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.