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.