Saturday, December 31, 2022

We know we dream, we dream we know

My New Year's greeting for 2023 is a song set to a 1917 poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Here's the text:
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox was an extremely popular American writer during the early years of the twentieth century, and I only just learned (while writing this post, actually, because I was too caught up in working on the music to do any research at all on her life and work) that a good number of her poems have been set to music.

But not this one (as far as I know).

You can find the music for medium voice here (there's also a version for high voice). You can listen to the medium voice version here, you can find the music for both on this page of the IMSLP.

The cover image (which I chose simply because I love it) is "A Masque for the Four Seasons" painted by the British painter Walter Crane between 1905 and 1909, at the height of Ella Wheeler Wilcox's fame. Walter Crane was born in 1845 and died in 1915. Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in 1850 and died in 1919. I had no idea that Walter Crane was a poet as well as a painter, and that he and Ella Wheeler Wilcox were published side-by-side in many magazines (Crane made illustrations for poems by James Russell Lowell in The Cosmopolitan). They were also both socialists.
It tickles me to see these people I could never have known (but maybe I dreamed I knew . . .), and only recently learned about, tied together in both a blog post and a piece of brand-new music as we approach the new year of 2023.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Two passages from Nabokov's Pale Fire

She kept trying, as one quietly insane, to mend a broken viola d'amore or sat in dolorous attitudes comparing two ancient flutes, both sad-tuned and feeble.

He asked Fleur as she turned to go with the Disa orchids if she still played the viola. She shook her head several times not wishing to speak without addressing him and not daring to do so while the servants might be within earshot.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Two Elaines (one fictional, one real) with the same lamp


Today I have the unusual feeling (for me) of having enough. After what seems like a lifetime of not having enough of one thing or another, I am filled with the unremarkable feeling having and being enough. Normally I would have felt restless if I didn't have a project, an idea, of something to work for. Now (at least today) I feel fortunate to have done the work I have done, and to have developed the necesary skills to enjoy making music in whatever form I feel like making it in.

I write this while smelling the delicious smells of what Michael is cooking for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's lunch, which we will be having with (among other people) our daughter and two of our grandchildren.

The first time in my life that I ever felt a sense of "enough" was after the birth of our first child. I felt at one with the past, present, and future of the universe. I felt like I was a full participant. For me being a mother, in many ways, is enough. And when I spent time with our grandchildren it is enough. And being part of a partnership with Michael is enough.

I write this after having spent some really enjoyable time at the piano with Haydn and Bach. That time was made even more enjoyable for me because a small cold mist humidifier provides enough humidity during this really dry and cold time to keep the piano in tune.

I like the fact that I have been getting enough sleep, enough good food, and enough exercise, and I enjoy the fact that I have enough warm clothes to be able to enjoy taking a walk even when the temperature is below zero.

I suppose I'm sharing this bit of "enoughness" here because my Christmas wish for anyone reading would be to feel (at least for a moment) that you have, have done, and simply are enough, because "enough" is a not a measurement of quantity or even of quality. And I know the feeling of being or having or doing enough might not last, because "enough" is not a measurement of time. But having it might contribute to a state of mind. I hope that this feeling will continue to keep me company.

Friday, December 16, 2022

My Friend Beth Orson

I just learned that my friend Beth Orson died yesterday. I do not know the circumstances, and if she had been sick I didn't know about it because we have only had casual Facebook contact over the past few years. Her posts were mostly about her dogs (whippets), and their races.

Beth joined the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1990, and began teaching at the University of British Columbia School of Music in 1993. I last time I saw her was in New York in 1984 or 1985.

I first met Beth when I was a teenager in my second to last year of high school in a youth chamber orchestra at the New England Conservatory. We began the academic year with the Robert Schumann Piano Concerto, and I sat next to Beth, a senior oboe player who drove into Boston from Providence, Rhode Island.

I was impressed by the fact that she drove all the way to Boston by herself, pleased that she was a really kind and friendly person, and totally blown away by the authority in the way that she played the opening woodwind passage after the piano entrance. The flutes don't play that passage, so I could listen with full attention.

While we were waiting for the first woodwind sectional to begin, Beth sat down at the piano and played the opening of the Schumann Concerto. After the sectional she told me that she had spent the past summer at Fontainebleau, and studied there with Nadia Boulanger. Beth was the most grown-up high school musician I had ever met, and it was such a thrill for me when we became friends. I visited her in Providence, and met her twin sister Diane, who was a terrific violinist. I remember Diane practicing the Bruch Violin Concerto in the basement of their house before breakfast, and I remember their younger brother, Ted (who they affectionately called "turd"). I remember their actress mother who had starred in Peer Gynt. I had to look that play up when I returned to my home in Newton.

The next year Beth went to the Oberlin College Conservatory, and I stayed with her when I went there to audition. My SATs weren't good enough for me to get accepted to the college (I thought I could sneak in a regular education on the basis of getting admitted to the conservatory, but no soap). So I went to Juillard, where my test scores wouldn't matter.

But Beth came to New York after graduating, so I did get to see her again. And Beth had fortunately met my friend Liz (while I was out of the country) and they became roommates, so I got to spend some time with "adult" Beth, who was the same Beth as teenage Beth.

There is a series of videos of Beth teaching. She is exactly the same Beth. I'm so grateful to have known her, and am so grateful that these videos are available. And I feel honored to share this post and these videos here.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Michael, reading Garner's Modern English Usage (fifth edition)

Michael was a member of a panel of critical readers for the fifth edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage, which just came out from Oxford University Press. (The first printing sold out in only two weeks, and a second printing is in the works.)

You can see photos of the other critical readers here.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Film Noir for Piano Trio

Michael and I spend a lot of time watching film noir movies together, and consequently I spend a lot of time paying attention to the music in films noir (to use the pretentious plural). I have spent the past several weeks writing a fifteen-minute-long piano trio that explores what I believe to be the musical essence of film noir. And I made a collage this morning while listening to it.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here, and find the music on this page of the IMSLP.

And if you want some guidance in your journey through films from the 1940s and beyond, Michael writes four sentences about each of the movies we have watched (with no spoilers) in groups of twelve. You can start here (that's his most recent set of twelve), and then you can find more groups of twelve movies by searching for "twelve movies" in the search box. You will not be disappointed (by the capsule reviews or by the films he rates highly).

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

A list of my vocal music in the IMSLP

Last night, after the premiere performance of a set of songs I wrote for Elena Negruta, I submitted it into the IMSLP. You can find the music for this set of three songs set to poems by Stephen Crane here.

For people who might be interested in knowing what music for voice I have written that is available in the IMSLP, I made a list:
[click on the image for a larger view]

You can find direct links to IMSLP entries for these pieces, as well as commercially published vocal music in this selection from my thematic catalog blog. For a complete list (to date) of narrated music, you can click here.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

A Dictionary of Opera and Song Themes

On Christmas Eve of 2018 I made a post about the Barlow and Morganstern Dictionary of Musical Themes, which was published in 1948. In the introduction the writers mentioned that they were working on a second volume that would include vocal music (songs and opera).

I found the second edition of that volume in a used bookstore yesterday. It was first published in 1950, and my revised edition is from 1976.

I was happy to see that there were entries for Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, but surprised (and disappointed) to see that the entries only have titles and blank staves.

In the introduction to this volume the writers mention that the person (or people) that published music by Gershwin, Kern, Edward German, and Frank E. Tours would not allow themes by those composers to be printed in the book.

I'm guessing that the third Porgy and Bess entry, the one without the title, must be "Summertime," and I'm sure I'm not the only person who noticed that the seventh empty entry for Porgy and Bess is "I got plenty o' nuttin.'" Plenty o' nuttin' indeed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"Scale Tales" Review in the ASTA Journal!

I hope that this review in the American String Teacher will lead a lot of people to "Scale Tales."

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

My Orchestra, enhanced with members of the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra

This is from a concert the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra played last April. I'm proud to share a video recording of the Tchaikovsky here (I'm the shorter of the two silver-haired violists, in case you are wondering).

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Music to play for Thanksgiving

I made this arrangement for violin and viola (with its alternate bass clef part for the lower voice) several Thanksgivings ago, and thought I'd share it again. It can be played by any combination of people who happen to be around on Thanksgiving, and can be played by any combination of instruments.

This song brings to mind the childhood school celebrations of the holiday. My mind's eye remembers the pilgrim and turkey candles we used to have as classroom decorations.

But when I look at the pilgrim candles through the eyes of a twenty-first-century adult, they look very odd. They are all so Germanically White. The men have muskets, and the women, who are presented as pious with their praying hands, look like girls. If the characters are supposed to be children, it is just as disconcerting to see they way they dress up to "be" adults.

I realize that one of the things I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is the cultural and racial diversity that is twenty-first-century America. Another is that men don't have to carry muskets anymore. The sight of a gun on candle character meant to celebrate a holiday invented to give thanks takes me aback.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Fragrance of the Rose

What a treat to get an email from Sweden with a link to this video!

This is one of a set of songs that I wrote to five very short poems written by Milly Morganstern, my friend Danny Morganstern's mother. Milly was a very wise woman and a great pianist: Leonard Rose always enjoyed it when she played for Danny's lessons.

Milly's poems are loaded with musical possibilities, and I loved exploring them. I'm sure that she would have been thrilled to hear this performance. I certainly am.

Having this as "art song of the week" makes me smile, and brightens up my week. And month. And year.

Thank you Karin Fjellander and Amanda Elvin!

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Propelled by Air

The viola d'amore I play was a gift from my father, who had stopped using the instrument in the 1990s. I played it with a modern bow for many years, and at some point in the not-too-distant past my father remembered that he hadn't given me the baroque viola bow that it should be played with.

Since most of my viola d'amore playing is in a consort, where I use the instrument as a viol (a role it plays well), it doesn't get to act like a baroque viola bow should (or could). It has since migrated to my violin case, where I use it happily to practice Bach and Telemann, and to play Haydn Quartets on the violin. I hadn't yet had the occasion or opportunity to play it in a group setting as a viola bow.

I contemplated bringing it to the first rehearsal for a Handel and Telemann concert I played yesterday, but resisted because I thought it might be pretentious to do so. At the end of that rehearsal the conductor invited us to use baroque bows, if we had them. It turned out that the only people who brought baroque bows to the second rehearsal were two out of the three violas, but we were in good company (and we are good friends too).

It was my first time playing this beautiful baroque viola bow in the "home" it was designed for. It felt fantastic. Beyond fantastic. Everything felt propelled by air. The bow can move so quickly when playing down-bow, because there is absolutely no weight at the tip, and you can put a lot of arm weight in while playing up-bow without getting any pitch distortion or getting annoying lumps and bumps. Jumping across strings is a breeze, and varying the length and quality of notes requires thought and imagination, but very little physical effort.

Yesterday morning was blusetry. It was so blustery that the National Weather Service advised caution while driving on east-west roads. Luckily I had a route to drive (about an hour) that was mainly due north. I had the wind at my back, and enjoyed amazing gas mileage with our Prius. Also, before leaving for rehearsal, Michael and I enjoyed doing a 30-minute Pilates session with "The Girl with the Pilates Mat" on YouTube, so I felt stretched, strong, balanced, and comfortable in my skin.

During the morning rehearsal we got to play standing up, and I was able to shift my weight on the floor while my bow arm fully enjoyed the novel and wonderful physical sensation of using broad and varied gestures to connect with my fellow musicians.

Playing baroque music in a way that naturally draws upon the strengths of the instrument and the strengths of the moving body is so refreshing. The "rules-based" approach that some people used in my musical past turned me off because it focused more on limitations than on expression of what was in the music. But playing in this particular situation, with this bow, and with these people, I felt that the possibilities for expression were limitless.

During the concert I felt like I could play and connect with full presence, using everything I had, and expressing everything that I wanted (in the moment and in the music) to express. And when it was over I knew a good time was had by all.

Cellist Robert Gardner

My friend Danny Morganstern has written a lovely post about his friend Robert Gardner, a superb cellist, and the inventor of the Augmented Efficiency Bridge (pictured above).

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The Beaten Path

When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem you face looks like a nail.

--Abraham Maslow

Go on the beaten path. You won't have as much company as you think.

--Stevens Hewitt

These two seemingly contradictory ideas have been dancing around in my head today, and have started resonating together after my second day of practicing scales on the piano. I have always been an iconoclast, and I have a tendency to imagine that I can get things done by following my own methods. Sometimes it works. I have never been the kind of person who applies a single fingering pattern to scales and scale passages on the violin or the viola, because I like to look for the "solution" to a particular problem that feels most practical and/or most natural.

I thought I could apply this natural approach to piano playing, but I have reached a point where the dirt and dust on the "window" between my brain and my fingers requires a serious cleaning with a tool that I haven't used in a long time. Yesterday I looked into my file cabinet, pulled out the Cramer scale book, and practiced ascending and descending two-handed scales (with their tried-and-true fingerings) for the major and minor keys with sharps. Today I did the keys with flats, which I find to be more difficult than the sharp keys.

What a difference a good tool makes! I am not an proficient scale player by any stretch of the imagination (that will take a few months of daily practice), but I am able to make it into the world of many sharps and many flats in major and minor keys without looking at my hands. It feels kind of like I have taken a bottle of windex and a scouring pad, and have removed a bunch of calcified grime from the inside of my head. I'm looking forward to the day when those pathways will be clean and clear, and will only need wiping.

If I play the piano by ear, I can find the pitches I want, but I can't do it with any kind of speed or physical confidence. If I play viola or violin by ear, I can find the pitches I want, but since I do not have absolute pitch, I often have no clue what pitches I am playing once I venture outside of first and third position and into keys that do not involve open strings.

Perhaps that's why I like reading music so much. Reading the music allows me to spend my energy on other things, like sound, expression, phrasing, and context. As much as I appreciate some aspects of the Suzuki method of musical learning, I feel that learning to play by ear and by memorizing physical motions may not be the best way of learning for everyone. It certainly isn't the best way for me. It might be a quick way to learn in the short run, but I tend to forget things that I learn quickly.

Michael and I have been listening to "Sold a Story," a new podcast from American Public Media that concerns the teaching of reading. Episodes air every Thursday, and we have listened to the first three episodes. Tomorrow we'll get to hear the fourth episode. I wonder if there is a correlation between learning to read by using phonics and learning to play music by learning to read the notes, and I wonder if there is a correlation between teaching reading without incorporating phonics and teaching kids to play without incorporating note reading.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Stretto Holder DIY

A Stretto is a partially perforated plastic humidification device that holds a small envelope of gel that you saturate with water from time to time and keep in an instrument case. It sticks to the inside of the case by way of velcro, and some cases have material that the velcro hooks can stick to. My violin case does not have that kind of lining, so I have to figure out an alternative way of securing my Stretto.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Perception, extra sensory and otherwise

I have a vivid visual childhood memory (a cinematic one, filmed from above) of sitting in my closet with a pack of Zener cards and testing my ESP (extra sensory perception). I hoped that if I worked hard enough at it, I would be able to "see" the images on the cards before turning them over. I knew nothing about random success rates, and was unable understand why I could sometimes be right, or that I could "visualize" something that ended up being wrong. I was still at an age of magical thinking. I also, thanks to a Tarot card reading given to me by my aunt, had no reason to believe that there wasn't something special about that deck of brightly-colored cards that could see the relationships of past and future events in my young life.

I still appreciate the intuition that can happen during a Tarot card reading (or an astrological chart reading), but in adulthood I have come to understand with full conviction that the future is something that we encounter step by step, and not something that can be reliably predicted. We can do our best to prepare for events that we know are coming (like rehearsals, concerts, interviews, tests, meals, or competitions), and being prepared for those events helps us be prepared for other future events. We can make the most educated of guesses about the future, but there is no way of really knowing what will happen. And no matter how much we want it to be possible, time travel to the future isn't possible, because the future isn't there yet. There's no there there.

We can use our senses to figure out that it might rain. It can smell like it's going to rain, it can feel like it will rain, it can look like it might rain, and the activity of the birds can even sound like it might rain. (You can look at the weather on your phone, but that's cheating.) We can use context clues and and our understaning of human nature to make guesses about the future, but uttering the phrase, "I knew it" is very often the result of having put conscious and unconscious sensory clues together.

There are five physical senses we know about, and each works on a continuum. There are also "senses" that use combinations of the physical senses like sense of direction, sense of time, sense of security, and sense of rhythm (I'm not sure that there is a physical basis to having a sense of purpose or a sense of humor). And then there are things that don't make sense. We talk about sensitivity, and explore the sensual. We talk about good taste, bad taste, and questionable taste, while we rely on the physical sense of taste to determine whether something we eat is appealing or deadly. "It left a bad taste in my mouth" is almost never used literally.

Some people have such an acute sense of smell that they can use it to identify disease, and some people have no sense of smell. Some people have such an acute sense of pitch that they can identify notes in a cluster, and some people cannot hear anything at all. Some people have very little connection with what their hands might be doing ("I'm all thumbs") and some people have developed enough sensitivity in their fingertips to read Braille, allowing their sense of touch to compensate for lack of vision.

Some people who do not have the physical ability to with their eyes have the ability in their brains to visualize, and some people who do have the ability to see are unable to "see" images in their brain. Some people have photographic memories that they can rely on in circumstances that call for attention to detail, and some people (like me) only have a vague visual memory of where something might be on a page. 

Through practicing musicians develop eyes that hear and ears that see (connections between the senses). We use our eyes to allow our mind's ear to hear what the next note is going to sound like. We also make connections between our eyes, ears, and sense of touch to measure the distance our arms and hands need to travel to produce the pitches that our eyes tell our ears to "see."

Some people "see" letters as colors, and some people hear musical pitches or musical keys as colors. I, being neurotypical in this regard, have never experienced this, but I do find that I can react emotionally to colors I can see as well as to colors that I imagine. Musicians often talk about the "color" of a voice, or about changing the "color" of a note when we try to describe the way we shape the sound waves with our instruments or voices. Perhaps we use "color" because we imagine that most people would be able react to that word, and understand what we mean when we try to use words to describe timbre.

I recently learned of a condition called Aphantasia, which is the inability to create mental images. I learned about it from Neesa Suncheuri, a violist with the condition, who is interested in exploring musical posibilities that relate to her experience. Since I am always looking for ways of extending my vocabulary as a composer, I was very excited to write a piece for solo viola that, in my inexperienced-with-the-inabiity-to-visualize mind's eye, might resonate with Neesa's experience. I have done a lot of reading about Aphantasia (there's even a very active reddit group), but I haven't found discussions of the condition among "classical" musicians. The study of this is very new, and I hope that my piece will help promote some discussion among musicians.

I named my piece "Aphantasia and Fugue State" because I find it really difficult to resist a musical pun (or two).

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Timothy Taylor, such an interesting musicologist!

I just learned about Timothy Taylor, a practitioner (i.e. professor) of musicology, and thought I'd share this video interview with him concerning the commercial music (as in music for commercials) in twentieth-century America.

I'm certainly interested in reading some of his books.

Friday, October 21, 2022

When I want a melody . . .

I bought this book of Strauss Waltzes in Graz, Austria in summer of 1980. I spent my hard-earned playing-on-the-street money on it, because I was asked to play a wedding reception at some point in August. I really needed a place to stay after the festival I was with was over, and before the flute competition I was attending in Budapest began, so I bartered a place to stay in the interim in exchange for playing. I found an American violinist in my orchestra who was staying in Europe (and also needed a place to stay), and we played these waltzes as flute and violin duets.

A good time was had by all.

I carried this volume from place to place in my travels, and it ended up sitting in a file cabinet at my home in Charleston for many decades. Sometime during the last week I decided to vary my piano-playing practice, and plunked this gem on the piano. I love playing these waltzes, and I love what playing these waltzes does for my piano playing. I also love the way they inspire my imagination, and compel me to improvise (in three-quarter time, of course).

I understand what inspired Gershwin. I understand why Brahms lamented that he hadn't written "An der schönen blauen Donau."

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

I'm very happy with my new tools

The Musgrave News pencil is very dark and very soft. It is hard to keep a point, but, somehow, when writing while this pad of Clairefontaine paper is standing upright on a music stand, it works perfectly. I was originally attracted to the Musgrave because of the name (the composer Thea Musgrave, who doesn't seem to be from the same family as the pencil company Musgraves).

I bought the pad of paper at an art store a few weeks ago, and now that somebody has asked me to write something, I can put it to good use.

I'm happy to share this review of the notebook. Having really good tools really makes musical ideas flow more smoothly.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A whole lot better than beer and skittles

After reading a review by John Frayne (who is a retired English professor at the University of Illinois) of a concert I played last week that included the Brahms First Symphony, Michael started thinking of "A Man in Blue," a poem by James Schuyler that makes reference to Brahms.

Michael played me a recording of the poet reading "A Man in Blue" (you can listen James Schuyler reading it here), and then I played him some of this recording of Bruno Walter conducting the Brahms in a live NBC Symphony performance from 1940.

Schuyler might have been responding to the 1940 recording in his poem, or he may have been responding to this 1953 New York Philharmonic studio recording. Isn't it great to have access to both?

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman talk about music

What a wonderful surprise to hear these two historians talk about the importance of last month's "Lizzo and the Crystal Flute" moment, and so much more.

You can listen through this link to this episode of "Now and Then" called The Meaning of Madison's Flute: Who Owns Music?

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Dvořák Opus 100 in Beijing!

I love this performance by the Beijing RMO Chamber Orchestra of my arrangement of the first movement of Dvořák's Opus 100 Sonatina!

Progress and Regress

Is a certain amount of regress necessary in order to make progress? Does working really hard at things that are difficult involve more failure than success? Does the inner critic grow on its own, when we are (or I am) not paying attention? Should I show her the door, or should I endure her presence until she tires of me and leaves on her own?

I have read that repetition in play is more effective for learning than repetition in work. But a state of play is really difficult to generate when you are hard at work trying to teach your brain to connect itself to the movements of your hands and fingers on an instrument that you didn't learn to play in childhood.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Changing the feed for this blog

For anyone who likes to read this blog via RSS (which means "really simple syndication"), I'm changing the feed (so it will work). Please add

to your reader. Thank you.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Squeaky wheels, and trying to move forward

All of a sudden, with musical life returning to a degree of perceived normal, I find myself looking "back" at communicating by way of the internets.

Musical life and musical tastes have changed since those rec music newsgroups organized themselves into free forums for discussion among musicians. In those golden days of text-only communication it was possible to develop correspondences and grow friendships with like-minded people who it would be impossible to get to know in normal place-bound and class-bound life.

Then the blogosphere emerged, and it was a kind of paradise. I loved reading blogs by the musicologists who posted their unpublished papers from graduate school. I also loved reading posts by performing musicians and composers who wrote about their experiences with certain pieces of music, their daily lives, and their personal reflections on things musical.

Everyone was Ned Rorem until many would-be diarists found that keeping up a public diary requires a lot of work and commitment, and is usually done without compensation, unless you are Ned Rorem, and had early success with publication.

I started this blog as a way to connect and communicate about things musical with people who lived outside of the forty-mile listening area of mostly-rural Illinois covered by the radio station I used to work for. I made my first post in 2005. This is my 2970th post. I have never monetized this space, and never intend to. I have made the occasional post linking to something I have had published, but I do it only rarely, and I do it without expectation. Most of the links I post for music I have written go to entries in the IMSLP.

I have written a lot of music and made many arrangements. To date I have made 344 entries in my Thematic Catalog blog. Some entries are for individual pieces, and some are for sets of pieces. I am happy with much of the music. Some of it seems to be popular among musicians, and some of it doesn't. I have heard that audiences like music that I have written, which is always nice to hear.

But I just don't seem to have the kind of squeaky-wheelness to promote my work that I see from composers on Facebook. And I tend to look at things realistically: there is more music of quality available now than there has ever been before. And I have resigned myself to accept that the standard solo pieces, etudes, pieces of chamber music, and orchestral music written by composers who happen to be men will always outnumber the standard solo pieces, etudes, pieces of chamber music and pieces of orchestral music written by composers who happen to be women.

Every once in a while a piece or two by a woman has made it into the standard repertoire (like the Chaminade Concertino or the Clarke Viola Sonata), but, try as I might (and try as we might), pieces written by women are still programmed more often because they are pieces by women regardless of their value as pieces of music.

There are young people (well, people younger than me) dedicated to maintaining a social media presence for Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn (or Fanny Hensel), and excellent pianists who specialize in only performing music written by women. But I fear that these are flickers of a movement that won't flame unless there is a constant bellows (and many squeaky wheels) keeping them in the public eye.

There have been some baby steps taken towards "legitimacy" for music written by women: Ethel Smyth has finally had twenty-first-century performances of The Wreckers that have been noticed, written about, attended, and enjoyed. It would be great if it remains in the repertoire. The same with works by Pauline Viardot, who many people have come to know during the past two years.

For two years during the pandemic, when I connected with musicians on Facebook again, I found that my work was indeed useful for musicians who needed new music to keep them occupied. I had time, energy, and a sense of purpose, so I wrote a lot of solo music and music that could help connect musicians who were isolated from one another before vaccinations and good masks helped make rehearsals and concerts possible again.

While I believe that I have done my best work, it doesn't seem important at all (anymore) in the larger world of music. There is so much music readily available that is so much better than what I am capable of writing. And while I continue to grow as a musician, and am able to understand and appreciate more fully the compositional strengths of Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert, Franz Josef Haydn, and, yes, Georg Philipp Telemann (all men, all dead, all European, all white, all Germanic), the work I have done seems rather insignificant. And for that reason I don't have it in me to use the squeaky wheels of Facebook and Twitter to promote my work the way I see other composers promote their work.

I think it will be a while before I write something new. Unless somebody asks me to. But I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, October 03, 2022

More About Lizzo and that Crystal Flute

My experience with Lizzo is probably typical of people of my age that occupy my usual musical world. It is also atypical, since I spent quite a bit of time playing the flute.

I first encountered Lizzo in a DIY video showing how you can transform a Barbie Doll into Lizzo, but I had no idea who Lizzo was. I did learn a few crafty tricks, though.

The next encounter was when she hosted Saturday Night Live, and played the flute. I rarely watch Saturday Night Live, and don't know most of the guest hosts, but I found Lizzo delightful.

When Lizzo played the few notes that the writers of the show allowed the audience to hear her play on the flute, she played them extremely well. I had a secret wish that she might use her celebrity to give a "traditional" flute concert somewhere, and let people know that there is something "there" in what consumers of popular culture often think of as an outmoded "kind" of music. I thought it would never happen. But earlier this week part of my dream came true. And it was all thanks to librarian Carla Hayden, who had the brilliant idea of inviting Lizzo to visit the collection at the Library of Congress when she was in town to perform.

You can see all the "specs" about this 1813 Claude Laurent flute as well as images of it on this page of the Library of Congress catalog.
"This flute was presented to Pres. Madison by someone in France (Lafayette) as inscribed. It passed to Madison's adopted son Payne Todd; it was willed by the latter to Cornelius Boyle of Washington, D.C. and passed to his five heirs. It was purchased from them (Miss Fanny G. Boyle) for this collection. It had been exhibited in the National Museum prior to 1903." However, a letter recently found in the Madison papers at the Library of Congress documents that Laurent himself sent the flute to Madison. Letter from Claude Laurent to President Madison, 25 Mar. 1815: “A Monsieur Madison, Président des Etats Unis d’Amérique. Monsieur le Président, J’ai pris la liberté de vous adresser, il y a environ trois ans, une flûte en Cristal de mon invention. Veuillez bien me permettre de vous témoigner le desir que j’aurais d’apprendre si elle vous est parvenue & si ce faible hommage de mon industrie vous a été agréable. Je vous prie de vouloir bien agréer l’hommage de la considération la plus distinguée avec laquelle j’ai l’honneur d’être, Monsieur le Président, Votre très humble et très obeissant serviteur Laurent Quai de Givrer N° 34 Paris, le 25. Mars 1815.” Translation: “To Mr. Madison, President of the United States of America, Mr. President, I took the liberty of sending to you about three years ago, a crystal flute of my invention. Please allow me to express to you the desire that I would have to learn if it has reached you and if this feeble homage of my industry has been agreeable to you. I beg you to please accept the homage of the most distinguished respect with which I have the honor of being, Mr. President, your very humble and obedient servant Laurent Quai de Givrer N° 34 Paris, 25 March 1815.”

- Instrument type: Flute in C
- Materials: Clear glass, silver keys and ferrules, safety locks. Clear glass faceted end cap with hemispherical silver reflector behind, held in place by a silver ring.
- 4 sections. Clear glass exterior of recessed diamond-shaped faceting except at embouchure.
- Key Holes System: 4 keys, round flat curved flaps, post and rod on silver flanges.
- Mark Maximum: Laurent / à Paris, / 1813. (cursive)
- Mark Additional: Mark on lower body. Mark on head: A.S.E. James Madison / President des Etats=unis.
- Condition: Safety bracket detached from head joint ferrule.
- Provenance: Estate of Cornelius Boyle, Miss Fanny G. Boyle, Washington, D.C., 6 Nov. 1923. - Location: Whittall. When not on display, belongs in M16, where box and catalogue card are located.
- In English. (language)
- DCM 0378 (dcm)

You will notice that this flute does not have modern Boehm-system keys. And I know that it takes a long time to learn the necessary fingerings to play a pre-Boehm-system flute. Most flutists would have a difficult time with the size and shape of the emboucher hole as well. I imagine that Lizzo prepared for her moment with the instrument by practicing a great deal on a flute with a similar fingering system.

A kind person put a cellphone video of Lizzo playing the tune and a variation from the Carnival of Venice on instagram.

In addition to learning a new fingering system, Lizzo certainly had to consider ways to make her signature nails work with the wide-bored glass instrument without keys.

I give special "props" to the designer of her nails for this experience. Not only do her nails match the flute beautifully, but they are raised above the tips of her fingers, allowing for the full pads of the fingers to cover the holes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

French Chestnut

This is a new transcription for four violas of "Châtaignier," the fifth piece in my 2011 set of autumn-themed violin duets. You can listen here.

You can find the music here.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Audacity Updated for Monterey!

Anyone who has had to sacrifice using Audacity after updating to the Monterey operating system for the Mac can now use it again (as of today). Hooray! There is nothing like Audacity. You can download it through this link (for free). And we can all thank Michael (who just happened to be looking today).

Saturday, September 24, 2022

What Julius Baker didn't know he taught me

How can any teacher know what her or she ends up teaching a student? There is a great deal that goes on in the unconscious relationship between an adult teacher and a not-yet-fully-adult student, and my four-year-long student-teacher relationship with Julius Baker (who was born 107 years ago yesterday) mainly took place on a level far below the surface of flute playing. It was a different kind of relationship from the one (or ones) I observed he had with my peers, but then again he had a very strong psychic presence. 

It was not the crystal-ball-gazing or tarot-card-reading kind of psychic presence, but rather the psychic presence you hear in his musical voice: light and airy, while at the same time filled with earth-bound gravity. A combination of the sentimental and the "no-nonsense," spinning with creativity and bound in discipline.

He was a man who was completely in love with the sound and character of the flute. He was also rather thrilled with the doors that playing the flute opened up for him. He told me once that if he hadn't played the flute, he wouldn't have gone to Curtis, and he wouldn't have gotten an education.

The beginning of my time at Juilliard coincided with Julius Baker's recovery from a life-changing heart attack. I didn't know him before the heart attack, but when I met him he was an avid jogger, and seemed to exist by eating cottage cheese and rotisserie chicken, and drinking coffee. He would send students out to get him a half chicken to have for dinner in his office on concert days. Lunch would be in the Juilliard cafeteria, and he would always ask some of his students to have lunch with him in the faculty part of the cafeteria, which was filled with luminaries. Some were visiting him.

In retrospect it seems that the Juilliard teaching experience for him was entirely social. It gave him a nice place to be on concert days when he had a rehearsal in the morning and a concert in the evening in return for what was probably a very low salary and low expectations from the administration. People would always come to Juilliard to study with him, and he had the knack of "smelling" talent. And those with ambition (everyone seemed to have ambition) would succeed with minimal intervention on his part. 

[When I first met him he called me "a diamond in the rough." I was just sixteen, and had no idea what it meant, so I asked him. Later in our student-teacher relationship he said something about playing something "in your own inimitable way." It was another new word for me.]

He liked to learn about the "extra-flute" interests of his students, and liked to meet our friends. I introduced him to a singer friend of mine, a very smart woman who had gone to Yale and introduced me to "The Waste Land." She said that he WAS the god Pan. And he used to say that his name in Spanish was Julio Panera.
Julius Baker used to tell his students to listen to Heifetz recordings. I'm sure that most of them did, but try as I might (and I tried with all my might) I could not get my flute to sound like a violin or to sound like Heifetz. I listened to the whole of the Heifetz collection that was available during the late 1970s with my friend Danny Morganstern, and became obsessed with the Saint-Saëns D minor Sonata, which I transcribed for flute. None of my flute colleagues were impressed. And I think that Julius Baker knew that I was really a violinist at heart. The only thing I remember him saying about the Saint-Saëns (which I brought to a lesson because I was preparing it to play on a recital) was asking the question, "Why are you always playing Salon music?" 

I don’t remember what my response was. I don’t know if I would have known what salon music was at that point.

Now, in retrospect, I really have to thank him for recognizing that I was not really a flutist, but rather a musician with a flute who tried her very best to make the most of what sometimes felt like a life sentence. I felt that I had failed musically (and intellectually) at everything else: I stopped playing violin as a child for dumb child-like "reasons," I couldn't play piano (maybe lessons might have helped), I couldn't sing (again, maybe lessons might have helped). But flute was easy for me, and easy, for me, doesn't mean much of anything.

There are people, like Julius Baker, and like my successful colleagues and friends who love playing the flute, for whom the flute is everything.

I am a person who likes to work hard at things that are really important to me. Things that come easily stay on the emotional surface for me. They always have, and they always will. And I have my experiences with Julius Baker to thank for eventually learning that playing the flute was indeed not important for me. And I have him to thank for finding my musical "home" in playing violin and viola, and writing music.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Leo Tolstoy, Guest Blogger

Tolstoy takes us to a concert for chapter five of the seventh section of Anna Karenina. The piece Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin hears seems to be a version of this piece by Balakierv: .
At the concert in the afternoon two very interesting works were performed. One was a fantasia, King Lear in the Steppe; the other was a quartet dedicated to the memory of Bach. Both were new and in the modern style, and Levin was eager to form an opinion of them. After escorting his sister-in-law to her stall, he stood against a column and tried to listen as attentively and conscientiously as possible. he tried not to let his attention be distracted, and not to spoil his impression by looking at the conductor in a white tie, waving his arms, which always disturbed his enjoyment of music so much, or the ladies in bonnets, with strings carefully tied over their ears, and all these people either thinking nothing at all or thinking of all sorts of things except the music. He tried to avoid meeting music connoisseurs or talkative acquaintances, and stood looking at the floor straight before him, listening.

But the more he listened to the King Lear fantasia, the further he felt from forming any definite opinion on it. There seemed to be a continual beginning, a preparation for the musical expression of some feeling, but it fell to pieces again immediately, breaking into new expressions of emotions, or simply into nothing but the whims of the composer, exceedingly complex but disconnected sounds. And these fragmentary musical expressions, though sometimes beautiful, were unpleasant, because they were utterly unexpected and not prepared for by anything. Gaiety and grief and despair and tenderness and triumph followed one another without any connection, like the emotions of a madman. And those emotions, like a madman’s, sprang up quite unexpectedly.

During the whole of the performance Levin felt like a deaf man watching people dancing, and was in a state of complete bewilderment when the fantasia was over, and felt a great weariness from the fruitless strain on his attention. Loud applause resounded on all sides. Everyone got up, moved about, and began talking. Anxious to throw some light on his own perplexity from the impressions of others, Levin began to walk about, looking for connoisseurs, and was glad to see a well-known connoisseur in conversation with Pestsov, whom he knew.

“Marvelous!” Pestsov was saying in his mellow bass. “How are you, Konstantin Dmitrievich? Particularly graphic and sculpturesque, so to say, and richly colored is that passage where you feel Cordelia’s approach, where woman, das ewig Weibliche, enters into conflict with fate. Isn’t it?”

”You mean . . . What had Cordelia to do with it?” Levin asked timidly, forgetting that the fantasia was supposed to represent King Lear.

“Cordelia comes in . . . see here!” said Pestsov, tapping his finger on the satiny surface of the program he held in his hand and passing it to Levin.

Only then did Levin recollect the title of the fantasia, and made haste to read in the Russian translation the lines from Shakespeare that were printed on the back of the program.

“You can’t follow it without that,” said Pestsov, addressing Levin, because the person he had been speaking to had gone away, and he had no one to talk to.

In the entr’acte Levin and Pestsov fell into an argument upon the merits and defects of the Wagner school of music. Levin maintained that the mistake of Wagner and all his followers lay in their trying to take music into the sphere of another art, just as poetry goes wrong when it tries to paint a face, which is what should be left to painting, and as an instance of this mistake he cited the sculptor who carved in marble certain shadows of poetical images floating around the figure of the poet on the pedestal. “These shadows were so far from being shadows that they were positively clinging to the ladder,” said Levin. The comparison pleased him, but he could not remember whether or not he had used the same phrase before, and to Pestsov, too, and as he said it he felt embarrassed.

Pestsov maintained that art is one, and that it can attain its highest manifestations only in conjunction with all kinds of art.

The second piece that was performed Levin could not hear. Pestsov, who was standing beside him, was talking to him almost all the time, condemning the music for its excessive affected assumption of simplicity, and comparing it with the simplicity of the Pre-Raphaelites in painting. As he went out, Levin met many more acquaintances, which whom he talked of politics, of music, and of common acquaintances. Among others he met Count Bohl, whom he had utterly forgotten to call upon.

“Well, go at once, then,” Madame Lvova said when he told her; “perhaps they’ll not be at home, and then you can come to the meeting to fetch me. You’ll find me still there.”
We are reading the Modern Library Classics edition translated by Constance Garnett, and revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova. This edition is hard to find in paperback, but I bet your public library has a copy or two. I love reading this novel. I know that it doesn't end well for the title character (perhaps the only things most people know about the book are the opening sentence and the ending), but what lies in between is a fascinating, engaging, maddening, heart-wrenching joy to read. I'm sorry that we are so near the end.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Summer Music for Viola and Piano (Before Summer is Over)

I was planning to play this piece as part of a local concert yesterday (for which I made the last post's baton), but my pianist friend was unable to play, so Summer Music (in its transcription for viola and piano) was left off the program. Today, before the gates of summer are closed (and before the vaccines I got made me woozy), I made a video.

A new operating system on my computer has forced me to learn to use some unfamiliar technology, but I was happy that, with a great deal of trail and error, I was able to get the human-generated viola playing track and the computer-generated piano track lined up. I hope you enjoy the resulting (slightly imperfect) recording.

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Need a Baton in a Pinch? Here's a DIY Solution

I found myself in sudden need of a baton, and when I found that the local university book store, which used to stock batons, no longer stocked them, I needed to find a way of making one myself. I found a paint brush in the art-supply area that felt like the right weight for a baton. For the handle I chose a cork from our kitchen drawer that provided a nice balance.

I cut the cork in half, and cut out a groove in both halves.

Then I stuck the hair and a bit of the ferrule between the cork halves, applied some glue, and secured the handle parts together with some rubber bands.

I was planning to sand it, but it looks and feels really good as is! Total cost? $4 for the paintbrush. Corks are, of course, priceless.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

What I Have Learned from Practicing the Piano

I am not a piano native. I knew where the notes on the keyboard were when I was a child, but never learned to play without looking at my fingers. I could always instinctively "find" tunes on the piano, but, even though I intellectually understood harmony, could never "feel" the shapes of chords and produce them by instinct on the piano. The pathways between my ears and my hands, arms, eyes, and fingers have been forged in different directions.

When playing flute and recorder the fingers of both hands need to cooperate in order to make pitches with the air (and the mouth, diaphragm, and tongue). Both hands work as equals supporting the instrument, covering the holes with the fingers, or pressing the keys. When I played flute and recorder exclusively my hands felt the same: same weight, same temperature, same sense of feeling in my fingertips.

As soon as I reconnected with my childhood string-player self (when I was thirty-one or so), I noticed that my hands started to feel different from one another. They have always been different sizes (my left is bigger than my right), but now, after thirty-odd years of playing as an adult, my left hand has a broader palm, and a whole lot more veins. The air around each of my hands feels different, and even as I type the sensitivity of my fingertips feels different. My left hand is a whole lot heavier than my right.

I have been practicing the piano with the intention of becoming a better pianist for a few years now. For the past year or two I have been practicing every day, and I am finally beginning to see (and hear) results. For the longest time I felt like I was clearing space in my brain to focus right and left (the way one clears brush). Trusting distances and the size of intervals (which do not change from octave to octave on the piano) always felt random. I felt no real connection to the piano as something to make living musical phrases on, though I certainly wanted to. But these things can't be forced. My adult growth as a string player has taught me that. Basics are everything, and paying attention to basics from the vantage point of physical ability on an instrument is an entirely different experience from paying attention to basics when learning to play a new instrument.

I now am starting to feel that my hands can work in concert with one another. (Not the "concert" that means playing for people--that is not one of my piano-playing goals.) I can play chords as chords, and do not have to think about them as stacks of individual pitches. I'm starting to be able to make physical phrases by allowing the weight of my hands guide the notes, and I am starting to feel that my fingers are more connected to my ears. I have also built up a greater awareness of the piano fourth finger, which I used to avoid using. And I can finally trill with my right hand while playing an Alberti bass with my left hand.

And, most surprising of all, when I sit down at the piano to play a Mozart Sonata and listen in my head for the first note, it is often right. It doesn't work for me when I am sitting elsewhere or doing something else, or trying to produce a pitch out of thin air.

This has happened occasionally when I am holding a violin or a viola, and used to happen with the flute, but never with the piano. Never until now. I wonder if it has something to do with temperament, which makes keys (meaning tonalities) on the piano have colors that are different from other keys (tonalities) on the piano.

It is such a gift to be able to grow as a musician in a new way, and spending quality time with Mozart (my current piano pal), Haydn, Bach, and Beethoven. Schubert is in the far distance, behind the mountains of Chopin, the Schumanns (Clara and Robert), and the Mendelssohns (Fanny and Felix).

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

A Star is Born, Sometimes

Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight) has a great piece in today's San Francisco Classical Voice that explores what happens when an opera star has to cancel a performance, and another singer, sometimes on very little notice, steps in to fill the role.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Musical Detachment

I saw a video the other day in the musical corridors of Facebook that seems to have been taken down. I'll describe it. Imagine, if you will, a three-year-old child playing the Suzuki Book Two version of "Witches' Dance" remarkably well in tune, with a beautiful left-hand position, an excellent bow arm, and a decent sound. (There's a wrong pitch, but I think that it is probably hard-wired into the teacher as well as the student--it's a common error). The child is wearing a very cute dress, and there is a blue potty in the background. Her playing is absolutely mechanical.

She is crying her eyes out while she is playing. The deep emotions that she is feeling do not make it in any way, shape, or form into what is coming out of her instrument. It is really painful to watch. And it is painful to think that any parent would, first of all, take a video of a child feeling so distressed while playing, and then share it with the larger world. I wonder if this was put into the internets as a form of punishment.

Using music as a way to exploration and express of feelings is the main reason to play (or sing). Actually, it is the only reason for me. I can imagine that there are people who get enjoyment out of doing things right. There are people who like playing because of the praise or attention they get. And there are people who get motivated to play so that they can communicate with others in a way that doesn't involved conversation, kicking or throwing a ball, or dancing.

If this child is already so disconnected from her feelings when she plays, I wonder how difficult a time her future teachers will have teaching her to connect her feelings with her playing. 

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Spohr Nonet, Barber Summer Music, Coker Concertino (BSOCP 1967 and 1968 first releases in 2022)

This ten-disc set of reissues includes three pieces that are issued for the first time. My first experience hearing both the Barber and the Spohr were in concerts played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players. Having a chance to hear the Spohr in the late 1960s configuration, while following the score (which you can find on this page of the IMSLP) is an amazing treat. You can also find the first movement on this YouTube link.

I imagine that you, like me, will be amazed at how beautifully written this piece is for these instruments, and how beautifully this ensemble plays it. I have no idea why this Spohr Nonet recording was never released.

The Barber has some lovely playing (particularly from the bassoon, the horn, and the oboe), but it is not the most satisfying overall recording of the piece. I can understand why it was not released at the time. I'm glad it is here (for historical value), but I can imagine that everyone in the quintet would have had personal objections.

I also think that this might be the first release of the Concertino by Wilson Coker, though it is not mentioned as such in any of the printed or publicity material. It is a piece for bassoon and string trio that I don't remember hearing in performance (I would have heard the viola passages being practiced, though). It was published in 1964, and has a remarkable amount of musical substance in its six minutes and twenty second life.

I was pleased to learn that Coker got his doctorate at the University of Illinois (which I learned about in this entry on the MacDowell Colony website), and taught at Southern Illinois University. The Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players first played the Concertino in New York in 1966. I would like to imagine that Coker wrote it with Sherman Walt in mind, but I'm having a great deal of difficulty learning anything about the history of the piece. Coker had been at Tanglewood in 1959 (if the link takes you to the beginning of the yearbook, scroll to page 95), so he would have had the opportunity to know and perhaps work with Walt during that summer.

This recording is the ninth disc of the set, which is available here.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Mozart Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet Boston Symphony Chamber Players Disc Number Three

The Mozart G minor Piano Quartet, K 478, and the E-flat major Piano Quintet, K 452, are together on this CD. I recall hearing these pieces played in concert by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, but do not remember hearing the LP recordings (someone else in the family must have had this one).

What strikes me about this recording is not just the excellent Mozart playing, but the clarity of all the voices. It is beautifully played and beautifully engineered. My father's arpeggiated figures that serve as accompaniment to melodies in the other instruments act like the left hand of a pianist (the superior left hand of Claude Frank, to be exact), being both extremely even and extremely directional, like calm fingers of a potter working on a wheel, allowing for evenly controlled shapes to appear. It is extremely satisfying Mozart playing.

The Quintet for Piano and Winds is really interesting to hear. After listening to Sherman Walt yesterday, the pedestal I made for him in my mind and heart has gotten still taller. What remarkable bassoon playing! What remarkable musicianship! Every single note and every single phrase seems to be more beautiful and more expressive than the last. And Ralph Gomberg is hand-in-glove with Walt. It is lovely oboe playing that somehow, while always being expressive and oboistic, never seems to dominate.

I'm not so impressed with Gino Cioffi's clarinet playing. It is fine during tutti sections, but when the clarinet has solo passages, his sound is thin and unsatisfying. When Harold Wright joined the Boston Symphony and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in 1970, the "value" of the ensemble went up exponentially.

I love hearing James Stagliano's colorful and beautiful French Horn playing. He retired from the Boston Symphony in 1973. The recordings in this set might be his last chamber music recordings.

You can order the set, which just came out last week, here.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Boston Symphony Chamber Players Recordings 1964-1968 Disc Five

It just dawned on me today that my father, Burton Fine, is the only member of the original Boston Symphony Chamber Players who is still living. And I also realized today how important the music in this ten-CD set of recordings made between 1964 and 1968 is and always was to me.

Today I listened to CD number five which has the Poulenc Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano, the 3 Bagatelles for Oboe and Bassoon by Alexei Haieff, and the Variations for 4 Drums and Viola by Michael Colgrass. I started with the Colgrass, because I remember my father practicing the piece, and I remember how much I loved hearing him practice it.

Now that I am no longer a child, and now that I understand the ins, outs, ups, and downs of the viola, I am completely in awe of how great a violist and a musician my father is. And I also understand what a great chamber music player Everett Firth (better known as Vic Firth) was, and how beautifully, sensitively, and creatively Michael Colgrass wrote for the instruments. There is so very much to learn about music from listening to this recording of this piece.

I didn't have the original LP of this recording, so my last memory of this interpretation of the piece was probably from a concert in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The first time I heard the Poulenc Trio was with oboist Ralph Gomberg, bassoonist Sherman Walt, and pianist Claude Franck, and that was most certainly in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I have enjoyed the piece played by other people for sure (it is such a lovely piece), but there is something distinctively superior about this recording. Perhaps it is because Sherman Walt might have been the greatest bassoonist that ever lived. At least he was the first great bassoonist I ever heard, and he set my standards really high.

I do recall hearing this recording of Bachianas Brasileras No. 6 with Sherman Walt and Doriot Anthony Dwyer. In my flute-playing days I used to be quite critical of Dwyer's playing, but time and distance reveal to me what an incredibly strong player she was. And her flute sound has as much physical substance as Walt's bassoon playing. It is an unforgiving and relentless piece, filled with physical and musical struggles. And in this recording it is a joy to hear.

I don't remember anyone talking about Alexei Haieff around the dinner table at home, and this is the first hearing for me of his three very short Bagatelles for Oboe and Bassoon. I imagine that either Ralph Gomberg or Sherman Walt must have lobbied to have these included in the BSOCP repertoire, but I'm glad they did. Now we can all look out for more of his music.

Which volume shall I listen to and write about tomorrow . . .

You can order this set here.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Secret Ways (1961)

Here's the first music John Williams (as Johnny Williams) wrote for a film.

It is a remarkable movie, and not only because of the music.

You can watch the whole movie on YouTube.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Working through Intimidation

My mother used to practice the Bach (either J.S. or C.P.E.--we will never know) C major Flute Sonata, BWV 1033, when I was a baby, and then I played it (or at least the Allegro) just about every day of my flute-playing life.

I started working on this string arrangement in April, and finally I have a setting of it that I'm satisfied with. I know that it is the best I can do, and now I can move on.

Taking time off from writing is something that I find essential, and wrapping my mind around the minds, harmonies, and phrases of composers from other eras is a really good way to learn about how to write music. But working with the "cloth" of great composers can be intimidating.

I finally have the piano skills to play Haydn's and Mozart's Piano Sonatas at moderate tempos. I now find myself thinking that if I had studied piano as a child, and had the technique to play these pieces early in my musical life, I might have been too intimidated to write music myself. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
You can find the score and parts for this arrangement here and on this page of the IMSLP.

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.