Friday, December 08, 2017

Ben Miller's article about James Levine

Ben Miller's relationship with the Boston Symphony was a lot like my relationship with the Boston Symphony, although the music director during Miller's childhood (a generation after mine) was a far greater musician as well as a far greater monster. The parents of the kids in Ben Miller's cohort (we used to refer to ourselves as "orchestra brats") made sure to inform their children about Levine's pedophilia in order protect them.

This eloquent article is well worth reading.

[I'm so impressed with Ben Miller's writing that I'm sharing his webpage here.]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Waltz

I really enjoy the way these young Californian musicians play my transcription of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Talia Trio for Oboe, Viola, and Piano

My love for granddaughter Talia just grows and grows, and, as you can see, it bursts out in sharps and flats. I finished this piece today. I don't think that I have ever written anything this happy. Having Talia in my life brings happiness to a whole new level.

You can follow the link above, or you can listen to the first movement here, and the second movement here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roger Sessions "From My Diary"

I have enjoyed reading Roger Sessions's book The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener (the source of the "guest post" from a few days ago) a great deal. I used to be afraid of Sessions's music, but now that I have read his prose about music, I am no longer afraid.

In fact, I like Robert Helps's performance of these Sessions piano pieces so much that I'm sharing them here:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fulcrum Point New Music Project Concert Wednesday, November 15 at 6:00

I am very excited to hear Stephen Burns and Kuang-Hao Huang play my Trumpet Sonata this Wednesday in Chicago. The concert is part of Fulcrum Point's "Hear and Be Heard" series, where people play new music and then members of the audience have an open discussion with the composers.

The other composer, who wrote her Notturno for Trumpet and Piano in 2016, is Lawren Brianna Ware.

The concert begins at 6:00, and takes place in Gottlieb Hall at the Merit School of Music, 38 South Peoria in Chicago, Illinois. Admission is free.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Roger Sessions, Guest Blogger

I picked up a copy of Roger Sessions's The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener at a library sale last month. It is a collection of six lectures that Mr. Sessions gave at the Juilliard School of Music in 1949. I thought that, being a small book, it would be something I could read on an airplane. I think that I'll just keep it with me all the time to read and re-read wherever I happen to be. Here's a sample from the second chapter, "The Musical Ear:"
As happens so often in speaking of music, the facts are much simpler than the words found to describe them. No one denies that music arouses emotions, no do most people deny that the values of music are both qualitatively and quantitatively connected with the emotions it arouses. Yet it is not easy to say just what this connection is. If we try to define the emotions aroused by specific pieces of music, we run into difficulties. I have referred elsewhere to cases in which the emotional purportedly expressed in a given work have been defined by different musicians in quite different terms. For instance, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony has been described by three composers, including Berlioz and Wagner, as "heroic" or "warlike," as "pastoral," or as the "apotheosis of the dance." This is a celebrated example, since two composers of genius and many musicians of lesser stature have been articulate about it. But you have only to read the various interpretive comments on almost any well-known work to find the same result.

Does this mean that the "message" or "emotional content" of music is an illusion, and that actually a given piece of music conveys one thing to one man, another thing to another, and that our illusion of specific emotional content derives entirely from the quite adventitious associations which we are able to bring to it? I do not believe this for a moment and I thoroughly dislike the terms, indeed the whole jargon, in general use. On the contrary, I believe that music "expresses" something very definite, and that it expresses it in the most precise way. In embodying movement, in the most subtle and most delicate manner possible, it communicates the attitudes inherent in, and implied by, that movement; its speed, its energy, its élan or impulse, its tenseness or relaxation, its agitation or its tranquility, its decisiveness or its hesitation. It communicates in a marvelously vivid and exact way the dynamics and the abstract qualities of emotion, but any specific emotional content the composer wishes to give to it must be furnished, as it were, from without, by means of an associative program. Music not only "expresses" movement, but embodies, defines, and qualifies it. Each musical phrase is a unique gesture and through the cumulative effect of such gestures we gain a clear sense of a quality of feeling behind them. But unless the composer directs our associations along definite lines, as composers of all times, to be sure, have frequently done, it will be the individual imagination of the listener, and not the music itself, which defines the emotion. What the music does is to animate the emotion; the music, in other words, develops and moves on a level that is essentially below the level of conscious emotion. Its realm is that of emotional energy rather than that of emotion in the specific sense.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Concert in Valencia, Spain

I'm very excited to report that three pieces of mine: High Speed Rail, Three Reflections for Flute and Strings, and Dances from the Harlot's House, will be performed in Spain on November 19th by an orchestra connected with the Conservatorio Profesional de Música de Valencia conducted by Josep Ribes. All the pieces on the program were written by women. The conductor asked me to send a 3-minute video recording of me talking about women and music to a group of young musicians, and I thought I'd share some of the text here:
When I was a child during the 1960s I was part of a very music family in Boston. Every piece of music I encountered was written by a man. Sometime during the 1970s a friend of my family started playing concerts that featured the music of Mrs. H.H. Beach. Amy Beach, we now know, was a very important composer in Boston during the early 20th century. She began her musical life as a pianist, and started writing music at an early age. After she married, her upper-class husband would not allow her to “work” as a concert pianist, but he was fine with her continuing to compose. Many of her works were published, and one was even performed by the Boston Symphony, but as her music went out of print, she was forgotten as a composer.

During the early part of the 20th century it was acceptable for a woman to be a great teacher, a great pianist (particularly an accompanist), or a great singer, but only a handful of women were accepted into professional orchestras. This began to change in the 1950s, and finally in 2017 we see equal numbers of men and women in professional orchestras.

Professional orchestras in America rarely program music by women. It is not because of lack of repertoire, it is due to lack of knowledge. Because I am curious, and because I am always looking for new music to play, I learn about new women composers from the 19th century and the 20th century all the time.

We are making progress: college composition programs in the 21st century admit as many women as they do men. And more and more people realize that when it comes to music, it is the voice of the individual that matters, not her gender. I would imagine that if you were to play pieces of lesser-known music written by both men and by women to people without revealing the gender of the composer, most people would be unable to guess the gender.

The quality of a piece of music is not reflected by how well known it is, just like the quality of a performance is not reflected by how well known the performer is. Fortunately programs like this one make it clear that even if you haven’t heard of a composer, her music can be enjoyable to hear and to play.

I hope you musicians have enjoyed working on these pieces, and I hope that your audience enjoys listening to them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrity Viola Library Copy

The copy of the Vasilenko Viola Sonata that I got, by way of interlibrary loan, from the Curtis Library (one of only three copies available through the WorldCat) was too fragile for me to photocopy in good conscience, so I sent it back right away. This edition also has a few errors in it (corrected in pencil) that are not in the earlier (and better) Russian edition (shown on my last post) that I am using (by way of a photocopy).

The piece hasn't been in print since 1931. I'm hoping that a violist who owns a less-fragile copy might scan it and submit it to the IMSLP. I have already sent an alert inquiry to a librarian I know at Curtis. We'll see what happens. Since the president of Curtis, Roberto Diaz, is a violist (who might, like most violists, not know the piece), he might be on board with the idea of digitizing and sharing the music before the paper deteriorates completely. The fingerings and bowings in the viola part are also instructive, if not historic.

Before sending the music back to Curtis, I took this photo. You can see that some very famous violists took this piece out of the library.

Louis Bailly, the violist of the Flonzaley Quartet before he began teaching at Curtis in 1925, was the first to take out the music. Leonard Mogill was next. He doesn't have a biography on line, but is known to all violists for his scale and double-stop books. He was an important teacher and a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 46 years. Toby Appel, who currently teaches at Curtis, took the music out in 1969 when he was a student there. It looks like the music had been sitting on the shelf since 1977 before I requested it on Interlibrary Loan.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Red Star Points to the Rescue!

I have been agonizing for months over this passage (and a few others like it) in the Serge Vasilenko Viola Sonata. There is a great deal of vertical information to take in (the spread of the notes, and the fingerings written above and below them) so I needed a bright and shiny reminder telling me clearly where to shift position. These points of red star stickers put in strategic places offer me peace of mind, satisfying my need to know exactly "when" something needs to happen. Unlike colored pencil marks, which are dull and permanent, these are temporary, so if I decide to change where I want to shift, I can just take the stickers off.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

You can call me "grandma" now!

Meet our granddaughter, Talia Ivy Raab. She was born on October 12 at 1:48 p.m. Pacific Time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


I got a notice today telling me that Musical Assumptions is one of the top 100 music education blogs on the planet. Any attempt to resuscitate the musical blogosphere is a good thing, so since I have earned the right to display this badge, I will:

I also got a badge last week from my orchestra to commemorate ten years of membership:

And no list of badges would be complete without posting pictures of my swimming buttons. These are not my actual swimming buttons, which disappeared during the last half century. But I did work hard during my childhood in the 1960s to earn buttons that look exactly like these. I still remember how difficult it was to learn to float in order to get the "beginner" button. I also remember the solemnity of the button-giving ceremony.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Early Autumn Ramble

I suppose that autumn is a collecting time. And this autumn, while I'm waiting for a magnificent event (the upcoming birth of our first grandchild), I have been busy collecting my thoughts.

Mine is a rather consistent musical life, so I find it stimulating when I find myself among young (and not-so-young) ambitious and optimistic musicians who hope to make a mark on the world. I suppose that at age 58 I should be one of the people who has already made her mark, but as a person who started her string-playing life rather late (in my early 30s), I sometimes still feel like I am finding my way around the fingerboard. I sometimes bite off just a little more than I can technically chew, but I feel fortunate never to feel like I am "stuck" at a high technical level, as I was with the flute, with no way to grow musically and nowhere to go.

At this point in my life I am happy to be included in the dance, and I am happy to be able to play with young people who don't seem to have any trouble getting around their instruments at lightning speed. I can play in tune, make the kind of sound I want to make, and more often than not I like what I hear when I put notes together in phrases.

I am relieved that I have not become that kind of an older colleague who exudes a sense of authority and superiority. When I am physically too old to play, I would like my legacy to be that of a good section player and a welcoming colleague who does not judge younger colleagues, except to compliment them when a compliment is in order.

I also never want to project an air of superiority over musicians who play the music I write. As youngsters we are taught to think of the composer of a given work as an authority figure, and we dutifully follow the "rules" that are set out for us. Too often we think of "the composer" as a judge. I would rather be thought of like a tailor who offers attractive practical clothes that fit well, wear well, and are comfortable in all kinds of weather.

The more music I write, the more music of other composers that I arrange, and the more music I play, the more I understand that composers and players are collaborators, even if the composer is not in the room, or is no longer alive.

Dynamics are the essence of musical relativity. My friend Seymour Barab once said that he wished he could just write piano and forte and be done with it. Composers often indicate tempo markings that are too fast (I know I do). Nobody performs with a metronome, so we find our own tempos and allow the composer's indications to act as guidelines. Sometimes slurs, like rules, need to be broken. We all break them from time to time, and for all kinds of reasons.

The idea of success in musical life seems to go hand in hand with ambition and recognition. In order for music to be played, people have to know about it. There are composers who devote vast amounts of time towards promoting their work themselves, and there are composers who devote serious financial resources towards having other people promote their work. Making a living purely from composing commissioned music and having various residencies at festivals and with orchestras seems to be a goal for some composers. It seems to be a measure of success not to have to have a "day job," even if that "day job" is one connected with music. And then there's the pie-in-the-sky idea of being a household name.

(I have to put in a joke from Seymour Barab. He told me, jokingly, that he once thought of changing his name, and he had the perfect one picked out: Leonard Bernstein.)

I used to feel ashamed about not having the skills or the drive to promote my work so that I too can "compete" in the "marketplace," but I no longer feel ashamed about it. Even in my relative obscurity I have come to understand that it is mostly a waste of my time and energy. Thanks to this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog (see I can do a bit of informational self promotion), I make my work available to people who are interested. I also share work for string quartet and string orchestra that is not published and cannot be put in the IMSLP (i.e. arrangements of pieces that are not in the public domain) with people who want to play it (just send me an email message). That's enough for me.

Given the past 500 or so years of published music, there is a lot of music to play. There is also a lot of new music to play, and there are many more composers writing now than there were before computer technology made the physical nuts and bolts of the composition process easier. I think that it is a good thing, because I think that the act of writing music does a lot to help people grow as musicians. It helps musicians to understand what to value in music by great composers from the past like Joaquin, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, and sometimes contemporary composers get lucky and write something of real value.

There is a lot of music that we may play but do not necessarily perform. Consider the Bach Cello Suites and the Sonatas and Partitas. String players devote much of their lives to them, but only a relative handful of string players perform them. We still get a great deal of pleasure out of working on them. The idea of people getting together to play chamber music, and getting pleasure from interacting with one another musically while playing something that I have written is truly the best response I could ever hope for from my (still growing) body of work.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Creative Imperative Video Project

Marcia Butler (the writer of The Skin Above My Knee) asks the individual musicians of Orpheus about pieces of music that influenced their creatives lives, and what it feels like to perform. These interviews are very casual, and there is someone practicing in the background, but it adds to the feeling of being backstage during a rehearsal break.

I'll just leave one by violinist Ronny Bauch here, to begin. There are many more I have yet to watch:

Friday, September 29, 2017

In which Amanda Maier's Great Granddaughter shows us Amanda's violin, and Cecilia Zilliacus plays it

Cecilia Zilliacus meets the violin Amanda Maier played as a teenager, and very likely used to write her B-minor Sonata in this video.

The video below gives a taste of Zilliacus's new recording of Amanda Maier's violin music and some of her songs.