Monday, July 27, 2020

Ladder of Escape for Four Bassoons

Creative work usually works as a ladder of escape for me. Writing this piece for four bassoons this past week really helped get me out of a lousy headspace. I had great fun yesterday making the cover out of bassoon parts, which was a project in itself:

Today I made a allegorical video collage to go with the music:

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

Friday, July 24, 2020

New audiences (post Covid) for classical music

I just bought a ticket to hear Augustin Hadelich play a recital tomorrow night at Tanglewood. It cost $12.00, and since I'm going to watch it with Michael, that's $6.00 per person.

I haven't been to a concert at Tanglewood in nearly twenty years. It has been so long, in fact, that the hall that this concert is being broadcast from wasn't even built. After my father retired from the Boston Symphony, and no longer spent his summers at Tanglewood, our trips to Tanglewood ended.

This season nobody except the performers, the concert arrangers, and the people doing the filming will be at this concert. The audience of people from all over the world will be, like me and Michael, sitting in our homes. We can read the concert program by way of a PDF. We can also watch it again during the coming week.

People can make their own picnics and pre-concert dinners. Michael and I will be having leftover Thai food.

Musicians and concert organizations worry about whether the audiences for our concerts will return after the pandemic is over. With the likelihood of a serious economic collapse in our future (at least in America), we wonder if people will have money and time to actually go to concerts. We wonder, with lower-capacity seating in concert halls, if we will be able to bring in enough revenue from ticket sales to pay decent salaries for people who are performing, and pay decent salaries for the people in the concert-giving organizations to do the technical work, to run the organization, and to do the necessary publicity.

If there is an online concert option bundled into subscriptions, even for smaller and regional orchestras and chamber ensembles, musicians everywhere might be able to reach wider audiences--making it possible for people who don't live in a city where a particular performance is taking place to hear and see it live. If it is a premiere, all the better. And if this online option is successful, orchestras and chamber music ensembles might be able to do programming that is innovative, with music by lesser-known composers that should be programmed, rehearsed, and performed.

If there is enough revenue from online ticket sales and subscriptions, in-person ticket prices could be lowered enough to give people who normally can't afford to go to concerts the chance to go.

Who knows? There might even be a place for reviewers in this new musical world.

Early American Music from the Ephrata Cloister!

This is one of the most exciting musicological discoveries ever. And I love the fact that it was prompted by the mention of Georg Conrad Beissel, the founder of the Ephrata Cloister, in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus. The Hymnal that holds this forgotten American music (written by three women: Sister Föben, Sister Ketura and Sister Hanna) has been hidden in plain sight.

You can read Avery Keatley's NPR article about the music, the community, and the upcoming recording here, and you can read more about the Ephrata Cloister here.

Stephanie Chase interviews Robin Fay Massey in Stay Thirsty

I love this interview that the violinist Stephanie Chase did with my friend Robin Fay Massey. Robin is a exceptional violist, a dedicated emergency room nurse, and an exemplary human being.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

King's Singers New Music Prize for Composers

I normally don't post announcements about music competitions here, but this one looks interesting. I haven't written choral music (or been a member of a chorus) for years, so this is not something I am comfortable entering, but I appreciate the inclusive nature of the competition and the support for composers that the King's Singers offer through the website.

This page has information about the texts to set and information about the people who will be judging the competition.

Price Adoration played by the Scottish Freelancers Ensemble

[. . . and they are playing my arrangement!]

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Who is the music for now?

In 1981 the bass player Tony Halligan used to say, "No matter how well you play, it's just someone's night out." It made a lot of sense then.

Now a "night out" to hear a concert is something that most of us (living in the Americas) can't do. We can pretend to have a night out, and listen to a recorded performance. We can do our best to make watching recorded performances seem like special events, or "nights out." We can participate in scheduled premieres and livestreams, and can feel like we are watching with other people, but this pandemic has taught me that Tony Halligan's words don't really apply anymore. And they may never apply again.

This morning, while I was having a great time practicing some Mazas "artist" etudes, I was thinking that Mazas wrote these for people like me. He wrote them for people who want to have harmonic and melodic experiences on the violin, while playing alone. He wrote them for people who would like to explore aspects of technique, and improve their playing. He also wrote them, clearly, to amuse himself, and to give himself and his students music to practice so that they could grow as musicians.

But music has other purposes too. I made a list this morning. The order is random, and I would hope that someone reading this list might want to add something to it in the comments.

Who (or what) is the music for now?

Music is being written and arranged to connect people over time and space.
Music is written to convey the meaning of words.
Music is written to convey other meanings of groups of words.
Music is written in order to allow us to marvel.
Music is written in order to allow us to escape.
Music is written in order to make us want to dance.
Music is written in order to make us want to sing.

Music helps us mark time, in small ways (like a few minutes or an hour, and in big ways, like an era).
Music helps us organize time.
Music helps inspire visual imagination.
Music helps us imagine a better world.
Music helps us to recognize and embrace the whole range of human emotions.
Music provides a safe way to express the darker sides of our natures.
Music provides a safe way for us to express the hopeful sides of our natures.
Music helps us learn languages that we wouldn't normally speak (or sing).
Music helps us learn about cultures we wouldn't normally encounter in our day-to-day lives.
Music helps us to recognize ways of organizing time we wouldn't normally think of.

Music helps us want to learn about the world.
Music teaches children to sing with their own voices.
Music teaches adults to sing with their own voices.
Music teaches us to listen to ourselves honestly.
Music teaches us to listen to other people honestly.
Music helps people gain confidence when communicating with others.
Music helps us each to seek out, hear, and accept our own authentic and unique voice.

Music helps people remember.
Music sometimes helps people forget.
Music keeps us company.
Music helps connect us to the larger world.
Music helps us realize that the world is vast, even though our circle of relationships may be small.
Music helps us form communities.
Music helps us feel that we belong.
Music helps us grow as instrumentalists, singers, composers, and human beings.
Music gives us pleasure.

Music certainly can entertain us, but I think it is far more important to remember that music offers a way we can interact with our fellow humans, whether we are playing with them or playing for them to listen, once it is safe to play together.

I like to live my musical life thinking that every day of isolation brings us closer to the time when we can take part in a better musical world. So that's why I keep practicing and writing music. I keep reminding myself that this is time I can use to grow as a musician, and the people I meet and play with after we don't have to worry about the virus (because we will all be vaccinated) will never again take the importance of their musical lives for granted.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Eleanor Aller (of the Hollywood Quartet) Interview from 1994

Eleanor Aller's son Frederick Zlotkin gave me permission to post this amazing radio interview with his mother. In addition to being the cellist of the Hollywood Quartet, Aller was the principal cellist of the Warner Brothers studio orchestra from 1939 through the 1970s, so any cello solo you hear in any Warner Brothers movie is being played by her. The IMDB listing for her is clearly only partial.

You can hear more from the Hollywood Quartet because some very kind people have shared their Hollywood Quartet recordings on YouTube.

I found a great portal to all things having to do with the Hollywood String Quartet, which is part of the Felix Slatkin website. Don't miss the link about the friendship between the Slatkins and Frank Sinatra.

You will surely want to explore these pages and links after hearing the interview.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

John Elwood Price (1935 - 1995)

I got a message the other day from a cellist who was working on a catalog of music written by African American composers that included some cello music by John Elwood Price. I never got the chance to meet John Price. He left my university town before I arrived, but I did hear a performance of an impressive piece for solo cello that he wrote for a friend who has since retired from the music department.

The person who contacted me was interested in the piece, and he was interested in getting in contact with the cellist who premiered it. I remember that my cellist friend had a T-shirt made from the first page of the score. It was quite a shirt. It was quite a score.

I tried to find some published music by John Price online, and was unsuccessful, but I was able to find entries for twelve pieces written by John Price in the Worldcat. Most of them them are manuscripts or holographs of manuscripts.

The manuscript of the unpublished "Damnation of Doctor Faustus" for tenor, choir, and orchestra is in the Indiana University library, and there are copies of the manuscript for his Scherzo I for clarinet and orchestra in the Unversity of Illinois Library and the Indiana University Library. The manuscript of the solo cello piece I heard, Impulse and Deviation, is in the U of I and I.U. libraries as well as in the New York Public Library.

There is a copy of Price's "Blues and Circle Dance" for solo viola in the Brigham Young collection of viola music, and there are manuscripts and holographs of pieces for solo double bass, a quartet for violin, viola, horn, and bassoon, and some piano pieces in the New York Public Library, U of I, and I.U.

I wonder where manuscripts of Price's other pieces could be?

I found a reference to the 1992 premiere of Price's Tuba Concerto, but could not find a way to locate the music.

Musicologists take note. It is not enough to document the existence of music by African American composers. It is your responsibility to evaluate it and get it into circulation so that it can be played and studied. That is the only way that music written by composers who are no longer alive can have a chance at becoming part of the fabric of musical life.

There are editions to be made, and there are performances to arrange. And I recommend the IMSLP as a way for getting the music into the hands of musicians quickly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Summer Music

This is my first attempt at synchronizing computer-generated audio with human-generated audio and video! It is NOT easy, and the result of synchronizing everything with the tools I have at hand is imperfect.

My day has been dotted with attempts. I started with an iphone video (my ipad needed to charge so that I could use it for lessons), a Zoom audio recorder, bluetooth earbuds, and a computer-generated piano part that I made from a Finale file.

I placed the Zoom recorder right between my computer and my phone, and I pressed "play" on all the devices. I picked up my violin, and after four tries I had a decent recording (which felt pretty good). I loaded the audio files into Audacity, where I found all sorts of delays and lags ebbing and flowing freely through the three minutes of the piece. I guess there might have been some kind of bluetooth delay. I was disappointed.

After teaching a few lessons this afternoon, I tried again. This time I used my iPad and wired headphones, which I stuck into my iPhone. I listened to the piano part by way of Dropbox. Everything went swimmingly except for the fact that I played the piece through the three times with the Zoom recorder on "stand-by" rather than on "record." I gave myself one more attempt, which is what you see and hear here.

This time, after about half an hour of pushing and pulling in Audacity to get everything to start at the same time, I was able to line up the violin part with the piano part. I also gave the recording the ambience being made a larger room, which makes the piano sound more "human" to me.

I used iMovie, a program on my computer that I really don't know how to use properly, to line up the iPad recording with my mixed live/virtual recording. I spent a LONG time trying to figure out how to mute the audio on the iPad video file, and eventually succeeded.

You will, no doubt, notice that about halfway through the video my bow no longer matches the sound. I have no idea how to fix it. I'll leave that kind of thing to digital natives with more sophisticated equipment.

After all this, I still like the piece. And I'm happy to share it here.

The music is on this page of the IMSLP.

Price "Adoration" in Chicago at a Vigil for Elijah McClain

Monday, July 13, 2020

Complete Bach Cello Suite Allemande Project (BWV 1007 - 1012) for String Quartet

I finished my string quartet settings of the Bach Cello Suites today, and have made the scores and individual parts available here (to download for free).

And you can listen to the whole set here (it takes about twenty-eight minutes).

P.s. Two years ago I arranged the Preludes for string quartet. You can find links to the music here.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Saturday, July 11, 2020

A few (more) words about Florence Price

When I first came across Florence Price's "Adoration" I was surprised that she wrote it in 1951. If you were a composer in 1951 it was not "cool" to write tonal music. Manipulating dodecophonic tone rows was considered by influential twentieth-century European composers as the "next phase" of music after Wagner and Brahms. Price, who studied in America with George Chadwick, was a traditionalist. She was still writing tonal music during a time when tonal composers were rarely taken seriously. Thank goodness we have moved beyond the influence of the mostly male and academic "gatekeepers" who dismissed what they had never heard as not being worth hearing.

I am so happy that Price's music is now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, being performed and recorded. I also hope that this recent Price "frenzy" (I am speaking in relative terms here) lasts into the next decades and through the twenty-first century because of the quality of her music, and the immaginative way she uses the traditional orchestra. I hope that a twentieth century composer she will be considered an important voice, and that people of the future (near and distant) will talk about her music and play it because of its quality, and not only because they want to avoid just playing music by composers who are male and/or white.

Wouldn't it be great if in the future people listening to the radio might hear a piece by Florence Price that they had never heard before and recognize her compositional style? There are ways of keeping Price's music in the public ear, but in ordet to do so broadcasters, teachers, and people who present concerts will have to take risks.

For starters you can find entries for Florence Price in the WorldCat, including a 1929 String Quartet, and an undated String Quartet No. 2, Five folksongs in counterpoint for string quartet, lots of songs (many set to poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Langston Hughes), a Quintet for Piano and Strings, two Fantisies for violin and piano, two violin concertos, three symphonies (some of her better-known works), a lot of piano music, a lot of organ music, some religious music, and some educational music.

Musicologists take note: there are pieces that are still in manuscript. University librarians take note: having Price's music in your library means that it will be available for present and future generations of students to study and perform.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Cultural Reset?

I just watched a video on twitter with a four-year-old girl complaining that the ice-cream truck is shut down, and MacDonalds is shut down, and the unfairness of it all. Her feelings are real. She speaks for so many of us. She is bored. Take-out food (her parents remind her that they can still get take-out from MacDonalds) doesn't cut it for this girl. She misses the play place and the music. Her parents remind her that they can't go to church either (not the first thing on this child's mind), and have to watch it on the TV. Yes, the child agrees, but she can't get the candy and prizes (and she elaborates) that they give out at church.

It reminds me of the parades that we used to attend in town. The whole reason that kids wanted to go was to pick up and collect (and later eat) the candy that the paraders threw onto the street. (It occurs to me that on non-parade days parents wouldn't usually let their kids pick up candy from the street.)

Social isolation from their friends is certainly something that kids have every reason to complain about. But I like to think that my inner four-year-old would be complaining about people not wearing masks and not following guidelines for social distancing BECAUSE that is what causes the virus to spread and for people to get sick. My inner four-year-old, who would be a little afraid about starting school when she turns five, would not want to enter a building where sickness could be lurking in the air because there are people in my town who believe that wearing masks would make them look like Democrats, and maybe even show that I didn't trust in the god that people say is supposed to protect us from things that might hurt us if I am "good."

It seems to me, from what I see and read on my computer, tablet, and phone from the house where I spent most of my time, that there are a lot people much older than four that seem to see the world the way this complaining four-year-old sees the world. "They" shut things down. "They" make rules about wearing masks. "They" tell me what to do.

These over-sized four-year-olds (and I include the current Republican president and his enablers) show exactly why America has lost credibility in the larger world. Responsible parents do their best to get their children to steer away from the cultural tendencies of selfishness and consumerism, but when other cultural factors that do not involve money or trade are not present in their lives, it is difficult to do.

When I was a teenager and a young adult, I used to think about the fact that all the things I cared about (music, art, books, nature) were kind of "extra" to the stuff that made the world work. It used to bother me a lot. I felt like an outsider. Now I embrace the things I learned, read, and experienced musically during my (relatively) isolated youth.

I like to believe that in this time of isolation, the greater "we" might be making ourselves ready for a cultural reset. Approaching the school year with the idea of universal remote learning, which would mean a lot of work for teachers (and, perhaps, more employment for people who might have retired from teaching, but could be called upon by school districts to help ease the load for teachers), would mean that we would reduce the spread of the virus significantly. State and local governments could make it possible for school districts to supply tablets to students who can't afford them, and make wifi centers (safe spaces with social distancing, responsible adults in charge, required masks, and filtered air systems) available for people who don't have internet connections. The federal government could help well, but I'm not going to hold my breath during this administration, and with this senate.

Students learning remotely could have required reading and writing (for various subjects) to do on their own time, and lessons for the day with various teachers could be archived so that students could go back to them. The teaching time of the school day could be reduced to three hours, and the student work time could take the rest of the day. It's not rocket science. And for two-parent households who can't work from home, government subsidies could be paid in order for one parent to remain at home with the kids. For single-parent homes there could be safe community spaces (large classrooms, libraries, gyms) where the students could take classes and do their work. Adults could be employed (and paid well) to "proctor" those spaces. That leaves teachers with the time and space to teach, grade homework, and prepare lessons. And those learning spaces could be spread across the community, so that one is a short walk for students.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Augustin Hadelich accompanies 37 musicians playing Florence Price's "Adoration."

I am usually pretty good expressing myself with words, but there is no possible way I could adequately describe the combination of feelings I have about this video.

Making the arrangement (for my own use, and then to share with friends) was a great pleasure. But hearing it played by fellow admirers of Augustin Hadelich (who is playing piano with each of them) remotely, from so many places (homes) around the world, is almost more than my heart can take. Hearing them all loving this beautiful Florence Price piece is what music is all about.

These are the violinists, violist, and guitarist who are playing in this video: Geneva Lewis, Patricia Cole, Akemi Takayama, Arun Asthagiri, Giuseppe Mengoli, Wei-Chung Chen, Karen Silva, Sharon Kwee, Nadia Ettinger, Joyce Kwak, Ana Sofia Rodrigues, Cheryl Gaudiano, Trent Ransom, Celina Bethoux, You-Jung Han, Malhar Kute, Mai Matsumoto, Savion Washington, Alberta Douglas, Jana Kaiser-Döge, Rachel Ginebra (guitar), Bruce Goldstein, Emily Corbett, Emily Kalish, Ion Scripcaru, Gonzalo Beltran, Amy Wang-Hiller, Phoebe Liu, Antoniu-Theodor Andreescu, Emilia Wagner, Natalie Wong, Sofia Nikas (viola), Raquel Pascual Peña, Selah Kwak, Mark Miller, Juan Luis Sosa and Bassam Nashawati.

Monday, July 06, 2020

WWBD: Allemande Project

It is very hot outside, and the air is full of so much pollen that it bothers me, a person who normally isn't bothered by seasonal allergies. And breathing the air is dangerous indoors in these parts because too many people refuse to wear masks when they go grocery shopping, which is the only indoor outside activity that either Michael and me do these days.

We always wear masks when we go, and we only go to the store every two or three weeks.

Watching the news is heartbreaking, and we distract ourselves with family banter, good books, and good movies. But most of our fun happens inside our individual heads (and on our blogs, of course).

The inside of my head, right now, is filled with adding voices to the Bach Cello Suites. A few years ago I did a Prelude Project where I adapted the Preludes of the Cello Suites for string quartet, and now I am deeply into adapting the Allemands (or Allemanden, or Allemandes--I'm still not sure of how I want to spell or pluralize the French word that describes a German dance).

I find myself making choices and following musical trains of thought that Bach might have made and followed, and when a measure or phrase ends up sounding a little (or a lot) like Bach, I get a real thrill. When a measure or phrase ends up sounding good, but does not necessarily sound like Bach, it's a cause of celebration as well.

There's a constant Bach party going on inside my head. I leave the room occasionally to do other things (like today I'm practicing the Beethoven "Spring" Sonata, and am contemplating making some chocolate chip cookies either tonight or tomorrow), but I always come back, and it is always lively and filled with possibilities.

Here's an audio draft of the C major Allemande. I spent much of yesterday and today working on the E-flat major Allemande. I will put the finished project into the IMSLP.

N.B. WWBD = What Would Bach Do

Saturday, July 04, 2020

8 minutes 46 seconds

Remo Giazotto, who is sometimes maligned by musicologists these days for claiming that his Adagio was a setting of fragments by Albinoni, could never have imagined the circumstances for which his piece could provide such a heart-wrenching sense of time, as well as a sense of this time.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Fugue, BWV 542 (originally written for organ)

Tedi Papavrami's playing of his brilliant transcription of this Bach fugue is really inspiring:

It helps us remember about the great things that are (and have been) in this world of ours.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson

I had never heard of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson before this afternoon, but this piece (and this performance) certainly makes me want to hear more. His chamber music is listed in his Wikipedia article, and appears to be available through the British publisher Lauren Keiser (who passed away last month at the age of 74). Keiser's catalog is being distributed by Hal Leonard, according to this press release, and they are keeping Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's music in print.

They might consider promoting it.

Musicologists and librarians take note! If we want to include more music written by African American composers in the concert repertoire, having it available to musicians is the first and most important step. Letting people know about it is the second step. Having it available in university libraries is the third step.

You can read Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's New York Times obituary here.