Friday, May 29, 2020

Miniature Studies for Violin Solo 6 through 11

The rest of the set!

VI. What the Hex?
VII. Seas, Days, Hills, and Rainbows
VIII. Arachnida
IX. Pluto
X. Das Hexen - Einmal- Eins!
XI. Group Eleven

Music by Elaine Fine
Performed by Linnaea Brophy

You can find a link to the music here.

Ella's Song

Listening to this helps, somehow. Just a little bit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The sound that says love, a ramble

After my parents discarded the Zenith 87232 "Bakelite" tube radio that we kept in the kitchen, I brought it into my room. On Sunday nights I would listen to a program that played soundtracks from shows, and I would record them on cassette and play them over and over. One of my favorite shows was Applause.
What is it that we're living for?
Applause applause!
Nothing I know
brings on the glow
like sweet applause.

You're thinking you’re through
and nobody cares
then suddenly you
hear it

And somehow you're in charge again
and life's a ball
trumpets all sing,
life seems to swing
And you're the king of it all, 'cause

You've had a taste of
the sound that says love:
Applause, applause, applause!

[I eventually had to throw the radio away after one of tubes gave out and I could not find a replacement. But life goes on, I guess.]

Anyway, I loved the song because of the tune, the harmony, the way the words rhymed and the way it felt to sing them, the dynamic contrasts, the contrasts in texture, and the rhythm. But I could not make sense of the idea of applause as being the sound of love. The music itself was the sound of love to me. The applause was the noise that followed.

But I suppose there are people who really do "get" something from being applauded. Don't get me wrong, I like to applaud when I am part of an audience. It is a great physical release after experiencing the intense kind of emotional connections that music makes possible. It is a great way to "connect" with a group of people who just shared an emotional experience.

But it isn't the sound that says love to me.

Now, during the era of Covid-19 isolation, where the closest thing to experiencing the illusion of applause is to make a livestream from the place you are living, and getting "likes" and "loves" in emoji form stream upward because people in faraway places press buttons on their phones, tablets, or computers.

If I were to make a livestream, would I be looking at the emojis and feel love coming from them rather than concentrating on the music? Would it be more meaningful to me than applause? Would it be less meaningful than applause?

When I think of my childhood, my best memories are the sounds of love coming from the basement. My father practicing was the sound of love. The sound of loving sound. And I identified it as love. That sound of love was what motivated me to practice, and being able to experience the sound of love with other people was, for me, the sharing of love. Teaching for me has always been the act of trying to ignite that love of music in other people. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

I have had students of all stripes over the years. Many of them play because of the attention it necessitates from their parents. Many parents who love music want their children to play because they never had the chance. For some of those children the act of music is part of their loving relationship with their parents: they know that when they give love through music it is accepted as a gift of love.

For some children the process of playing music has everything to do with pleasing me (their teacher). For some of those children I am just another teacher: a person to who will be discarded from memory when the student moves to another grade, and for some I am gifted with the art of showing them how to express themselves.

My best musical experiences with students happen when they reveal something beautiful about themselves through music: when they fall in love with music itself, and when they physically understand that they are in charge of making the journey from point A to point B, and can draw on their creativity to figure out exactly how they want to go.

I listened to a lot of concerts as a teenager, and I listened a lot to people playing in a variety of non-concert situations. And like most teenagers I thought I knew a lot about the world. One accurate observation I made as a teenager proves that I did have a bit of wisdom: I knew that there was a difference between those who "played at" and those who "played to."

I deemed "playing at" bad and "playing to" good. I was a teenager, and did not have the experience to understand the complexities of life or of music. I tried to figure out rhythmic ways of not sounding like I was "playing at," and found ways of intellectually manipulating phrases so that they gave the illusion of bringing someone into my musical train of thought rather than bashing them over the head with it.

Now, after a few decades of experience, I see the whole thing differently.

I know a person who loves music deeply can play with very little feeling about who is in the room, or who is listening. That person can put up an imaginary bubble, and live within that world while the music is happening. S/he can be totally engaged, and the music can be wonderful. The act of playing can be a dialogue with timbre, the length and contour of phrases, linear harmony, vertical harmony, harmonic rhythm, and the composer, withought regard for whether s/he is alive or dead.

A person "playing to" can be playing in order to seek approval, or in order to receive feelings of love in exchange for lovely phrases of music. Or a person "playing to" can be eagerly trying to engage the listener in what s/he loves about a piece of music.

Perhaps the synthesis of the better parts of "playing to" and "playing at" is way of thinking about playing “for” whoever is listening. And that is how I choose to live my more mature musical life.

The ways of life we, as human beings, have experienced over the course of recorded human history is now taking turns through blind alleys that lead to an "elsewhere" we do not have the capacity to understand. It makes me wonder about the changes happening in the collective musical "organism" (and I like to believe that there is one that unites you and me through music) during this period of isolation and into the future.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Augustin Hadelich plays Praeludium and Allegro!

I hope that this gives you as much absolute musical pleasure as it gives me.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Goods and Services

"Why have you come to Berlin?"

"Formerly a woman gave herself and was valued as a gift. Now we are paid, and the day comes when we are thrown aside, like all goods that are bought and made use of. It's cheaper to pay cash, thinks the man."

"Formerly a gift and a commodity were two quite different things. Now a gift is merely a commodity that can be bought for nothing. Its cheapness makes the purchaser suspicious. It must be a bad bargain, he thinks. And generally he is right. For later the woman presents him with the bill. Suddenly he is called on to refund the moral price of the gift. In moral currency. As a pension for life.
From Erich Kästner's Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Rachel Young and Jessica Smithhorn a movement of my Duo for Oboe and Bassoon

What a treat it was to find this today!

Learning how a great musician thinks

This video of Augustin Hadelich commenting on his performance (as a 13-year-old) of the Sibelius Concerto is fascinating. This, my friends, is an fantastic example of how a great musician thinks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Livestream with Augustin Hadelich and Ray Chen

This is nearly two hours, so you might need more than one sitting for this. Of particular interest to me is the way Augustin likens practicing difficult music to solving a Rubik's cube, by separating the difficulties. It's part masterclass, and part podcast-type discussion. And at the end the two violinists take out their ocarinas and successfullly demonstrate what it is like to be a novice at something.

(And you also get to hear Augustin go from essentially "zero" on the ocarina to an almost acceptable 20 m.p.h. in the course of a few minutes of practice.)

New Bookmark

I just noticed that the worn-out and distressed punch card I have been using for the past four years of the Four Seasons Reading Club distinctly states not to use it as a bookmark, so today I took a photo of my deteriorating retired (illegal) bookmark and made the switch to something more durable; something designed for the task.

That mandate on my old bookmark reminds me of those "do not remove under penalty of law" tags that remained on the furniture of my law-abiding childhood home.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Another day, another Molambo

We could call this one "Purple Molambo"

Minimal Yeast Bread

Yeast is scarce these days. Our household is fortunate to have a few envelopes, and I have managed to make one standard envelope last for many, many loaves. It took about 1/4 teaspoon (or maybe a little less) to make all this today.

The "secret" is that you really don't need much yeast at all when you make bread, as long as you make a sponge of flour, water, salt, and a small amount of yeast, and let it rise slowly (eight hours overnight will do) at room temperature in a tightly-covered container (I use a big stock pot with a glass lid). In the morning start stirring in flour, and then kneading the flour in, until the dough can't absorb any more. Let it rise for a while, and then form it into loaves or rolls, and let it rise again.

I baked the rolls at 400, and they were done in 20 minutes. Then I lowered the oven to 375 and baked the bread for about 40 minutes.

My flour of choice is half King Arthur white flour and half Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour. And I use kosher salt. We have mineral-rich water, which isn't good for beans, but it is good for bread.

King Arthur flour is scarce as well these days. You can't even buy it online. I'm hoping to find some Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour when we next go to the store, because we don't have enough left to make bread with.

But my hopes are not high. For the nonce I guess we might have to make do with whatever flour we find. And when the yeast is almost used up (we had three envelopes, but put one in today's mail for our bread-making son), I'll try using it for a sourdough starter.

I'll let you know how it turns out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Beethoven's Seventh second movement with socially-distanced musicians

I watched the whole film, which is a film and not a concert. It is a demonstration of the way musicians and performing organizations are trying to figure out how to move forward.

It is chilling.
It is surreal.
It is not comfortable.

It is clearly so much more difficult to play together with other players when they are physically so far apart from one another, which makes the role of the conductor much more crucial than it is when the sound coming from each of the instruments of the orchestra doesn't have to travel so far in all directions (including up and down). There also seem to fewer string players here, and there's no sense of a string section sound. The blended string section sound from socially-distanced assembled recordings (that music lovers are getting used to hearing) is far superior than the individual voices (excellent players, all) in this space who are trying their best to hear one another, and to feel connected to the music and to each other.

The film also captures the kind spirit of the musicians, who are happy to be able to try to play together. To do their work.

I have found, through my travels, that orchestral musicians are pretty much the same everywhere. In our lives as orchestral musicans we all have similar goals, (mostly) the same repertoire, the same challenges, and the same needs. These musicians in Germany are demonstrating one option of how the larger "we" of orchestral musicians might be performing until the virus has completed its ultimate damage, and everyone in the world is vaccinated against it.

Lessons I'm teaching, lessons I'm learning

I haven't written a teaching post for a while, so I'll take the time now. The student I would be teaching now rescheduled her lesson, and I'm in teaching mode. Maybe some of the teaching adventures from the past few weeks will be of use to somebody reading this.

But I'll start with what I have been practicing. Now that I'm spending so much time practicing the violin, I have decided that it is high time to try to speed up my vibrato, and vary its amplitude. There is a kind of habitual rhythm that you get into with vibrato, and mine is simply too slow and wide for the variety of sounds I would like to make on the violin. A slower and wider vibrato is acceptable in the lower registers of the viola, but I don't really want to limit my possibilities when playing the viola either.

I have been learning ways of breaking certain habits of thinking these past few months, and I'm also breaking out of habitual ways of musical thinking that have been limiting my creativity and progress. I am finding the experience empowering. It is very hard work, so I am attacking the problem in several different ways.

Listening to Augustin Hadelich's vibrant vibrato, a vibrato that is fluid, and is always responding to the demands of whatever phrase he happens to be playing, has inspired me to do the hard work of paying attention to the speed of my vibrato and the way it corresponds to the movement and comfort of my bow arm. I have noticed that if my right arm does not feel free and fluid, my left hand does not feel free enough to vibrate faster. But, on a positive note, if I focus my attention on the expressivity and freedom of my bow arm, it is easier to change the speed and amplitude of the vibrato.

Practicing slow and lyrical pieces helps. And I'm experimenting with playing lyrical pieces that are not slow (like the first movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto) with a faster vibrato than I would normally use, and the metronome set at a slow tempo. As I increase the tempo, I am also working to increase the speed of my vibrato, as well as the comfortable feeling in my bow arm. I do believe that being comfortable while playing allows us to be more expressive. And I believe that it makes the experience for the listener more comfortable as well.

[I consider myself to be a student at "Hadelich University" these days. And last night I had a dream that Augustin let me try his violin. It had a strange bow that had a set of comb-like teeth attached to it. Unfortunately I woke up before I really got to spend time with the instrument.]

I used this left-hand/bow-arm observation while teaching a lesson to a beginning student who has not yet learned vibrato, and she noticed that the tension she had in her left hand lessened when she paid attention to her bow arm.

And then I tried something new with her. She is just learning to use her fourth finger, and, like most fourth fingers in relatively new violinists, it wants to curl up rather than stay poised above the fingerboard. I tried a trick with her. I asked her to try to control the fourth finger of the left hand by tapping the right hand fourth finger on the bow stick (where it should be curved with the tip "standing" comfortably on the stick above the frog).

Then I showed her the way the hands and arms work together by asking her how to write her name in cursive with her dominant hand, and concurrently write her name in cursive backwards with her non-dominant hand (as a mirror image).

Try it! It's fun. It's also really challenging to demonstrate by way of videochat!

Then I showed her that if both hands work together it is not difficult to draw a square with one hand and a circle with the other.

I really wanted to share the fourth finger thing with another student, but I will have to wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A Mother's Day Greeting from Latvia

I don't understand a word of Latvian, but this video from
Karlīna Īvāne and her students made me cry . . .

Musical things lost,and musical things gained from the Covid-19 isolation

What I have lost this March, April, May, and into the summer:

The opportunity to perform recital pieces I spent most of January and February of 2020 rehearsing.

The opportunity to play orchestral pieces that I had been looking forward to rehearsing all season.

The income from those concerts.

The chance to rehearse and perform the music I arranged for Summer Strings 2020.

Having the experience of working with my Summer Strings colleagues.

Having the chance to prepare and perform a Haydn Quartet program.

Having the chance to learn more Haydn with my good friends.

My weekly consort rehearsals.

Having the chance to perform a Senfl program with my consort.

Getting an award from a local arts organization.

Hearing premieres of pieces I have written.

Teaching my adult recorder group.

Being able to play together with my students.

Unexpected ways I have grown musically these past few months

I have become comfortable with teaching lessons through videochat.

My students are practicing and improving.

I have practiced violin (rather than viola) diligently.

I have learned so much from watching Augustin Hadelich's videos. I apply what I have learned from him every time I practice.

This has made me a better teacher.

And a better violinist.

I have written a good amount of music, and continue to write every day.

I have made new friends with musicians all over the world through Facebook. I find the Facebook experience much improved these days. It has become more like interatctions in real life.

And I found some of those new friends through video recordings they made of pieces I have written.

I observe an almost daily climb of technical improvement in the multi-track and multi-image video recordings I see online.

Recording in such a way has suddenly elevated (and evolved) itself to a new artform. And I believe that artform is here to stay. Musicians who produce these videos are learning valuable skills.

Musicians who engage in making these videos practice carefully with a metronome. And they find that practicing with a metronome does not have to result in music making that is stiff and regular.

It can be beautiful while remaining in rhythm.

And people making these videos have the opportunity to work with other isolated musicians towards a common goal.

When we play with a recording of another person, we are still engaging. People who may have had trouble following other musicians in the past, are now learning to be better listeners.

I know how important music is.

I know that writing music for people to play is important, and that people like music I write.

I know that through music we will continue to make the world a better place.

I sense a collective "we" among musicians.

I hope that never goes away once we are able to play together again.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Olive Tree

Here's a lively performance by Karl Meyer and Emily Tsai of "Olive Tree" from the set of violin duets I wrote in 2011 called "Autumn Leaves".

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Books that made me

Pete Anderson of Pete Lit has his own version of the The Guardian's "Books that made me" series. Michael has been asking me to make a post along these lines for weeks, so, using Pete Anderson's questions, I will.

The book I am currently reading

Charlotte Brontë's The Professor. Michael and I are on a Brontë sisters bender, which began with Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and continued with Jane Eyre. We took an unfortunate turn reading Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, an invented "backstory" about events in Jane Eyre from the perspective of the mad woman on the third floor, and are very happy to be reading Charlotte Brontë again.

The book that changed my life

What book hasn't, in some way? I could give a bookcase or two full of musical biographies, but I think that reading Joyce's Dubliners in my first semester at Juilliard was a window into a way of reading that I have continued to practice through my life. When I was a young expatriate in Vienna, I responded deeply to reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Miller's The Books in My Life showed me the way to Balzac, and showed me how to find a meaningful path, book by book, as a reader.

The book I wish I’d written

I can't do much with this. If I had wanted to write a book, I would have. I still may. Who knows?

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing

The first book would have been The Catcher in the Rye because after reading it at age thirteen during the summer (and not understanding it because I was thirteen), I wrote all my letters in a voice not unlike that of Holden Caufield. But as an adult consumer of non-fiction (and a writer of far too many record reviews) I give credit to Edward T. Cone, the writer of Musical Form and Musical Performance. It is a marvel of clarity and elegance, and taught me a lot about how to write about music.

The book that is most underrated

I don't understand the concept of something being underrated. There is so much to know, and so much to read. Nobody can read everything worth reading. It would be great, for example, if more people praised Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday the way I do, but most people in my life have never even heard of Stefan Zweig.

The book that changed my mind

Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. It showed me a new way of looking at everything.

The last book that made me cry

Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The last book that made me laugh

Robertson Davies's The Depford Trilogy

The book I couldn’t finish

Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, because it sent me down emotional paths that, for me, are best not trodden. If it were not so beautifully written and so elegant in its presentation of things that ring true to the darker parts of my emotional experience, I would certainly have been able to read to the end.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read

I can think of many books I have not yet read, but I don't feel shame about it.

The book I [would] give as a gift

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The book I’d most like to be remembered for

I have helped musicians write books, but I haven't written any books myself. As for music, who knows? If anything I have written is played when I am no longer alive, that would be a nice thing.

My earliest reading memory

The Big Red Story Book in either kindergarten or first grade. It featured Dick, Jane, Sally, and Spot.

My comfort read

My childhood favorite: D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

Recently Updated!

I finished my set of miniature studies for solo violin, and updated the post about it yesterday.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Bolero Juilliard

What an amazing celebration of music, dance, drama, and life!