Sunday, March 31, 2024

Unconditional Love and Fish Love

The other evening I found myself in a lively conversation with a mother of young children. After discussing many of the difficulties (lack of sleep being one) of being a new parent, I heard myself say that the real benefit of the parent-child relationship is the opportunity for the parent to feel unconditional love by giving unconditional love. And it is an opportunity.

I realized afterwards that I try to feel that way about all of my functional relationships; as a parent, a life partner, a co-worker, a teacher, a friend, and even as a member of a community, though in a community relationship, conditions often apply. It is also the way I feel about sharing music I write, because I like to believe that it will be accepted in the spirit that it is being offered, even when the person who receives it is someone I don't know. It doesn't matter if it is ignored, disliked, or discarded; my giving part of the musical relationship is still gratifying.

I also like to believe that every performing musician who faces an audience experiences a flash of unconditional love, even if it only lasts for an instant. But my concept of unconditional love sometimes feels out-of-step with "institutional" unconditional love.

The other day I came across a video where Rabbi Abraham Twerski discusses something he calls "fish love":
Love is a word that, in our culture, has almost lost its meaning. Let me tell you a story about the Rabbi of Kursk. He came across a young man who was clearly enjoying a dish of fish that he was eating, and he said, "Young man, why are you eating that fish?" And the young man says "Because I love fish!" He says, "Oh you love the fish, that’s why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it." He said, "Don’t tell me you love the fish; you love yourself, and because the fish taste good to you, therefore you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it."

So much of what is love is fish-love.

And so, a young couple falls in love, a young man and a young woman fall in love. What does that mean? That means that he saw in this woman someone who provide him with all that physical emotions and needs, and she saw in this man somebody she feels that she can wed. And that was love. But each one is looking after their own needs. It is not love for the other: the other person becomes a vehicle for their gratification. Too much of what is called love is fish-love.
It is a nice story, but I really wish Rabbi Twerski didn't minimalize what a woman might want in a love relationship. Don't woman also look for someone to fulfill her physical emotions and needs? And how limited it is to reduce a woman's love for a man to someone she can marry!

[Are there still women around who see the institution of marriage as a way to get away from their parents (like in my mother's day and case) or simply an opportunity to have the "elevated status" of a wife in a community?]

I guess if this statement by Rabbi Twerski helps some men think about how poorly they treat the women they are married to, it could serve a purpose. But he offers a view of love from the perspective of someone who doesn't seem to think the emotional needs of women are comparable to the emotional needs of men.

And what is all this "self love" stuff? I often hear this passage from Ephesians when I play weddings:
 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body . . .
I have known many people who feel love for their spouses that would also fall under the "hating their own body" category. And not all of them have been women.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

On Praise and Value

Everything in any way beautiful has its beauty of itself, inherent and self-sufficient: praise is no part of it. At any rate, praise does not make anything better or worse. This applies even to the popular conception of beauty, as in material things or works of art. So does the truly beautiful need anything beyond itself? No more than law, no more than truth, no more than kindness or integrity. Which of these things derives its beauty from praise, or withers under criticism? Does an emerald lose its quality if it is not praised? And what of gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a dagger, a flower, a bush?
From Book Four of Marcus Aurelius Meditations

Sunday, March 24, 2024


I have always loved practicing etudes. I cut my flute teeth on Andersen, Altès, Berbiguier, Bitsch, Bozza, Castérède, Jeanjean, Moyse, and Schade. And I cut my violin and viola teeth on everything I could get my hands on by Dont, Fiorillo, Kayser, Kreutzer, Mazas, Rode, Ševčík, and Wohlfahrt.

One early dream I had as a composer who was also building up technique as a performing musician (and helping other people to build up technique by teaching) was to write etudes myself.

It seems that I have done quite a bit of etude writing over the past several years, and I have collected posts about those books here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Ecquinoctial Pleasures of Gaius Valerius Catullus

Iam ver egelidos refert tepores,
Iam caeli furor aequinoctialis
Iucundis Zephyri silescit aureis.
Linquantur Phrygii, Catulle, campi
Nicaeaeque ager uber aestuosae:
Ad claras Asiae volemus urbes.
Iam mens praetrepidans avet vagari,
Iam laeti studio pedes vigescunt.
O dulces comitum valete coetus,
longe quos simul a domo profectos
diversae varie viae reportant.

Translated by Leonard C. Smithers (1894)

Now spring brings back mild breezes without cold, now heaven's equinoctial fury falls silent at Zephyr's pleasant breezes. Let the Phrygian meadows be left behind, Catullus, and the teeming fields of sun-scorched Nicaea: let us fly to the glorious cities of Asia. Now my palpitating soul longs to wander, now happy in their zeal my feet grow strong. O sweet band of comrades, fare you well, whom various roads in different directions carry back all at once setting out far from home.

Translated by Kate Rears (2000)

Now spring brings back unchilled warmth,
now the rage of the ecquinoctial sky
grows silent with the pleasant breezes of the west wind.
The Phrygian fields should be quitted, Catullus,
& the fertile territory of sweltering Iznik:
let us fly to the bright cities of Asia.
Now the mind trembling in anticipation yearns to roam,
now the happy feet grow strong in their pastime.
Be well, o sweet company of friends,
who having wandered far from home together
return in different ways to a route headed in a different direction.

Translated by A.S. Klein (2001)

Now Spring returns mild and temperate,
now the wild equinoctial skies
are calmed by Zephyr’s happier breezes.
The fields of Phrygia will be forsaken,
Catullus, rich farms of hot Nicaea:
we’ll flee to Asia’s bright cities.
Now restless minds long for travel,
now the glad feet stir with pleasure.
O sweet crowd of friends farewell,
who came together from far places,
whom divergent roads must carry.

Translated into English by Someone Else (who can lead you to more poems by Catullus)

Now spring is bringing back the warmer days,
Now the rage of the equinoctial sky
Falls silent in Zephyr's pleasant breezes.
Catullus, leave behind the Phrygian fields,
And the rich land of sweltering Nicaea:
Let's fly off to Asia's glorious cities.
Now the anxious mind is wild to travel,
Now the happy feet come alive with zeal,
O dear band of comrades, fare you well,
Who set off together from our far-off home,
But different roads lead back in different ways.

Can I Have a Little More?

Shifting on the viola or the violin involves the fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4, so you can appreciate (or groan about) the motivation for the title. This piece is part of Dancing on the Fingerboard, which is available, in versions for both violin and viola, on this page of the IMSLP.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Musical Fruit

My salad . . .
has three states of "bean-ing": sprouted (mung), raw (green), and cooked (garbanzo).
And after it has been (!!! if you say that with a British accent) eaten, you get "Beaning and Nothingness." (Thank you, Michael.)

The rest of the salad is made of parsley and scallions, and the dressing is white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The garbanzos were marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and salt. I should have put some quartered grape tomatoes in, but there wasn't room in the bowl (what you see above is about half of what was there at the start of lunch).

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

"The Collar" in Spanish!

So far this piece, based on a story in Danish by Hans Christian Andersen, has been performed (as far as I know) in English, Finnish, Italian, and now in Spanish. This video has a transcript of the script in Spanish that you can follow.

You can also follow the script in English (original to the music) here. (The transcription tab has the bassoon version.)

One thing that I find nifty about "The Collar" as a bassoon piece is that there is a part of a bassoon reed called a "reed collar."

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Italo Calvino, guest blogger

A person's life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture. A person, for example, reads in adulthood a book that is important for him, and it makes him say, "How could I have lived without having read it," and also, "What a pity I did not read it in my youth!" Well, these statements do not have much meaning, especially the second, because after he has read that book, his whole life becomes the life of a person who has read that book, and it is of little importance, whether he read it early or late, because now his life before that reading also assumes a form shaped by that reading.
This passage comes from Mr. Palomar (written in 1983 and published in an English translation by William Weaver in 1985).

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Diane Chaplin Concert Tonight

My friend Diane Chaplin will be playing my Sephardic Suite in an online Facebook Live concert tonight at 8:00 p.m. Central Time (6:00 Pacific, 9:00 Eastern). I'm copying the link here which I hope will get you "there," wherever and whenever "there" might be.

And here it is archived on YouTube:

Monday, March 04, 2024

The Clarinet Quintet: A refrence tool for string quartet with clarinet

The Clarinet Quintet is an exhaustive catalog of music for clarinet quintet (i.e. clarinet and string quartet), that opens a portal to a world that I have never before explored.

Donald L. Oehler, the creator and keeper of the catalog, has over nine hundred meticulously organized entries representing music written between 1750 (a few decades after Johann Christoph Denner reworked the clarinet so it could spring forth from the limitations of its chalumeau days) and the present day.

Go forth and explore! Here's the way in.