Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The 1950s housewife in 1950s media

Food for thought: a great many of the actors and models used in media (films, television, magazines) promoting the idea that married women in the 1950s should give up aspirations of having a profession (even if they worked during the war) were professional women who had jobs as actors and models. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Using Scale Tales with Students

It has been about half a year since Violin Scale Tales came into print, and I have not yet seen any kind of printed review. So in this post I will show how I use the material with students.

I currently have three students working in this book. One is advanced, and can make her way around the fingerboard in the first six positions. The other two have not yet learned to shift out of first position.

My more advanced student is working on the pieces in the book in order, beginning in A minor with "Atlas Moth." As you can see from the first two lines, the piece uses a mixture of sixteenth notes, eighth notes, triplets, and longer note values that require the student to count and change the speed of the bow in order to follow the dynamic contours of the piece. This piece includes a mixture of meters. These changes of meter are necessary for the musical line, and offer a good way to teach the "why" of meter in addition to the "what" of meter.

There are also places in the piece that proceed as normal scales would, with regular rhythm:

Phrasing is built into the music, and dynamics and textures keep things interesting. Thinking about the appearance and behavior of the animals stimulates the musical imagination.  It is fun, for example, to imagine how this very large moth might act during its short life.

The other eleven moth pieces (Elephant Hawk Moth, Io Moth, Rosy Maple Moth, Luna Moth, Garden Tiger Moth, Dysphania Militaris Moth, Cecropia Giant Silk Moth, Twin-Spotted Sphynx Moth, Comet Moth, Cinnabar Moth, and Giant Leopard Moth) bear a family resemblence to the Atlas Moth piece, but each has its own character. "Waltz of the Moths," which comes at the end of the book, an elaboration on "Twin-Spotted Sphinx Moth," makes its way through all of the minor keys beginning in F minor, and going through the circle of fifths.

I started one of my less-experienced students with "Ostrich" in the key of G major. This one is totally in the three-quarter time, and incorporates a chipper tune as well as left-hand pizzicato:
It ends with a scale that uses the whole first-position range of the violin:
"Komodo Dragon," in D major, also uses left-hand pizzicato. It has a lot of drama, because the Komodo Dragon is a dramatic creature. This piece incorporates a more extended scale passage than the other portraits of lizards in the collection ("Armadillo Girdled Lizard," in B major, and "Eastern Collared Lizard," in F-sharp major).
"Emu" is an E-major waltz that is similar to the G-major "Ostrich" above (those large running birds are somewhat similar). And at the end of the book, right before the "Waltz of the Moths,"  a "Waltz of the Emus" runs its way through all the major keys.

All the animals in the collection, including the Green Sea Turtle, Galápagos Tortoise, Royal Python, Barred Owl, Scaly-Breasted Woodpecker, Dwarf Scaly-Tailed Squirrel, and the Screaming Hairy Armadillo are animals that have scales.

I'm having as much fun practicing and teaching these pieces as I did writing them.

There are twenty-eight more musical portraits of animals with scales in the second volume, Advanced Violin Scale Studies, a book that uses the whole range of the violin and twenty-four keys (alternating minor and major, like the first volume). The first-position book can also be used to great advantage on the viola, particularly for violists eager to practice in the second, third, fourth, and fifth positions. They are great for practicing intonation because each piece remains in a single key (though the mode of the major pieces sometimes shifts to the natural minor). Pitches move stepwise up and down, repeat at the unison, or jump the octave. Even in keys with many sharps or many flats it is still easy to hear where the next pitch is going to be.

My hope with this book is that it will help students find that scale playing can be enjoyable, imaginative, and even entertaining. I also hope that it can help "normalize" keys that have many sharps or many flats, and that it can help introduce elements of very basic music theory into lessons.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Lift Every Voice and the Convergence of Things

"Everything that rises must converge," the title story of Flannery O'Connor's 1965 collection of short stories, comes from "Omega Point" (an idea I don't necessarily ascribe to) by the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In it he writes (translated here by our friends who wrote the Wikipedia article about him),"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."

Last night's Summer Strings concert was one of those rising and converging moments, though the rising and converging happened among people who would not necessarily agree with de Chardin, if they even knew who he was (I didn't until I started writing this post). In six ninety-minute-long rehearsals over a period of six weeks, this group of east-central-Illinois musicians of all ages and all abilities, managed to pull off a one-hour-long program of music that was filled with musical challenges of all stripes (including expressive ones).

The program began with an arrangement of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" that you can hear here. There were a few moments of wind that challenged the microphone, but it was a small price to pay for having absolutely perfect weather for this concert.

As some people who read this blog know, Michael and I live in what has become an epicenter for the kind of political thought that is minority thought in the coastal and urban parts of the country that we are more aligned with. But we do what we can, and give what we can to the community where we live. And in this ensemble, which is a mixture of not only people of all ages and abilities, but of people on all sides of the political spectrum, everyone is giving the best part of themselves to the music at hand, and enjoying the better parts of all of their neighbors.

This is what music does. And it is, for me, the best part of making music.

Another "arm" of this musical convergence for me is a book I am reading that I will be writing a post about closer to its release date in November of this year. Suzuki: the man and his dream to teach the children of the world, by the historian Eri Hotta, puts Shinichi Suzuki's life, with component parts that I never knew about, into the framework of Japanese history as well as twentieth-century world history. Suzuki's idea (or one of Suzuki's ideas, borrowed from his extra-musical process of self-education) that music can make the world a better and kinder place resonated loudly (and sometimes whispered softly, because dynamics were at play) with me last night.

If you go to this post, there is a link at the bottom to a folder that has recordings of everything we played.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Gregory Wiest Concert Sunday July 10

I'm very excited to hear tenor Gregory Wiest and pianist Akane Kubo perform my "Impressions" song cycle on this recital.

It begins at 12:30 US Central Time (1:30 Eastern Time). Also on the program are "Songs of the Woods" by James Devor and "Birds gone South" by Travis Reynolds.

You can hear it archived through the window below:

Here is a link to the program that has the texts in English and in an Italian translation. And you can find the music for "Impressions" on this page of the IMSLP.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Nobu Koda

I just came across Nobu Koda's name in a book I am reading by Eri Hotta about Sinichi Suzuki (the book will be available in November of this year), and found a recording of this lovely violin sonata on YouTube:

Koda (1870-1946) is acknowledged as the first Japanese person to write music in the western classical tradition. She graduated from the New England Conservatory in 1889, and then studied at the Vienna Conservatory.

You can read more about her here. Her two Sonatas, published in Japan by Schott, are available in a handful of libraries.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

A New Day at the Museum

Michael and I went to the Krannert Art Museum yesterday. It was our first museum-going experience since the beginning of the pandemic. We were greeted with a work that Joan Thorne (born in 1943) painted during the 1980s called "Topog." The photograph I took of it does not do the work justice, but it is in the same vein as the cover painting on her website.

All of a sudden I realized that this museum was changing, and that I was going to see a lot more work in it by women than I had ever seen in the past.

Yes, indeed! Many of the new acquisitions were works by women. And a African mask exhibit had work by women, as did a ceramics exhibit. The "old masters" area had a large sign explaining why there were no works by women in it, and the antiquities area had a sign explaining that the museum was no longer buying antiquities.

Nobody is getting rid of old stuff and replacing it with new stuff. They are simply expanding their collection in order to make the museum a more meaningful place to experience art.

I look forward to our next visit!

Friday, July 01, 2022


As a child I would often fantasize about moving to a new place and to start over. I had very little in childhood to affirm my personal worth. The people around me (in my family) seemed more important (smart, gifted, demanding of attention), so I learned not to expect attention.

Instead of crumbling, I was somehow able to create my own happiness by giving without expecting anything in return.

The first time I followed my childhood fantasy was at twenty. After graduating from Juilliard, where I believed that the only reason anyone wanted to be my friend was because of my father's status in the musical world, I went off to Austria to play flute in a summer festival and find a way and a place to build a musical life. I lived the dream (new language, no history) for a while, but the job I found in rural Austria was not sustainable.

I went off to Vienna, where I ended up being accepted in a somewhat elite musically oriented society because of my father's status in the musical world. After my time in Austria and then time in Hong Kong (where I ended up not getting an orchestral piccolo job, and could not find permanent work that would grant me a visa), I moved back to Boston and learned to type. Then I got married and moved with my husband to Illinois, where I hoped to start our new life in a university town in relative anonymity. But my family reputation preceded me.

While in Boston I gave flute lessons to a retired doctor who was married to a violist who studied with my father. The 1985 viola congress happened to be in Boston, and a violist who lived in Charleston (my university town in Illinois) was there. She struck up a conversation with a fellow audience member at the conference who just happened to be my student's wife. My student's wife mentioned that I was moving to Charleston in a few weeks.

It was nice to be welcomed to town, but I had to give up my childhood anonymity fantasy, and go about life as an adult. I taught a bunch of flute students, and got a job at the university radio station. I enjoyed the work of motherhood, partly because it requires a great degree of selflessness to do it well. I had selflessness to spare. And I love the adults (and parents) that our kids have become. I remember being physically exausted for at least a decade, but I always had emotional energy in full supply.

But I needed to do something for myself, so when our younger child was three I returned to string playing (I had played violin from age seven to eleven).

I left the radio station when it became clear that they didn't want to continue having a classical music program, and I began a master's degree program. The faculty at the time must have either been unimpresed or intimidated by the work I did, because, with rare and fleeting exceptions (that I was not equipped to recognize at the time), nobody did anything to let me know that it was of any value.

One of my classmates asked me to take over a job she had teaching music appreciation at a nearby community college. I taught there for many years. Once the class was no longer required for education majors, demand for it dwindled, and my classes were eliminated.

I retired with a pension equal to the salary I earned while working (not much, but not nothing either). And I have managed over the decades to become (without holding a real job with any level of prestige) a competent professional string player, a CD reviewer, a good teacher, a good arranger, and a decent composer (as well as a decades-long blogger). I have been engaged for decades in community music. I have written music that seems to please people, developed relationships with publishers, made music available to people through both publishers and through the IMSLP. I have made meaningful and lasting friendships (musical and otherwise) with people all over the world, and finally, at the age of sixty-three, and after "slaying dragons" I have carried around since childhood, I feel a solid sense of self worth.

I suppose a lot of musicians seek out a path towards fame and fortune, and they do what they can to make their way professionally. It often requires a lot of self-promotion and constant public-relations-oriented work in order to remain visible and relevant in a crowded world. Location matters too. I don't have the energy for that kind of work, and am comfortable in my low-cost-of-living life, with time to write what I want, when I want to. I'm happy that I can do work that is good and useful, and that I can play an active part in musical life.