Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Four Coliloquies for Flute and Oboe

This is a video from a March 27th concert that is part of the (this year virtual) 5th Annual International Music by Women Festival. The flutist is Rebecca Johnson, and the oboist is Elizabeth Sullivan.

It is a really windy day on the prairie today, so I thought it would be a good day to share this video (which is cued to begin when this piece begins). The fourth "coliloquy" poses a question about where the wind comes from, and where the wind goes.

You can follow the music here, if you like.

Monday, March 29, 2021

"A Tunes" on Amazon

I can't believe I'm posting this, but, since I am engaging in commerce with this educational opus, I'm pleased to say that "A Tunes" has made it into the vast (and reviewable) world of Amazon. You can see the entry in all its "prime" glory, with a "look-inside" feature here.

It also has a ranking (which I hope will go up one of these days). Bear in mind that this is day one for this listing.

I hope that people familiar with my work will leave a comment!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Marcel Proust, guest blogger

I have rarely come across writing about music that is so about music itself.
. . . just so I found my bearings in this music which was new to me, and recognized the landscape of the Vinteuil sonata; and, more wonderful than any girl, the little phrase, wrapped, caparisoned in silver, streaming with brilliant sonorities light and soft as scarves, came towards me, still recognizable under these new ornaments. My joy at meeting it again was increased by the familiar, friendly tone in which it spoke to me, so persuasive, so simple, yet allowing its rich, shimmering beauty to unfold in all its splendour. Its purpose this time, however, was simply to show me the way, a different path from that of the sonata, for this was a different, hitherto unperformed work by Vinteuil, where he had simply chosen to make an allusion (explained at this point by a note in the programme which we should have had before us) by introducing, just for a moment, the little phrase. Having been recalled for a moment in this way, it disappeared and I found myself in an unknown world once more, but I now knew, and everything I heard confirmed, that this was one of the worlds that I had not even imagined Vinteuil could have created; for when, tiring of the sonata, whose universe was exhausted for me, I tried to imagine others equally beautiful but different, I simply did as those poets do who fill their imagined Paradise with meadows, flowers and rivers duplicating those on Earth. What I now heard caused me as much joy as the sonata would have done if I had not known it; that is to say, it was just as beautiful, but different. Whereas the sonata opened on a lily-like dawn in the country, dividing its floating whiteness but only to attach it to the light but thick tangle of a rustic bower of honeysuckle and white geraniums, the new work took off on a stormy morning over flat, level surfaces like those of the sea, amid an acid silence, in an infinity of emptiness, and then it was in a rosy dawn that this unknown universe began to be built before me, drawn out of silence and night. This new, red light, so absent from the tender, rustic and candid sonata, tinged all the sky, as dawn does, with a mysterious hope.
This passage, and the passages surrounding it from "The Prisoner," the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time brings to my mind and ear the absolutely delightful Saint-Saëns Septet, Opus 65:

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Scott Hostetler, Scott Hostetler, and Scott Hostetler Play Poulenc!

Virtue and Music

I grew up in a world where musical competence was social currency. I came up with the idea that people play the way they are, and the more they practice, the more they play the way they are. Being rather naive, and making my young way in a musical world filled with grown-up musicians who were at the very top of the profession, I believed this to be true.  I expected that the grown-up musicians who played beautifully and brilliantly must be kind, moral, and virtuous people, regardless of what kinds of things I was told about them that could cause me to believe otherwise.

I spent years practicing so that I could get better, but, like most people, I had personal limitations that I simply couldn't transcend. To add insult to injury I took the phrase, "You are only as good as your last performance" to heart. It was only through changing instruments, working carefully and methodically for the past thirty years to build a technique, and learning how to solve problems my students have encountered, that I have been able to begin too grow through what I believed were personal limitations.  I know that I have become a better violinist, violist, teacher, and composer than I was a year ago, and I am grateful that I will continue to work and grow. 

My adult experience totally debunks my childish idea that people are the way they play. My new "catch phrase" is "the more carefully and consistently you practice, the more beautifully and consistently you will play." And my goal is to learn things from every "last performance," and to do better the next time.

This kind of musical mental health is hard won, particularly when music is (and always has been) so personal to me. It is not just something I "do."  A good friend who knows me well told me that music is my "transition object," serving as the major substitute for the love that I lacked as a child. I can create it and bring it to life myself, and I can construct within in it a world where truth and virtue reign supreme. As CEO of my work, I am in a position to make decisions about everything (at least while I am practicing and writing). I find total joy in doing my work. It is my way of finding amour-propre, a word I recently learned from reading Proust. And, best of all, I don't need to seek approval for what I already know is as good as I can make it be. Good enough for me is good enough. And it is up to me to raise my own standards.

Early on I learned that giving love feels very similar to receiving love, and since making music is how I habitually experience love, sharing music is the best way of expressing it. That is why I write music for people, and that is why I share most of what I write in the IMSLP. I feel balanced when I have a writing, arranging, or performing project in the works (and I feel out of balance when I don't). A piece of music isn't complete for me unless it has been played or heard by someone else. 

I was unaware the extent to which many of those great musicians I used to believe must be kind and virtuous used their feelings of superiority to "thrust" their greatness "upon" younger musicians who wanted to find their way in the professional musical world. My (more attractive than I was) female friends at Juilliard often believed that their accomplished older seducers (and would-be seducers) believed in their musical talent and their intelligence. I somehow got the message (told to me in no uncertain terms by my teacher, Julius Baker) that in order to be successful as a musician a woman needed to be attractive. Capitalizing on the way I looked in order to be successful in music was not a game I was equipped to play. I considered myself limited then. Now I consider myself fortunate.

I think that in 2021 we have started to open the door on a kinder and more equal musical world. Perhaps this pandemic year, where musicians see one another through "windows" into their houses, and everyone is trying their best to find sanity during a year when direct musical contact with people who listen to music happens mostly through electronic devices, and rarely in real time; and direct musical contact between musicians is rare, masked, distanced, and careful. 

From our "doorstep" we see more and more revelations about the abuse of power from musicians considered virtuous by some (Levine, Gelb, for example), and we see the beginnings in the musical community of an institutional intolerance for sexism and racism. We also see that celebrating "greatness" might just be an outdated nineteenth-century idea (consider Wagner and his circle). I wonder if we are at the beginning of an era where kindness and decency will have greater currency among musicians who play, conduct, and compose, and teach because of the hundreds of excellent musicians who could easily fill the shoes of those musicians who do not conduct their personal lives that the quality of their playing  (or writing) suggests has virtue.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Kenneth Woods on James Levine

Reflecting on the life and career of James Levine has been difficult to do. Kenneth Woods has done the difficult task, and has written the spot-on blog post about James Levine that everyone should read.  You can read it here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cello Tuesday with Diane Chaplin

This livestreaming concert includes a performance of "A Cellist's Garden of Verses."

Monday, March 15, 2021

Sondheim's "No one is Alone" performed by Elena Snow-Evrad and Beatriz Helgura-Snow

This was exactly the song I needed to hear this morning. And in this performance its message is so very clear.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Adoration in Memphis

What a great emotional experience it was to hear the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra my brother Marshall played in for most of his career, play my arrangement of Florence Price's "Adoration" to open their first concert after a year of silence due to Covid. You can listen to the concert here. The "Adoration" begins about 13 minutes in, after a stellar "Star-spangled Banner" played by the concertmaster.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Thank you, Augustin!

I'm really loooking forward to hearing Augustin Hadelich's recording of the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas which is coming out on CD next month. He put this video of the Largo from the Third Sonata (the C major) on YouTube today, and in four minutes and eleven seconds all the thoughts that have spent the day buzzing around my brain are now calm and organized. Thank you, Augustin. Thank you Johann Sebastian.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Imagining an alternate reality

I suppose musicians everywhere have been reflecting on the year that we have lived in a musical reality that has mostly happened through communication through microphones, recording devices, and screens. It was not the way I expected things to be. I did a search on this blog for posts that I have made that contain the phrase "live music," because I recall I pretty much stopped listening to recordings after I stopped writing CD reviews for the American Record Guide. Looking back at this year I wonder how I would have survived without the technology (any and all of it) that I used to disparage.

I am fortunate that I can hear music in its natural state (i.e. not translated into impulses and played through speakers) when I practice by myself or when I play with Michael. I feel fortunate that when the weather was still warm I was able to play a little bit of chamber music outside.

The most intimate indoor musical connections I have been able to make with people outside of my two-person household this year have been with my students (giving lessons through FaceTime) and working with people via Zoom (mostly) who are performing music I have written. The kind of contact I have had with performing musicians this year has been amazing. Before the Pandemic I rarely had this kind of contact. But now that we are all working from our homes it happens all the time. I never before imagined sitting, for example, in on a rehearsal in London in order to hear a rehearsal of a piece I wrote intended to be performed over the internet.

Would all this have happened anyway? Absolutely not. Would I have spent the year writing so much solo music? Probably not. Would I even have considered writing duets that could be played remotely? I wouldn't have had a good reason to.

I also understand more about the intimate communication that happens between a composer and a person playing a piece of music. It is truly a magical form of communication where marks on a page can translate something I make at my end into something that comes out sounding pretty much the same when played by another person I have never met who lives somewhere else. And there are no electronics involved in the communication. Just an eloquent system of musical notation that transcends time, space, and language.

I wonder how musical life will look when enough of the people on the planet have been vaccinated, and when life goes back to that new normal we are looking at somewhere along the horizon through different sets of binoculars (some more rose-colored than others). I hope that high school orchestra teachers will still let me into their rehearsals. I hope that what musicians have learned about supporting one another will stay with us, because times are always difficult for musicians. Egos are fragile in our business, and they are also omnipresent. So is hierarchy and the resulting marginalization.

We have been able to discuss sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry in the world of "classical" music with relative ease from behind a screen, but when we are "back" in real time and real space, will people continue to speak out when they observe behavior that is discriminatory?

I hope that the fortunate people who live in cities and have busy rehearsal and concert schedules will remember that there are dedicated composers (like me) who live outside of major metropolitan areas, and I hope that people who write on social media about how much they love hearing live music will come to concerts in more rural communities (like mine). I hope that my neighbors will come out to the concerts that my musical partners and I are so very eager to play.

We musicians (who by necessity spend a large amount of time in isolation anyway) really miss playing for people. It is in playing for people that we feel connected, and, if all goes well, we can help the people listening to one another. 

Music happens in (real) time and in (physical) space. Music travels in the air, and vibrates in the spaces between people. Playing music for people is not about the affirmation of ability (which is really the result of hard work). It is about the sharing the experience of air that is enriched with vibration. It is about the people who are listening hearing phrases and feeling rhythm at the same time as the people setting the sound in motion.

I wonder what it will be like to play concerts again?

March 13th marks one year of isolation for me. In 2020 it was a Friday. I played for a funeral that afternoon, and then played for Shabbat services that night. The first case in our county was reported that day, and one of the first people to get sick from Covid-19 was a member of the family holding the funeral. It feels like it was such a long time ago, but I remember that afternoon and evening so very well.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

"Adoration" performed by violinist Laura Colgate and pianist Elizabeth Hill

I love hearing the different ways that people play my transcription of Florence Price's "Adoration," and was particularly moved by this recording. What a thrill it is to have this piece chosen by the National Philharmonic to celebrate the begininning of this year's Women's History Month.

Monday, March 08, 2021

VIII Arachnida

Eight pitches in this tarantella! Thank you for such a great reading of it, Patricia Garcia!

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Solving technical problems with musical answers: thoughts about teaching

I got my "author's copies" of A Tunes this week, so I can assure you that physical copies are now available. It was a treat yesterday to teach lessons using a physical copy.

I thought that it might be a good idea to write a post expaining why I wrote it and what I hope teachers and students will get from using it. I have included a bit of my history for people who are not regular readers of this blog.

I have taught people to play, on one instrument or another, for more than forty years.  And I have also, from time to time, been in the position of being a beginner or a near beginner. When I showed up for my first day of my first real job, teaching at a music school in a small town in Austria (a week before the semester was to begin), I was shocked to see that the majority of my students were recorder students. I think that there might have been two flutists, and thirty (or more) beginning recorder players. I hadn't touched a recorder since I was six or seven--the age of many of my students. 

Fortunately there was a recorder in the top drawer of my desk, along with the beginner book my students would be using. I spent the whole week, when I wasn't studying German (which I barely spoke)  learning to play the recorder, and I fell in love with the instrument. As soon as I had enough money to do so (I arrived in Schladming with only pocket change), I bought a soprano recorder and an alto recorder.

I was shocked that my students learned to play the recorder and learned to read music. I attribute my succes to the fact that I taught myself to read music while playing the recorder when I was five or six (a Honer recorder bought with S&H Greenstamps that I put toothmarks in, because I didn't know not to--I can still remember the taste of the wood).

The kids I taught in Austria also liked the kid-oriented folk music that was in the excellent recorder book they used. It was probably used by all the kids in Austria who learned to play recorder in their music schools. In Austria recorder was the "entry level" instrument, after which you could move to any other instrument. Everyone learned to read music while playing the recorder. Just like I had.

[The mechanics of recorder playing at an elementary level are straightforward. The refinements, like bending your thumb in order to make a horizontal half hole when going up an octave, using the tongue to make a variety of articulations, mastering the fingerings in the upper octave, and adjusting the air so that you can play in tune, are not. I learned those through studying at the Hochschule in Vienna.]

I really wanted to play violin as a kid, but could not learn to play until I was seven because the smallest instrument we had in the house was a half size. And once I was big enough to fit that violin, my father gave me an "A-Tune-A-Day" book (OMG I just realized that the "A Tunes" title bears homage to that series of books!), and I vividly remember making a physical analogy to the written B on the A string using the first finger, just like the left hand (top hand) of the recorder, and that C used the second finger. And G used three fingers on the D string, just like the recorder. I made visual connections between what I saw on the page and what my left hand fingers could do to "get" the note to sound right.

When I moved to Illinois I had the idea of writing a beginner flute book for my flute students. I wanted to create the same visual and kinetic connections I had experienced when learning to play the recorder both the first time and the second time, and the way I learned to play the violin. I found that it was really useful. My students liked it, particularly the tunes that I made up myself in order to develop physical skills.

In my early 30s I returned to string playing. In my late  30s I started composing seriously. In my 40s I taught  violin and viola students using the Suzuki books, but not the method. As my abilities as a teacher improved, I started to see problems that every one of my students encountered while working through the Suzuki books. I do know that they were designed not to be "read from" by students, and that the main use was as reference for "by ear only" teaching, particularly for young students who were too young to read words fluently.

During in-person lessons with beginning students I could, by a multitude of means, get students to use a mixture of eye, ear, touch, and brain to get beyond reading by the numbers. I could use manipulative toys to help them to understand rhythm and the way it could relate to physical volume. They could listen and watch me play. We could play together. 

[nostalgic pause]

When I had to switch to on-line teaching last March, I realized that I needed to come up with new ways to help my students learn, so I started writing these "A Tunes" to address problems that I would normally need to be in the same physical space to work through. 

The first uses the pitches of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," but in a different order, and with different rhythms. The "Starry Night" title is meant to draw a connection. A person who can play "Twinkle Twinkle" can play "Starry Night," a brand-new piece, written just for their skill level, doubling their repertoire.  It also sounds really good when students use the whole bow, from frog to tip, and the "sounding good" part is a great motivator for developing a bowstroke that is parallel to the bridge and can change speeds.

"Wait, What?" uses the same pitches as "Starry Night," and introduces quarter-note and half-note rests. There is one whole note, and a whole note that is tied to a quarter note, as well as easy and functional dynamics.

"Breeze in the Trees" introduces pizzicato and addresses the difficulties that students find in "Song of the Wind." There is a fermata that will be familiar to students who have played "Allegro" in the first Suzuki book. My students all really like fermatas.

"The Big Dipper" is in 3/4 time and it introduces slurs in a way that will feel nice and expressive in a beginning bow arm. It is a variation on "Starry Night," and uses the D string when it modulates to D major in the middle section.

"A Tunes" doesn't call for the lowered second finger until the "Solo Two-Step," which also introduces the idea of musical sequences (a melodic string of sixths going between two strings with a low second finger on the A string and the E string that my students really like). The pitches and rhythms are the same in the "Slurry Two-Step," but we get slurs and dynamics. It also begins up-bow, which introduces the idea of bowing logic early on. 

"String-Crossing Waltz" combines the meter of three with hooked quarter notes played on the same pitch. Many of my students have been befuddled by the down/up/up bowing pattern in the first of the Bach Minuets in the first Suzuki book. "String-Crossing Waltz" takes the pattern out of the Bach musical context and repeats it over and over. After studying this piece the Bach Minuet is far easier for students to play in rhythm because their arms know what to do.

"The Happy Farmer" is one of the most difficult pieces to teach (and learn) for beginner violinists. I wrote "Farmer's Crossing" to address each of the bowing difficulties separately. I also added left-hand pizzicato on open strings, which strengthens the left hand, and students really like doing. After working on "Farmer's Crossing" my students have been far happier farmers.

The two "Leading-Tone Gallops" (one slurred and one not slurred) in E minor teach students about the raised third finger and the fourth finger plopping down right next to it. The title gives a chance for a teacher to explain about scale structure. These Gallops,  "Gotcha!," and "The Fourth Heroic Muse" will help with the Gossec "Gavotte" and the Handel "Chorus" that begins the second Suzuki book. The Gallops also help navigate the fourth-finger waters found in the Bach Musette and the middle section of the Lully Gavotte (which, for the record, is really by Marin Marias).

The second Suzuki book works fine on its own for me until we get to the Beethoven Minuet in G, which is riddled with left-hand and right-hand difficulties. I wrote "Te Unim" to isolate the difficulties and put them in a vastly different musical context from the very familiar Beethoven piece.  The title is the word "Minuet" spelled backwards. I'm surprised how well it works with students.

"Goodnight Air" uses the rhythms of the well-known children's book Goodnight Moon, and introduces the way meter that changes in order to "hold" the rhythms of the music. The phrasing of the text becomes the phrasing of the music, and it playing the phrases expressively becomes a gateway for being expressive when playing other pieces of music. It can also serve as a gateway for students to write musical settings of poems they like. 

The Castor and Pollux Lullaby and Dance are harmonized (double-stop) versions of the "Starry Night" theme. They are in different meters, which provides an easy way to introduce compound time to students.

The "Vocalise" and "Appogiare with Variations" are just expresesive solo pieces, and they can be played by violinists at any level. One of my advanced students played some of these pieces as violin solos for a wedding she played this past October. 

All these pieces are written as expressive solo pieces that can be performed without the need for accompaniment. There is something empowering about being in charge of all of the music.

If "A Tunes" sells well in the original violin version, I'm hoping that Mel Bay will issue a version for viola.

You can order the music here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Music by Women Festival Concert Tonight (Live on YouTube)

I'm excited to hear this concert tonight, coming live (on tape) from Mississippi University for Women. This is the fifth year of the festival, and the second year that a piece of mine has been included. The whole festival is online, so it can reach a far wider audience than it ever has before.

Here's the program 

Suite in a minor - Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)




Gavotte Allegro 

Aria Affettuoso 


Elizabeth CD Brown, baroque guitar (Pacific Lutheran University) 

“Wit and Whimsy: The Flute Music of Elaine Fine” 

A Flutist’s Garden of Verses: Five Pieces for Solo Alto and Bass Flute - Elaine Fine

1. The Swing 

2. Foreign Lands 

3. My Shadow 

4. My Bed is a Boat 

5. Singing 

Carol Shansky (New Jersey City University) 

In An Old House in Paris: An Antiphonal Piece for Two Musicians to Play Over the Internet - Elaine Fine 

Carol Shansky (New Jersey City University) 

Michelle Kiec (Kutztown University) 

The Whistleblower Complaint - Elaine Fine 

Carol Shansky (New Jersey City University) 

Fantasy in A - Joanna Kenyon 

Fabio Menchetti, piano (Washington State University)  

Rejoice, Rejoice - Lelia Naylor Morris (1862-1929) 

arr. Hersey Dr. Brian Meixner, euphonium (High Point University) 

Dr. Joanna Hersey, euphonium (University of North Carolina at Pembroke) 

Dr. Dan Johnson, tuba (University of North Carolina at Wilmington) 

Dr. William Beach, tuba (Campbell University)

The Gift of the Condor: a new piece to teach kids about the orchestra

This is a new orchestral piece for an audience of children (of all ages) that uses one-on-a-part winds and brass (all with solos), percussion, strings, and a narrator. The protagonist in the story is a solo child violinist (of any age). The voices of the animal characters, some that have rhythmic notation, can come from within the ensemble.
The total performance time is 22 minutes.

The score, parts, and script are available on this page of the IMSLP.

You can also listen to a midi recording here. It takes about 19 minutes, and one of the sections of the midi has a narration made by my in-house narrator (i.e. me).

You can follow the script by going here. Robin and I were inspired to write this because we realized that the animals in "Peter and the Wolf" and the "Carnival of the Animals," pieces that we have played at children's concerts for half a century, do not resonate as well with twenty-first-century children as they did with children of previous centuries. We felt that the menagerie needed a twenty-first-century update. We consulted our students in order to find the animals that would resonate most musically with them. The whale was included because one of my granddaughters loves whales.

Here is the list of animals represented, along with the instruments and instrumental combinations that represent them:
Bunny (featuring the xylophone)
Condor (featuring the bass clarinet, the viola, and the timpani)
Dog (featuring the trumpet)
Dragon (featuring a brass quartet)
Raccoon (featuring a woodwind trio)
Squirrels (featuring the strings)
Crocodile (featuring the snare drum and the trombone)
Snakes (featuring strings, trumpet, and woodwinds)
Unicorn (featuring the French Horn, of course)
Camel (featuring the flute and the English Horn)
Whale (featuring the tuba)
Teddy Bear (featuring the strings)
Olivia/Oliver, the solo child violinist, engages in musical dialogue with all of these animals. The technical demands of the Olivia/Oliver part are minimal: the part could be played by a confident young violinist who has been playing for two or three years and likes to do a little acting. The story includes riddles, and can involve the work of a "quick drawing" visual artist as well as imaginative drawings by kids in the audience. There are many possibilities for engaging and interactive performances.

The themes involved are curiosity, imagination, and engagement.