Sunday, January 31, 2021

All the world through a window

On a snowy day like today, when taking a walk is just not on the agenda, the fact that I spend so much of my day looking at the world outside my house through one of five glass-covered rectangles becomes a little bit oppressive.

My first window view doesn't change that much when it is snowing, and being a normal window that is not attached to the outer world (beyond my yard and the street), I am not compelled to look at it (through it) for very long.

My second window is my iPad through which we see our children and grandchildren. The sweetest parts of the day were spent watching kids play and getting a tour of our daughter's new home. I am doing my Proust reading by way of an electronic copy (Michael has a paper copy, so our household is devoting a serious bit of shelf real estate to Proust already).

Then there is the television, through which I only saw a little bit of news today, and a YouTube video Michael found demonstrating a twenty-string harp guitar. Tonight I'll watch "The Honymooners" with Michael, and, if we stay awake, an episode of "Murphy Brown."

My fourth window is my cellphone, which didn't get much use today.

My fifth window is the computer. I put some music I'm writing (two-octave solo scale pieces for recorder and first position violin are on the docket today and for a sizable chunk of the future) into Finale on it, and I'm using it to write this blog post.

I listened to a not-yet-public video recording of some songs that I wrote last June, so my connection with the world through this computer window was rather personal, intimate, and emotional today. Listening provided a bit of time travel for me, reminding me of what I spent most of my trying-to-escape-from-the-news hours (waking and sleeping) thinking about back in May and June. 

And then there is the musical world "out there." It seems to be bustling, even without in-person concerts happening in places other than New Zealand and Australia. People are live-streaming recitals, making distanced videos, giving on-line tutorials, organizing music festivals, and, like me, writing music and practicing.  

Sometimes I feel that the musical world is like a freeway with a growing number of on-ramps, and a decreasing number of exits. Musicians seem to spend a great deal of time stuck in traffic, hoping to be able to make it to the next exit before running out of gas. We all look at one another in our cars, and imagine that everyone else is full of purpose and confident they will get "there" (wherever "there" is) because they give the impression online that they are.  

There is no way in the world that I can musically consume everything I encounter through this window. I need to remind myself that it is OK not to even try. I long for the days when the musical experience becomes "analog" again.  Practicing (which I have been doing today) and writing by hand (ditto) helps me feel less anxious about the musical world (and the extra-musical world as well).

So I will retire from this rectangle and go watch "The Honeymooners" on another.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Dorothy Fox Andante from 5 Pieces, Op. 11

What a treat it was to find this in my email today:

Here is the information that Phillip Sear put in the notes that accompany this video (copied here so that it might be found by other Fox hunters):
Phillip Sear plays a piece from around 1925 by the short-lived English composer K. Dorothy Fox (1894-1934).

There seems to be very little information available on K(alitha) Dorothy Fox. As you can see from her brief Wikipedia page she wrote a few pieces of piano and chamber music in her short life. She was born in Kensington, London, and must have been a prodigy, as her first piece was published at the age of just 12. She took her unusual first name from her mother, born Kaletha Marianne Childs. Some of her scores were published in Paris, and she was certainly living there around 1927 (her family seem to have moved overseas in the early 1900s), and she spent her last years living with a friend in Amersham, Bucks.

She died in a hotel in Windsor, Berkshire (she sadly hung herself with a silk scarf), having gone there to escape the noise from pneumatic drills at her home, and had some incomplete manuscripts with her at the time. The beneficiary of her will (and dedicatee of her viola sonata - see here for some programme notes from a 2017 performance (Ooh! that's a link to this blog!) was her brother Gerald Hugh Borlase Fox (1900-95). I put these details here in the hope that people with more information on her might find this description and be able to add to what is known of her life.

The '5 Pieces' were dedicated to another little-known British woman composer, and fellow member of the Society of Women Composers, the harpsichordist Dorothy Erhart (1894-1971).

My thumbnail shows a colourized detail from a photo in Amersham Museum of the 1934 Boxing Day hunt in the Broadway, an event Dorothy might well have witnessed as she was living in Amersham at the time.

And then there's this obituary from the Times that Mr. Sear sent:



The inquest was held at Windsor yesterday on the body of Miss K. Dorothy Fox, of Hyde Park Square, London, W., who was found hanging by a silk scarf at an hotel at Windsor on Saturday. She had been at the hotel about a fortnight, coming, is is stated, from a country town. Miss Fox was a talented composer, and a number of half-finished manuscripts were found in here luggage.

Dr. Edward Arthur Gibson, of Cleveland Square, London, said Miss Fox was 40 years old, and of independent means. Her father was abroad. She was highly strung, temperamental, and artistic.

The DEPUTY CORONER, Mr. J..A. Leonard, said that a quantity of drugs had been found in Miss Fox's room, and asked Dr. Gibson to say what they were.

Dr. Gibson examined several bottles and boxes and said they appeared to be harmless.

Miss Christabel Lowndes Yates, of Windsor House, Amersham, a novelist, said in evidence that Miss Fox had been living with her for about seven years. They met in France, where it was considered Miss Fox had only three months to live unless she could be looked after better. Miss Fox got better, but suffered from nerves. She had taken a medicinal on a doctor's prescription, but she had never threatened to take her life. She had, in fact, gone to the doctor's when she saw this drug on a list of dangerous drugs, and asked him if it would give her an urge in the direction of suicide. Thee witness did not know what the reply was, but the drug was not withdrawn.

Continuing, the witness said that Miss Fox was very small, and at one period only weighed 5st. 6oz. or 7oz. She was a very fine musician. Her work had been broadcast in several countries, and a concert of her work was given in London about a month ago, and another work was to be published in this country, France, and Germany. She was considered to be an extraordinarily promising composer. She had no love affairs so far as the witness knew, and no financial trouble.


Miss Fox had left her house a fortnight before because oof the unbearable noise from the road repairs, the witness went on. There were about eight pneumatic drills, two engines, and other noisy things, and the vibration was so bad that they had to open the windows for fear they would be broken, dismantle the wireless, and pack up the piano and the china. They could not speak on the telephone. The noise was incredible. The witness received a letter from Miss Fox posted the night before her death, and it was perfectly cheerful and normal.

The CORONER--Do you think this pneumatic drill got on her nerves?

Miss Yates--While she was there, but I don't think so after she had gone

The CORONER said that a good deal of prominence had been given to Miss Fox's death, possibly from a feeling of indignation against "these nerve-shattering machines," which were one of the many tribulations of this age of noise. But he thought in this case the noise of the pneumatic drill was a very small link in the chain of events leading to Miss Fox's unhappy ending. It was evident that Miss Fox was of an artistic and perhaps somewhat neurotic temperament. He recorded a verdict of "Suicide while of unsound mind."

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The U.S. Marine Band will perform music by Adolphus Hailstork at President Biden's Inauguration

I just learned that a new piece by Adolphus Hailstork will be performed at President Biden's inauguration tomorrow.
Norfolk, Va., Jan. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A composition by Adolphus Hailstork, Eminent Scholar and professor emeritus of music at Old Dominion University, will be performed at Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Fanfare on “Amazing Grace” is scheduled to be performed as the second piece of the inaugural prelude.

This marks just the second time that music by a contemporary African American composer has been selected to be part of the repertoire performed at a presidential inauguration, according to, a website on African heritage in classical music. It is scheduled to be performed by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band.

Hailstork came to Old Dominion in 2000. He writes in a variety of forms and styles: symphonic works and tone poems for orchestra; two concertos (for piano and for violin) and numerous chamber works; duos for such combinations as horn and piano, clarinet and piano, flute and piano; numerous songs, including those for soprano, baritone, mezzosoprano, some with piano and others with orchestra or chamber group; band works and transcriptions; and many pieces for piano and pipe organ. He retired Jan. 1.

He is working on a requiem cantata for George Floyd, “A Knee on the Neck,” one of many compositions that reflect his engagement with Black history. He expects to complete it in April.

“My poet friend Dr. Herbert Martin (who also wrote the text for Hailstork’s cantata ‘Crispus Attucks’) one day sent me – I mean it was so fast, within a week of Floyd’s murder – a complete script and called it ‘A Requiem.’ And I looked at it and said, ‘I can use this,’ and started setting it,” Hailstork said in an interview with San Francisco Classical Voice in June. “It captures a lot of things that should be mentioned and are universal. That’s why the whole world is upset over watching that murder.”

Along with a University faculty research award, Hailstork has received the ALLI AWARD for lifetime achievement from the Cultural Alliance of Greater Hampton Roads, the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Charles O. and Elisabeth C. Burgess Award for Faculty Research and Creativity from ODU's College of Arts and Letters.

The University maintains the Adolphus Hailstork Collection in the special collections area of the F. Ludwig Diehn Composers Room in the Diehn Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Thinking about the Sea Shanty in 2021

I admit that I was amused when Stephen Colbert declared 2021 the year of the Sea Shanty the other night on A Late Show, but part of me cringed when I heard him encouraging Jon Batiste to join in the shanty craze.

The Sea Shanty was, after all, sung on merchant ships as they transported cargo back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean during the decades that preceded the American Civil War. And some of the "cargo" these ships carried below decks to America was human cargo, to be delivered to slave owners in America. And the cargo carried on the return trip across the Atlantic would have been the spoils of slave labor like tobacco and cotton.

Before you start thinking about spending your afternoon (or all of 2021) listening to sea shanties, have a glance at their origin story.

Monday, January 11, 2021

British Composer Lucy Hale

Before I learned of her death (from Covid-19 at the age of twenty-six) today, I had never heard of the very fine British composer Lucy Hale. I have been listening to some of her music here on Soundcloud, and feel so sad. To write music of this quality before the age of twenty-six is remarkable. To write music of this quality at any age is remarkable. I hope her music will be available (for publication or for upload into the IMSLP by her friends, family, and colleagues). I found a list of some of her works.
[Click for a larger view]

N.B. There happens to be a Lucy Hale who is an actress and pop music singer (same year of birth, but very different trajectory because of many factors), who has a huge on-line presence, which makes this Lucy Hale harder to find in the internets.

JANUARY 12th UPDATE: Here is a wonderful tribute to Lucy Hale by Becky Morris Knight of Drake Music.

Superb readings of all of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier in animated graphical videos

Stephen Malinowski has completed his thirty-five-year-long project of making animated graphical scores for exquisite for all ninety-six pieces in the WTC. You can enter the treasure trove to read about the project here, or you can go directly to the youtube playlists through the links in the next paragraph.

Malinowski uses recordings made by the pianist Kimiko Ishizaka for Book I, and uses recordings made by the harpsichordist Colin Booth for Book II.

Here is a screenshot of some of the thumbnails:

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Beethoven Matters in 2021

I'm trying to be hopeful for this new year. I feel like I have really lowered the "bar" for what I want. So many of the things I used to worry about (or at least be concerned with) matter so little, and so many of the things I used to take for granted (like being able to play music with people and spend cold days indoors with friends, being able to visit our children and our grandchildren) seem virtually unattainable. 

And it is all due to people who willingly invite this virus into their lungs by attending (and creating) unmasked indoor events, and willingly transmit it to the lungs of others because they feel they are making a political statement. Or something. 

Since March 14th I have worn a mask every time I have gone anywhere that required me to share air with others. I have been doing everything in my power to help lift the spirits of my fellow musicians. I have practiced every day with the goal that when I emerge from this isolation I will be a better player and will contribute more to the music that I play with and for others. But this is going on too long. And too many people are getting sick, and too many people have died. Too many people will die this evening, and too many people will die tomorrow. 

I'm holding out hope for the Biden administration to speed up the delivery of vaccines and to convince 70% of the population to take them, and to wear masks and continue to practice social distancing even if they have become vaccinated. I'm working my way through the Beethoven Violin Sonatas while I wait; and the C minor Sonata (Number 7) is currently providing me that wonderful combination of solace and challenge that helps take my mind off my troubles, which are also our (as human beings and as musicians) troubles. 

In the middle of everything that we have experienced during 2020, it has still been a Beethoven year. I have spent nearly every day of it practicing one piece of Beethoven or another, and have learned a great deal about music and about violin playing during my year-long celebration of this 250th year since his birth. Now that 2020 has officially ended, I still have Beethoven's music on my stand. I'm making my way through his Violin Sonatas with new eyes and ears (because of all the other Beethoven pieces I have been practicing), and with a better command of left-hand technique and bow control (because these things grow when you practice music that demands them to grow). 

Because of all the revelations about racism and sexism in musical institutions, and the "sudden" realization (after people quietly and not so quietly mentioning it for decades) that the majority of repertoire programmed by professional orchestras, opera companiees, and chamber ensembles prior to 2020 was written by dead, white, male composers, there have been musicologists who have claimed that Beethoven should no longer be important.

I believe that the more we understand about what music is, what music does, and what music can be and can do, the more we understand that Beethoven has a special kind of relevance that transcends time, style, era, and gender. I admit that it is vital to vary our musical fare, but there are times when we need to reach for the Beethoven in order to understand what we are experiencing as human beings. Particularly now.

When this pandemic is behind us, I'm hoping that I will remember 2020 more as the year I spent practicing Beethoven every day than as the year I had to stop playing concerts and playing chamber music. Rather than the year I started wearing a mask when I went outside, I would like to think of it as the year I started becoming confident about teaching remotely. I wrote more music this year than in any other year of my life, and had more contact with musicians in far away places that seem to enjoy playing and singing what I have written.