Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mozart K330 Andante Surprise

During these days of chaos and uncertainty, I find myself spending more and more time with music that is organized and certain and have been finding my greatest solace in Bach and Mozart.

Yesterday I came across this odd E-natural half note in measure thirty-nine of the Andante of Mozart's 10th Piano Sonata, K330 that would make more sense to me if that E-natural were a quarter note on the second beat of the measure, since it is so deeply at odds with the F naturals in the bass when it falls on the first beat. But it is in the first edition, published while Mozart was still alive, and it is in the manuscript (shown below the first edition).

My solution to the problem of mitigating that extra dissonance is to play it very softly.
[click for larger images]

Anyway, I did notice something surprising about this manscript: Mozart used the soprano clef for the right hand.
Of course I looked at all the Mozart Piano Sonata manuscripts I could find in the IMSLP, and I found that he only used the soprano clef in one other sonata: the F major, published as number 12 (K332/300k). But then I noticed that this is one that Mozart titled "Sonata III." Look!
I looked up "soprano clef" in Merriam-Webster, and was disappointed to see that their definition of it could be taken as misleading.
They are, of course, talking about the published words "soprano clef" being first used in 1786. Just in case you are wondering, Mozart's 10th and 12th Sonatas were published by Antaria in 1784 with a treble clef in the upper staff. I wonder if the first use of "soprano clef" in print might have been referring to something related to that publication. Probably not.

Also, don't bother to click on the illustration link: you will get a treble clef, not a C clef. You will find a better explanation here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Reconsidering perfection, again

It seems that the more confident I become as a musician, particularly as a string player, a composer, and as a teacher, the less I look for approval. But I do seek recognition, which I use literally here: I like to be recognized for what I am trying to do. I am my own very harsh critic, and feel mainly "right" with myself and my work when I know that I have done my best. And doing my best means fixing the problems I create for myself.

When I teach I am responsible for finding solutions to problems that other people have created. And I feel like I have accomplished something when any person I teach (or help) either internalizes those solutions, or is inspired by them to come up with alternatives.

As a young student I was a parasite, and though I sometimes remember the source of a particular solution, sometimes I don’t. I rarely learned anything from my formal private flute lessons, because my "official" teachers were more interested in themselves than they were in me.  But friends who shared musical thoughts and ideas with me were (and still are) my best teachers. Even the dead ones, like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, and Boulanger

Writing resonant music that is comfortable to play (on any instrument) is really important to me. I aspire to write music that helps people fall in love with music itself, and to communicate that love to the people they play with. It’s an added bonus if there is somebody listening. And if someone recognizes a kindred spirit, I have accomplished the kind of connection I hope for.

And I really enjoy it when something I have written or arranged compels students and friends to be expressive. Freedom of expression is a sacred freedom. And there is no perfection in expression.

My experience in the world of musicians (close contact to high-calibre professionals from a young age) has taught me that there is always someone who can play better and write better. Could you imagine playing at a level so high that it feels like it is impossible to improve? Could you imagine the pressure to maintain that illusion of perfection night after night? And could you imagine peaking as a child and losing that ability to touch the sun at the relatively young age of thirty-five? Or fifty. There is an illusive goal of of perfection in execution, but, thank goodness, in composing there is no perfection. There are only choices. 

I actually don't believe in perfection, and I stand by a blog post I made nearly twenty years ago concerning perfection. It was my first blogpost.

I think what really matters is becoming more musically genuine as a result of being able to express feelings through our instruments and through the musical phrases we encounter (or create).


Saturday, July 13, 2024

Butterflies abound

Nathan Groot put this lovely video of the "Gorgon copper butterfly" from Advanced Viola Scale Studies on Youtube today.


I thought it might be fun to mention, for other butterfly lovers, that the tresillo rhythm (3 + 3 + 2) of the etude is directly related to a piece that I wrote for viola and piano in 2002 called "Tango Mariposa." Here is a link to a recording played by Istvan Szabo, the person I wrote the piece for. I also made a transcription of it for viola, cello, and harp in 2003 that I hope to hear played some day.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Trouble in River City!

I came across this film clip of Meredith Willson explaining how "Trouble" from The Music Man works.

I first encountered this man when I read his memoir, And There I Stood with my Piccolo which I read (in one sitting) in the Boston Public Library when I was a teenager. I learned something about how shows and operas were put together when I realized that The Music Man had melodic material that threaded its way through every song. I have also come to understand that the “think method” can be a really valuable tool (when combined with actual practice).

What a brilliant man. This is the first time I have seen a film of him in action, and I am so excited to share this experience!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

New String Orchestra Arrangements for 2023 and 2024

I regularly add arrangements to this folder, and every couple of years I make a post listing the more recent arrangements and original pieces I have added. Some arrangements are in the IMSLP, and some are (for obvious reasons) not.
You can access the folder here.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

(Darling?) Starling

My friend Martha's sister suggested that my bird might be a starling. Boy does that make sense. After all, Mozart bought a starling back in 1784 because he heard it in a pet store singing the theme of the last movement of his 17th piano concerto. They are really smart birds, and can learn their vast repertoire of material from sources other than other birds.

I have certainly seen starlings in the yard, but I dismissed the idea of a starling (I had forgotten that the starling was the star of the Mozart story, and not some other bird) because I might have some prejudice against them. I associate a flock of starlings with a loud and distinctly unmusical clatter, but I had never heard one sing a solo before.

When we first moved to town in 1985 there was a starling invasion of sorts. And they seemed to congregate in the two tall oak trees in the front yard of our rental house. Our landlord used to clap pieces of wood together to get them to leave, partially because they were loud and annoying, but mostly because they raided his squirrel feeders.

Yes. They are an invasive species. The European Starling made its way across the Atlantic because back in 1890 a group of Shakespeare-loving New Yorkers wanted to have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's works to be present in Central Park.

The huge flocks of starlings that spent time in our town have withered during the past 40 years. I only see them occasionally, here and there.

But our yard (we moved to our own house in 1991) must have had meaning for a flock of starlings one evening in the early 1990s.

We were leaving the Wilb Walker grocery store (which is no longer there) when we noticed that the tree across the street in front of Valerie's Hair Affair (it is no longer a hair salon) had starlings all over it--like leaves. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of birds.

We were headed for home, but thought we would have a little adventure and follow them. Their destination happened to be our back yard. There they were: spread out like a black carpet.

What are the odds?

I read Jan Sibelius quoted somewhere (or maybe it was in a memoir) that the musical life of a place is directly related to its bird life. But I never imagined that it could go both ways. That some birds can get their material from the music that they happen to hear. Or that while we are watching them and listening for them, they might be watching us and listening to us.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Hab ich einen Vogel?

From time to time I write about the bird with the singular song that visits our yard. None of the bird-identifying apps and none of my bird-wise friends (and I have the most wise of bird-wise friends) have identified the species of this bird by its song, which I can duplicate exactly on the violin.

My most trusted bird-identifying friend suggested that it might be a singluar song made by a bird who knows many, like an oriole, but the timing is wrong. I have heard this bird as early as late February. And it comes back every year.

I hadn't heard it for a good month and a half, and this morning, while I was practicing some Haydn (the "Razor" quartet, not the "Bird") on the violin, it returned.

It sang (that's a midi rendering of a piccolo), and then I played. It sang back, and I played back. We went back and forth in rapid succession, maybe ten times. Maybe more.

I have had this musical exchange with this particular bird over many years.

Our back yard has a creek in it, which seems to be the home of a great deal of wildlife. Our house is at the top of a small hill, and the room where I practice could very easily be in, according to a bird's eye view, a tree.

I'm wondering now if that bird could have learned his or her song from me practicing a passage like this over and over (as I have been known to do).

Here's an interesting article about the repertoire that some birds have.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Gish Gallop for Piccolo and Piano

Twelve years ago, in 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had a debate on television. Romney bombarded Obama with so many half truths and outright lies that his debate performance was (or appeared to be) weak. The technique Romney used is known as "The Gish Gallop."

You can read the fine print at the bottom of the image of the first page to learn more, or you can read the next paragraph in this nice large blogger typeface:
The Gish Gallop is a debate strategy where one person provides a large number of weak or false arguments in order to overwhelm his or her opponent. It was coined in 1994 by the anthropologist Eugenie Scott to describe the debate technique of the American creationist Duane Gish, who used it to challenge the science of evolution. A rapid succession of lies is presented with the goal of wasting an opponent's time, thereby casting doubt on his or her debating ability. It works best in debates that don't involve fact checking.
Heather Cox Richardson wrote about the Gish Gallop in her Letters from An American commenting on Thursday's televised presidential debate. I can think of other four-letter words that "gish" to describe that debate, but I am determined not to allow myself to dwell on the negative elements of the evening.

I did, however, travel back in time by way of various drafts on my computer, and finish this little bit of chaos I started in 2012 that is based on Liszt's Grand galop chromatique.
[June 30, 2024]

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here. You can find the score and part on this page of the IMSLP. And now maybe I can get it OUT of my head and get a decent night's sleep.

The Unicorn

A few weeks ago I found a poem that my mother wrote. Today would be June's ninety-second birthday, so I'm sharing it here and now in honor of her memory.

The Unicorn

There's a forest that's hidden, somewhere in a dream
Where a Unicorn drinks from a bubbling stream
An owl once glimpsed his luminous form
And instantly knew this was not quite the norm.
He whispered the secret to all of the trees,
The trees told the rain and the rain told the breeze.

The Loon, who swam every night in the lake,
Making giggling sounds such as only loons make,
Retold the owl's story for all to hear.
Spectators came running from far and near.

The Pundits all smiled and winked their eyes,
for loons are well known to elaborate lies.
But the Hunters were ready, with arrows and spear,
To capture the Unicorn when he should appear.

They littered, they skittered, they tittered away,
Leaving beer cans and plastic cups after their play.

"Wonder of wonders, the Unicorn's real,"
The people all shouted and screamed in their zeal.
"Wonder of wonders, this is no lie."
They bought Unicorn T-shirts and Unicorn Pie.
"Wonder of wonders, It's not a hoax."
The Pundits all scrambled for Unicorn jokes.

But, soon all the people were bothered to tears,
Unicorns were coming out of their ears.
They stopped looking and fighting for Unicorn toys,
And turned instead, to things that make noise.
Again, trophy hunters prepared to go forth,
To find the Next Object; be it East, West or North.

And the Unicorn took a long drink from the stream,
Then, stepped back in Silence, In Time and in Dream.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Performance of my Woodwind Quintet No. 2 "Four Winds"

I just found this excellent performance from September, 2023 by flutist Faith Wasson, oboist Mary Robinson, clarinetist Beth Vilsmeier, horn player Martina Adams, and bassoonist Rick Barrantes on YouTube, and thought I would share it here.



Listening to it makes me think about how much I loved playing woodwind quintets as a teenager.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Summer Strings 20th Anniversary Concert July 9, 2024 at 7:00

Every summer for the past twenty years has been filled with string music here in Charleston, Illinois, and this May and part of June it was filled with cicada music, particularly in areas with old hardwood trees and creeks. People from national network news (I can't remember which network, but I think it might have been NBC) came to town in order to cover the emergence at its epicenter, but they weren't here when the various broods (we had at least three) were screaming and clicking at lawnmower volume. But we were here.

And now they are gone. Every last one of them. And our birds, deer, squirrels, and other animals, including dogs, were well fed with their manna from heaven.

Our Summer Strings program was set by March without a thought of cicadas, but once I made a string quartet transcription of a piece for two violins I wrote during the last Magicicada emergence back in 2011, and once I played it with some of my Summer Strings friends, there was no other choice but to make a version of it to put on the program for this year's Summer Strings concert. And it is particularly approrpriate in this location, among a lot of hardwood trees and along the town branch of the Embarass River, where the larvae of millions of Magicicada Brood XIX (who will next emerge in 2037) might even be listening. They are just babies, so there is no danger of any activity. Here's what we will be playing:


The theme of the concert is "Christmas in July," which means it is an excuse to play "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," my favorite Christmas holiday song. In Monteverdi's "Zefiro torna" the warm west wind comes after the cold of winter, but most importantly it is a chaconne with a bass line that repeats throughout the piece. "Once Upon a December" has cold and icy pizzicatto dressing up a waltz that sings of nostalgia, "California Dreamin'" is a longing for the warmth of Los Angeles on a day in winter from a place where "all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey."

"You Must Believe in Spring" by Michel Legrand yearns for spring even in the deepest winter.

The other songs should be familiar, but only dedicated readers of this blog would know that the "Humoresque" on the program must be the one by Ethel Barns rather than the one by Antonin Dvorak. I have loaded this arrangement into the IMSLP, and it should be available soon.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Shaloncé Royal (the professional wrestler) sings Pergolesi

This past Friday evening an assisted living/memory care facility in our town held a professional wrestling event. It is quite unusual to think of memory care and professional wrestling in the same mind's eye, but it happens that Devonte Knox, an extremely impressive professional wrestler, works by day (and occasionally night) as a CNA, helping residents in memory care navigate daily tasks with extreme gentleness and good humor.

He organized this event in order to share what he does with the people he works with and cares for. Professional wrestling is a performing art that is definitely not in my wheelhouse, to say the least, but I am really happy that I watched the exhibition because the opening act included Shaloncé Royal, a wrestler who is also a soprano! She drove all the way from Atlanta to Illinois to take part in the show because of Devonte.



And she is an excellent singer. Here she is singing "Stizzoso, mio stizzoso" from Pergolesi's La serva padrona



Funereal dusky-wing butterfly and American crocodile

Nathan Groot, who is in the process of recording the viola version of Advanced Viola Scale Studies (i.e. upscale tales, because they use the full range of the instrument in all positions), posted these two pieces today. As a set they work as a study in contrast. Groot plays "Funereal dusky-wing butterfly," which is in B minor, at a funereal tempo, which is really difficult to sustain. It's kind of like an adagio in ballet: so much more difficult than it appears from the outside. At this tempo it is really beneficial for the bow arm as well as the left hand, with shifts, vibrato, and basic intonation (which is never basic).

Part of my inspiration for the lighthearted nature of "American crocodile" was actually not a real crocodile at all. The crocodile smile and the musical motion did come from (wild) life, but the spirit also comes from Lyle, my favorite fictional crocodile.
I love the way Nathan Groot plays it here:

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Thumb and One (and lots of other teaching tools)

I thought of this little "slogan" while teaching a lesson the other day, and drew a nifty picture to help remind my students (and I guess other people's students, now that I have shared the image) that order to play the violin or the viola confidently in tune in the first position in keys that don't have flats, it is helpful to have the position of the thumb on the neck and the first finger (on any string) directly across the fingerboard from one another.

Sometimes I put a "like" (thumbs up) sticker where the thumb goes (if I have one handy), but any sticker will do. It helps if it is a sticker you can feel.

I was surprised to see that I have made forty-seven teaching posts on this blog. Some of the ideas are a little wacky, but some of them are pretty good.

You can see for yourself!

The number forty-seven has a particular (and I guess peculiar) meaning in our family. So I'll share this little bit of family lore.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Just because it's June

My friendship with the cellist Daniel Morganstern goes back to June of 1978, when one of his students was a summer roommate. We were, as he said, "an octave" apart. I was eighteen and he was thirty-six. He and his wife June acted like surrogate parents to me. I thought it was such amazing serendipity that my mother, also named June, had the same birthday: June 30th. June might have attributed it to a steller synchronicity, but the friendship between me, Danny, and June has lasted and deepened through the decades.

Shortly after Danny began his work as an editor with the International Music Company, I helped him by writing program notes and engraving scores into Finale. There are a few arrangements in his huge IMC catalog of editions and two-cello transcriptions of the cello repertoire that are mostly my work, and I am proud to say that this arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "June" from The Seasons, Opus 37a, is one of them.

You can order the music here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Kreisler, Kroll, Banjo, Fiddle, and Hadelich

Perhaps this is just an excuse to share this wonderful (and new) performance by Augustin Hadelich of William Kroll's "Banjo and Fiddle," but I did happen to notice the similarity of the first motive of the Kroll to a motive in Fritz Kreisler's "Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini."
Here is Augustin Hadelich's performance of the Kroll:



And here is a recording of Fritz Kreisler playing his Allegretto:



The Kreisler, published in 1910, came first. The Kroll is from 1945. It is one of Kreisler's "in the style of pieces" that were actually original compositions, and it is unlikely that he found this catchy motive in a piece by Boccherini.

Angela Bofil

I just learned last night that Angela Bofil died last week. I knew that she had been wracked with health problems since her strokes in 2006 and 2007 because I have been following her career since the beginning. Why? Beause she was the first (and only) pop star that I could, at least for a weekend in 1978, call a friend.

A pianist friend of mine at Juilliard named Iris knew Angela from growing up in New York, and Iris had written a love song about her crush (and then, apparantly later boyfriend) Michael, a violinist at Juilliard. Iris wanted to have flute in the song, and I guess I was probably asked to do it because I was someone she considered friendly and open to improvisation. I was also planning to be around during the summer. The three of us drove to Long Island to Iris's family house, and we had a rather cozy and crazy "girls weekend," complete with astrological readings and a night walk in the boggy wilderness. Angie was doing a colonic cleanse accompanied by a strange diet in order to starve herself to be "pop-star thin." It was a real struggle for her to "look" the part of a pop star, regardless of her musical ability. I remember that she also made constant calls to her manager. We improvised a great deal, which was really fun. She was a tremendously gifted musician who had a remarkable voice. I also remember the first line of the song, which we never did end up recording.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Marion Bauer's Elegie: transcription and a shallow dive

I have been making my way through Marion Bauer's piano music, and came upon this lovely Elegie that was published in 1904, when Bauer was twenty-two. The Elegie and its companion piece "Arabesque" were her first published compositions. She dedicated Arabesque to her sister, Emilie Frances Bauer, who was her first teacher, and she dedicated the Elegie to her second teacher, Henry Holden Huss.

The title page indicates that the John Church Company was part of the Canadian Department of Agriculture, but I can't find any other references to that particular Canadian connection. The company was started in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1885 and incorporated in 1889 by John Church Jr. One of its subsidiaries was the Boston-based Everett Piano Company, and another was the Royal Manufacturing Company in Cincinnati which made more portable instruments: drums, violins, mandolins, guitars, and banjos.

By the late 1870s they were one of the largest publishers of sheet music in the United States. The company was acquired by Theodore Presser in 1930.

I immediately thought of transcribing it for violin and piano, and then noticed that with a few minor alterations it works really well on the flute. So here it is!
PDF files for the score and parts for both versions are available on this page of the IMSLP. You can listen to the violin version here, and the flute version here.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Marion Bauer Four Songs, Opus 16 set to poems of John Gould Fletcher

I am so grateful to learn about the American imagist poet John Gould Fletcher (1886-1950) from the American composer Marion Bauer (1882-1955). The four songs published in 1924 as Opus 16 don’t seem to be available for purchase as a set but "Through the Upland Meadows," "Midsummer Dreams," and "In the Bosom of the Desert" are published as separate titles by Schirmer, which is now Wise Music (print on demand). For some reason Schirmer/Wise has not reissued "I Love the Night," the third song in the set. However the complete 1924 Schirmer edition is available at six university libraries and can be found through the worldcat. If you are a soprano looking for great music to sing in English that uses tonal language like that of Lili Boulanger and Gabriel Fauré (particularly his Verlaine songs), you should consider adding these Bauer songs to your repertoire.

Marion Bauer wrote this set of songs in 1922. "Through the Upland Meadows" is dedicated to the singer and early-music scholar Yves Tinayre, and "I Love the Night" is dedicated to the Canadian soprano Éva Gauthier, who premiered the song in Aeolian Hall on October 23, 1922. Lillian Gustafson gave the first performance of the entire set on March 21, 1925.

We know that Bauer was considering orchestrating this set of songs, because she developed a four-handed version of the piano part, which is something she did in preparation for orchestrating.

It is not known if she ever completed the orchestration. This set of of songs would make an excellent orchestration project for a composer familiar with Bauer's orchestral work who is in a position to gain permission to make and publish an orchestration. I don't believe that I am important enough a composer for Wise to consider engaging for such a project.

When I performed Marion Bauer's exquisite viola sonata back in 2012, there was very little information to be found about her life and work. Here is what I knew at the time (from a program):
The American composer Marion Bauer grew up in Walla-Walla, Washington, moved to New York in 1903, and then traveled to France where she exchanged English instruction for lessons in composition and analysis with Nadia Boulanger (Bauer was the first of Boulanger’s many American students). When Bauer returned to New York, she helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center, and the American Composer’s Alliance. She and Amy Beach were founding members of the Society of American Women Composers. Bauer taught composition, analysis, and music history at New York University from 1926-1951, and she taught at The Juilliard School from 1940-1955. She was a mentor and teacher to Ruth Crawford (Seeger), Aaron Copland, and Milton Babbitt. In addition to writing three books about music, Bauer wrote a great deal of chamber music, piano music, and vocal music, but only a small number of her many publications have been reissued, and her work as a composer was largely forgotten after her death.
Now we have an annotated list of her known works, and Mount Holyoke has collected and catalogued fifty of her manuscripts in their library. There are now also twenty-five of her pieces available in the IMSLP.

I have really enjoyed listening (again and again) to this set of four songs on a new recording called "New Moon" that will be released on June 20th by the Boston-based arts organization Calliope's Call. The Bauer songs are performed exquisitely by soprano Evangelia Leontis and pianist JJ Penna. Also on the recording are songs set to a reworking/translation of poems from the Persian poet Hafiz by the American composer Sarah Hutchings (sung by Leontis), "Valentines from Amherst," settings of Emily Dickenson's poetry, by the American composer Jodi Goble, and Libby Larsen's "Love after 1950" set to poems by Rita Dove, Julie Kane, Kathryn Daniels, Liz Lochhead, and Muriel Rukeyeser, performed beautifully and thoughtfully by Penna and mezzo-soprano Megan Roth.

The recording ends with a great unaccompanied two voice setting by Gilda Lyons of  "The Parting Glass," a traditional Scottish poem.

Now that I have enjoyed Bauer's setting of the four Fletcher poems, I want to read more of his work. I am looking forward to reading his books and collections of poems that are in the Internet Archive

I learned from an entry in the Poetry Foundation website that John Gould Fletcher was born in Arkansas in 1886, and his father, who had the same name, was a member of the confederate army. That family background might eventually have led him, after immersing himself in music, French Symbolism, and Asian art and philosophy, to be associated with a conservative group of poets called The Fugitives.

Fletcher started writing poetry while he was a student at Harvard, and after his father died in 1906, and he inherited the family fortune, he dropped out of Harvard. A few years later he left for Europe, and returned only after the outbreak of World War I.

If you follow the above link on the Poetry Foundation website you will find the rest of his fascinating biography, which involves friendships with Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and many other interesting people.

In 1938 Fletcher received the Pulitzer Prize for his Selected Poems, and then his work fell into obscurity.

There are many creative people in various creative fields (music, art, literature) who have done work I admire with whom I do not share sympathetic feelings. I think that Fletcher might be one of them. He was an exact contemporary of Florence Price, who was born in Little Rock 1887 and lived there at the same time there as Fletcher did. Price also was in Boston studying at the New England Conservatory at around the same time Fletcher was a student at Harvard. (While he was at Harvard he spent much of his time visiting museums and going to concerts--maybe some were at the New England Conservatory.) 

Back in Little Rock Fletcher would have been in the some of the same physical spaces as Price (or at least walked the same streets), but Fletcher might not have seen someone like Florence Price as a person he would want to know because of her race. And I bet he would have admired her music, which he could have heard either in Little Rock or in Boston. I am, of course, eager to be proven wrong about this hunch. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Consumerism, Artificial Intelligence, and Me

I remember having a lunchtime conversation with my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Murray many years ago. My uncle, who is a mathematician, posed a (serious) question about why companies keep needing to make more and more money. I thought about this question for a long time, and it finally dawned on me that if you own a business and make just enough money to make your product and make a living from selling it, your business will fail because the amount you need to pay in materials, utilities, taxes, repairs, advertizing, insurance, and salaries will continue to rise. And the costs of being in business need to be worked into the cost of whatever it is you are selling, and that requires growing your business.  That, I guess, is the foundation of capitalism.

Value seems to be determined by what something can be sold for. In the case of physical art (or instruments) or antiques (or first edition books), the resale value seems to be determined on the state of a particularl market (or so the Antiques Roadshow tells me). Something made by someone who is no longer alive often ends up having more monetary value than it would have had while that person was living. Go figure.

And then there is "intellectual property," which is rarely intellectual, and never property in the physical sense of the word. And that "intellectual property" is often controlled by a person or company that holds the copyright, until it expires and goes into the public domain. When that happens it no longer has monetary value. The practical value (I'm talking about music and literature here) that it has after going into the public domain remains the same, but in our current climate it seems to have little value when it is made immediately available via the IMSLP, the Internet Archive, or the Gutenberg library, because (maybe) it is in the great "bin" of things that aren't worth selling. Images are different. Getty and Lebrecht (a member of Norman's family, maybe) obtained copyrights for all sorts of images, and they make a great deal of money selling their use.

Back in the earlier days of the Internet (not so long ago) YouTube videos used to offer music and other stuff that was instantly available. Now the things that people put on their YouTube channels are preceded by advertisements. The person who provided the "content" doesn't have a say about which advertisements come before their videos, and, unless they have a commercial account with YouTube, never see any kind of compensation from the entities that post the advertisements. Ads interrupt movies at random moments, and they interrupt pieces of music. The only way not to see the ads is to pay YouTube not to see them.

Back in the "before time" it used to be fun to see what might come up on the YouTube sidebar. Now it seems that the AI bots that keep track of my YouTube viewing and listening are getting more aggressive about what they want me to see. Perhaps they want me to see videos that have particuar ads, or videos that a YouTube user has paid to have made more visible.

Visibility on the Google-based internet used to be driven by popularity. Now it seems to be driven by a whole host of factors that I feel are way beyond my control.

I used to chuckle when I noticed that after buying something online my email, Facebook feed, and Instagram feed would be full of similar products.  I used to think that my feeds were personalized to my interests, but I now feel like my feeds are slowly driving my interests to a place I may not want to go. I admit that I have spent far too much time scrolling through entertaining videos on Intagram, but they have nothing to do with who I actually am (thank goodness) and what I actually need.

Facebook has been an effective way for me to share my work (which I offer mostly for free) with musicians who can use it. But now I have no idea who among my thousand or so Facebook friends sees what I post, or when. I might share this post on Facebook and see if anyone comments. Or not.

So I have been trying to spend more time away from the commercial parts of the internets, and spend more time with the things that really matter to me. It feels so great, for example, to have obtained enough piano technique to understand how great it feels to play Schumann on the piano.

As the world becomes more driven by the intelligence that is artificial, I feel less and less "connected." I also know that because of the "devaluation" of the blogosphere this post will only be read by people who know me or know my work. And that's fine. Actually, that is great.

Unlike "content creators" who need to generate enough "content" to remain visible and relevant, I am content (not a bad pun) to write what I want when I want (both music and prose), and have it be enjoyed for what it is by dozens--on or off line.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

The germ of the musical Russian nineteenth century in two measures of Bach

I have noticed these two measures of marvelous chromatic movement every time I make my way through J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, but this time I decided to document it and share my delight. Here are measures thirteen and fourteen of the tenth fugue of the first book.
You can listen to it played at a very leisurely tempo here. I hope you hear what I hear (and what I imagine Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Glazunov heard as well).

And while I have your ear, make sure to check out this post concerning what Gershwin might have heard in the second prelude of the first book of the WTC.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Creature Feature

I just realized how many of my pieces seem to incorporate (or be) portraits of animals! There are multiple pieces about frogs, various lizards, crocodiles, butterflies, moths, snakes, birds, fish, turtles, squirrels, pangolins, and snails. I have also written pieces featuring a single cricket, a camel, a rabbit, a reindeer, a condor, a dog, a raccoon, an armadillo, a whale, and a musky rat-kangaroo.

And, of course, there are mythical creatures like a unicorn, a dragon, the bird phoenix, and a grelling (a Millhauser-imagined creature).

You can find 'em all here. (Don't forget to click on "older posts" at the bottom off the page).

Monday, May 27, 2024

More Musical Greetings from Cicada Illinois

When I learned that cicadas only travel fifteen meters (about sixteen yards) during their short lifespans, it occurred to me that the thirteen-year cicadas in our yard would have to be the offspring of the ones that emerged in 2011. I wrote a violin duet "about" them (back in 2011) as part of a set of four spring dances. After writing my piccolo and violin duet last week, I took out my violin duet and realized that it would work well for string quartet. So the "children" of 2011 get this portrait.

It is sad to think that cicadas don't have any kind of childhood. They do all their growing underground, and, unlike the deer that live in our yard, never get to meet their parents.

You can hear a computer-generated recording below. And to get the sense of the constant noise that the cicadas make, try it on repeat. I'm excited to play it with my quartet friends on Wednesday.

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

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Joke of the Day

(You've never heard this one before, because I made it up last night.)

Prologue:

Before going to bed Michael and I usually watch "The Eleventh Hour" on MSNBC. And then Michael, needing an antidote to all the high-profile crime committed by people who shouldn't be in positions of authority in government, suggests changing to the Hallmark channel to see which "stars" are appearing on reruns of "Murder She Wrote."

I came up with this joke between MSNBC and "the stars" (half asleep, walking up the stairs heading for bed).
What do you call celebrities who get lifetime jail sentences?

Stars in stripes forever.
Remember, you heard it here first.

I can't think of any other time in history where the scenario of this joke could even be plausible.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Mad Hot Cicada Spring

Here's a little piece written from what feels and sounds like the physical epicenter of the double-brood emergence of 2024. We are a few days in, and each day seems to be louder than the last.
You can listen here, and find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Polina Nikolaevna in Chekhov's "Three Years" modeled on Pauline Viardot?

In the story "Three Years," one of the characters sings a line from a song, "My friend, my tender friend." He sings it in reference to the character Polina Nikolaevna, who is a pianist. Of course I had to find out what the song was. To my surprise and delight it is the final line in "Nochju" by Pauline Viardot (set to a Puskin poem). You can find the transliterated text and an English translation here.

It suddenly dawned on me that the character of Polina Nikolaevna, an independent, hard working, brilliant, and decisive woman, who was anything but beautiful, who made her living by teaching piano lessons, might have been inspired by the very famous opera singer (and composer) who was connected by a long-term friendship and perhaps romance with Ivan Turgenev, a compatriot of Chekhov (and a writer who Chekhov certainly read, but may not have admired).

I haven't finished the story yet (Michael and I are reading it together as part of the Four Seasons Reading Club).

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Finding Gaia, on this Mother's Day

I realized from an early age that my mother identified far more as a daughter than as a mother. My grandmother was a figure larger than life for all of my mother's life. I don't know if my mother had the chance to forgive her mother for the various injustices that my grandmother inflicted on her (possibly in the way of trying to be a good mother) after my grandmother was no longer alive. I like to think she might have.

I feel grateful that I have been able to identify, and by tangible means and actions, work my way through the various injustices (mostly neglect, perhaps to "spare me" from having a hovering mother) involved in my own childhood.

Through various measures of "self care" (mostly musical) I have even gotten to the point, little by little, of forgiving my mother for her human shortcomings.

To compensate for not having piano lessons as a kid (piano is an instrument that is riddled with inborn difficulties for me), I spend time every day at the piano teaching myself to play, as if I were my student. I put a lot of energy into identifying the right/left coordination problems that seem to be wired into my brain and fingers, and little by little I make little steps towards my goal of really being able to play the instrument. My progress is very slow, and with every little achievement I slay dragons.

In my family of origin talent was inborn. Nobody really worked at anything. My brothers were naturally gifted in many ways, and both my parents were naturally gifted to the extreme. I was not. I scraped by not having to work for anything until I reached the point when I realized that my "gifts" had expired. It happened around sixth grade.

At that point other people all seemed to be far better at the things I wanted to do, and I had no idea why.

After thinking that I had failed at playing the violin and could not return to it, my next desire was to sing, dance, and act. I went to a performing arts camp where I had drama and dance classes, but I never got picked for parts in plays and shows in school. I had no idea that you had to work at these things.

I actually never worked at anything until I started playing flute. I only started playing flute because I loved music, and because my mother could no longer play her flute. I felt that my only path forward was to take her place.

I was far behind my peers. I studied my peers, though, and in every case I noticed that their parents  (who I also studied) instilled a work ethic in them. I did not have any kind of work ethic instilled in me, so I had to instill it myself.

That self-generated work ethic sustained me. And it still sustains me. Perhaps what my mother taught me (without actually teaching me) was the value of being self sufficient. It sure made growing up difficult, but here we are.

Now I understand that my mother, who had to reinvent herself many times because of various physical disabilities, valued her ability to work and grow as a visual artist, even when her vision was failing.

So this mother's day I offer this painting by my mother in celebration of her love of painting and nature. And I humbly remember that we all do what we can as mothers and as children with the hope that each new generation will be an improvement on the last generation(s) if childhood was difficult, and an equal to the last generations if childhood was wonderful.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

A conversation with Larry Schoenberg (about his father's music)

What an interesting conversation about Arnold Schoenberg's legacy and his family life. How interesting to hear about him as a father and as a human being!

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Accessibility

I'm currently reading Eve by Cat Bohannon (a birthday present from Michael). I got the sudden urge, about 130 pages in, to write to Ms. Bohannon and tell her how much I am enjoying her book. So I found her email address and wrote her a short note. Then I went back to reading.

I have always enjoyed the opportunity to let living writers know when I have been particularly moved by a piece of their work. During the twentieth century, in the days before the internets, I would write letters to people through their publishers. But now a quick "connect" link on a webpage works very quickly.

I still do write to writers I admire through the postal system, if I can, and I love it when I get a written response.

I always enjoy it when musicians (particularly young musicians) who are playing something I wrote get in touch with me. Some people write to clarify an accidental, and some use clarifying an accidental as an excuse to write. I try to make everything that I write as free from ambiguity as possible, so the accidental question comes up less and less.

Still, this whole music thing is about communication, and I appreciate any communication that comes my way. It helps fill the void that comes with publication, which offers so much in the way of hope, but often results in having music sit on a publisher's shelves or on files on a publisher's hard drive.

I suppose it is different for books because there is a greater "audience" for books than there is, for example, for people who want to play twenty-first-century music for contrabassoon and piano.

Unfortunately there are composers that I cannot connect with. If I could write a letter to Haydn, I would thank him for the constant joy his music brings me. If I could write to Mozart I would tell him how much his piano music teaches me about playing the piano.

If I could write to Bach I would thank him for the solo violin and cello pieces he wrote, and assure him that I know that he hoped one day they would all be played on the viola, which was his bowed instrument of choice. There are also a few pitches in his music for keyboard that I would love to have him explain functionally to me.

I would write to Saint-Saëns to thank him for his violin music, his piano music, and his prose, and I would write to Hindemith and tell him that he has a true friend in the twenty-first century, and how he is a constant inspiration as a composer and as a writer about music. I would write to Beethoven, but I don't believe he would take me seriously. I don't think Brahms would either. I know Tchaikovsky wouldn't.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

The Juilliard MAP Concert tonight includes my "Adoration" transcription

The string players of the Music Advancement Program at Juilliard will be including my transcription of Florence Price's "Adoration" on their Alice Tully Hall concert tonight. MAP is a tuition-free Saturday program that serves local (to New York City) students. MAP reminds me of the Settlement Music School which began in early twentieth-century Philadelphia.

In addition to the Price, the string ensemble, conducted by Catherine Berke, will be playing music by Mendelssohn, Giddens, and Shostakovich.

The concert is at 8:00 New York time, which means 7:00 for me. The performance will stream live through this page on the Juilliard website, but it will not be archived.

Friday, May 03, 2024

Heart-based Singing

Agatha Carubia and I became really close friends during our first few months together at Juilliard, and remained friends until geography parted our ways. She was my first singer friend. Before knowing Agatha I thought that being able to sing well had everything to do with being able to find pitches, and having an inborn gift of a beautiful voice. Young Agatha had so much more than a beautiful voice. She had a deep physical and emotional connection to the essence of the music she sang, and was a truly kind and loving person (a rarity at Juilliard). She was from New York (Queens), and spoke with a strong New York accent, but when she sang her diction was pure and clean, and her vowels were beautifully Italian, German, or French, depending on what she was singing.

I came to learn that Agatha's young artistry came from a lot of serious study. One of my first memories of her was when she described the whole narrative of Robert Schumann's song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben in a most personal way. I had never known any singer to take her music so personally, especially at eighteen.

We spent many months working on a program together that included Ravel's La flûte enchantée from Shéhérazade and Bach's "Schafe können sicher weiden" from Cantata 208. Agatha brought me to visit her voice teacher Madame Freschel, who she still worked with (on the side) while studying with her "official" teacher at Juilliard.

Actual technical instruction in the physical aspects of flute playing were not anywhere to be found in my lessons with Julius Baker, so I tried to build a flute technique based on what I observed in Agatha's singing. And then I translated much of that into string playing when I became a string player again. In adulthood Agatha became a great voice teacher, combining her traditional bel canto training with a life-long practice of yoga, and teaching singers in all areas of music (including pop music and jazz) to use their voices in ways that are naturally expressive, physically healthy, and that draw upon location-specific sources of energy in the body.

Her 2015 book is short (eighty-eight pages), beautiful to look at, beautifully written, and incredibly practical. It offers advice that can be used by all musicians, whether they are singers or instrumental musicians. And Agatha addresses little things (which are big things) like dressing up to sing because it is fun, and learning the text by heart before you sing it as a song. She organizes body awareness using the chakra system as a model. It provides a set of body images that focus attention on parts of the face (the brow, the nose, the lips, and the chin) in addition to the parts of the body below the head. I find these images really helpful since string players can compromise expressiveness by holding tension in their faces.

She writes about vocal technique as "an inner dialogue on the mental plane, flexibility and coordination on the physical plane, and an opening in the emotional plane." On support: "If you were not sure you were supporting by consciously using your air, you weren't." One of my favorite statements is about vibrato: "Vibrato happens naturally when you stop pushing your voice and let your vowels spin freely on your breath. . . . You do not make vibrato, you allow for it to happen." This translates directly to string playing and wind playing, and is true for singing and playing music from all times and from all places.

Fortunately Agatha's book is available in many places online, but if you go to her website you get to hear her sing.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Waiting for Brood XIX

In 1998 we had a huge convergence of Brood XIX with another brood of cicadas here in East Central Illinois, and our yard, with its now dead and long gone ash tree, was cicada central. Now the 2024 emergence is big news, but the scientists at the University of Connecticut tell me that they won't be singing in my town this year.

This makes me sad in some ways (it is awesome in the true sense of the word) and happy in other ways (like being able to have outdoor concerts).

But those people who are able to experience it might enjoy knowing that a piece of music was written in honor of brood XIX, which emerged in our town in 2011, so I will share it here.
You can listen to the piece here, and get the score and parts for the set of four dances it is in on this page of the IMSLP.

And you can read my various cicada posts here.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

A Little Step



It's a little step
from one to two
and then
from two to three
The step
from nothing to one
can be
Eternity

Milly Morganstern's words continue to resonate deeply for me.

And the little step to press "publish" for this post, which I keep putting off, seems like an eternity.

Monday, April 22, 2024

End of the Concert Season Thoughts

I played the last concert of a very busy "Spring" season yesterday. I had lots of hard and interesting music to learn, and many places to be. There were also a good many recitals played by students and professional musicians where pieces I wrote were on the programs. I had to opportunity to talk via Zoom with a handful of people who gave these performances, and the opportunity to watch and listen to livestream recordings.

After years of feeling relatively invisible as a composer and as an arranger I have suddenly come to find that I am not invisible, which is kind of a shock for me. I am proud of the work that I have done, and am really pleased when it is useful as a means of creating community or as a vehicle for personal expression.

Perhaps because I spent so much of my childhood feeling invisible I have learned to associate a feeling of safety with invisibility, but as an almost sixty-five-year-old woman I have come to understand that being invisible is not something that makes me particularly happy.

I have written a few posts over the years (decades!) about invisibility that I can magically make visible to you through this link.

Perhaps the highlight of the last Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra concert of the season for me had to do with words, actions, and coincidence. 

We played the Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto with John Hagstrom the other night. After playing a really marvelous performance of that piece, John addressed the audience and spoke about his childhood musical awakening happening on that very stage. He was rather specific about the spot, and he identified the place he was seated as where the second stand of violas was located. I was sitting, as usual, in the second stand inside seat (the best seat in the orchestra for hearing and communicating because it is in the middle of the viola section, in the middle of the strings, and as close as you can get to the wind section without playing a wind instrument).

The Arutiunian Concerto was written smack dab in the middle of the twentieth century (started in 1943 and completed in 1950), and the hall we play in, which embodies the essence of both "mid-century modern" and a personal connection to a particular place for John Hagstrom (and so many others), was built in 1969. The concert, originally intended to be a celebration of its long-time conductor Paul Vermel's hundredth birthday, ended up being a concert in his memory. Paul Vermel died on February 14th, five days before his birthday. And as a memorial piece we played Puccini's Chrisantemi, a piece Puccini wrote in one night in memory of a friend who died.

Michael and I lost our friend Norman Spencer this week. Another of Norman's many friends from his days studying at the University of Illinois was in the orchestra, and we talked about Norman's life and death during a rehearsal break. We both had Norman in our hearts during the performance.

The program began with Brahms Variations on a Theme of Haydn, a remarkable piece, and it ended with Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis. The experience of orchestration just doesn't get better than having those two pieces on the same program. It was also a program with great viola parts which we played with a section that was one violist short due to a fall (she will be ok). We all made up in expression and sound for the member we were missing. And we had a really great section sound to bring those great viola parts to life.

John Hagstrom also talked about the fact that nobody gets anywhere in musical life without help and support. He talked about the people who watched over him as he was trying to make his way in music. And he made a plea to the audience to be the kind of person to give encouragement and support to people, particularly young people. Musicians do spend a great deal of time alone working on their craft, and young musicians can get discouraged without community support, particularly in a world that does not prioritize what we refer to as classical music. Some young people have family support, which is great, but some need to find their support, for a variety of reasons, outside of the family.

Then he played an arrangement by Joseph Turin of George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" with our conductor, his friend since their freshman year at Eastman together, Stephen Alltop.

John doesn't have a soloist's presence on social media, but he is present there in order to help people make connections, and as a vocal advocate for music education. He was also a supportive voice during the time of the pandemic, when musicians were unable to rehearse and perform. You can read about him here, on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s website.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Music in Anatomy of a Fall

Michael and I watched Anatomy of a Fall last night, and I was deeply impressed by the unusual way music was used. (I am being vague in this description because I don't want to offer any spoilers.) But for people who do not know the Chopin Prelude that weaves its way through the film, my observations might enhance the experience of watching.

At the beginning of the film a boy who has seriously limited vision is working on Asturias, the fifth section of Isaac Albénez's Suite Española, Opus 47. The boy uses a tablet which blows up a PDF of the music so that it is large enough for him to learn the piece one measure at a time. It might be the very same PDF as this one that I found in the IMSLP.
His progress on the piece is used to show a year's worth of time passing.

A little later in the film there is a scene where the boy and his mother play Chopin's E minor Prelude, Opus 28, No. 4, as a three-handed piece. The boy plays his version of the harmony with both hands, and the mother plays the melody. He is clearly a developing pianist, and she is clearly not a pianist, but the way they play together reveals some really intimate communicaton.

The film's denouement begins with only the right hand of the Chopin Prelude, and once everything becomes clear to the boy, the Chopin is heard with both hands (played by one pianist). The credits offer an elaboration of the Chopin Prelude, with added figures and voices.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Revising old arrangements

'Tis the season for revision! Last week I played a string quartet wedding, and the couple requested Beethoven's Für Elise, a piece that is familiar to just about anyone who has ever taken piano lessons as a child. It is really a fine little bagatelle, but it is a true bear to translate into a piece for string quartet. I made my first stab at it about fifteen years ago, and, thinking that I was paying Beethoven the highest respect, I used only the notes in his original.

The result was extremely repetitive as well as precarious. There is nothing less satisfying to me than treading on figurative eggshells when playing something that sounds repetitive.

So I revised it by filling in pitches, changing textures, changing voicing, changing octaves, and changing articulations. I put the arrangement in the IMSLP, where I hope it might be of use to string quartets who are asked to play it by well-meaning brides and grooms to be who studied piano as children.

Revising old arrangements is extremely satisfying for me. And I have a good many that need revision, so I might be occupied for quite a while.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

A Lassie Story in Celebration of Tomorrow's Celestial Event

Johannes de Sacrobosco’s 13th century description of a solar eclipse.

You can read the story here.

(Did you notice the dogs in the picture?)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

The Magic Garden

I remember the day in third or fourth grade when my teacher read The Secret Garden aloud to our class. I wanted to read ahead, so as soon as I got home I went up to the attic and looked through a big box of my mother's books, and found The Magic Garden by Gene Stratton-Porter. I figured that it must be the same book, so I brought it downstairs and started to read it. I supposed that my teacher must have skipped the beginning part, since this book was so very different, but then I found myself forgetting about the neglected and unloved girl in India, and becoming deeply attached to the neglected and unloved American girl named Amaryllis in this novel. I was completely hooked by the introduction of John Guido Forrester, a boy who imitates the sounds of birds and sheep on his violin.

Hmm. Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote her novel in 1911, and Gene Stratton-Porter wrote her novel--her last of dozens--in 1926. I imagine that there could have been some influence. The Magic Garden was recently digitized (2022), so I am very happy that I can share the whole text (the link is above).

Finding a physical copy of this book was nearly impossible for me in the days before the internet. Michael somehow managed to find me a copy in the late 1980s, and gave it to me as a present. He read the whole book to me out loud, and his very John Guido-esque gesture really did help soothe my "hungry heart."

Here's the section (it begins on page 47) where John Guido is introduced:
Then she heard something. Something coming. It seemed as if it were coming down the brook, and yet it could not be coming down the brook, because what she heard was music. Amaryllis knew about music. She had seen people play pianos and harps and violins. She had heard bands and orchestras. She knew about the instruments that you blew in one end and wonderful tones came out of the other. Her governess played tunes on the piano for her to dance to. She knew what this music coming toward her was. Times when her mother had been having a party, men, or sometimes women, had played on violins standing beside the grand piano in the music room. She knew a violin, but she had never heard a violin played the way this one was played. This violin played like sunshine and flowers in bloom. Sometimes it stayed in the same place quite a while. When a bird up on a branch very carefully said, “Pee-a-wee! Pee-a-wee!” right over after it the violin said the same thing. When a lamb across the meadow said, “Baa-a-a ah!” the violin said, “Baa-a-a-ah!” too. That was a joke making a violin talk like a bird and baa like a sheep.

Amaryllis stepped from the shoal and started up the stream to find the violin that sounded like magic. It was rather rough going. Some of the stones that looked so perfectly nice to step on were not nice at all. Something slippery was on the tops of them that tried to throw her down, but soap had been good practice. She never fell once. The pebbly places were the safest, but there were not always pebbly places to step on, and sometimes she just had to step on the slippery rocks to get ahead. The bushes and shrubs were coming more thickly willows and elders and button bushes and all sorts of things that Amaryllis never had seen before, not to be right up to them and to touch them with her fingers. But because she was going up stream and the violin was coming down stream, it was not so very long before she found it.

Amaryllis’s mouth fell open and her eyes grew very wide because, when she found the violin, she found something else she had not reckoned on. She had thought maybe it was a magic violin that was floating through the air and playing tunes all by itself the way the water sang gay tunes, and the birds sang glad notes, and the flowers made little waves of colour music. So when Amaryllis got her first sight of the violin, her mouth fell open the widest it ever had, and her eyes grew the biggest and roundest they had ever been, because that violin was right out in the middle or the brook, and that violin was in the hands of a boy, and the boy had a head as black as the blackest wing on the blackest blackbird that came down to the brook to bathe and drink. He had eyes big and round and wide open and almost as black as his hair, while his cheeks were a soft, creamy colour, and there were splashes of red in them. His mouth was red and his teeth were even and white. He was tall and slender. He must have been three or four years older than [Amarylis's brother] Peter. He wore a gray shirt and gray linen trousers rolled up above his knees and held with a belt at his waist. His feet were bare and he was standing in the water.

He was looking up at the sky and all around him, and every note that a bird sang, and every “Moo-o” that a cow called, and every “‘Baa-a”’ that a sheep made, he repeated on the violin. Sometimes he would look down at the brook and make the violin laugh and chuckle and leap down a steep place and whirl out into a shallow pool and chuckle between stones and warble over pebbles. It was the funniest thing. Nothing like it ever had been done before in all the world—-not in any pictures in all the stacks of picture books of which Amaryllis was dead tired.

Then, standing there in a pause, when the birds had forgotten and the sheep were quiet, the boy began to play his own music. But Amaryllis did not like what he played then, because the notes he made were the thoughts that were in her brain spoken on a violin, when worst of all she wanted to sit on somebody’s lap and lean her head on somebody’s breast. Amaryllis had gotten to the place where she did not care the least little bit whose lap she sat on, or whose breast pillowed her, just so it was someone that wanted a little girl, someone who loved all little children. So when the notes grew so lonesome and so hungry that they told Amaryllis that this boy wanted to sit on someone’s lap and put his arms around someone’s neck and kiss someone with those soft red lips of his, Amaryllis started bravely through a rather deep place right up Roaring Brook toward the boy.

When he heard her and looked down at her and took the violin from beneath his chin and smiled at her, Amaryllis walked up to him and held up her hand. In a rough little voice, because of the hard spot in her throat, she said to the boy: “Aren’t you got anyone to love you, either?”

The boy looked down at her and said: “Not today.”

Amaryllis looked up at him and said: “Then I’m worser off than you, cause I haven’t anyone any day.”
I started thinking about John Guido while using my violin to try to communicate with a bird who lives in our yard with a song that the Merlin app fails to recognize. It comes back year after year singing the same three-note song. My bird-wise friend Ruth has suggested that it might be a bluebird with a singular song. I love the idea of a unique bird who knows s/he is being "heard" in our yard. All the better if it happens to be a blue bird!

This is a piccolo rendering of it, though it seems to sound an octave higher. And here it is as recorded in another part of our neighborhood.

Anyone with an ear for birds reading this who might have some idea how to identify our bird friend, please leave a comment!