Saturday, June 25, 2022

Hope and I

This poem by Susan Coolidge, the pseudonym of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, had been sitting on my computer for at least a year, and had been sitting on my desk for several months. It helped me a great deal to make my way emotionally through yesterday and today to work on it. And it helps to be able to share it right away. I can't remember how I found Coolidge's work. The cyber trail has been erased.
You can find the music here, on this page of the IMSLP. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Pleasure, Haydn, and DNA

I was talking with my father about Haydn the other day, and he revealed to me that as a child he loved the same Haydn piano sonatas that I am currently obsesed with (currently meaning over the last decade or so, or since I have had possession of the music that once belonged to my brother). Objectively one could say that all Haydn Piano Sonatas are great in their own specific ways, and that there are some that are so unique, so inventive, so engaging, and so physically pleasurable to play that anyone might choose the same "favorites." One could also say that the Haydn Sonatas that have been anthologized would be the ones that people would play as children, but it seems that Haydn is too often thought of as a "gateway" to Mozart, Beethoven, or Schubert. Maybe it has something to do with the way Haydn gives even non-pianists so much physical pleasure.

My love of Haydn and string playing feels so "hard wired" that I don't feel odd imagining that those specific and particular pleasures are inherited.

It has been documented that trauma, particularly physical trauma, can be passed from one generation to the next. The field of study is called epigenetics, and involves chemical marks that can be left on a person's genes that changes the way a gene gets expressed. It's a new field, and everything I have seen on the internets seems to focus on studies involving inter-generational trauma.

What I wonder if the experince of pleasure that results from a person having a profound and sustained experience with practicing music or art (or literature, or math, or science, or sports, or dance . . . ) early in life, and having the pleasure be so great that it causes the chemical changes necessary for that particular pleasure to pass the ability to experience that pleasure onto future generations. We know that physical traits are passed from generation to generation, and, at least in my family, pitch memory (as in absolute pitch) and, it seems, intelligence and personality traits are inherited (she "takes after" her father, or he "takes after" his grandmother). Then there is the environmental factor.

But the idea of pleasure, something that is so subjective and not easy to quantify, seems to have been under-studied in this way.

I have heard many people say that they inherited their love of this or that from someone in their family, and are thrilled when they do genetic tests that identify a distant ancestor as a great athlete, an artist, or a leader in a political movement. (We do tend not to identify with direct blood relatives with qualities we do not like.)

What interests me particularly, though, is if someone happens to find something early in life that offers extreme pleasure that is not necessarily something present in their family life ("I don't know where she gets it from"), and through the support and nurturing of adults who care enough to support that child's obsession, could that child be changed in an epigenetic way that might pass that pleasure onto his or her children?

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Arrangements for String Orchestra for 2022

Once I know that my Summer Strings arrangements work as expected, I like to share them with other ensembles. Here's this year's music. The pieces that are in the public domain are available in the IMSLP, and the pieces that are not in the public domain are in a dropbox folder I keep for sharing. If you are interested in using the music for personal, educational, or non-commercial purposes, please send me an email message, and I will send you a link to the shared folder.

JULY UPDATE: You can listen here to a performance of this set of pieces given on July 12, 2022. The group is a collection of amateur musicians of all ages and all levels, and the program was put together in six ninety-minute rehearsals over the course of six weeks.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Getting from one note to the next

It has taken me decades to figure out how to make it from one note to the next expressively, effectively, and efficiently. I now find that paying attention to how one pitch follows another, how one group of pitches follows another, and how one phrase follows another is the most difficult, creative, and satisfying part of practicing violin and viola. It is rather difficult to write about, but I'll give it a try.

Julius Baker, my flute teacher at Juilliard, had a warm-up routine that he required all of his students to do. It mainly involved double-tonguing. Actually, come to think of it, it was totally about double-tonguing. The way he phrased the Allegro of the C major Bach Sonata, BWV 1033 (here transposed to F major) created a long and virtuosic phrase, particularly because he played it very fast:

After my time at Juilliard I went off to Austria, and I studied recorder in Vienna at the Hochschule with Hans Maria Kneihs. Though 21st-century recorder players incorporate double-tonguing, 20th-century recorder players who were attempting to sound like early-18th-century recorder players used a single tongue, and they (we) used it in approximation of the way we imagined string players used their bows. Here is what my (uninformed by actually being a string player) recorder phrasing would look like:
Hans Kneihs talked about keeping harmonies together, and actually making psychological spacings between beats, allowing one group of four sixteenth notes to lead to the next without creating false accents. Hans had been a cellist, so he saw recorder playing as a way of freeing himself from the difficulties and complexities of bowing.

And the complexities of bowing involve making false accents because the "cocktail" of speed, pressure, where you are in the bow, if you have a string crossing, and your dynamic level all have to be factored into getting from one note to the next in a satisfying way. This illustration reveals the dangers of trying to move from the last sixteenth note of a measure using only the last note (and an up-bow note to boot) to do the heavy lifting (the "red" version).

It is so much easier to have the last group of four sixteenth notes, piloted by a down-bow (the purple), deliver the phrase into the next measure. For me it's a little like using a plastic cup to move sand rather than using a cup made of less-reliable fingers.
And by doing this you begin to see possibilities of phrasing that involve features of the phrases--ways of hearing that you may not have thought about. The red example below is a rather straightforward way of thinking about directions that the phrases could go effectively.
The purple example below is a little bit more creative, and technically and intellectually more difficult:
I find it to be stimulating to think like this while I am practicing, particularly when I am practicing Bach, because his phrases are so durable and so interesting. Sometimes I aim for consistency, but more often I look and listen to see the patterns that can be revealed though observation.

Often I use this kind of mindset to tackle the questions of how much bow and where in the bow a useful up-bow might function well. Sometimes I incorporate slurs, and sometimes I reverse bowings, giving a chance to my bow arm to figure out how to do "heavy lifting" without making false accents.

I do it with etudes, and I even use this mindset to organize lyrical phrases and phrases in music from all periods. I strive to write durable phrases that can be interpreted in many ways, because this mindset has (finally) become hard-wired and permeates everything I do.

I used to tell my flute students that they needed to pay attention to where every note is, where it has been, and where it is going, but I didn't know how to teach them "how" to do it. I also could not figure out how to eliminate false accents aside from using the "baroque" method I learned from studying recorder.

Flutists have to use their imaginations for such things because they do not have a physical way to move their notes around aside from using their tongues, and there is no real resistance to play "against," unless it is music written specifically to employ the newer techniques that have expanded flute possibilities in the 21st century. Flute teaching and playing has also improved greatly since I left the fold. I have never heard Emmanuel Pahud play with false accents or unimaginative phrasing.

Brass players and reed players have the advantage of resistance, and singers have diction.

We all have rhythm, though.

I believe that all musicians who play music that is written have the obligation to make getting from one note to the next as pleasurable an experience as possible for themselves, they musical partners, and for whoever might be listening.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Charm, Passion, Acrobatics, and Kunc

I just learned that Misha Galaganov's recording of the Pierre Kunc Viola Sonata is finally finished and will be available on June 10th for pre-order on Amazon music.

I love the piece so much that I made a fresh engraving of it with a corrected viola part, and with editing help from Mr. Galaganov, who, in 2018, was one of only a handful of people who knew the piece (another was my stand-partner Daniel McCarthy, who turned pages for Mr. Galaganov's performance in Texas. Small viola world.)

I attribute the lack of popularity of the piece to the fact that the original viola part, with its dozens of errors, makes playing this very difficult piece even more difficult to put together. The engraving that I put in the IMSLP is probably the most massive engraving project I have done, but it was a labor of love and devotion, and I'm very pleased with the way it came out.

Mr. Galaganov, who sent me an audio file of his performance of this piece, is a teriffic violist. And he has great taste in his choice of music.

Here's a look at the first two pages of the piece:

You can read more about Pierre Kunc here.

Friday, June 03, 2022

“The Collar” in Italian!

Bassonist Michele Colombo made this wonderful recording in Italian of my setting of this Hans Christian Andersen story.