Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The International Corona 19 Music Festival

Welcome to the International Corona 19 Music Festival!

It is hosted by this blog, Musical Assumptions, where all sorts of discourse, musical and sometimes otherwise, runs and flies freely. Participation is also free. And you can dip in whenever you want, pretty much undetected (though the watchful eye of my statcounter lets me know from where you came, and what pages you seemed interested in).

Here are the highlights of the festival, which began its Spring Season in March, without any preparation:

In March musicians in isolation played a lot of Bach. Solo Bach, mostly. The prelude of the G major Cello Suite was being performed by violists and cellists everywhere for a virtual audience of YouTube eyes and ears. If there were movements from other Suites being played online during March, I must have missed them. I also heard a lot of solo Bach being played on the violin. People did clever and beautiful things with solo Bach, like breaking up the Chaconne into four-measure units and creating a virtual (and otherwise impossible) performance of the whole piece. There was comaraderie in solo Bach.

And then there was "Amazing Grace," which had many really meaningful and heartfelt performances in March, and has had more painful and poignant moments in the Summer Season.

I spent my Spring Season playing Bach too, but it wasn't anything new for me. I had been doing the daily solo Bach circuit for decades. And after a few too many exclusive loops around the Cello Suites and Violin Sonatas and Partitas fishtank, I started to diversify with etudes (writing some of my own), Telemann Fantasies, and highlights of the violin repertoire. I also started practicing the first violin parts of the Beethoven Quartets, and, thanks to my vast collection of Beethoven Quartet CDs, the IMSLP (which offers full recordings for members), and YouTube, I can play along with scores of different excellent recordings.

Midway into the Spring Season, "Lift Every Voice" came out of the mouths and instruments of musicians in isolation, particularly Musicians of Color who started speaking (and playing) out about the omnipresence of racism in the classical musical community as well as in the larger community of humanity, particularly in the United States, and particularly at this time.

In the first few weeks of the Spring Season people began using video editing programs to make multi-track recordings of themselves. The technology had been around for a while, but suddenly musicians began really exploring it and exploiting its possibilities. They started subscribing to the Acapella app, which makes assembly easy, and started investing their savings in better audio equipment. And people (like me) who were not keen on teaching lessons online, started doing all their teaching through their screens.

By the end of May (which I will call the start of the Summer Season, because I can) people who follow trends in the things that classical music institutions are doing realized (finally) that Black composers were terribly underrepresented in what has become known as the musical canon. The strides musicologically-minded musicians made in the pre-Corona months of 2020 to include more music written by women in the programs that would be performed by major orchestras were strong enough to get people interested in composers like Florence Price. Actually, we don't know of any other composers like Florence Price, but I do imagine there were many. They just didn't get the (small amount of) attention that Price got during her lifetime.

I knew about Price because of a 1995 article by Rae Linda Brown about her in the Maud Powell Signature When I saw that her “Adoration” was in the IMSLP, I immediately set to work on a transcription for violin or viola and piano. It was a very easy transcription to make. Now, thanks to the helpful promotion of the transcription by Augustin Hadelich (the honorary guest artist of this festival), it looks like "Adoration" will play a part in future seasons of the Festival, and beyond.

There have been several panel discussions online (preserved as Zoom discussions) about the present and future state of music. There have also been several panel discussions inside my house, and inside my head. Today's discussion inside my head (while removing dust and grime from the downstairs floor) concerned an old topic: musical engagement.

Yesterday, after practicing some Beethoven and enjoying the way he wrote in a way that really stimulates creative expression, I had the sudden urge to play Schumann. The optimism and exuberance of Beethoven's Opus 18 didn't suit the moment, though. Only Schumann would do. And then I understood that when Schumann was writing his music to express musical thoughts and feelings that he had, he was doing it so that other people could have the same kind of vehicle for expression that he had. Once a piece is written, and all the notes, rests, dynamics, expression marks, and phrasings are in their places, it is a vehicle for expression that can be used by anyone to express what otherwise cannot or could not be expressed.

And in the case of Schumann, who could not perform his music because of the physical injuries that made it impossible to do so, it was even more important to write for other people to express themselves. And it is really all about the music, and not about Schumann. It's what Schumann gave to others that mattered during his lifetime and matters now.

When I think about what kind of a musician/person I want to be (or have found myself becoming), I like to imagine that my work is providing a way for people to express themselves. Once a piece of music is written it is no longer the responsibility or the property of the composer. It is the "charge" of the person or people playing it to fill it with their life, breath, and movement. And that way those feelings, that life, that breath, and that movement, can be shared with people who listen.

People who listen respond on many levels. People who play have the responsibility to make the listening experience a comfortable one for the listener by playing in tune and in rhythm, and feeling physically comfortable while playing. And they have the responsibility to make it a meaningful one by paying attention to the structures and balances in the music, the possible ways that words in a song can be understood, and the sense of connection and dedication they have to the musical line itself.

Now I'll go back to normal bloggery, but I will return with a report on future seasons of the International Corona 19 Music Festival.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Black Female Brass Players Panel

What an amazing disscussion has emerged from this odd time: the intersection of musicians being out of work (out of school), and a time when we are all gaining a heightened awareness of the presence of racism in "places" that we don't usually hear about, partially because people who have to deal with racism have, in the past, tended to be quiet about it. Particularly in music, where people usually just "shut up and play" when they feel uncomfortable with the way they are being treated.

You can watch their panel discussion here.

These young women, who (mostly) do not know one another and live in different places, share so many similar experiences in their musical worlds. The are being open and honest with one another in their discussions about race, mentors, and the challenges they face navigating in their musical worlds. It is an honor to watch and listen to their discussion.

Price Adoration for Flute and Piano

Florence Price's "Adoration" is really catching on. Flutist Suyeon Ko and pianist Joanne Chang made this lovely recording of the violin and piano version (in the original key), which I have uploaded to my YouTube channel.

Last week I made a dedicated flute and piano version that is set up a fifth, in the key of A major, which incorporates the violin double-stops into the piano part, and is a little bit easier to play. Suyeon and Joanne are planning to make a recording of that, and I will post that here as well. It will be interesting to compare the settings.

You can find the music here under "transcriptions."

Saturday, June 27, 2020

An Airing of Grievances

Michael and I have been doing our best to retain a little bit of sanity during the quarter of a year that we have spent socially distancing. We walk every day, and never share the sidewalk with anyone. We go to the grocery store every two weeks, and pick up Thai food every Friday night. We did make one trip to the liquor store, attend one Black Lives Matter demonstration, attend one drive-by 99th birthday party, and we make the occasional visit to the drive-by window at the bank.

I have been productive musically, and my violin playing has improved considerably. Online teaching has been going well, and I have been really grateful for the online musical interactions that I have had.

Michael and I have been diligently doing our part, but my anger at the people who don't "believe" in wearing masks is seeping through all my good intentions, and clawing away at my formerly positive attitude.

I can't take it anymore.

Imagine having just spent months cleaning up a house after having sustained a great deal of damage. And then imagine a bunch of people deciding to come inside and defecate all over the floor. That is what I feel about our prospects for a future where we can play chamber music again, give and go to concerts again, and where we can travel safely to see our children and grandchildren.

Experiencing the world through screens is no longer fun for me. It used to be an interesting alternative to the "real" world, and now it has become the "real" world. And since we each "live" in our own personally curated world, it is hard to really get a sense of who "we" are.

I am angry at my federal goverment (particularly the executive branch) and its leaders. I am angry at American Airlines for planning to fill its airplanes to capacity beginning next week. I am angry about the daily revelations concerning violence towards Black people by police. I'm angry at state and city officials who do not mandate wearing masks and observing social distancing. I'm angry at the people who refuse to wear masks in public as an expression of loyalty to their political party.

Dr. Fauci made a very clear statement about our interconnected world. Most of the other developed countries in the world have managed to control the rise of Covid-19. And now the United States, with its denial, selfishness, and reckless rush to reopen, is going to screw things up for the rest of the world as well as for the people who live on these shores. I apologize for the actions of my country to anyone reading this. I have never been so ashamed to be an American.

I'll slow down for a moment and take stock of a few good things:

Our air-conditioning works, and our plumbing is now reliable.

Michael and I put away all our laundry today. For the first time in months there are more clothes in the closets and dressers than outside of them.

My muscles are a little sore from practicing, but my joints and tendons are not hurting. That means I have been playing in a way that is physically healthy.

My eyesight is improving (one of the benefits of achieving a certain age, I have heard). I can play violn without glasses! I still need them for the viola because of those few extra inches.

I have bread rising, and tomorrow we will have fresh bread for breakfast.

Michael and I are reading a really good book. It comes on the heels of three novels we read that were written during in the Weimar Republic in Germany. And we have many more good books ahead.

I have a Bachian counterpoint project in the works. It's something I started a few years ago and set aside. Writing counterpoint is medicine for my soul.

I really can play the first violin parts of the Beethoven Opus 18 Quartets now--even the hard parts. And I have decided on the Végh Quartet as my "play along" recordings.

I have entered into a new phase of self-acceptance, and feel like I am growing as a human being in spite of the Pandora's box of disease, injustice, deception, racism, and ignorance that has taken up residence in the fragile "house" that we are trying to keep livable.

I also know that will be a future for music. It is just going to take a lot longer to get to than I had thought.

Is it November yet?

José White Lafitte

I am so happy to have found a set of violin etudes by José White Lafitte (also known as Joseph White), an Afro-Cuban violinist/composer who was active in Paris during the middle third of the 19th century. After leaving the Conservatoire, White Lafitte spent twenty years as director of the Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro. He then retired to Paris, where he remained until his death in 1918.

Rachel Barton Pine has recorded Number Six:

I have been having great fun practicing Number Three, which White dedicated to Vieuxtemps. Here's an excerpt:

You can learn more about White here.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Clayton Haslop

Clayton Haslop, who is best known for his studio work in Los Angeles, is a fantastic violinist. He is one of the many musicians who has had to contend with focal dystonia. I have never witnessed an accomplishment like playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with only two moving left-hand fingers. This man's understanding of how to play the violin is remarkable, and he is an exquisite musician.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Isolated Accomplishments

We live at some distance, both culturally and physically, from high-populations areas that, under normal circumstances, are buzzing with musical activity, so I'm used to working in a relative state of isolation. But these past three and a half months have done away with anything having to do with relativity.

Yesterday I finished a project that has been in the works for about a year, and today, in celebration of a task accomplished, I have compiled a list of the music that I have written and the music that I have arranged since we began isolating on March 14.

Saprophyte I for String Quartet

Birthday Piece Number Twelve for Viola d’amore and piano, the final installment in a series.

Eleven Miniature Studies for Violin Solo

Quo Vadis for Euphonium and Woodwind Quintet, a piece that will have its premiere in July as a distanced performance video. Then it will go into the IMSLP.

A Tunes: Capricious Pieces for Beginner Violinists a book of twenty-four caprices that will be published by Mel Bay.

"Impressions", five songs set to poems by Alice Ruth Moore (who is otherwise known as Alice Dunbar-Nelson).

"The Gift of the Condor" an entertaining animal-themed piece for narrator, chamber orchestra, and solo kid violinist that we hope will have great success in the children's concert circuit, once we start playing concerts again.

"Scarborough Fair" for Solo Viola

J.S. Bach Adagio from the F minor Violin Sonata, BWV 1018, arranged for String Quartet, Clarinet Quartet, and Viola Quartet

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 Finale for string sextet

Florence Price "Adoration" in a new arrangement for flute and piano

I have a couple more arrangements to do, and then I guess I'll just write some more new music. Writing music has provided a great escape from the fears and horrors of the outside world.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Augustin Hadelich and Florence Price

This project and pairing involves my transcription of Price’s “Adoration.” I am so honored. I am also so excited to hear the final project involving this lovely piece, in whatever form it may take.

Here's a screenshot of the post:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Lift Every Voice

And every voice lifts me. If you keep the YouTube rolling, you can fill your day with amazying arrangements of this song. This trombone choir arrangement is also wonderful.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The dream of Chevalier de Saint-Georges (a fantasy)

Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges woke up in a cold sweat. He knew the story of Tartini's "Devil's Trill" sonata dream, so he made sure to notate the details of this dream, because he felt that it was equally strange and relevant:
There was a general plague that was infecting the whole world: Europe, Asia, and even the Americas. All the people wore masks. And even though they were instructed to stay in their houses, masked people in every country of the world took to the streets day after day to peacefully declare that the lives of black people mattered as much as the lives of white people. According to American law, slavery had been abolished for a hundred and fifty years, but black people were still being treated as second-class citizens. The crowds of people who were protesting (by the thousands) were made of black people and white people; both men and women.

Musicians who couldn't play together because of the plague stayed in their houses and used rectangular objects (that looked like decks of cards) to make likenesses of their playing. Exact recordings of what they played! And these objects could also capture images! Musicians sent their images with sound through the air (!!!) to people all over the world, and the recipient could see and hear the musical images instantly.

Musicians used these devices to record multiple sound images of themselves, and then they somehow managed to project the sound images in such a way that it looked and sounded like people were playing concerts with themselves. They could also play with other people this way.

The oddest thing of all was hearing a brilliant violinist in a blue shirt (and his double) playing both parts of my A major Duo--the one I just finished. This man reminds me of my young friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I hope that when Mozart grows up he is able to play as well as the man in my dream.

And then there was another part of my dream. There was a library of music that people could find through their rectangles (and there were also bigger rectangles that looked like windows and were about the size of a piece of music). A person of any class and any nationality could, without needing to make any financial transactions at all, find pieces of music and use their rectangular windows to read them.

And my name was there. I pressed a button, and I saw lists of music associated with me through the glass window. Some were pieces that I have written. But I also saw pieces I have only been thinking about writing!

I pressed the button for my collection of violin duos (it says that they will be published in 1800, which is nice to know).
And then he woke up.

Odd happenings: Sweet Gum on the YouTube

It's fun to search through YouTube and find recordings people have made of music I have written or music I have arranged. Last night I came upon a really nice recording of "Sweet Gum" from my "Autumn Leaves" set of violin duos. (If you listen closely you will hear the kookaburra gets a musical mention here and there.)

I have no idea who is playing. I wish I did. The performance is just great.

Here is the information on the YouTube entry:

Provided to YouTube by Independent Digital

Autumn Leaves: IV. Sweet Gum · Ted Nayes · Unknown · Elaine Fine

Music for the Moment: Classic Music on the Violin

℗ 2019 RMG Classical Records

Released on: 2019-04-18

Auto-generated by YouTube.
I'm particularly wierded out by the "Auto-generated by YouTube" part. And I wonder what Independent Digital is. A google search for Ted Nayes leads to all kinds of random musical stuff with titles like "ultimate relaxation." A search for the record label Ted Nayes is listed as being associated with, Rehegoo USA, is even more interesting.

I put the music for these duets in the IMSLP so that people could find them easily and play them. I have no problem with people making recordings of the music that I write, and even, as long as I know about it, selling those recordings commercially. But it is really odd having work that is part of an auto-generated listing on YouTube that doesn't give the names of the performers, or make it clear who wrote the music.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

There are 76 pieces (to date) of music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in the IMSLP, and quite a few are for violin and piano.

You can find a good biography of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor here.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Impressions: settings of poetry by Alice Ruth Moore (also known as Alice Dunbar-Nelson)

You can find the music here (transposed higher here) and on this page of the IMSLP. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Alice Ruth Moore (1875-1935), the daughter of a once-enslaved mother, was born in New Orleans. She graduated from Straight University, and worked in New Orleans as an elementary school teacher. During the 1920s and 1930s Moore, who then went by the name Alice Dunbar-Nelson, was an activist for African American rights and women’s rights, appearing often as a speaker, and writing essays, reviews, and articles in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals.

The cover art is by my mother, June Fine. I think that my mother would have liked the 20-year-old Moore's poetry (and her other writing) very much. The mood of the poetry, and consequently the music, is rather somber, but we are living in somber times.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Physical distancing, social solidarity

My friend Charles Delman writes:
The phrase ``social distancing'' may have given some the false impression that the purpose is individual protection. We should instead say ``physical distancing, social solidarity.'' The purpose of masks and physical distancing is to protect others, as well as oneself, and reduce the spread of the virus in the community as much as possible.

Social solidarity also requires the elimination of the racial and class inequities that underlie our obscenely unequal society, inequities that are enforced by our repressive policing system. Instead of allowing the repression of a large segment of our population with violence, let us instead build a society in which everyone is provided a good life, with access to good nutrition, good housing, good education, good health care, a healthy environment, and the other fundamentals of a fulfilling life, as a matter of right, rather than as commodities to be bought and sold.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Welcome to the Future

Yesterday I participate in a Zoom discussion that was hosted by the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra concerning the state of racial imbalance in many of the major American musical institutions (performing and educational). I was extremely impressed with the young people (meaning people who are still students) who spoke, and am eager to aquaint myself with the work of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, which, I believe, is a window to the music of the future.

Schoenberg believed, for a period of time, that the future of music would lie in atonality. He was partially right, because the music of his future (the one that happened after he died--on the date that he predicted he would die) does involve atonality and does involve serialism. The people who wrote for television in the 1970s incorporated serialism and atonality into their scores. Most people watching shows like Bonanza probably didn't even realize that dramatic tension on the screen was often underscored with atonality. And don't forget about Jerry Goldsmith's brilliant score for Planet of the Apes.

Schoenbergian twelve-tone music, and music that followed the atonal course scared concert-goers away from concerts that included "twentieth-century music." Atonality was big when I was young. I actually take nostalgic comfort in hearing the atonality that underscored my teenage years and young adulthood, but I have learned that as human beings we all have emotional ties to the music we heard during those years.

When I was young there were records, cassettes, the radio, concerts, school ensembles, and extra-curricular ensembles. The music we read from was limited to music that was published. I had the opportunity at Tanglewood to hear "in-manuscript" pieces being performed, and also had the opportunity to attend and participate in composers' forums at Juilliard.

With very few exceptions, the music I heard and played during my youth was written by men of European descent. I had no idea that the pop music that I heard on the radio and in public places was performed or written by people who were not of European descent. Nobody told me. And I thought that jazz was a music that only Black people played well. White people who played jazz were, in my limited and immature mind, limited.

There were female singers (obviously), and female song writers who sang their own songs, but as a young person I never thought that there were female composers who wrote anything except pop music. I heard about Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger when I was a teenager hanging out with composers at Tanglewood, and people talked about Clara Schumann (but nobody played her music) and Amy Beach (made fun of in my household), but I thought that they were exceptions to the rule that only men wrote music. There were no female composers at Juilliard. Victoria Bond was a conducting student there. I had no idea she was a composer. Elizabeth Brown was one of my fellow flute students. I had no idea she was a composer.

And there were very few people of color who were students, and none who were teachers. None.

The future at that point looked to me like the past, except with difficult (to play and hear) twentieth-century music added to the mix, and occasionally celebrated.

My life changed through working at a radio station, reading, listening, and learning new music. I was fortunate. I had a record library at the radio station, and I had a university library (with a card catalog) across the campus, and an interlibrary loan system.

People coming of musical age now can curate their own "comfort music" through YouTube. If they are smart, they will use this amazing resource to develop their own opinions and ideas of what is "good" and what is not. They don't have to rely on "gatekeepers" or even algorithms. Wikipedia is, I have found, a better music encyclopedia than Grove.

And through this Covid-19 isolation young people who have a taste for music (and a good internet connection) can hear performances of new music remotely. And they will see and hear that people writing and playing "classical music" really well are people of all genders, of all races, and of all nationalities.

There are some serious points of growth that have been brought on by the Covid-19 isolation:
We are learning that there are excellent musicians everywhere. Great playing is not something that you only find in big cities. You find it everywhere.

And there are a lot of people using this time of isolation to practice.

Musicians are innovative: in the first weeks of the isolation musicians with smartphones and computers figured out how to record themselves and assemble plausible performances of short pieces with other musicians isolated in different places. I have heard some of the most moving performances put together in this way.

A lot of people use a free Acapella smartphone app that publishes directly to Facebook and Instagram. Selections are limited to three or four minutes, so shorter "classical" musical selections are being recorded and performed in this way a lot. Musicians who would not normally try their hand at arranging are making excellent arrangements. And we all know that making arrangements is a gateway drug to composition.

Some musicians are finding that they enjoy the technical process of weaving together remote voices. Some are "producing" excellent videos. These are skills of the future, because I believe that this way of music making will retain a place in the post-Covid-19 musical future.

I don't think that musicians will be abandoning the friendships they have made through these videos.

Musicians have time and space to think about what their organizations will look like once we are able to play together in real spaces, with in-person audiences. I imagine that the future of those organizations will need to be far more inclusive concerning race and gender because that is where (eventually) the greater cultures of the world are headed. And there will be more and more ensembles like Kaleidoscipe run (I hope) by people like the students I met on this forum. There is no "going back" to the way things were. And I think that is a good thing.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Robert Nathaniel Dett's "Night" arranged for euphonium and tuba ensemble

This video tribute is set to an awesome (in the true sense of the word) eight-voice arrangement of "Night" from Robert Nathaniel Dett's 1913 solo piano suite "In the Bottoms." The arrangement was made by Jasmine Pigott. She is joined (from varios remote locations) by Jermaine Fryer, Benjamin Horne, David Lamotey, Remus Webb, Jason Tanksley, Noah McDonald, Errol Rhoden, and Andre Thacker as the appropriately-named "COVID 19 Black All-Star Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble."

Instutute for Composer Diversity Spotlight on Black Composers

The Institute for Composer Diversity, a newly-created (in-process) interactive database of composers who are generally underrepresented in the field of classical music, is featuring Black composers this month. They started with composers of music for brass, particuarly for Euphonium and Tuba.

You can have a look here.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Lisa Hirsch Speaks the Truth

Thank you, Lisa.

Read her post calling out the American League of Orchestras. Then read her two posts about solidarity here and here.

And then you can spend the next several weeks thinking about how the field of what we call "classical music" can move into a better 21st century, along with the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

What's an analogy?

Yesterday afternoon I was trying to get my (hard-working but a bit overwhelmed) nine-year-old student to pay attention to the tasks at hand in the measure he was playing. I thought immediately of sitting at a railroad crossing watching the train cars go slowly by, and it crossed my mind that once a train car has moved past my field of vision I don't think about it anymore.

Me: Have you ever been sitting in a car stopped at a railroad crossing, watching train cars go by?

Student: I don't think so.

Me: I guess I'll have to think of another analogy.

Student: What's an analogy?

Monday, June 01, 2020

Vernā Myers on how to overcome our biases

These eighteen minutes of compassionate wisdom really helped me today.