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: