Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Of Goats and Boats

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my music teacher asked our class to ask our parents for traditional songs that they might have grown up with. One friend brought in two songs, and those two songs were my favorites. My teacher assumed that they were both Latvian (only one was), so I have spent the past several decades scouring collections of Latvian songs looking for one that I remember as being titled "Where go the Boats." I have also shared this image with every Latvian person I have encountered:

I shared it with a trumpet-playing friend, and through the magic of his internet search he found that it was a Welsh song called "Cyfri'r Geifr"

Imagine my absolute joy hearing the melody and the words that have haunted my dreams during the past half century!

There's even a Wikipedia page about the song, and from that Wikipedia page I learned that the song is not about boats at all. It's about counting goats!

And here's an animated video to help kids in Wales to learn colors! You can learn your colors in Welsh too!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Garbage Day Life Hack

I have been meaning to share this "life hack" for a while:

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Augustin Hadelich's Bach Sonatas and Partitas

I have known these pieces all of my life. I developed the way I wanted to hear them early on. I couldn't help seeking the sound and interpretations I grew up hearing (daily, and played by a great violinist in his early thirties, and then--also daily--a fifth lower on the viola). In the recordings I would later hear as an adult (seeking to replicate the best moments of my childhood experience), Milstein came the closest.

As an adult I always have the violin original (in the Szeryng edition) and the Polo transcription for viola on my stand. I alternate runs of the Sonatas and Partitas with runs of the Bach Cello Suites, and pepper them with runs of the Telemann Fantasies.

Before listening to Augustin Hadelich's 2021 recording I thought I knew these pieces rather well. But listening to this set, which he plays as a cycle: moving from the darkness of the G minor Sonata, through introspection, periods of questioning, periods of pathos, periods of complexity, and through the deep contours of the soul (the over-soul, if you will), with a trumphant arrival in C major (the third sonata, the fifth of the cycle), and a light set of celebratory dances in E major filled with humor, shows me just how perfunctory my understanding of this music has been.

Hadelich makes Bach's phrases feel absolute. He allows them to follow a logical kind of argument, which makes each movement a fully satisfying "chapter" that holds my attention from beginning to end. And then each subsequent "chapter" builds and reflects on the previous "goings on." He does this in a way that is not at all tiring to the listener, because, like a great film director working with great material, Hadelich is doing all the work. Listening allows me the space to observe and enjoy lines of music and counterpoint that I have never noticed before. It is like a walk in the woods with an expert guide who knows everything happening underground, above ground, and in the atmosphere.

My first introduction to Augustin Hadelich was during the preliminary round of the Indianapolis Violin Competition in 2006. He played the first two movements of the Bach A minor Sonata, and I was dazzled by his interpretation. But now, fifteen years later, his way of playing that piece is just as dazzling, but it is different. It is different beyond being more nuanced and sophisticated. He has moved into that musical territory of Bach playing "occupied" by Dinu Lipati.

(He also has a new violin--one of the great Strads--and a baroque bow, which allows for the kind of connection between notes that is so difficult to achieve with a modern bow.)

Now when I put bow to string to play Bach, my musical world of possibilities has been changed. Bach's music has always been music of the present and the future (with a nod to the past, which Bach experienced as his musical present). Hadelich's Bach steps forward and reveals new musical possibilities to me. No other violinist I have encountered, either in person or through recordings, has had his particular generousity of spirit, tremendous intelligence (musical and otherwise), and freedom to reach beyond playing traditions and bring Bach to a place where his music should be: current, modern, and, like nature (when it is allowed to) ever renewing.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Dawn Chorus

I really love the chorus of birds (and frogs) that sing in the trees in our yard. It brightens my spirit every day. And despite the worries of the world (close by and far away) that can wear on me during the rest of the day, I seem to wake up each morning feeling hopeful.

I assure you that the quotation of any actual bird song you might hear in this chorus of piccolo, two flutes, clarinet, bassoon, violin, and viola is purely unconscious, and certainly accidental.
[June 24, 2021]
The score and parts are available on this page of the IMSLP, You can listen here (it's about five minutes long).

Florence Price's "Thumbnail Sketches" now for string quartet

A few months ago I was looking at Florence Price's "Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman," a piece she wrote for piano, and I noticed that if I transposed up a half step it would work really well for string quartet.

The score and parts for my string quartet transcription are now available on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Please read what Michael Cooper has to say about this piece and this transcription. His post also has links to performances of three of the movements of the piece by pianist Kevin Wayne Bumpers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Scott Tennant Guitar Recital at St. Marks in San Francisco

This concert is from November of 2020. The video is set to begin when Scott Tennant's portion of the concert starts.

-Campanas del Alba
Eduardo Sainz de la Maza (1903-1982)

-Preludio de Adiós - 22:14
-Floreando - 25:06
Alfonso Montes (born 1955)

Music from an Age of Enlightenment

-Les Barricades Mysterieuses - 32:44
F. Couperin (1668-1733) (trans. S. Tennant)

-La Fanfarinette - 35:45
J.P. Rameau (1683-1764) (trans. S. Tennant)

-Ouverture de la Grotte de Versailles - 38:51
J.B. Lully (1632-1687) (arr. R. deVisée/A. Dunn)

-La Muzette – Rondeau - 42:21
R. de Visée (tr. A. Dunn )

-Les Sylvains - 46:52
F. Couperin (arr. de Visée/A. Dunn)

-My Gentle Harp/Wild Mountain Thyme - 53:24
Traditional Irish/Scottish (arr. by G. Garcia/S. Tennant)

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Celebrating Juneteenth with Marian Anderson and Florence Price

This is the arrangement of "My Soul's Been Anchored in de Lord" that Florence Price made for her friend Marian Anderson:

Friday, June 18, 2021

Playing with my food

I haven't written about food for a long time. I enjoyed what I made today for lunch so much that I took a picture, and am making a post (so I don't forget about it in times when I might need a little lift).

In homage to my paternal grandmother, who I don't recall ever meeting, I am not listing exact quantities. I have heard that my grandmother was a great cook, but that she never used actual recipes, and never wrote anything down.

I used some cold cooked wheat berries (maybe 1/4 to 1/2 cup), a handful of chopped walnuts, some sprouts, a few grape tomatoes cut in half, and some steamed and cooled broccoli.

The dressing is made from the juice of a lemon and almost equal amount of sesame tahini. Mix them together until they form a thick tan-colored paste (it is magical the way they combine), and then add a little water until the paste is smooth and white. Add a little salt and a few thin slices of jalapeno pepper (I keep a jar of dried slices on hand).

Arrange the ingredients into an attractive circle. This plate could easily have served two people, but I ate it all myself.

Let me take this opportunity to share another picture and recipe of a recent meal that brought me tremendous joy:

For this I sliced three or four mushrooms and cooked them in a little butter over medium heat in an omlette-sized pan. Then I added a little salt and half a bag of spinach. I let the spinach cook (covered) for a minute or so, and then I lifted the cover and slid on two eggs (which I had alrady broken into a bowl). I put the cover back on the pan, and let everything cook until the eggs were just done. When I slid it onto the plate, the mushrooms moved magically and attractively to the side. I ate it with Rye Vita, but any bread or toast would work just as well.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Watching violin videos

I seem to have a lot of violinists in my instagram feed, and sometimes I find myself scrolling through the (sometimes daily) videos they put on without sound until I see a bow arm that looks inviting. "Inviting" usually has to do with variations in bow speed, or a beautiful efficient stroke that makes it beautifully from frog to tip (or tip to frog), and connects the up-bow and down-bow strokes with intention.

Sometimes I find a bow arm that moves as though it is in slow motion. Itzhak Perlman's bow arm is a good example. His slow bows seem to move in a way that looks like he is pushing the bow against the air in front of it. Augustin Hadelich does it as well (or even better). It is almost as if these violinists are moving their bows like mimes through the defined space that is the length of the bow.

Then there are the impressive masters of the fast bow like David Oistrach (who also moves the bow at other speeds, of course), and Jack Benny, who, even when he is trying to play badly in order to serve the comedy, can't disguise his beautiful bow arm.

And speaking of comedy, I hope you enjoy this bit by Marcel Marceau from Mel Brooks's "Silent Movie."

Monday, June 07, 2021

Dystopia, Illinois

This is the congressional district where Michael and I live. The lightest blue is the area where fewer than a third of the residents are fully vaccinated, and only ten percent more of the residents have gotten a first dose.

I used to be frustrated by the political mindset of the people in this district, but that frustration looks small and quaint with Covid and 2020 in the rearview mirror for some areas of the state and the country, and with two thirds of the people in the district where I live and work thinking that masks and vaccinations are unnecessary, it is still a quagmire of dangerous intersections.

My earlier frustration has "morphed" into shame. I am ashamed to live in this district.
[Click on the picture for a bigger view]
You can find the source for the information here.