Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshall Fine (1956-2014)

This a very sad time for our family and for Marshall's many friends, colleagues, and students. Memories of Marshall (which are ALWAYS interesting and colorful) are welcome in the comments.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Frans Bruggen (1934-2014)

[Watercolor by Norman Perryman]

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was a very young teenager (I was babysitting) quite vividly, because I turned on the television to find this lively Dutchman playing solo recorder music on WGBH, a station that would later become a PBS station.

I got to meet Frans Bruggen backstage after he played a recital in New York in 1980, and hoped that I would get a chance, some day, to learn to play the recorder well and possibly study with him.  I never made it to the Netherlands, but I did become a recorder player.

We all owe so much to Frans Bruggen.  He is responsible for a huge chunk of the mid-20th-Century revival of Baroque and Renaissance music, and inspired (mostly through his students) a lot of 20th and 21st repertoire for the instrument.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Radio Silence

It might be a while before I put up another music-related post because I am overwhelmed with communications with family and friends in the aftermath of an auto accident my brother Marshall had this past Thursday. He is in critical condition with injuries to his brain.  Yesterday, after seeing him in the hospital, we drove to Horse Cave, Kentucky to remove the contents from the vehicle he was driving. Today I am trying to alleviate worry with as much hope as I can muster. People do recover from such accidents, and he is under excellent care.

He came to visit last summer, and Michael filmed us playing some Stamitz:

I have been posting news about Marshall on Facebook (which is where his closest friends communicate).  If you look me up on Facebook you can read the posts I make there (I keep them public).

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Where Nicolas Slonimsky Lived

This is the building (295 Beacon Street in Boston) where Nicolas Slonimsky lived from the 1920s until 1964.

And here's his post-1964 house on Wilshire Boulevard in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles (near UCLA):

Here's the 98-year-old Nicolas Slonimsky in front of his childhood home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I got the above pictures from a television show about him called "A Touch of Genius."

Monday, August 04, 2014

Harissa Revisited

Given the number of people who like to talk (and read) about food versus the number of people who like to talk about music, it does not surprise me that one of the most popular posts on this blog has to do with a condiment recipe I invented out of necessity.

I decided to make "Easy Harissa" the other night, just to see if it was as good as I remembered. I found it a bit too salty, so I adjusted the recipe) a bit.

The only problem with having Harissa around is that you will want to put it on EVERYTHING: eggs, salads, toast, vegetables, sandwiches, you name it. It can take over your life.

Montanari Gigue

You probably haven't heard of Antonio Maria Montanari (1676-1737) because none of his music has ever been published (it is, however, available to download from the IMSLP). Montanari was a teacher of Johann Georg Pisendel, who was a contemporary (and friend) of Johan Sebastian Bach. Montanari's D minor Sonata has three movements for violin and continuo, and this last utterly charming final movement is for violin alone. I hope you like it as much as I do.

[You'll need to click the image in order to see all of it, but then the image should fill up the whole screen.]

[A couple of the B flats should be naturalized; you'll know immediately which ones.]

Of Johann Pisendel's 26 known pieces, only a few have been published, and only one (his Sonata in A minor for violin alone) has made it into a remote corner of the violin repertoire.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Beautiful Popper Requiem

There is so much music (and so much love) that happens here that it can't be properly put into any kind of a box (like a computer). Please ignore the moments when the camera microphone can't quite process what is going on, and enjoy hearing how beautifully this most beautiful piece of multiple cello music can be played.

The cellists are Braden McConnell, Gabriel Martins, and Susan Moses; and the pianist is Kati Gleiser.

Friday, August 01, 2014

"The Soundtrack of Life"

Around ten years ago I heard an interview with a somewhat-successful 20ish pop-music singer (who did major in "legit" vocal music in college). Someone in the audience posed the question, "What is music?" Without hesitating for a second she replied, "The soundtrack of life."

Now that I think about it, I find something odd about that response. I have music going on in my head all the time, but it is not a soundtrack. It does not telegraph to me what I should be feeling about any of the non-musical things I experience. If anything the music in my head is repetitive and incomplete, and seems to have a life of its own.

My young friend didn't make the "soundtrack" idea up. It apparently originated with Dick Clark, who also gave us "I don't make culture. I sell it," and "I don't set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them." There you have it.

What is music, then?

Damned if I know. I'm also not really sure where it is. I used to know a whole lot about music, but the more I learn the more baffled I become. I am always in awe when it moves me, because I have no idea why it does.

[I'm slowly making my way through the Bach Well-tempered Clavier this summer, one Prelude and Fugue at a time. Today it was the absolutely astounding E-flat set from the first book, and tomorrow's fare has six flats. Listening to someone else play them is fine, but getting into the water and trying to--figuratively, of course--swim to the other side of the pool without drowning is another story.]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't try this at home!

In the early 1930s Nicolas Slonimsky stayed at home to take care of his baby daughter Electra while his wife, Dorothy Adlow, was writing art columns for the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Slonimsky would speak Latin to his daughter at home. To ask for milk he taught her "Da mini lac," and he taught her the Latin names of the items in their household. He sang her to sleep with songs in Latin, and when it came to teaching her music, she learned the Latin names of the pitches as well as the modes. When she entered school she announced to her father that other kids didn't speak Latin at home.

[I can't find extensive biographical information on Adlow in the usual internet places, but you can read about her on this page].

Slonimsky tried to condition Electra to like dissonant music, and in Perfect Pitch he quotes a story that Henry Cowell was fond of telling:
When Electra would demand a bottle, I would sit down at the piano and play a Chopin nocturne, completely ignoring her screams. I would allow for a pause, and then play on the piano Schoenberg's Opus 33a, which opens with a dodecaphonic succession of three highly dissonant chords. I would then rush in to give Electra her bottle. Her features would relax, her crying would cease, and she would suck contentedly. This was to establish a conditioned reflex in favor of dissonant music.
Electra did eventually survive her unusual childhood. Here's an interview with her that might be of interest, and another which is much more personal, and certainly would be of interest to anyone who has read (or is reading, or is planning to read) Perfect Pitch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Preparing Music

A headline in the musical blogosphere tells us that our obvious problem is that there is too much classical music. If you were to magically remove electronically-generated music from the world, there would not be too much. There would probably not be enough to satisfy and entertain all the people who have come to enjoy music as part of their daily lives. People would have to go about making it themselves and with their families and friends. People would really learn to appreciate the people who have talent and ability, and really learn to understand all that goes into becoming a professional musician. People would have to go out of their way to arrange to have concerts in their communities, and would have to hire musicians to liven up celebrations.

[I know that I am communicating through an automated medium, and that I have learned a great deal about music through automated media, but lately, unless I am listening to recordings to review or watching a movie that has a musical soundtrack, I mostly "consume" music that I generate myself (either alone or with friends), or hear played in real time.]

I know that I am not alone when I mention that I enjoy eating good food. I enjoy eating food that I make myself, and I enjoy eating food that other people make for me. I really enjoy eating in restaurants, particularly when I can eat food that I would have difficulty making at home. Since I re-entered the world of the omnivore, every single meal is a celebration.

A few days ago I discovered a podcast called The Splendid Table, where the brilliant host Lynne Rossetto Kasper talks about food with people who grow it, cook it, and write about it. She also answers call-in questions from listeners, and gives them terrific ideas about what to make and how to prepare food. She often does it on the spot.

[Yes. I know that it is through the gift of automation that I can take this podcast on my walk with me.]

While listening to one of Ms. Kasper's podcasts today it occurred to me that if people thought about food the way they think about music, very few people would be interested in preparing food themselves. They would occasionally to restaurants (good ones and not-so-good ones) but mostly they would buy ready-made meals to eat at home.

If people asked questions about music the way they ask questions about food, with the intention of going home and "making it" themselves, we might have a very different kind of musical culture. It would be a culture where nobody would be in a position to say that there is too much classical music (or any other kind of music).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rambling on about the Future of Music, Again

Nobody can predict the future. We can, however, look around at our present and read about our past, and we can think about what we can do in order to preserve the good things we have living our lives in music.

Here are a few facts:
It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to instantly access music they want to listen to (thanks to recordings and computers).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to acquire musical skills (thanks to instructional videos and a large number of well-taught teachers who live outside of major cities).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to acquire sheet music (thanks to the IMSLP and interlibrary loan).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to learn about composers who could have been forgotten (thanks to the blogosphere and Wikipedia).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people anywhere to buy high-quality instruments (and some made by living makers are affordable).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to buy good quality instruments for students of all ages and sizes.

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for people to evaluate themselves and their playing (thanks to recording technology).

It has never in the history of the world for people to present themselves in a way that makes them seem musically more competent than they are (thanks to free computer editing programs and auto-tune).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy to find like-minded musicians and communicate with them.

It has never in the history of the world been so easy for composers to hear a good approximation of what their notated music sounds like (thanks to Finale and Sibelius).

It has never in the history of the world been so easy to listen to traditional music from every corner of the world.

It has never in the history of the world been so easy to acquire affordable replicas of instruments from previous centuries and to learn how to play them from people who are expert players.

It has never in the history of the world been so easy to distribute music (thanks to PDF files and computers).
But there are things that aren't easy these days for professional musicians, and because of the very things that make our musical lives easier, I fear that the profession of music (at least the classical kind) will continue to atrophy from its 150-year heyday that lasted from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. But because of these technologies there is a great deal of room for amateur music making (and amateur music making at its highest level) to grow and continue to enhance our lives. It's just that because of technology it is becoming increasing difficult to make the kind of living where a person can own a house, raise children, own a car, and retire in old age by depending on music making as his or her livelihood.

When I was growing up I thought of paying money to study with someone as an investment in gaining enough technique and musical insight to do well in the profession of music. Now it seems that the money exchanged between student and teacher in a lesson has more to do with gaining inspiration, gaining a sense of confidence on an instrument, finding a sense of purpose in life, and acquiring the ability to express emotion through music than making an investment in succeeding in the profession.

I believe that the profession of teaching music will continue, and even thrive in some cases and in some communities. But people fortunate enough to be tenure-track members of a university faculty are finding that more and more people using their college "dollar" to pursue professions other than musical ones. This eventually causes music departments to shrink substantially or be eliminated altogether.

Perhaps we are entering a new age concerning the profession of music. At first professional musicians were supported mainly through the church, and then by various monarchs (who also subsidized church musicians). Publishing music was also a big business from the 16th century through the 20th century.

And there were concerts. Some people went to concerts because they were an enjoyable form of entertainment. Some people went to concerts because they wanted to hear music (much like the way people go to art museums because they want to enjoy looking at art). Local businesses advertised in concert programs, and wealthy people in communities gave money to keep orchestras going (much like the way wealthy people give money to art museums).

Around the middle of the 20th century, particularly in America, universities were the places to find music. Colleges and universities, often funded by industrial moguls like Eastman, started having faculty string quartets, concert series, artists in residence, and composers in residence (some well-endowed schools still do). Serious portable automation along with cultural shifts have caused the general college-age population (with the exception of students who were either exposed to classical music during childhood or participate in musical activities themselves) have changed the entertainment priorities of many campuses. A lot of non-musical faculty members in their 30s and 40s don't take advantage of musical activities on college campuses. From where I sit it seems that most of the people who attend university concerts are either retired (or older) faculty members, young people who are taking music appreciation classes, or friends of the people performing.

Wouldn't it be nice if our next musical age could involve communities themselves as centers of musical activity rather than evangelical institutions or institutions of higher learning? Wouldn't it be nice if wealthy people could consider giving money to musical organizations that continue to promote community music and if there could be music-related jobs created so that musicians could subsidize their musical "habits" by getting paid to work for the cause of community music? Wouldn't it be nice if people from all walks of life understood (from experience) about the life-enhancing value of listening to music played by human beings rather than by mechanical reproduction? Wouldn't it be nice if people in positions of influence in city governments could place well-deserved value on what a community has to offer musically to its members and do its best (through all the media) to get the message out that classical musicians are an asset to a community?

Summer Strings Concert

This year's Summer Strings concert on July 22 was a lot of fun for everyone playing, and the audience enjoyed it as well.

I did manage to get a good recording, and I am sharing it through this Dropbox link. There is no need to join Dropbox to listen. You can also see a program there.

Remember when listening that this is a community orchestra made of people ranging from around 4 or 5 to their later 70s (I'm not sure of exact ages). The violin 2b section is mostly made of people who have only been playing for a year or two. There are a lot of adults in the group: some are "late starters," some are people who studied seriously but do not play professionally, some are college students, and a few are professional musicians (who also teach many of the people in the group). We only meet during the summer (Tuesday evenings in June and July for 90 minutes), and not everyone comes to every rehearsal. This year we had three conductors, and they were flexible enough to "cover" for the times when one or two of the others could not be at rehearsal.

All the arrangements that I made (Ka-Wai Yu and Nina Woodgate made some of them) are available for free through a dropbox folder I share (just send me an email message, and I'll send you a link).

[The picnic that we had before the concert was fantastic, by the way. It was my first pot luck as an omnivore in years and years and years, and I was one happy eater.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sam I Am Eggs

I was talking with my father about making deviled eggs with Avocado for the picnic before our Summer Strings concert this evening, and he suggested I could make "Sam I Am" eggs.

So I did.

I also drew this nifty little sign, and made a few extra eggs to have for lunch with Michael. He liked them a lot, and he suggested that I should put the recipe on my blog.

So I did.

Here's a close-up shot to click on so that you can see the details.

I can't give you exact amounts, but I don't think that exact amounts really matter in a recipe like this.

I cooked eggs in a steamer (which makes them easier to peel) for 20 minutes, and let them cool completely. Then I cut the eggs in half and discarded half of the yolks. I mashed the remaining yolks with a whole avocado, and then added some lime juice, a tablespoon or so of cilantro paste, a generous amount of finely-chopped red onion, and a bunch of finely-cut-up, thinly-sliced smoked ham. I then added a bit of salt and pepper (to taste), and spooned the mixture into the egg-white shells.

So there you have it.