Friday, November 27, 2020

Musical Life after Covid

Musicians have been engaging in musical life during the pandemic because it is what we do. Teachers have been teaching, students have beeen practicing, professional musicians have been practicing, and a fortunate relative handful have been playing masked concerts that are broadcast over the internet. Musicians with computer skills and the equipment to compile distanced videos have been compiling and sharing. Composers have been composing, and arrangers have been arranging.

Aside from not making money from playing concerts and playing weddings, not being able to play chamber music when the weather outside is cold or rainy, not being able to rehearse for community concerts with my piano partner, not being able to play duets with my students and friends, not being able to meet with my Renaissance group, not being able to have Summer Strings or Holiday Strings, and not being able to hear other people play in real time and space (not translated into soundwaves through a microphone and then translated by via speakers), my musical life hasn't changed that much. I actually have had more contact with musicians in far-away places than before, simply because remote contact is now the norm rather than exception.

Festivals and conferences, which are basically ways of allowing musicians in specific areas of interest to interact socially and musically, have been happening online. They might even continue to have an online component after the pandemic so that people without the financial means to travel (flying with instruments is never fun) can participate. Many of our musical worlds have even expanded during this time. Symphony orchestras, both "major" and "minor" have expanded their future repertoire to include more music written by women, people of color, and people who are living. This is all good.

There is so much music available to listen to online that it is difficult to "keep up" with all that is new and all that has been rediscovered. We are "directed" through our devices by musicians and promoters towards performances and premiers of interest, and many listeners who are not practicing musicians (and some who are) set aside time to watch these recorded performances with the same kind of excitement they would have if they were going to an in-person concert.

But when it is safe to go to concerts again, will people go? Will people in America show up for concerts played by "lesser known" musicians in smaller cities and towns? Will they go to concerts given by professional orchestras that have music they don't know on the program? Will audiences still be hesitant to spend their evening listening to "new music" for fear of encountering atonality? (Incidentally I haven't encountered much in the way of atonality in the internets during this Covid isolation. Has extra-musical life of late been simply so absurd that people crave harmony?)

I shared this photo on Facebook with the caption "Haydn for Biden," to which a violist friend responded, "But will Biden be for Haydn." Let's hope that non-pop music and the musicians who play it, sing it, and write it will be included in the "building back better" chapter of the American future.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

I'm Staying Home This Christmas

I came across this photograph the other day. The tune is obviously not "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and the syllables don't even match the rhythms. However, if you ignore the left-hand harmony, the tune sounds like a second theme of a song I may have heard before.

It started bothering me. The tune fragment kept running through my head with the words, "I'm staying home this Christmas," so I had to use it in a brand-new Christmas song addressing the stamp issue and the current Christmas season. You will find the tune on the stamp at the half-way point of the song. The "original" is in F major, and this song is a whole-step lower, in the key of E-flat major.

You can find a PDF here, and on this page of the IMSLP.

I have spared you a rendition with me singing, but I would be happy to host any festive readings of it (made at home, of course) on this page.

. . . And here's a festive recording by Susan Nelson!

(Thank you, Susan.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

"That's What She Said" about "A Cellist's Garden of Verses"

Erica Lessie's November 2020 "Postcard" over at the Cello Museum has an in-depth analysis of the set of pieces based on Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses" that I wrote for solo cello.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Schubert B flat Trio recording from 1927 played by Myra Hess, Yelly D'Aranyi, and Felix Salmond

This very kind man has been spending his time during the pandemic making videos from his (fantastic and rare) 78s using an "original instrument": a Rankin-restored EMG Model Xb Oversize Gramophone with medium tone steel needles.

This amazing recording was made on December 30, 1927, with pianist Myra Hess, violinist Yelly D'Aranyi, and cellist Felix Salmond was issued on English Columbia discs L 2103 to L 2106.

You can find all his videos here. I know where I am going to be doing a lot of my listening . . .

Many Moons

I was so excited to find this beautiful performance of my setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Moon" yesterday on YouTube, so I'm sharing it in the company of other musical settings of the poem, just because I can.

This one written by my friend Seymour Barab was recorded in 1953 by Russell Oberlin.

Here is one written and sung by Linda Trillhaase:

and one written by Margarita Zelenaia:

Here's a two-voice setting by Glenda E. Franklin: and a rather "poppy" (but attractive) one by Igor Loseev:

I found some more pop settings, but they are all preceded with ads, so I will spare you the "ad-gony" (my newly-coined word for the feeling that happens when you anticipate hearing a particular piece of music on a YouTube link and get an ad instead). While searching through the videos on YouTube I came across this lovely setting of eight poems from A Child's Garden of Verses written and sung by Jason Mulligan. He doesn't have a setting of "The Moon" in this volume, but he might have it in a forthcoming volume.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

From a house in Texas, a house in Michigan, and an old house in Paris . . .

to my house and your house.

Stephanie Bork lives in Texas and Christine Beamer lives in Michigan. They used Zoom to record this piece that I wrote as an experiment in communicating musically through remote video. What I particularly love about this video is that it is a real-time performance and not an assembling of parts. Stephanie and Christine make eye contact with one another in the same way that they would make eye contact if they were in the same room.

They watch one another's bows, welcome the periods of cacophony that result from the lags that happen with Zoom (a little random cacaphony is written into the music to illustrate the text), and they are surprised at the moments when things are suddenly perfectly synchronized.

They both have the words of the story going through their heads as they are playing, adding a third shared "voice" to the music making. If the words resonate in your head as well, then there is yet another voice added to the remote "chorus."

This time of pandemic is difficult for everyone, and we all have to be creative in the ways we compensate for not being able to do the things we do that require sharing space. Musicians, actors, and dancers have to try to cope in different ways from people who do not play, sing, act, or dance. From an early age social interaction often meant playing, singing, acting, and dancing with our friends. It is through those activities that they (we) found friends as young people, and it is the way we find friends as adults. For some of us, it is the way we make our living.

Writing music that can be used to connect people musically over physical distance has been one of the activities that has preserved my sanity over this frightening time. Usually it is the writing itself that keeps the despair away--the way that sounds, words, pitches, rhythms, and textures interact with one another in horizontal and vertical ways, but the chance to make new musical friends through writing, and being able to see and hear people I have never met in person interact with one another musically through the pitches and rhythms that I have assembled, and an unvoiced text that resonates loudly in the head along with the music, brings real joy. Thank you Stephanie. Thank you Christine.

You can find links to the music, which I have arranged for many combinations of instruments, on this page of my Thematic Catalog Blog.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Seymour Barab's Shadow

I love this setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow" by Seymour Barab. I got a 2010 CD reissue of the whole cycle, but aside from the composer and the countertenor, there is no indication of who else is playing. I am getting old enough to have mortality-related regrets. If Seymour were still alive (he would be turning 100 in January), I could call him on the phone and ask him. But I didn't know about his setting of these poems from A Child's Garden of Verses until last week, and hadn't heard them until today.
You can find all the songs in the cycle here. It seems to be one of those entries put on YouTube as a "host" for ads, unfortunately.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Windy Nights

Spoils of the day:

Sunday, November 15, 2020

On Such a Winter's Day performed by Rebecca Johnson

The video is set to start at the beginning of "On Such A Winter's Day," (the last piece on the program) but you can start at the beginning to hear the whole concert (Camargo Guarnieri's "Three Improvisations," Cordero's "Soliloquios No. 1," Fukushima's "Mei," and Lieberman's "Soliloquy).

The Anonymous Lover free streaming performance through November 29

I had little success watching the premiere livestream last night because it kept stopping, so I was happy to watch the archived performance this morning. you can access it through this webiste.

The opera, written in French in 1780, has a lighthearted and entertaining plot. The dialog is in English, and the arias, duets, and ensemble numbers are in French (so nifty to hear what we have come to think of as an Italian-style opera in French). There is also some lovely ballet music, accompanied by some wonderful dancing. The production is rather remarkable, considering the fact that the singers are not in the same physical spaces at the same times.

The singing is spectacular, the orchestral playing is excellent, the acting is pretty good, the direction is remarkably effective considering the circumstances, but it is the music itself that steals my heart. The immediate comparison is to Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges's friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but in many ways I feel that Mozart should be the one compared to Bologne.

Watch the video for yourself. The production is 90 minutes long. You can scroll through the dialog, but don't miss the wedding ballet.

I enjoyed reading James Conlon's program note, and imagine you would too.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Come, Ye Thankful People Come for various ensembles

Thanksgiving is coming up, and even if we can't safely celebrate it indoors with friends and family, we can celebrate it remotely with music. I made a few arrangements of "Come, Ye Thankful People Come" that can be played in the groups specified (strings, bassoons, trombones) or in various combinations of strings, bassoons, and trombones (or other bass-clef brass instruments). I combined audio files of all three (you can listen here), and was happy to hear that they sound pretty good together.

Unfortunately I was unable to make arrangements in this key for flutes, clarinets, and oboes that sound as good as the bassoon and trombone versions, but there is no reason that those instruments can't be used when the parts are in range.

You can find a PDF with scores and parts for all three versions here. These arrangements can also be combined with my 2014 version for violin and viola duet.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

"And this shall be for music . . ."

One of my favorite songs in all of twentieth-century music is Vaughan Williams's setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Roadside Fire" from his Songs of Travel. Here it is sung so beautifully by tenor Gervase Elwes in 1919.

I have always thought of Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry to be inherently musical. And I know now that I am not alone! Here is listing of settings of his poems, which I know is not exhaustive, since I know of one setting that is not included. It was really exciting to see that Seymour Barab wrote a setting that was recorded by his friend Russel Oberlin:

Seymour Barab [b. 1921]. ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ for voice and piano. 2 vols. Boosey and Hawkes. Recorded in 1953 by Russell Oberlin on Counterpoint CPT 539 [LP] and in 2010 on remastered CD by Essential Media Group (ASIN: B0036VNVKG)

After spending so much time with A Child's Garden of Verses, and having been such good friends with Seymour Barab (oh why did we never talk about these?), I look forward to getting my hands on the score and my ears on a copy of the recording.
But I only recently learned that Robert Louis Stevenson was an amateur musician and composer himself!

This study by J.F.M. Russell lists Robert Louis Stevenson's musical activities and projects in historical order. It is enhanced with audio links and images. I'm planning to spend a bunch of time going through them, and I'm sharing them here so that other Robert Louis Stevenson "fans" can go through them too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Joseph Bologne's 1780 Opera The Anonymous Lover this Saturday!

From Jason Victor Serinus's article in yesterday's San Francisco Classical Voice:
History will be made on Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. PST when the Colburn School and LA Opera together present a free stream of the new critical edition of Joseph Bologne’s comic opera The Anonymous Lover (L’Amant anonyme). Not only will the performance be one of the very few modern productions of a 240-year-old opera by a mostly forgotten 18th-century Black composer, it will also present a unique opportunity to explore the potential of the streaming medium as a conduit for live opera in and beyond the COVID-19 era.

If you’ve never heard of Joseph Bologne (aka Boulogne) (1745-1799), whom King Louis XV granted the title Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, it is likely due to his origins as the son of an enslaved African woman and a wealthy French plantation owner. Bologne was born and raised on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. By the time he was 10, he began to receive an elite education in France, which included private lessons in music and fencing. Bologne rapidly blossomed into one of the most versatile and talented members of the aristocracy. Initially prized for his outstanding fencing and athletic abilities, he became a member of the Gendarmes de la Garde du Roi and was known as “the god of arms.” He was admitted to the Royal Academy as a professor and soon became a star of Parisian society.

Even before he had reached France, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges began violin studies with his father’s estate manager. As befitted the son of nobleman who was a patron of the arts and had works dedicated to him by the violinist Antonio Lolli and the composer Johann Stamitz, Bologne eventually took lessons from Jean-Marie Leclair and possibly Lolli. Both Lolli and François-Joseph Gossec dedicated works to him.

You can read the rest of the article here.

And here's a link to the LA Opera page about the opera and the streaming performance (which is free).

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Robertson Davies on the language of art

From a conversation between an apprentice artist and his teacher in What's Bred in the Bone, the second novel in The Cornish Trilogy:
"Your hatred is reserved for the moderns, as mine is for you?"

"Not at all. I do not hate them. The best of them are doing what honest painters have always done, which is to paint the inner vision, or to bring the inner vision to some outer subject. But in an earlier day the inner vision presented itself in a coherent language of mythological or religious terms, and now both mythology and religion are powerless to move the modern mind. So--the search for the inner vision must be direct. The artist solicits and implores something from the realm of what the psychoanalysts, who are the great magicians of our day, call the Unconscious, though it is actually the Most Conscious. And what they fish up--what the unconscious hangs on the end of the hook the artists drop into the great well in which art has its being--may be very fine, but they express it in a language more or less private. It is not the language of mythology or religion. And the great danger is that such private language is perilously easy to fake. Much easier to fake than the well-understood language of the past . . ."

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Haydn for Biden

A warm Sunday in November, Haydn Opus 20, No. 5, and an election victory to celebrate with good friends!

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Trombones and Babies Play Grieg's Ave Maris Stella

The ultimate in trombone and baby love!

A brand new song for kids to learn the months of the year!

A friend had trouble finding an appropriate song to teach her kids about the months of the year, so I wrote one.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here. Here's an audio file with just the piano part, and here's a link to a PDF file in the IMSLP.

If anyone wants to make a video with kids, I would be happy (actually delighted) to post it here.