Saturday, November 27, 2021

Happy Hanukkah 2021

The music is "Hanukkah Latkes" for strings. The score and parts are on this page of the IMSLP. I also made a new two-voice vocal arrangement (the song is really too much of a tongue-twister to sing with just one person) to replace the single voice and piano version that I made in 2009.

To paraphrase one of our granddaughters, when altering a recipe for green bean casserole, I'm the composer, and I can do what I want.

While the updated vocal score is waiting in line at the IMSLP, you can find a PDF of the new version of the song here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Bruce Lazarus Threnodies and Anthems

Bruce Lazarus lost his parents to AIDS in 1993 and 1994. He wrote this memorial piece in 1995, and this year he made a video with images (still and moving) that is really remarkable.

Busking, or as we called it, "playing on the street"

I played on the street for years before I even knew of the existence of the word "busking." It has been a while since I have busked (maybe forty years), but I can still fully appreciate this study done this year by Samuel Stäbler of the Netherlands and Kim Katharina Mierisch of the UK.

I started playing on the street in New York in 1977 (mostly flute duets with fellow Juilliard students). Our best spot was in Greenwich Village in front of a bookstore, where we were given permission to play. When we were no longer allowed to play in front of the bookstore, we moved to a spot in front of a bakery. Our best day was Sunday, and the best time of day was the afternoon. The music was always classical, and we were almost children (I used to play a lot with the equally seventeen-year-old Jeff Khaner). After playing for about two hours, we made about $25 each, mostly in quarters. I would use the money to buy groceries.

Other Juilliard students tried their hands at playing on the street. I remember seeing Nigel Kennedy and Thomas Demenga on Fifth Avenue one cloudy day, playing in an alcove in front of Tiffany's in the late afternoon. Nobody stopped to listen. They didn't do so well on the street, but both have done extremely well in professional musical life.

It was a more innocent time. As long as we had permission from store owners, we didn't need any kind of permit. Nobody thought about amplification, nobody thought about videos (they weren't "invented" yet), and we could only measure our success in the volume and value of the coins people threw into our cases." People took pictures, though. I'm sure that images of me playing flute and recorder are on many an ektachrome slide, taken by tourists on vacation, and having been loaded onto carousel players long ago, now sit in basements and attics, only to be unearthed by grandchildren and great grandchildren, who will wonder if they are worth saving.

The only remnant of that time I have is this pencil drawing done in Graz, Austria.
I wrote a post in 2006 about my street-playing (or busking) experiences, which you can read here.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Anne Bronte on the resilience of the human heart

In the voice of Mr. Weston from Agnes Grey:
“The human heart is like india-rubber, a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. If ‘little more than nothing,’ will disturb it, ‘little less than all things will suffice' to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself, that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.”

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Woodwind music in the IMSLP and Viola music in the IMSLP

I have started taking stock of the music that I keep in the IMSLP, and made a couple of lists, which I am sharing here. You can find links to all the viola music here, though this link includes published music as well, and for the Woodwind music through the main Thematic Catalog page, and use the sidebar links for the various instruments.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

From Christopher Simpson's The Division Viol

I welcome possible explanations from anyone who understands something about astrology. These pages come from Simpson's 1655 treatise on making divisions on a ground.

Well . . . I did a little search, and found that I posted this very image back in October 2012 in a post about a division project I was involved in coordinated by Daniel Wolf and a bunch of other composers in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Price Adoration on Trumpet

One of the perks of making arrangements available in the IMSLP is that great musicians like Raquel Samayoa find them easily, adapt them to sound best on their instrument, play them for pleasure, and record them for the pleasure of others.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

A Cellist's Garden of Verses as performed by Sam's Cello Studio in Urbana

My friend Sam Araya helped his students put lovely readings of Robert Louis Stevenson's poems and beautiful artwork by young artists together with thoughtful, expressive, and heartfelt performances of these pieces by six of his students. You can also listen via YouTube.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Mozart K 310

The Mozart A minor Piano Sonata, K 310 is a wonder. I have loved listening to it on recordings, particularly Dinu Lipatti's 1950 recording, which I first "met" when I was twenty, and have listened to hundreds of times. It is the last piece in the first volume of the Henle edition. A crown on top of a case of jewels.

Instead of reading through it and admiring it from a purely aspirational state (wouldn't it be nice to be able to play this like a pianist would), I find myself practicing it. Through practicing it I find myself learning about how to play the piano. For me that means consciously connecting with all my fingers, not just the strong ones, and it also means paying attention to fingering. The notes don't play themselves, after all.

Paying attention in this way means moving beyond my usual game of "blind man's bluff," and onto a new "game" of seeing if I can play a given phrase comfortably all the way through, and trying to connect my two hands together through the piano.

I'm interested to see if I can replicate what I accomplished this morning later today.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021


If you keep walking back from good luck, he thought, you'll come to bad luck.
This paragraph from Gary Paulsen's Hatchet threw me for a loop (or, maybe, took me aback).

I tend to think about luck favoring the prepared mind, or being simply a matter of circumstance, but never have I thought of an instance of good luck being able to trace itself back directly to an instance of bad luck.

I wonder if it works with success as well? Instances of success are almost always preceded by instances of failure, and sometimes you only need one instance of success to make a profound difference in your life, as in conceiving a child.

There are also instances of good luck that are not easily traceable to instances of bad luck like happening upon an old friend in an unlikely place, coming upon a particular combination of notes and rhythms that work in a piece, happening to turn on the radio or television at the right time to see or hear something, or finding an thought-provoking passage in a book to write a blogpost about.

Sunday, November 07, 2021


I'm so happy to encounter Frances Wilson (who I know as the cross-eyed pianist) elsewhere in these internets! Her post about autonomy really resonates with me today.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Mozart on the Piano

A week or two ago I opened my neglected two-volume set of Mozart Piano Sonatas, and now I find that I have fallen into a new habit. Sure, we all know that Mozart was a great composer, but in some way it feels that when I am playing his piano music I am able to understand more about why he was a great composer.

I have absolutely no desire to play this music for anyone except myself, and I take all of the deviations from expectations dictated through what we have come to call the Viennese classical style as special gifts given to people who accept them as such.

Through my daily meetings with Mozart's musical mind I have come to learn more about music than I thought I did, particularly because playing the piano is and has always been a struggle for me. I never had the early "training" that allows the hands to, as one of my young violin students who also plays piano says, "know what they are doing," though the time I spent learning to play scales with both hands together in parallel motion when was in piano class at Juilliard (with Frances Goldstein) has stuck with me over the decades. Well, some of the scales.

Playing piano will always be a matter of translation for me, and I know that it will never feel like a musical mother tongue. I have also come to understand that it doesn't matter as long as I can derive personal pleasure out of playing, and can continue to grow as a musician.

But I have to confess. I sometimes have a physical urge to play. I often wake up in the morning with Mozart piano music in my head, and the deep desire to play and shape it with my hands. Playing the piano every day (and playing Mozart every day) seems to fill in gaps in my psyche and my spirit.

What a gift Mozart gave to us in his piano music.

UPDATE: While looking for Mozart posts and piano posts to tag on this blog, I came across this. If it's November it must be Mozart indeed!

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

All politics is no longer local

Tip O'Neill is known for having said, back in the later part of the twentieth century, "All politics is local." In the twenty-first century it now looks like all politics is now national.

If it's November, it's time to get out the Troika

And violists can have productive fun playing my transcription for three violas of "November" from Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons."

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here. I hope to have one made by three humans at some point in the future.