Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mainly Two World Tour: United States

What an honor it is to have one of my pieces, Sweet Gum, which is part of Autumn Leaves included in Mainly Two's virtual world tour!

Here's the program:

Dusty Miller (Bluegrass), arr. Edward Huws Jones

Take The A Train by Billy Strayhorn, arr. unknown

Yaquis Deer Dance (Native American traditional), trans. Clint Goss, arr. Mainly Two

Billie’s Song by Valerie Capers, arr. Mainly Two

Sweet Gum by Elaine Fine

Little Maggie (Old-time), arr. Edward Huws Jones

(Note to Michael: we need to play Billie's Song.)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Masks for Oboists and Clarinetists!

Just spreading the love here. This oboist is making and selling masks for wind players:

You can find her Etsy store here.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

More Confessions of a Former CD Reviewer

During the past decade or so I have written the occasional post about my relationship to recordings. I cut many of my musical teeth on a few dozen, and spent my young adult life exploring more music by way of recordings. I was an avid radio listener, and then became a "classical music director" of a college radio station, where I got to expand my horizons far and wide. Then I started writing CD reviews, and was charged with explaining the virtues and faults I found in them. After thirteen years of writing at least fifty reviews a year, and acquiring more recordings than I could hold in both my office and house, I stopped writing for the magazine. My relationship to the CD as an "object" became a less-than-loving one, and I took a good long break.

I have seriously only purcased half a dozen CDs in the past six years (I stopped writing reviews in 2014). I rarely listen to CDs for pleasure, unless I'm driving in the car (our car is old enough to have a CD player built in) and sharing the experience with Michael.

After a diet of listening mostly to live music for a year or two, I eventually was able to find some enjoyment in listening to recordings I found on YouTube. The pleasure of listening without having to "report" on what you hear is highly underrated.

A few weeks ago Michael ordered a copy of Augustin Hadelich's new "Bohemian Tales" recording. It has a lot of Dvorak: the Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony conducted by Jakub Hruša, Songs My Mother Taught Me, in an arragement by Hadelich and Charles Owen (the pianist on this recording), Fritz Kreisler's arrangement of the Humoresque, and the fourth Romantic Piece from the Opus 75 set. They also play the Janáček Violin Sonata, and Josef Suk's Four Pieces, Opus 17.

Michael and I listened to the Dvorak Concerto in the car, and I was excited to spend some of the trip back and forth to New Jersey that we took Thursday and Friday (bringing Michael's mother to Illinois to live) listening to more of the CD with him, but, alas, the minivan we rented did not have a CD player.

Since Michael bought the CD for me, I feel guilty about keeping the pleasure that it affords all to myself. But I have dipped in. A few times. And I intend to listen to it again and again, because the music-making is so honest and so beautifully thought out. The phrases are always tasteful, but always brought to their musical extreme: how rhythmic a hemiola can be, how agitated a "whisper" can be, how long and sustained a phrase can be, and how thoughtful and personal. And everything is about the music: what it can express, and how it can meet the emotional needs of the person listening.

My friend Danny Morganstern told me long ago that when you listen to a recording, you are listening to a person's best playing. But this CD goes beyond merely someone's best playing. This CD is satisfying on more levels than (just) the music making.

Augustin wrote the notes himself. They are brilliant notes that get right to the functional and emotional core of the music. And the notes are in both German and English. I imagine that he wrote them in both languages. The recording quality is extraordinary. It allows us to hear all the voices of his fantastic violin (the one that Szeryng used to make many of his great recordings), and to experience the Concerto differently from the usual soloist vs. orchestra approach. Here Augustin interacts with all the voices in the orchestra, weaving in and around, dancing with one instrument, and then another. When listening to this recording I feel like I am hearing the music exactly the way Dvorak heard it in his head while writing.

Dvorak certainly knew some great violinists, but I think that if Augustin Hadelich were alive during his lifetime, Augustin would have been his favorite violinist.

As I have said before, I am grateful to live in the same lifetime as Augustin Hadelich.

This morning I thought that it would be handy to use iTunes to sync this CD to my phone. I used to do that sort of thing when I had an ipod (but that was back when I was writing reviews, more than six years ago).

I loaded the CD into iTunes, and was pleased and impressed that all the tracks on the CD were appropriately named and numbered, but I could not figure out how to sync the music to my phone. I followed all the procedures, but no phone icon ever popped up to allows some sort of sync. I tried using every possible connector, but no soap.

I finally loaded the music on the CD into Dropbox, so I now can listen to it anytime and anywhere.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dramatic Reading, Musical Phrasing, and the Camera Obscura

I have spent the past several days practicing exercises and etudes that address string crossings. Practicing exercises like these helps clear my mind, because I can pay attention to getting from point A to point B (sometimes literally) clearly and cleanly, and I can pay exclusive attention to my right hand and my left hand without thinking much about anything musically sophisticated. The desired outcome of this kind of practice is, of course, to not have to think that much about technique while playing musical phrases that involve things like string crossings.

Also, during the past few days, Michael and I have read a couple of Sophocles plays out loud, in preparation for a Theater of War Event this Wednesday.

Sight-reading plays is a lot of fun. I would often find myself reading the lines very quickly in my head before reading them out loud, and could then give the kind of nuance that the phrase needed. I have never been aware of doing this kind of thing when reading poetry or prose aloud. A play provides the perfect setting for this kind of experience because silence is part of the rhythm of dialogue.

This morning I was working on the Prelude of the Bach E major Partita, and, drawing upon the spoils of my string-crossing practice, I found that I would "see" phrases physically, and then apply the bow to make lines go where I wanted them to go. It was kind of like the way a camera obscura is used for drawing.

The camera obscura projects an upside-down image on a screen or a piece of paper, and, because all a person needs to do is trace the projected image with a writing instrument, it is possible to have an extremely confident line on the page. This morning I felt like my bow was unobstructed by concerns, and my left hand, after spending hours and decades on this music, somehow had the "space" to "read ahead" and be present for my bow. I had the feeling of confidence that I get when I am tracing a clear image onto paper (with a high-quality pencil).

It was a wonderful feeling.

Saturday, August 15, 2020


Copied from a Facebook post:

Good advice for people who feel unsafe about voting in person but now fear the USPS will be unable to deliver a “mail-in” ballot in a timely fashion.

There is a way around it:

1. Request a mail-in ballot.
2. Do not mail it.
3. Google your supervisor of elections to see where you can drop off your mail-in ballot. Its usually NOT THE POLLING PLACE. All states allow this!

Here is what you're accomplishing by doing this:

1. Your ballot gets in on time no matter what happens to the USPS.
2. You don't have to worry about standing in long lines and risking infection. You're just stopping by to drop it off.
3. You still voted! Hooray!

Also, when you drop it off, find out how to track it online to make sure it is verified. California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have systems that can track your ballot just like tracking a package from Amazon.

All CA vote centers (which are open for weeks to a month before election day) have ballot drop-off boxes too! Many government buildings have them as well, so there's no need to wait until election day when it's crowded to drop them off. The list of drop-off sites is always posted on each county's voter info website.

***This is very important and I would appreciate everyone who sees this to copy it on their page. (Press and hold until the copy option pops up)***

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Saturday, August 08, 2020

86 45 11 3 20

A tonal row for our times that can be played on any instrument. (B=0, C=1, C#=2, D=3, etc.)

The Largest Online Orchestra in the World plays Mozart's Magic Flute Overture

If you look closely, I'm in there playing the second violin part, wearing a pea-green shirt! I am so proud to be a part of this world music-making project!

Augustin Hadelich and James Ehnes Talk about Stuff

What a treat for me it was to listen and watch (though the auto-focus comically goes in and out, making things blurry at moments when I really wish I could see things) Augustin Hadelich and James Ehnes talk about making recordings at home, playing double harmonics, how the different sizes of their hands and arms influence the way they hold the violin, and so much more. It is amazing to see how like-minded my two favorite active living violinists are! Make sure to watch all the way to the end, where they both say really important stuff about music.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Truth be told

We all have an idea of what is true. And that is what we each believe. But I cannot “believe” fully in someone else’s truth. I can’t, and I won’t. 

If we go through life actively seeking what is true, day by day, in spite of the obstacles we encounter, we can live genuine lives that are filled with truth. If we spend time trying to deceive others—trying to get them, for whatever reason (control, power, monetary gain, fame, conquest), we are not living a life devoted to truth. We are living a life actively devoted to deception--to covering up truth. 

If we allow others (significant and otherwise) the freedom of following their idea of the truth, then we can make a society where freedom of belief plays an active role in how we collectively go about our business. When we have debates and discussions with others that involve things we (and they) believe to be true, then we have lively debates that enlighten all parties. 

When we try to sway and bully, then we cause discord. And discord festers. Truth needs to have its figurative teeth and hair brushed daily, while discord, left unattended grows and spreads like mildew, mold, or infection.

As a small child I vaguely remember wanting to know what was true. But a child's world is small, and choices are indeed limited. And I imagine that during my unchecked and confused childhood my relationship with the truth was unformed. I still remember some of the lies I told as a child, and I still remember the things I never told anyone (but should have).

As a young teenager I longed to find some kind of truth. I tried searching for it in other young teenagers, in the songs that were popular during the 1970s that I heard at other people's houses, in the history books written for children that were in the library, in fiction I read written by adults for children, in fiction written by adults for adults, and in adults I knew. I was not successful. 

Finally, at around thirteen, I found truth in Bach, Josquin, Mozart, Monteverdi, and Brahms. And then I learned to recognize truth in other composers, like in Haydn, Beethoven and Ives. I actually got pretty good at recognizing musical truth as a teenager, but I battled with my own sense of what was true (musically and otherwise) way into adulthood. 

The search for truth led me from the flute to the recorder, and it led me from the recorder to the baroque flute, and it led me to the violin, to the viola, and back to the violin. The search for truth helps me when I am writing music. Writing music is my ultimate truth-seeking activity, and it gives me so much honest pleasure when, after fighting with a series of pitches and rhythms, something comes out right and true. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Future's Future

I find this passage, which follows a paragraph about about the relationship between the media and corporations, from Toni Morrison's The Source of Self-regard serious food for thought:
What strings these social perversions together, for me, is profound error--not only the errors in questionable but unquestioned data, in distored "official" releases, in censorship and the manipulation of the press, but also and especially faoults deepy embedded in the imagination. A prime example is the inability or unwillingless to imagine future's future. The inability or unwillingness to contemplate a future that is neither afterlife nor the tenure of grandchildren. Time itself seems not to have a future that equals the length or breadth or sweep or even the fascination of its past. Infinity is now, apparently, the domain of the past. And the future becomes discoverable space, outer space, which is in fact the discovery of past time. Billions of years of it. Random outbreaks of armageddonism and persistent apocalyptic yearnings suggest that the future is already over.
In March (which feels like the distant past) Americans either had one view of the future or we (whoever we actually is) had many views of the future, depending on where we lived, what we did for a living, what our religious beliefs were, or how we voted. Our downstate Illinois area had only a few cases for quite a while, but our governor wisely chose to move all the schools in the state to on-line learning. 

A false sense of security in these less-densely-populated parts led to an serious increase in cases. And now kids in families who either don't have the option for on-line learning, or don't want to take the option, will be spending their days in school buildings either wearing their masks or not, and either maintaining social distance or not. Administrators and teachers will end up directing much of their energy to enforcing safety, and students will end up directing much of their energy in ways that have little to do with doing their schoolwork. 

For grown-ups with advanced degrees, a trip to the supermarket is intellectually exhausting. I can't imagine what it will be like when a space the size of a grocery store is filled with kids who need to stay six feet apart.

I'm trying to imagine a future.

[from a drawing by Marc Foden] 

In the musical internets, which ends up being the place where I spend most of my "social" time, the international and collective we are starting to look at the distant and not-so-distant musical past differently. Handel, for example, owned shares in a corporation that profited from the slave trade. This piece by David Hunter in Musicology Now has information that would be most interesting to anyone reading this post. So much of the European Baroque music that we love was steeped in a culture (read: financed by people) of buying and selling human beings for the profit of their shareholders and their customers in the Americas.

While thinking about the unsavory state of musical patronage during Handel's time (and before), I can't help but reflect on the fact that I have routinely played concerts for organizations that are supported by entities that engage in business practices that I consider unsavory. I have also often played for weddings for families that may have earned the money they have paid me with in ways I would consider unsavory, and I have taught children who come from families that support politicians I seriously dislike. 

Musicians and performing organizations are using this dark time without live music to look at the business of what we call "classical" music with new eyes and listen with new ears. Some are hitching hopes to a handful of composers of color who have written music of serious quality, and are trying to imagine a musical world, a musical future, where people going to concerts in concert halls and other performance venues will be able to hear music by "rediscovered" and previously neglected (rejected) composers will have their works played by orchestras and chamber music ensembles (including the major ones) everywhere.  

Will audiences in the future respond to unfamiliar music the way they have done in the past--not showing up if they have never heard of the composer, or if they doubt the quality of the music that they will hear if the composer they never heard of was female rather than male? Will a "return to normal" involve the pipe dreams of a more equitable musical world collapsing under the weight of the traditional concert repertoire that everyone missed hearing in concert halls during the pandemic?  

Or will it not matter to most people. 

In a post recession economy (assuming that we have one in America) I wonder how long it will take for (not wealthy) people to start spending their money in order to go to concerts given by organizations that are not "A-list" organizations. I imagine that much of the free online musical content that musicians have shared during the time of Covid-19 will still be available when concert-going becomes possible again.  

I also wonder how much of the audience for "classical" music will opt to stay in, listen to CDs, and watch YouTube videos and DVDs. And I wonder if the idea of a "classical" repertoire will contract after the attempt at expansion that musicians have attempeted during this time.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Golf Links

I was flipping through a poetry anthology this evening, and came upon this poem by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn (1876-1959) that I thought I would share.

The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
       That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
      And see the men at play

Remembering Ruskay's in "I Love the Upper West Side"

I hope that this article, that links to my 2010 post about Ruskay's sparks a few memories of New York in the 1970s!

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Rainy Day Peach Muffins!

I haven't posted a recipe for a long time, but the peach muffins that I made from what we happened to have in the house today are so great that I just had to share the recipe.

Yield: twelve amazing muffins

Preheat oven to 375 F, line a muffin tin with muffin cups.


1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup cane sugar


1 egg
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 cups smashed up and thawed peaches that had been frozen with their skins on

Stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture. Spoon into the muffin tin, and bake for 25 minutes. Take the muffins out of the tin, and let them cool a bit before eating.

(I could have used a little less butter, I guess. But then they probaby wouldn't be quite as delicious.)

Michael hasn't tried one yet. But I know he will want to link to this post. Welcome Orange Crate Art readers (and future muffin eaters).

Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars

Augustin Hadelich put up this beautiful video of his performance of Jascha Heifetz's transcription of Manuel Ponce's Estrellita yesterday:

In the commentary on his Facebook page he mentioned the huge number of double sharps (34) that are in the piano part of this transcription. My immediate thought was that it could have been a visual pun on the part of Heifetz.

The song in its original key of F major works perfectly well on the violin.

When you look at the transcription, the double sharps (circled in red) appear like little stars, the literal meaning of "Estrellita."

I like to think that Heifetz was waiting for someone to notice. And there's something fitting about Augustin Hadelich being the person to publically raise the question of why Heifetz would choose a key with all those double sharps for his inventive and chromatic setting.

My next question: Who is the T.O.F. that Heifetz dedicated the transcription to?