beethoven Quartets. I have studied and played the viola parts (though that was many years ago), but I have never thought of trying my hand(s) at the violin parts. Yesterday I looked at Opus 18, No. 1, today I looked at Opus 18, No. 2.

Then I got out my portable CD player, plugged in some headphones, and played the first violin part along with the Alban Berg Quartet. Aside from glossing over the difficult fast passages in the Scherzos of both quartets (which will require a lot of dedicated practice with the metronome), I found playing along with the recording to be a rewarding experience.

I have listened to many Beethoven Quartet cycles, and I find the Alban Berg Quartet's interpretations to be in exact accord with the way I would want to play them.

I think that this is an appropriate way to celebrate the Beethoven Year, and it gives a little bit more structure to my musical day.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


This post has nothing to do with music (unless you think of that old saw that refers to beans as the musical fruit). Don't tell me that it didn't just cross your mind before reading between the parentheses in that first sentence.

Anyway, this is a bit of practical advice appropriate for times like these when it is wise to keep dried beans around. Dried beans keep for years, and they take up less than half the space of canned beans. I think that they taste better because I can control the amount and kind of salt that I use to bring out their flavor.

That's our current stash above. I was shocked to see that we no longer have lentils! (I wrote them on the list for the shopping trip we are planning to take next week.)

I used to be deeply puzzled by the amount of time it took for beans to cook. Cookbooks would say to soak beans overnight and boil them for an hour, but I had to boil them for three hours. I tried using unsalted water, and I tried salting the water. Salting the water would help, but the beans would still come out tough, even after three hours.

I learned that our water is hard (i.e. it tastes good and has a high mineral content), so one fine day a few years ago I tried putting a little bit of baking soda (just a pinch) in the water to balance out the Ph before cooking beans, and VOILA! The beans cooked perfectly!

I hope that this solves your difficulties cooking beans if you have hard water!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Difficult Times

I have spent the last week being productive: practicing, writing music, and trying, within the confines of my home, punctuated by walks in the neighborhood, always keeping distance from any other souls (aside from Michael, my walking companion), to keep things as normal as possible. I have had some success teaching my students via FaceTime, and I'm hoping that they can use the time they have away from school and schedules to practice. They may even make progress, since practicing is the way to do it.

I started one of my violin students on a Kreisler piece, and decided last night that it might be a good idea to use this time to finally learn all the Kreisler pieces I have always wanted to master. Since I didn't go through a traditional path of violin study, a pandemic crisis is as good a time as any to fill in the gaps in my repertoire.

I had high hopes for today, and even made a list of things to do, like cleaning the house. I don't think that's going to happen today. And I think that my practicing is mostly going to be medicinal, to try to maintain sanity and provide temporary respite from fear.

I started the week thinking I might be making lemonade, and am ending the week finding solace in the fact that we are pretty well stocked-up on alcohol (which we will drink sparingly but regularly).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Saprophyte String Quartet Project

I have always been interested in fungi (who isn't?), and thinking about honoring fungi in musical ways (as I have mentioned in previous posts) has been overwhelming because of the variety to consider! Who could choose even a few favorites? I finally decided to write a set of pieces for string quartet in honor of the whole realm of fungi.

In this time of staying inside I might try my hand at making a YouTube video with photographs of some of these amazing organisms to go along with the music, but for now I have put score, parts, and an audio file on this page of my Thematic Catalog, which links to a dropbox folder and an entry in the IMSLP.

Those in the string quartet "know" will understand immediately the source of this particular "decomposition." I am, of course, not the first to have used it for "nourishment."

You can listen here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Texas Women's University Virtual Orchestra 2020 Plays Florence Price

Sam Flippin, the orchestra director at Texas Women's University, is inviting string players from everywhere and anywhere to join in a virtual orchestra project. He has chosen my transcription of Florence Price’s "Adoration" as his first piece.

If you would like to participate, please go to this website. On this page Sam has parts marked with bowings, and a video of him conducting.

I'm very excited to hear how this all comes together!

St. Patrick's Day Concert (that isn't happening)

I feel so sad that we are not playing this concert tonight. I'm very proud of the poster I made for it, so I'm sharing it here.

We have spent the past several months rehearsing carefully, and we were excited about celebrating St. Patrick's Day with music. There are recordings of these pieces that can be found on YouTube or in the IMSLP (for members). I'm sharing the program here so, if you want to, you can add music from the program to your private celebrations of things Irish at home.

Not everything is purely Irish, of course. McEwen was a Scottsman, and Bantock, though he used an Irish song and an Irish jig as the material for the last movement of his viola sonata, was English. But Stanford was Irish, and so was Field.

We will play the program at some time in the future. Hopefully we won't have to wait a year to do it.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Giant Chorus of Solo Bach

I vividly remember the first few minutes after giving birth to our daughter. I felt a momentary sense sisterhood with all mothers, everywhere, and through all time. Even across species.

Other times when I have felt profound connections to people I did not know have been observing natural wonders, like a sudden rainstorm in a city, or a rainbow, or experiencing music together as part of an audience.

But for the next few weeks I intend to savor my connection with other musicians, urban and rural, accomplished and aspiring, famous and not known at all, as part of a giant chorus of solo Bach, played on all instruments, in every country, and at all times of day and night.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sickness, Limbo, and Amazing Grace

Last Saturday my friend Ken Greider died of brain cancer, and yesterday I played this arrangement of Amazing Grace at his memorial service. Ken, the grandfather of one of my students, went above and beyond all conventional measures to support his second grade granddaughter's violin habit. He listened to her practice, gave her excellent instruments, gifted her with nifty violin accessories, and took her to concerts. He built her a music stand, and then, one day, he built one for me.

It's the music stand I use every day to practice. I just now took all the music off so that I could take these pictures and share them here:

Yesterday afternoon there weren't any reports of Coronavirus in our part of the state, so I felt fine about playing for the memorial service. I still did my best to keep physical distance from people, which is very difficult in a memorial service. I played a couple of pieces with my student that I arranged for violin and viola, and I played this arrangement of Amazing Grace that I made for the occasion (and am sharing here for other people to play).

You can find it in PDF form this page of the IMSLP.

In the evening, shortly after the memorial service, Michael and I played for Shabbat services, and I said Kaddish for Ken. It was a very lovely community/musical experience.

This morning we learned that someone had tested positive with Coronavirus in the local hospital last night.

The schools and universities in Illinois are closed now, all my orchestras have prematurely ended their seasons, and the St. Patrick's Day concert I was planning to play with John David is cancelled. Rehearsals for all my ensembles will have to wait for a time when we know we are all safe from the virus. Thank goodness I can give my students their lessons using FaceTime. I am hoping that they will use their time off from school to do some good practicing.

Even though there isn't a concert to play on Tuesday, I still have scales, etudes, and music to practice. And I know that there will be a time in the future when life, musical and otherwise, will return to normal. In the meantime there are books to read, movies to watch, blog posts to write, and I have a new piece in the works (and time to work on it). I also have excellent company here at home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Stand Hand Stickers for Hand Sanitizer

I found a small bottle with a screw cap in my medicine cabinet to fill with hand sanitizer, and used "stand hand" labels to cover the bottle's old label. I then protected the whole thing with clear packing tape.

You can find a PDF of these hands to print here.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Encountering David Diamond Once Again

In the first semester of my second year at Juilliard I took a class with David Diamond that was devoted to studying fugues. It was 1977, and I was at the impressionable age of eighteen. David Diamond was sixty-two, and he was considered old-fashioned at the time since his music was diatonic and tonal. I thought he was really interesting, and I used to talk to him (or, rather, listen to what he wanted to say to me), even though my flute teacher thought he was crazy,

He told me about his mother being Emma Goldman's seamstress.

(I had to go to the library and find out who Emma Goldman was)

He must have told me other things, but what sticks out most in my mind (aside from the stories in this blogpost) was his vehement recommendation that I read Cyril Scott's Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages.

The book was in the Juilliard library, and I read it immediately. Part I discusses the problems of musicality, pure music, inspiration, and invention. Part II has discussions about Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin (one chapter called "the Apostle of Refinement," and another called "Chopin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Emancipation of Women"), Schumann, Wagner, and Strauss.

Then we get to Part III: ESOTERIC CONSIDERATIONS--THE MUSIC OF THE DEVA OR NATURE SPIRIT EVOLUTION. The chapters in this section are about musicians and the higher powers, the occult constitution of man, Franck, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Delius, Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin ("a Deva-exponent"), the "hyper-moderns," Moussorgsky and the Sublimation of Ugliness, and popular music.

Part IV is labeled "Historical." Here we get opinions on the music of India, Ancient Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Folksong, Polyphony, the Reformation, and the section culminates with "A cursory View of the Musical Effects in England from the Pre-Elizabethan Days to those of Handel.

Part V: SOME OCCULT PROGNOSTICATIONS has a single chapter that is aptly called "The Music of the Future."

Last night I got to perform David Diamond's Rounds for String Orchestra. The recording below is not of my orchestra, but it is what our performance of this piece aspired to be.

The first time I read through the viola part I noticed that the main subject of the piece (you can hear it seventeen seconds into the above recording) is very similar to the 1926 hit song, "Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise."

A few months ago Michael and I were watching a documentary about Louise Brooks that was on a DVD of one of her movies. It's not this one, but I'm leaving it here anyway (for people reading this who don't know who Louise Brooks is, and for me to watch later).

The documentary we saw had an interview with David Diamond, who knew Louise Brooks well. If I noticed the resemblance between the subject of the Rounds and the melody of "Louise," David Diamond certainly would have noticed (while he was writing the piece). Homage, perhaps?

This morning I went searching around the internets to see if I could find more about David Diamond, and I came across a tribute to him in the MacDowell Colony newsletter, where they have reprinted a story that he told there in 1991. After reading this story I now understand David Diamond's personal fascination with the Cyril Scott book.

Odd musical (or hyper musical) forces might have been in place that fall semester of 1977 that would allow me the honor of being a kind of spokesperson for Diamond in 2020 (both in my musical community and on this blog). Or, then again, I might have been the only person to go to the library and actually read the book he recommended.

Here's David Diamond's story:
[click on the image for a larger view]

Thursday, March 05, 2020

A True American Hero (who is, thankfully, not going away)

Unless you want to wait through 50+ minutes with the people waiting for Elizabeth Warren to come home (I believe they are set up at her home in Cambridge), scroll towards the end. Thank you, Elizabeth Warren. I feel so sad that I won't be able to cast my vote for you in the 2020 election.

And here's the email message that she sent to her supporters today:

I’m going to start with the news. I wanted you to hear it straight from me: today, I’m suspending our campaign for president.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have poured into this campaign.

I know that when we set out, this was not the news you ever wanted to hear. It is not the news I ever wanted to share. But I refuse to let disappointment blind me — or you — to what we’ve accomplished. We didn’t reach our goal, but what we have done together — what you have done — has made a lasting difference. It’s not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters — and the changes will have ripples for years to come.

What we have done — and the ideas we have launched into the world, the way we have fought this fight, the relationships we have built — will carry through for the rest of this election, and the one after that, and the one after that.

So think about it:

We have shown that it is possible to build a grassroots movement that is accountable to supporters and activists and not to wealthy donors — and to do it fast enough for a first-time candidate to build a viable campaign. Never again can anyone say that the only way that a newcomer can get a chance to be a plausible candidate is to take money from corporate executives and billionaires. That’s done.

We have shown that it is possible to inspire people with big ideas, possible to call out what’s wrong and to lay out a path to make this country live up to its promise.

We have shown that race and justice — economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, criminal justice — are not an afterthought, but are at the heart of everything that we do.

We have shown that a woman can stand up, hold her ground, and stay true to herself — no matter what.

We have shown that we can build plans in collaboration with the people who are most affected.

This campaign became something special, and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of you. I am so proud of how you fought this fight alongside me: you fought it with empathy and kindness and generosity — and of course, with enormous passion and grit.

Some of you may remember that long before I got into electoral politics, I was asked if I would accept a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was weak and toothless. And I replied that my first choice was a consumer agency that could get real stuff done, and my second choice was no agency and lots of blood and teeth left on the floor. In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor. I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election.

And we did all of this without selling access for money. Together, you and 1,250,000 people gave more than $112 million dollars to support this campaign. And we did it without selling one minute of my time to the highest bidder. People said that would be impossible. But you did that.

Together, we built a grassroots campaign that had some of the most ambitious organizing targets ever — and then we turned around and surpassed them.

Our staff and volunteers on the ground knocked on over 22 million doors across the country. We made 20 million phone calls and sent more than 42 million texts to voters. That’s truly astonishing. It is.

We also advocated for fixing our rigged system in a way that will make it work better for everyone.

A year ago, people weren’t talking about a two-cent wealth tax, Universal Child Care, cancelling student loan debt for 43 million Americans while reducing the racial wealth gap, breaking up big tech, or expanding Social Security. And now they are. And because we did the work of building broad support for all of those ideas across this country, these changes could actually be implemented by the next president.

A year ago, people weren’t talking about corruption, and they still aren’t talking about it enough — but we’ve moved the needle, and a hunk of our anti-corruption plan is already embedded in a House bill that is ready to go when we get a Democratic Senate.

And we also did it by having fun and by staying true to ourselves. We ran from the heart. We ran on our values. We ran on treating everyone with respect and dignity. But it was so much more. Four-hour selfie lines and pinky promises with little girls. A wedding at one of our town halls. And we were joyful and positive through all of it. We ran a campaign not to put people down, but to lift them up — and I loved pretty much every minute of it.

I may not be in the race for president in 2020, but this fight — our fight — is not over. And our place in this fight has not ended.

Because for every young person who is drowning in student debt, for every family struggling to pay the bills on two incomes, for every mom worried about paying for prescriptions or putting food on the table, this fight goes on.

For every immigrant and African American and Muslim and Jewish person and Latinx and transwoman who sees the rise in attacks on people who look or sound or worship like them, this fight goes on.

For every person alarmed by the speed with which climate change is bearing down upon us, this fight goes on.

And for every American who desperately wants to see our nation healed and some decency and honor restored to our government, this fight goes on.

When I voted on Tuesday at the elementary school down the street, a mom came up to me. She said she has two small children, and they have a nightly ritual. After the kids have brushed teeth and read books and gotten that last sip of water and done all the other bedtime routines, they do one last thing before the two little ones go to sleep: Mama leans over them and whispers, “Dream big.” And the children together reply, “Fight hard.”

So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: Choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist.

You should be so proud of what we’ve done together — what you have done over this past year.

Our work continues, the fight goes on, and big dreams never die.

Thanks for being a part of this,


Sunday, March 01, 2020

Robertson Davies talks about critics

I appreciate this because I love Robertson Davies's work, and am happy to no longer work as a critic. What Davies says about literary critics applies in the musical sphere as well.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Duo Mycorrhizae

I just learned that the Maine-based violin duo with the fantastic name of "Duo Mycorrhizae" will be playing a piece of mine on a couple of concerts in March and April. I haven't (yet) written any music based on fungi, but I have written a set of violin duets concerning different kinds of trees.

But ideas about the behavior of these nifty life forms are mushrooming in my brain. There is suddenly so much to explore!

Even though it is no longer classified as a fungus (kind of like Pluto not being classified as a planet, I guess), I will have to include a musical portrait of slime mold. I remember when I found some in the yard, and spent a wonderful afternoon at the university library going through the botany books with our (then maybe seven-year-old) son, and being fascinated. It was before the internets . . .

. . . where I'm about to go to learn more about mycorrhizae.

Dan Meier explains everything that's wrong with classical music streaming

Organizing recordings into a functional library is difficult. I remember noticing that WCRB-FM (outside of Boston) organized their LPs by record label and by the number on the label. That was in the 1970s when there were relatively few record labels around. I maintained a record library when I worked at WEIU-FM, and I had to expand it to include CDs, which required a lot of thought.

Fortunately I was only responsible for organizing the "classical" music. Recordings that were not "classical" fell under genres that were often student-generated. And new "genres" of music were being coined right and left. The "artist" was always singular. Jazz was divided into all sorts of categories, none of which made complete sense to me.

When iTunes came out with its fields to classify music, the organizing system look like something created by former college radio DJs. When I noticed that there wasn't a field for "composer," I smelled trouble.

Dan Meier has a piece on Medium that follows that smell, and leads us into the woes of trying to learn more about "classical" music through the devices that claim to make all things possible.

You can find it here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ethel Barns music for violin in the first position

To aid in the search for music written by women to offer to young (or adult starter) violinists, here's an example of some lovely and expressive music by Ethel Barns. It's part of a collection of eight pieces written to be played in the first position:

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP. It is the first part of a two-volume set. I'm hoping that someone will add the second volume in the near future.

The pieces in the first volume also work nicely for violists who are comfortable playing in fifth position. I like the fact that the piano parts are "string-teacher" easy.

Barns also wrote difficult violin music that you can find on this page of the IMSLP. I check back from time to time to see the new (old) Barns gems that people have added to her page.

You can learn more about Ethel Barns here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Recommending music to young musicians

Anybody who participates in musical life knows that young people are the future of music. And it is important for those of us who are of a certain age to share what we have learned. There are, of course, young people who seem not to care what the "boomer" generation has to offer, but there are young people who do care.

During Women's History and Awareness Month this March, when a young person asks either in person or in an online forum about repertoire to learn, I plan to suggest something technique-appropriate written by a women. I might even continue the practice after the month of March.

You can do this too. If you don't have ready answers, you can make a point of educating yourself (there are many resources, particularly online).

If you teach, doing this will certainly make you a better teacher.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Teaching violin through FaceTime or Skype

There's a nice article in today's New York Times where a teacher and a student who is unable to leave his home in China because he is infected with the Coronavirus have made the best of the situation.

I found the premise of the article interesting, but then I realized that the whole relationship that this student has to his teacher, who lives in America, is conducted by way of Skype, so the only really unusual thing here is that he has nothing to do but practice!

The roads here in rural Illinois were icy yesterday, so I taught my first ever lesson by way of FaceTime last night. I set myself up: I put my iPad on a music stand in exactly the same place where my student would stand, and had another music stand with her music next to me. It surprised me that we could actually work on basic things like fingerings and rhythm, and I found that I could still figure out what was going on in my student's mind to cause some of her difficulties.

(I find it interesting that when playing in an unfamiliar position on the violin or the viola that rhythmic confidence tends to suffer. My solution? Learn to play challenging rhythms in familiar positions so that there is "head space" for counting.)

This student is smart, fairly advanced, and has a great ear for intonation and sound quality. The sound quality that came out of her iPhone and into my iPad was not always beautiful, but I knew that the lack of beauty had to do with the means of transmission and not because of her sound production. If our relationship was entirely electronic, I would really have no way of knowing much about the quality of her sound, unless both of us had professional sound equipment.

Also, there was a time delay that popped in here and there, and the sound would drop out occasionally for a note or two. The relationship of the bow and the fingers to the notes I heard was not exact. Teaching string instruments properly, in my opinion, has everything to do with the exact relationship of bow and the fingers. There would be no way I could work on that aspect of playing with a student via FaceTime. I like to comment when something is being done correctly while a student is playing, and my students are used to this. With the time delay in the computer connection it just isn't possible, and when I said something this student would stop playing.

But nobody got hurt in the ice, and we can both appreciate the fact that next week looks clear, and that we can have our next lesson in real time and space.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

2020 Democratic Candidates as New Music Piano Pieces

Christopher Cerrone put this list on Twitter, and I'm sharing it here with my own selected representative links, in case some of these pieces may be unfamiliar. I chose ad-free YouTube links, so you will be able to understand the relationship of the candidate to the piece immediately. Ultimately, this ends up being a darn good set of contemporary piano pieces!

Bernie Sanders: Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Elizabeth Warren: György Ligeti's Etudes

Pete Buttigieg: Nikolai Kapustin's Concert Etudes

Joe Biden: Carl Vine's Piano Sonatas

Amy Klobuchar: Paul Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis

Andrew Yang: Hans Otte's Das Buch der Klänge

Tom Steyer: Ann Southam's Simple Lines of Enquiry

Mike Bloomberg: Kaikosru Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum

Maryanne Williamson: La Monte Young's The Well Tuned Piano

Tulsi Gabbard: Galina Ustovlskaya's Sonata No. 6

A teachable moment (who is teaching whom?)

I was explaining to a nine-year-old student why the f-holes are shaped the way they are, and how the vibrating air inside the violin makes the four "tongues" vibrate and helps the sound project.

His response: “Like the four chambers of the heart!”

Monday, February 03, 2020

Haydn's Sweet Homage to Mozart

The Mozart G minor Piano Quartet was on the radio at lunchtime today. Michael recognized the theme immediately from a Haydn "London" Trio that I used to play on the baroque flute some thirty-odd years ago. This seems to be a case of Haydn paying homage to his late friend Mozart.

Here's the last movement of the Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, written in 1785:

Here's the last movement of the Haydn "London" Trio #1 in C major, Hob. IV:1, written in 1794 (it should start at 6:57):

Here's the Mozart:

Here's the Haydn:

Friday, January 31, 2020

All things Haydn

I will definitely be spending a lot of time here!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Ravel Kaddish performance at the European Union yesterday

This is a video from yesterday’s performance of my voice and string quartet arrangement of the Ravel Kaddish performed by mezzo soprano Naomi Couquet and the Karski Quartet.

Here's a link to the arrangement, which is in the IMSLP.

Monday, January 27, 2020

When Psyche Sings

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Joel Kroeker's Jungian Music Psychotherapy: When Psyche Sings from the new books shelf of my local university library. Joel Kroeker, who came to be a Jungian psychotherapist after studying music composition in college, working as a singer-songwriter in various fields (pop, rock, and folk), and studying ethnomusicology and its meditative components, has written an engaging and useful book. The book seems to be aimed at an audience of readers in the psychoanalytic field who may or may not be musical, but because of its thoughtful and clear explanations about the way music works, I imagine that musicians like me who know little about psychotherapy would find it enjoyable.

I don't have a background in psychotherapy, but I did cut my teenage teeth on Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections (the link goes to the full text in the Internet Archive), digesting every bit. Since my teenage years were filled with around ninety percent music and ten percent everything else, I always imagined that Jung's explorations and explanations had everything to do with music, even though I now understand that he was not particularly musical. Still, there was something about Jung's symbolic approach to the world that particularly resonated with the mixture of know-it-all-ness and overwhelming confusion that accompanied me every day as I went about my teenage business.

My esteem for him in adulthood has fallen a bit, particularly when I consider his feelings about polyphonic music:
One evening I can still remember it precisely I was sitting by the fireplace and had put a big kettle on the fire to make hot water for washing up. The water began to boil and the kettle to sing. It sounded like many voices, or stringed instruments, or even like a whole orchestra. It was just like polyphonic music, which in reality I cannot abide, though in this case it seemed to me peculiarly interesting. It was as though there were one orchestra inside the Tower and another one outside. Now one dominated, now the other, as though they were responding to each other, I sat and listened, fascinated. For far more than an hour I listened to the concert, to this natural melody. It was soft music, containing, as well, all the discords of nature. And that was right, for nature is not only harmonious; she is also dreadfully contradictory and chaotic. The music was that way too: an out-pouring of sounds, having the quality of water and of wind so strange that it is simply impossible to describe it.

The field of music therapy was young when I was a teenager. My mother studied music therapy at Emerson College during the early 1970s, but she must have found it unfulfilling because she didn't continue. I suppose that her loss of interest in the field might have been one of the reasons I didn't think about music therapy for decades. But the field of music therapy has really blossomed in the twenty-first century, and the incorporation of music in therapy sessions, Jungian or otherwise, seems totally natural and totally appropriate.

Kroeker's sixth chapter attempts to answer that age-old question, "what is music?" He comes up with brilliant and entertaining analogies, and approaches the question from the standpoint of a practicing musician, a composer, an ethnomusicologist, and a therapist who uses music in his practice as a way of helping his patients find out truths about themselves. Here's a striking example his own encounter with some of the mysteries of music:
Sometimes one person's prayer can be another person's music. In 2008 I travelled to India and spent some time under the Bodhi tree in Bodhugaya, where the Guatama Budda is said to have attained enlightenment. I remember ducking into a nearby monastery to escape the searing Indian sun and chancing upon a group of Tibetan monks in full regalia filing in to perform a puja ceremony. They entered the enormous silent shrine room just as I slipped in through the heavy wooden doors and arranged their exotic instruments on low tables in front of them in a row. I was still a bit dazed from the heat, and, as they began their continuous flow of rich throaty chanting, I was transported to a place outside of time. I had been practicing in the Kagyu and Hyingma traditions for many years at that point, so I was familiar with some of the cultural forms, but then something happened that was completely beyond expectation. It suddenly occurred to me that they were singing in four-part harmony. There was a low fundamental pitch much deeper than my own voice could go and a clean high sonority that soared above like an eagle. In the middle, I heard inner harmonies that were changing rhythmically. I tried to place this in the realm of other sounds I had heard. I thought of the Sardinian Tenores di bitti and Georgian polyphonic singing and a combination of Gregorian chant with the Mennonite choral music of my childhood. But something about this experience was un-categorizable. This was simply a new experience and I had no words of thoughts that could make it make sense, so my mind went blank. I returned the next day with my camera in hopes of secretly recording a few minutes of this ecstatic music, like an undercover ethnomusicologist from previous generations, but no luck, the monks did not re-appear.
Those of us who teach students to play or sing know that we often end up acting as untrained psychologists during our lessons. I have come to understand, partially through reading this book, that teaching a person to play well is almost the opposite of doing the work of psychoanalysis.

On page 128 of the book Kroeker completes the statement that serves as the subtitle of the book (as well as the title of this blog post), "When psyche sings, she sings exactly what she means." I know that my students are incapable of "singing" what they mean unless they know exactly what their bodies (hands and arms) must do to assure that a phrase can sound the way a student (or a teacher) wants it to sound. A string player, for example, can't say what he or she means musically if their bow arm is uncomfortable, or they are unable to shift to the right pitch and make the sound they want to make. Our jobs as teachers involve showing our students the "how" of musical expression so that they can do it when we are not there to remind them what to do. Our job is also to teach them to identify when they are indeed "saying what they mean" musically.

It is a far easier task, as far as I'm concerned, than the work of a psychoanalyst. But being able to express yourself musically can be extremely empowering.

I applaud Kroeker's work, and recommend this book. You can get it on Amazon.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Old school? Or maybe just old . . .

A friend sent me an email about a music-writing project she found on "Indeed" that she thought might interest me. The project did look interesting, so I applied. I did it mostly out of respect for my friend's thoughtfulness, and will most likely be considered too old (or too old school) for the project.

The application required a resume. I had to search for one on my computer. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I hadn't updated my resume since 2005.

That's fifteen years.

I used the Wikipedia entry about me that appeared on line a few years ago to add some chronological information to a document that included work I did in the 1980s, and then, with the press of a button, I sent off the application.

The application didn’t have a way to submit a cover letter, and there wasn't a way to attach musical samples, but I did need to answer questions about my gender, my race, my status as a veteran, and whether I consider myself to be disabled.

After sending in the application I devoted a few hours to updating my resume further, and now I have a spiffy resume that can sit around for another fifteen years!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My Ravel Kaddish arrangement will be played (again) at the European Parliament for International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020

I just learned that my voice and string quartet arrangement of the Ravel Kaddish will be performed by mezzo soprano Naomi Couquet and the Karski Quartet at the European Parliament for this year's International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 29.

Last year it was performed at 3:00 in the afternoon (I imagine it is Brussels time).

Here's a link to the arrangement, which is in the IMSLP.

Here's a link to a post with the performance!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Analog Viola and Piano Concert: Müller and Bowen

I have been using my iPad and ForScore exclusively for practicing and rehearsing the music for this concert, but, while figuring out ways to work out some of the many problematic passages in this program, I decided yesterday to practice these pieces on paper printouts of my ForScore files. It is very easy to export annotated PDF files to a computer, and then print them out. I am using parts that I made in Finale, so I can adjust the spacings and page turns to work with paper as well as with a foot pedal. Moving difficult passages to different places on the page (or the "page") can help me to look at them from a different angle. Literally.

Playing music through a single window, so you can only see one page at a time, is just not as satisfying for me as playing it from a two-page spread. After months of working on this program, it was only after seeing the music two pages at a time this morning that I fully understood the structure of these pieces. Having developed "eyes that hear and ears that see," I find the physical layout of a piece of music is very important to the experience that I have playing it. When passages are cramped on the page, I tend to play with more physical tension. When music is too small on the page I tend to be less inclined to use large amounts of bow when the music requires it.

If you happen to be in the area, you are, oh friendly reader, welcome to come to the concert.

You can read a post I wrote about the little-known Müller piece and its composer here.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Beethoven Sonatine WoO 44a transcription

In honor of the Beethoven 250th birthday year I made two new transcriptions of the Sonatine WoO 44a that the young Beethoven wrote for mandolin and harpsichord. I was surprised to see that Van Magazine listed it as number five on their list of Beethoven's ten worst pieces. While I agree with their other nine choices, this charming little Sonatine has always held a special place in my heart.

I made a transcription of it a couple of years ago for our Summer Strings orchestra, and it was a real favorite (people referred to it as "Woo"). Because of this recent ranking, I decided to re-work the Sonatine as a piano trio in two versions: one for typical piano trio (violin, cello, and piano), and one for violin, viola, and piano, so that non-mandolin-playing people who don't have a string orchestra at hand can play it as a piece of chamber music.

The music is available on this page of the IMSLP, and in the meanwhile you can listen to a computer-generated recording of the violin, viola, and piano version here.

Musicological errors and false tales regarding Falsobordone and the Miserere of Allegri

I'll be spending my on-line time avoiding the news by watching more videos on the Early Music Sources YouTube channel.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Analog Attempts

I stopped wearing a watch when the last of my watch batteries gave out a couple of years ago. But today, in an attempt to live life in a more analog way, I thought it might be nice to get my watch battery replaced while Michael and I were on a grocery-shopping trip to Walmart. There was nobody at the jewelry counter, so a nice associate who was walking by summoned someone to help me. The summoned person referred to herself as "just a case opener," and said that she had never changed a watch battery before. We were off on an adventure together.

Finding the right battery was hard. The printing on the back of the watch that showed the battery size was so small that I had to take a picture of the watch back with my phone and enlarge it. There wasn't a battery that size in the jewelry area, but my "case opener" remembered that someone told her about watch batteries being in a battery display elsewhere in the store.

I suggested to Michael that he do the shopping while the "case opener" and I went off in search of a #1216 battery. The shopping list I made was in my little black Moleskine, so Michael took a picture of it using his phone.

We found the battery! Then we went back to the jewelry counter, and my "case opener" started looking for tools. She had no idea what she was looking for. I spied a "watch case opening" tool for sale (under the batteries that were not my size), and my "case opener" looked in her toolbox to see if she had anything like it. She did not.

I figured I could just buy the tool and the battery and do the deed at home myself. The back of the tool package had directions, but they basically said to use the flat end of the tool to pry open the watch case. The directions did not mention anything about what to do with the other parts of the tool, like the two screws and other features that made it more than a thing with a flat knife blade. I used my phone to search and see if I could find this tool on line. I couldn't find it. Not even on the Walmart website.

I bought the battery, came home, and used a little screwdriver in my desk drawer to open the back of the watch. I replaced the battery and used a wrench and a pair of pliers (at the same time--one on each side of the watch case) to snap the back on the watch. It took five analog minutes to change the battery, but my quest required picking up my phone more times than I really wanted to.

Now I don't need to dig my phone out of my bag when I want to see what time it is.

And now it's time to get ready to teach . . .

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Gottfried van Swieten, a person I would like to have known

In my wonderings about Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets, and the relationship that Mozart and Haydn had in Vienna, I have been thinking about Gottfried van Swieten. Baron Gottfried van Swieten was the son of Gerhard van Swieten, Empress Maria Theresa's private physician, who also held the position of director of the court library in Vienna.

Gottfried had a career as a diplomat, and spent seven years (1770-1777) in Berlin working as an ambassador for Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia. While he was at Frederick's court, van Swieten spent a good deal of time studying music. He had the great fortune to study with a student of J.S. Bach.

By the late 1770s Frederick's interest in music had waned considerably. I sometimes wonder if Frederick might have given van Swieten his music library when van Sweeten left for Vienna in 1777. We know from a letter Mozart wrote to his father in 1782 that the Baron invited Haydn and Mozart to his home every week to play manuscripts of music by Handel, J.S. Bach, and Bach's sons.

The historical record is sparse, but the musical record is rich. The Haydn Quartet Opus 20, no. 2 has material in it that sounds strikingly baroque, and three of the Opus 20 Quartets have fugues as their last movements. I wonder if Haydn and van Swieten might have know one another during the early 1770s, and I wonder whether Haydn, who was a well-known composer, might have been introduced to J.S. Bach's unpublished music by van Swieten earlier than the historical record shows.

When van Swieten returned to Vienna in 1777 he took over his late father's position as court librarian. And then he invented the card catalog.

Yes. The card catalog!

But he is best know as an important patron of contemporary composers like Gluck, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven (Beethoven dedicated his First Symphony to van Swieten). Van Swieten also supported revivals of out-of-fashion composers like Lully, Handel, and J.S. Bach. He also wrote music himself.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

These past two weeks without teaching

One would think that two weeks without teaching would feel like a vacation, but I find myself insisting, while I am practicing, that I pay attention to the things I ask my students to pay attention to. It makes for excellent practice sessions, but they do tend to tire me out mentally.

Since I have the formidable task of elevating my technical ability a notch or two in order to meet the challenges of the music that I am playing on a recital in a couple of weeks, the task-master in my head isn't letting me have any peace. I like to believe that the rewards of mindful and purposeful practice are lasting.