Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Waltz of the Seeds

Bravo (and thank you) to Daniel Mihai!

Here's description of the project. Hearing people play these is such a thrill!

Another Modest Proposal

There are a great number of composers (and we're talking about the whole world here) that have unpublished solo pieces that haven’t been performed or recorded, and there are a ridiculous number of extraordinary young musicians isolated at home, with little to do aside from practicing. Many of these people have demonstrated a tremendous talent for making video recordings, and many are devoting a great deal of time and attention to making multi-track recordings to share on their YouTube channels.

We have all enjoyed hours and hours of excellent performances. Listening to them has certainly enriched my days.

There are far too many performing musicians who are in financial difficulty because of cancelled concerts. These musicians are trying to figure ways of making money online, so that they can continue to eat and pay the bills. Teaching lessons is one way. Making money through a YouTube channel is another (You can make money through YouTube if your channel gets more than 1,000 subscribers). But what musicians do best is play. That's what they are paid to do most of the time.

With so many talented people who are eager to participate in musical life, this period of isolation could be a time to make new kinds of personal connections between and among musicians.

My proposal for advocates of new music:
If you are a person who loves music, and are in a stable position financially (i.e. you can continue to do your work and draw a salary while working from home), why not "commission" some of these young, highly competent and professional (and not currently concertizing) musicians to make video recordings of solo pieces by composers you admire that they can feature on their YouTube channels?

If you have a particular fondness for a particular performing musician, reach out and ask him or her about "premiering" an unperformed, unrecorded work by a living composer of their choice. The fee can be negotiated between the "commissioner" and the performing musician of choice. The "commissioner" can be the conduit between the composer and the performing musician, a role that has so often in the past been reserved for people with connections to performing organizations. Unpublished work or work kept in the public domain would be the best choice, for obvious reasons.

This activity would bring some activity into the economy for performing musicians, but, most of all, it would give musicians something meaningful and productive to do, and would bring people who care about music into the proccess of musical creation. As an audience member you can help promote a musician in the early part of his or her career by providing opportunities. You can also help promote the work of living composers that write music you like (always a good thing).

Once performing musicians are back at work playing concerts and teaching students in ways that do not involve a computer screen, people who have connected this way will have relationships with living composers, that they can commission to write brand new music for their performing ensembles.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Nuages and Georgia on our Minds

We made this recording at the request of one of Michael's blog readers. We decided to do it during the day so that we could take advantage of the light. It is fun for us to do these one-take recordings with listeners in mind. It's almost like playing for people in real time and space. I suppose it is becoming a new musical normal.

Just as we had everything set up to record (with dinner in the oven), we got a FaceTime call from some special grandkiddos. With instruments close at hand, we were able to warm up for this recording "session" by playing a few rollicking choruses of "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" for them.

Chaconne at Home with Fourteen Violinists

Augustin Hadelich has put together something extraordinary:

Julia Fischer, Augustin Hadelich, Renaud Capuçon, Klaidi Sahatçi, Alexander, Sitkovetsky, Nicola Benedetti, Andreas Janke, Daniel Röhn, Lisa Batiashvili, Lena Neudauer, James Ehnes, Stefan Jackiw, Rudens Turku, Vadim Gluzman

Friday, April 24, 2020

Miniature Studies for Violin

May 2, 2020

The set is all finished! You can find a link to it here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

In a Mizz (recorded this evening at home with Michael)

Art of the Fugue Contrapunctus IX (and a new take on music minus one)

The Beo String Quartet has an excellent music in isolation project involving the Art of the Fugue. Through the magic of high-quality video editing (as well as high-quality quartet playing) they have, in this video, faithfully approximated the way it feels to play in a string quartet.

But there's more! These play-along videos take one voice out of the quartet, show you the music, and allow you to particpate in this remote Bach experience. You can see the introductory material in the first video (Violin 1), but I have the following videos set to start shortly before the start of the music.

Since this is a transcription, I see no reason that participation in this should be limited to stringed instruments. I'm going to be playing along as soon as I finish this post.





The music is a little difficult to see, particularly for people who have small computers or are using cell phones, so if you would like to play along while reading a full-size score, you can find one on this page of the IMSLP. The link goes to Christian Mondrup's transcription of it into C and F clefs (for those who are not comfortable with the alto clef). It's the last entry in the score category. And here is the score in C clefs, for alto clef natives and people who want to improve their clef-reading skills.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

One Man Band

The tempo is a little fast, and the style is a little martial but there is so much to be amazed about in this video:


I have been spending the past thirty-some-odd days practicing violin almost exclusively. I have taken out my viola to teach lessons, and I have taken out my viola d'amore to work on writing music, but my musical heart seems to have flown off and migrated to the violin.

And now I'm really exploring the repertoire. Yesterday I started working on the Mendelssohn Concerto, which is really a piece of music about the violin, and its various voices. I worked on the Concerto twenty-five years ago, but didn't have the physical strength or sense of balance needed to make it sing, and I had no idea what the tonal and expressive possibilities were. Now that I have the physical strength and coordination to find the music in it, I am overwhelmed by what playing the piece does for me. No wonder it continues to survive and thrive.

The Beethoven and Bruch Concertos are on my stand too.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Modest Proposal for Musical Recovery

I'm writing this in response to an article in today's New York Times, which resonates for all musicians, everywhere.

Once this virus has done its damage, and we can safely share public and private spaces safely, people will want to participate in musical life. But we all know that nothing is going to return to the way it was. We also know that more musicians will be ready and eager to play than there are traditional venues for them to play in. We also know that musicians, like everyone else, will hope to be able to make a living from their work.

I have been thinking about "pie-in-the-sky" ways people who play in chamber music ensembles can have a new future.

People are going to want to listen to live music. The joys connected with listening to music through headphones and speakers pale to the joys of listening to people play music, particularly after these long months of isolation.

Perhaps we could find a way to encourage restaurants in large and small cities to employ musicians like they did before recorded music took over those spaces. When I was living in New York a restaurant had to have a caberet license in order to hire musicians to play. Dispensing with the need for such a license, and hiring musicians to play during lunch and dinner hours would be a good thing.

If the restaurants paid their musicians at a reasonable rate (agreed upon by the city, with funds provided by the state or federal government), and included the possibility for patrons to tip musicians and purchase CDs, that could be a good thing for everyone. And the restaurants could also help promote concerts "their" musicians give in traditional and not-so-tradtional locations (museums, schools, concert halls, parks, and even department stores).

I think it would work best if each restaurant hired several ensembles as rotating "house ensembles" that played on a schedule. This would be a way to establish and promote local culture in this increasingly globalized world.

Maybe restaurants could hold weekend concerts in the later afternoon--between lunch and dinner--for people who simply want to hear music. You could also have concert and dinner "packages," or have noontime concerts.

Make space between tables, and bring in the potted palms! Let the restaurants be judged by their patrons on the quality and variety of the music they offer as well as on the quality of their food and service.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Birthday Piece Number Twelve for Viola d'amore and Piano

It's that time of year again.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording (the piece lasts exactly three minutes) here.

This is the last in a set of twelve "Birthday Pieces" for viola d'amore and piano. I began this set with a fifty-measure-long piece when I turned fifty, and wrote a new "Birthday Piece" each April, adding one more measure per year. This year I am ending the set, and am celebrating my upcoming sixty-first birthday by adding eleven more measures to the final piece (sixty-one measures just couldn't hold all the music). Since I created this particular genre with its particular discipline, I have the power to do what I want with it. One of the perks of being a composer is that you get to decide the rules you want to follow, and then you get to break them.

You can find the music for this piece on this page of the IMSLP, and you can also find a transcription for violin there.

You can click here to see (and hear) all twelve pieces. And you can find a PDF of all twelve here. All together they make a set that takes about twenty-five minutes to play.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Augustin Hadelich plays Méditation from Thaïs

I suppose that I'm posting videos of Augustin Hadelich just about every day. I could post about other stuff, but these videos are the highlight of my musical day, and they bring me so much happiness (and inspiration) that I want to share them here. Each video he makes manages to give me specific musical relief to the fears about we have all have at this time while isolated our various remote locations. Today's video is far reaching in its musical/emotional intelligence. It is a deep exploration of contradictions in the workings of the human heart, both on the part of the composer, Jules Massenet, and on the part of the performers, Augustin Hadelich and Augustin Hadelich.

I'll offer Augustin Hadelich's words (from his Facebook post)
Massenet's Méditation is a dreamy and passionate piece from his opera Thaïs. It's marked "Andante religioso" and is about introspection and soul-searching, as Thaïs undergoes a religious awakening and grapples with the conflict between the sensual and spiritual.

It was hard to accompany myself in this one - I had some fights with myself during rehearsal!
Maybe I went too crazy adjusting the colors, I tried to go for a nostalgic look for this one. From now on I can film with two camera angles - Progress!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Augustin Hadelich Answers Questions about Violin Technique

Augustin Hadelich is using his time at home in isolation to share really useful practical advice regarding everything you always wanted to know about violin playing, but weren't sure exactly how to ask.

You can find it here, on his Facebook fan page, which is accessible to anyone.

Friday, April 10, 2020

St. John Passion from Leipzig (Singer, Organ/Harpsichord/Percussion)

I just watched (along with about 7,000 people from everywhere in the world) an extraordinary socially distanced performance of the Bach St. John Passion that was broadcast from Leipzig this morning. It was recorded and assembled a few days ago for broadcast today, but the watching and listening experience felt like it was happening in real time.

I'm putting the link to the archived performance here so you can watch as well.

I took a few screen shots. There is one soloist who sings all the solo parts, and the instrumental parts are brilliantly arranged for percussion (one player) and harpsichord and organ (also one player).

There is an in-house solo choir accompanied by organ and viola da gamba:

The chorales were sung by different choirs. The singers recorded their parts at home, and were mixed together for the broadcast. Here's a screenshot of one choir.

The performance was given just a few feet from Bach's grave.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Looking through the magic mirror: a ramble

I remember watching "Romper Room" as a kid on Saturday mornings, and I remember wondering if Miss Jean would ever look through her magic mirror and say my name. There were not enough people named Elaine around to make saying my name worthwhile, I guess. She never said it. Ever. And it was through that experience that I learned that the television screen only goes one way.

If I talked, Miss Jean wouldn't hear me.

Groups of kids (like Cub Scouts and Brownies) would go to be part of an audience for Boomtown (which I watched) or Bozo (which I also watched, not knowing that the guy who played Bozo was the father of one of my eventual high school classmates). I used to look at the audience and see if there were kids I knew in it.

Who knew that a mere fifty years into the future those screens could go both ways, and that you could carry them with you? Who could have imagined that everyone throughout the whole world would have a period where they would have the majority of their daily interactions through a screen because of a virus that came from a bat? That was the stuff of "Twilight Zone," The Outer Limits," or maybe "Star Trek."

I have a history of being an anti-technologist. The first personal computers for home use came out in the early 1980s. I used a Displaywriter for work, so I did not have the fascination that Michael did for having one for his own use. We bought a computer for him, and a baroque flute for me. I needed to grow musically more than I needed to grow technologically. And growing musically for me meant going back to basics.

We had to return the computer because something about it didn't work, so we ended up with an electronic typewriter that had a pretty nifty memory feature, where you could store a few lines of text. Michael used that until we got an Apple //c.

I have still been on my quest to grow musically, and that growth is a slow process. I spend my practice time trying to get from one note to the next in a satisfying and meaningful way. I spend my teaching time asking my students to do the same. When they listen to what I tell them to do and do it, they sound pretty good. I think.

I say, "I think," because I can only hear them through the microphone on their phone, tablet, or computer, a signal (that is often too weak) that is transmitted up to a satelite, and delivered to me through the speakers of my iPad. But all I can really give them is feedback about their intonation and their rhythm. I can see (and hear) if their bows slide on the string, and can ask them to concentrate. I can help the beginners learn to read music, and I can advise more advanced students about playing the correct notes.

Most of all, particularly with beginners, the parental involvement in a student's practice has increased a good deal.

And that's a good thing.

I have thought, from time to time, that in this period of isolation I might consider making a musical video, playing something on violin or viola, or learning to do the split screen thing, and doing both. But after doing all this "through the two-way mirror" teaching, I find myself to be more self critical than ever. And I fear that the main thing that would project across the screen would be that self criticism. Sometimes, when I use the iPad to record a passage I'm working on, I see how my eyes look so critically at my bow. When I do something right, it sounds pretty good, but watching and listening it is not a musical experience. It is a working experience. I don't find joy in sharing the dirty laundry of my working experiences with anyone, particularly people I don't know.

Playing actual concerts for and with actual people is different. It is a chance to get out of myself, and trust that all my preparation will come together in the service of making music with people and for people, who are equally engaged in what is happening in the music during the very moments that it is being played. I am unable to imagine the psychic reactions of a hypothetical audience for an online concert (though I can, strangely, imagine a person reading what I write on this blog, or playing a piece I have written).

I applaud people like Augustin Hadelich who can make meaningful music on the videos they share in isolation. Actually, there are no "people like Augustin Hadelich." He is unique. I imagine that when he practices he uses great powers of scrutiny, and when it comes to playing for people through his videos with his in-house pianist (himself), he gives both parts of himself the luxury of playing in a way that is totally musically driven. Under normal circumstances he is used to maintaining the divide between practicing and playing, because he plays so many concerts. Maybe that is why he is able play so beautifully for the camera even without an audience of breathing and listening humans in the room. Or maybe it is because he is simply a giant: the kind of complete musician we should all aspire to be.

So, my blog-reading friends, I'm going to practice now.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Liebesfreud! Caprice Vennois!

Passover Music

You can listen here.

This prelude, from the set of 12 calendar Preludes ("depicting" the months of the Jewish year) I wrote in memory of my brother Marshall, is for the month of Nisan, which is the month of Passover, which begins this evening. It is a little suite of Passover songs. You can find a PDF of the music here, and a link to the whole set of Preludes here.

Why is this first night of Passover different from all other first nights of Passover?

Because all over the world people will be celebrating in their own private spaces, unable to share the meal and the ritual with family and friends. Because our connections in isolation are made possible through the magic of the internet and cell phones (who could have imagined this a few decades ago?), we can reach out to one another (around the world!) and communicate asynchronously or in real time. We can all share the pain of the plagues, both physical and psychological, that are literally (and I mean literally) infecting different parts of our world at different times, and with varying degrees of acuity as they move from place to place.

Some people will be participating in seders through computer apps like Zoom. We prefer to celebrate in our own way at home. I'll share some additional thoughts here for my celebration of Passover this year.
The virus itself would be enough to bear. Dianu.

Knowing about the federal officials (in various places) who tried to cover it up would be enough to bear. Dianu.

Hearing, seeing, and reading about the federal official who called the virus a hoax would be enough to bear. Dianu.

Seeing the people who believe that federal official, and hearing they say that it is just a flu, and that everyone is going to get it anyway would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The Florida governor who ignored advice about closing beaches during spring break would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The university students who spent spring break in Florida passing the virus to one another, and then bringing it back to their communities would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The federal offical who is making the simple act of getting personal protective equipment to health care workers nearly impossible would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The supreme court voting against a state governor who wanted to postpone an election for reasons of public health in a pandemic would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The federal official who tells people that he is not going to wear a protective mask, thereby giving the message that his supporters don't need to wear one either would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The people who believe that the virus is God's punishment for holding gay pride parades would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The people who continue to hold religious services during a time when social distancing is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The obscene number of people who are dying every day from this virus would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The obscene number of health care providers who die from this virus would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The obscene number of people why are dying because the polluted air in the communities they live in has compromised their lungs would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The tragic number of people who cannot grieve properly after losing people they love because of the virus would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The obscene number of people exposed to the virus who do not have health insurance, and, by the actions of a certain federal official, can't enroll in the Affordable Care Act would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The number of victims of domestic abuse who are unable to leave their homes because of the virus would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The number of elected officials who refuse to put the health and safety of the people they represent over their own political ambitions and desire for more wealth and more power would be enough to bear. Dianu.

The economic and psychological toll that this (at this point endless) period of fear is taking, and the extraordinary burden of (eventually) recovering from it would be enough to bear. Dianu.

Once this pandemic has run its first course, and once we have a vaccine to prevent it from ever returning, will the experience of it change the way we live our lives and run our government? Will the professions of public sevice ever progress (at least in the American Republican party) towards something akin to what the words are supposed to stand for?

When we say, "Next year in Jerusalem," I hope that we, in America, will we be looking forward to a politically reorganized country involved in the complicated process of healing.

Monday, April 06, 2020

From Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet

I'm trying to find ways to distract myself from the (still expanding) sickness that is killing too many people far too quickly. I'm trying to distract myself from the dull and constant certainty that the level of infection could have been slowed significantly (if the Chinese government hadn't tried to repress the truth about the spread of this disease in their country, and if our federal government could have intervened immediately, like they did in the case of Ebola). But it is not productive to look backwards. The reality of now is that too many people are still getting sick, and too many people are dying.

There are people who try to see an upside of being isolated during this pandemic. I too have tried to see an upside, but the only upside I can see is that there are people I care about who are not infected, and that there are people I care about who have recovered. What I mostly see is the growing gravity of now.

I rejoined Facebook. I needed to have some personal contact with the world outside my household. My old Facebook friends are as active as ever; some of them posting uplifting things which actually do lift my spirits from moment to moment. But the feeling really only lasts a moment.

I like to imagine a future where we can play music together again, but I fear that the changes that will happen in the musical world after the virus has been eradicated will be lasting. It took more than ten years for musical life in my part of the country to recover from the audience loss that happened as a result of the recession. How can we be sure that people who like to go to concerts will have the money to support performing organizations, or even buy tickets, once we are able to play concerts again?

The online professional musical possibilities for musicians are expanding, I guess. More and more people are figuring out how to teach through various video platforms. Some people boast of their great success. What if this becomes the new normal after the virus is gone? What will happen to the profound kinds of musical interactions that happen between students and teachers when they can play together and make one another's instruments vibrate because of resonance. Not being able to really hear what is coming out of a student's instrument because of the lack of high-quality reception means that I am not able to accurately tell if a solution I suggest is really working. Do other people experience this as a frustration, or am I just a fish out of water, a relic of an older kind of musical life.

And now is as good a time as any for a passage of Pessoa:
I'm like a playing card belonging to an old and unrecognizable suit--the sole survivor of a lost deck. I have no meaning, I don't know my worth, there's nothing I can compare myself with to discover what I am, and to make such a discovery would be of no use to anyone. And so, describing myself in image after image--not without truth, but with lies mixed in--I end up more in the images than in me, stating myself until I no longer exist, writing with my soul for ink, useful for nothing except writing. But the reaction ceases, and again I resign myself. I go back to whom I am, even if it's nothing. And a hint of tears that weren't cried makes my stiff eyes burn; a hint of anguish that wasn't felt gets caught in my dry throat. But I don't even know what I would have cried over, if I'd cried, nor why it is that I didn't cry over it. The fiction follows me, like my shadow. And what I want is to sleep.
[Section 193 of "A Factless Autobiography" translated by Richard Zenith]

Saturday, April 04, 2020

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]