Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weighing in on Suzuki

The latest discussions about whether or not Shinichi Suzuki fictionalized his credentials as a violinist makes more sense after watching this film clip:



Here's the blog post that started the current ruckus, and a response from 2013 to O'Connor's earlier blog post.

I should mention that there are many excellent alternatives to the Suzuki method, and there are excellent ones that are available for free in the IMSLP. I have always believed that it is the teacher and not the method that makes for a successful musical experience.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rant on Immortality


My mother, who painted the above watercolor, is very much alive, but she no longer paints because she can no longer see. When I told her that I wanted to put her paintings on a blog so that her friends and acquaintances could see her work, she remarked that she wasn't able to get much money for the paintings she sold because she was a living artist. I wonder why is it that after someone dies their work becomes more valuable. It is because there is a finite end to their output? My mother's finite end to her work came when she could no longer see lines and colors, but I believe talking about her work with people enriches her life as well as the lives of people who are able to see it.

Why is it that people so often wait until someone is no longer alive to voice appreciation for a body of work, be it musical, literary, or artistic? Much of our human culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of some kind of afterlife and/or some kind of immortality, but not being a person who believes in an afterlife or immortality, I know that will not derive any pleasure or benefit from having a posthumous career. Many people struggle to get their work known beyond a small circle of friends, but more often than not it isn't until an obituary hits the newspapers or the internet that people in the "outside world" pay attention.

Writing music is only part of music making. A piece of music, no matter who wrote it (or Whom) only comes alive when people play it. A good composer tries to make an interpretation inevitable through the writing, but the composer's input really stops once the music is notated and distributed or published. A piece of music is a gift to musicians of future generations, but once the composer's life is over s/he will never know where it is played, or by whom.

Recordings give an illusion that a person who is no longer alive is somehow present. The larger the musical personality, the more convincing the illusion will be. But it is still an illusion. Recordings give the illusion that someone who is alive but not within earshot is present. Writing is similar. I still find it miraculous that someone's "voice" can be transmitted into another person's head centuries upon centuries after the writer put pen to paper (or knife to tablet). A writer can also transmit his or her written voice instantly to just about anywhere in the world.

A visual artist can capture an image (moving or still) of a time that can never be revisited, but it is just an illusion because no time can be revisited. We move on and unconsciously filter our memories so that we have room for new thoughts. We need visual art to remind us of where we have been, or not been.

All we really have is the present, and we can use the powerful tools of communication we wear on our faces and carry in our pockets to communicate with people we care about in real time. I think that it is important to celebrate the work of the living. They (and we, as long as I am here) are trying to make the present matter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Using a Product Logo as a Teaching Tool


My violin students need to be constantly reminded to keep their left arms under the violin while they are playing. Today, while I was (once again) reminding a pre-teen student to keep her arm under, I noticed that all her clothes had the "Under Armour" logo on them. I drew it in her music to remind her to keep her arm under. Under Armour = Arm Under.

We both laughed. I told her that I would share this idea with other violin teachers on line, so here it is. Remember that you read it here first!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rules

While I was slowly and carefully playing through the last of Bach's English Suites until a few minutes ago, I kept thinking about how many rules of counterpoint Bach breaks, and how often he breaks them. Then it occurred to me that Fux (1660-1741), the guy who wrote the rules of counterpoint as we know them, may have predated Bach by a generation, but he didn't write his Gradus Ad Parnassum until 1725, and by the time Bach could have even gotten his hands on a copy he could no longer see.

I have nothing against Fux. I cut several sets of teeth on Gradus Ad Parnassum. I just had a sudden realization about Bach today, and appreciate his deviations from what is to be expected even more than I did yesterday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Teaching

I used to enjoy teaching music appreciation classes at our local community college. In the early years of the 21st century I had students in my classes who were genuinely interested in the material. Some were adult students who had returned to college after having children, some were adult students who were trying to make a new start by getting an education after unproductive early adulthood, and some were students who had served in the military. I had extremely smart students of normal college age who were using community college as an inexpensive way of taking courses that could be transferred to a four-year university. I also had students who had very little in the way of reading and writing skills, because the college had an open admissions policy. Some of these students found that they were genuinely interested in music (some, of course, were not). I even had a composer one semester, and I had to keep him stimulated while trying to get novices to understand the rudiments of listening to form in music.

During the past five years we have been suffering from some kind of a shift in our university community, and for various reasons college enrollment is down. I watched the abilities of my students slide downward, and found that very few students were able to get by with more than a passing grade during the last two semesters. Too many of them couldn't pass. Now most of the music appreciation classes have been cancelled, and mine, which met at 8:00 in the morning, was one of the first to go.

For a while I really didn't know what I would do.

Thanks to the kindness of one of my dear friends, and the departure from town by another friend who taught a handful of violinists, I now have eight new violin students who range in age from 9 to 14. It's been years since I worked with this many young people, and it is really refreshing to teach people who want to learn to play just for the sake of playing.

Everyone seems to be making progress, and I am making progress as well, because I make a point of practicing what I teach.

Onward!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Meet the Composer Podcast from WQXR

I listened to an interview with Caroline Shaw today on "Meet the Composer," the new podcast from WQXR's Q2 station. I was impressed with the way Nadia Sirota conducted the interview, impressed by Shaw, and impressed with her music and the way she explained the extended vocal techniques used by Roomful of Teeth, the vocal ensemble she sings with and writes for.

I plan to listen to this podcast regularly.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tendencies

When I taught flute students I would often observe their throats getting tight when they found themselves in the musical land of many sharps. I noticed it in myself as well, and always had to work to counteract the tendency.

Lately I have noticed the tendency of my bow arm to stray from the optimum sounding point when I find myself crossing strings in musical landscapes that have many flats.

Hmm . . .

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Honour Bound: The Exile of Adolf Busch

I have spent the past two days being blown away by the beauty of Adolf Busch's bow arm and his overall musicianship, but this film, a kind of animated graphic novel with Busch's Opus 40 String Sextet as its soundtrack, increases my admiration for this tremendous musician even more.



The String Sextet was never published, and the manuscript is in the BrĂ¼der-Busch-Archiv in Karlsruhe. Perhaps an administrator for that archive might find a way to scan the score and parts and add it to this page of the IMSLP.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Tipping Point (Cyber and Otherwise)

On the bottom of my blogger screen is a little tab that reads "Complaints," so I'm using this moment to register some of my complaints about what seems to have turned into a life as a targeted consumer.

I usually look at my email first thing in the morning. I used to engage in lengthy correspondence with friends from near and far, but now my email experience consists of deleting sale notices from stores where I happen to have shopped once and notices about musical events far removed from my realm of interest and my location. Sometimes I find a message from a friend, colleague, or family member, and once in a while I get a notice about a comment to this blog, but it is always the exception. There are sometimes work-related email messages, which I always welcome. I have actually come to cherish those.

I delete between eight and ten messages before breakfast. By lunch time there are usually eight more. I always try to "clean house" in my inbox before I go to bed.

If I look at Facebook these days, I am bombarded by "posts" from people who have paid to have their "posts" reach me, along with ads from places where I might have shopped on line. I bought some socks on line last week, and ads enticing me to buy more socks popped up everywhere (and not just on Facebook). Facebook seems to have become the de-facto vehicle for personal communication, and I hate the fact that I have had to use it as such in family matters. "It" is kind of making "itself" indispensable (and in some ways it is making me feel dispensable). I have decided, for the sake of my health, to limit my Facebook time to 17 minutes per day.

[We used to have a "17 minute rule" back when all four members of the family lived under one roof and shared a single desktop computer.]

Today's US mail brought two letters. One was an official looking one from Washington, DC marked "Finance Department." It was, of course, a plea for money from a political organization. The other had a hand-written address (which, upon further study, I realized was just a very well-designed handwriting font). Then there was a card from a business that sends us catalogs, and a New Yorker magazine.

Somehow, around the time when the ads in my email inbox started increasing, the annoying robo telephone calls started decreasing. If the phone rings now (and it does rarely) it is usually from someone in the family, or an automated reminder from our HMO to get a flu shot (which just happened--while I was writing this very paragraph).

I have to say that thanks to technology I have NEVER felt so emotionally disconnected from the outside world, which appears from this end to be an endless stream of people trying to sell me stuff.

My patience is exhausted.

Thank goodness for music. End of rant. Time to practice and (thankfully) teach a few lessons later this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It was 30 years ago today . . .

Happy Anniversary, Michael!

[Michael actually drew this shortly before our wedding.]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Humor (and Surprise!) of Music

Michael and I spent some time in the University library today. I love mindlessly and randomly pulling one or two books from the music section off the shelf and taking them home, because you never know what you might find you don't know (or wouldn't otherwise know). In today's handful was a slim volume from 1971 called The Humor of Music by Humphrey.

The title page told me it was by Laning Humphrey, who was the (sole) publicist for the Boston Symphony for decades.


Laning Humphrey (1896-1988) was also the father of my elementary school music teacher, Patricia Frederick who, along with her husband, runs the (fantastic) Frederick Historic Piano Collection housed in Ashburnham, Massachusetts (with lots of information about the instruments on line, of course). Some of the illustrations in the book are by Pat's mother, Martha Burnham Humphrey, who I remember as Mrs. Humphrey (Pat was Miss Humphrey when I was in her classes and chorus).

I settled down to read the anecdotes about the great and mighty musicians of yesteryear, and then I came to page 45:


That is a story about my father!

There is what I imagine to be a proofreading error. My father entered the orchestra as a violinist, and he became the principal violist of the Boston Symphony.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Elnora's Violin

Our fourth grade teacher read installments of The Secret Garden out loud to us during class. I wanted to read ahead (and I guess I couldn't find a copy in the library) so I went up to the box of my mother's old books in the attic and found a book by Gene Stratton Porter called The Magic Garden, and I started reading it. I soon forgot about The Secret Garden, and became obsessed with the Magic one.

The novel is about a girl who called herself "little hungry heart" because neither of her parents, who were very rich but no longer loved one another, seemed to love her. She did what any rich five-year-old girl would do, and got into her chauffeured car, tricked the chauffeur, and ran off into the woods. There she found a barefooted teenage boy playing his violin in the middle of a swamp, imitating the sounds of birds. A wonderful friendship began. It became my favorite book. Nobody in Boston or New York knew about Gene Stratton Porter. She was a part of the mysterious Midwest from whence the maternal side of my family came.

When I moved to the Midwest I began reading all of Gene Stratton Porter's novels and her writings about nature (they were in used bookstores all over Illinois). I particularly loved (and still love) A Girl of the Limberlost, particularly the chapter where Elnora, the protagonist, discovers a violin for the first time.

It turns out that Elnora's father, a man she never met because he died while walking through the swamp on the night she was born, was a violinist. She eventually gets his violin, and through playing it (which she takes to immediately and obsessively) is able to heal her mother's complicated heartache, and eventually repair their relationship. The need to play the violin was simply in her blood.

In 2005 I met Sharilyn Spicknall, an Indiana born-and-bred violinist who had never heard of Gene Stratton Porter. In my romantic eye and ear I considered her playing as the Indianaian essence of what Elnora would have sounded like (and I still do). I wrote a piece for her called "Elnora's Violin," a musical "illustration" for A Girl of the Limberlost.

I had a "Limberlost" moment the other day. My maternal grandfather had given Marshall a violin, and my paternal grandfather had given Marshall a bow. These instruments are now in my house. I decided to try the Chicago-made Grandpa Henry violin (Grandpa Henry shared certain traits with Elnora's father) with the Grandpa Nathan bow, and the experience felt like an explosion in my musical mind. Yesterday I got together the gumption to make a recording of Elnora's Violin with that violin and bow combination.

You can here a compressed version of it here, and a better-sounding uncompressed one that will take longer to load here.

People who found this post because of their love for the novel and for the Limberlost, might want to listen to listen to a recording of "Song of the Limberlost," a piece I wrote for solo harp that is based on more images from the novel. The harpist is Julia Kay Jamieson. The piece is in four sections:

Trees are harps in winter
The very essence of June
Elnora finds a violin
The song of the Limberlost

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oh Dear!

From a post on Barry Lenson's Classical Music Blog with the title "A Very Smart Bluffer's Guide to Classical Music":
The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto is remarkable because Bach inserted a puzzling chord in the middle of the first movement. In common practice, a harpsichordist improvises a long cadenza around it and then the orchestra rousingly enters.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three More Pieces

Here's a link to an updated Thematic Catalog entry for The Song of the Limberlost for harp, and a link to a set of six piano preludes that I completed at the time of the turn of the 20th to the 21st century, which makes these some of the last pieces of 20th century music and some of the first pieces of 21st century music.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Taking Care of Business

Back in the early "wild west" days of the internet composers were able to share recordings of pieces they wrote through the American Music Center library. I used it to share recordings of published pieces in my Thematic Catalog, and thought it was working just fine until I heard from someone outside of the country who was unable to download my recordings. I couldn't access them either.

Now that Dropbox has increased their "professional" package to what seems like an obscene size, I am taking matters into my own hands and directing links to recordings of my music there. I have 79 pieces of published music so it will take me a while to get links to everything.

I'm starting with concert recordings, and will then move to computer-generated ones. Eventually I hope to have real performances of everything.

Someday . . .

Here are the spoils of today: these links will take you immediately to the catalog entries, but you will have to wait for the links to download.

Duo for Clarinet and Piano
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Lilacs (for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano)