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.