Saturday, February 10, 2018

Glimmers of Hope

It must have been fifteen years ago that our daughter went on a school trip to hear the Chicago Symphony. She was very excited that the program included a piece by Melinda Wagner, who, to her young and impressionable mind was like her mom: a composer who was a woman. Rachel listened carefully and took notes on the whole program (her mother was also a music critic at the time). She was a critical listener, with a distinct bias towards her mother's music, and she loved the Wagner. It was her favorite piece on the program.

The Chicago Symphony continues to commission music from Melinda Wagner, and the Chicago Symphony continues to perform music by Melinda Wagner.

Be like the Chicago Symphony.

Yesterday The New York Times published Michaela Baranello's encouraging piece about Florence Price. The University of Arkansas library has a whole archive of her unperformed work. Perhaps it is time for the big American orchestras to lead the way and do what the title of the Times article says about welcoming Price into the canon. The Times can do its part, but it is ultimately up to the people who make programming choices for the major orchestras. They could share some of the musical wealth that Florence Price left us, and "lesser" orchestras might follow suit. The handful of pieces I know are terrific. I would certainly like to hear more.

Douglas Shadle discusses the problem eloquently, and offers some sensible solutions.

To people who write about music: be like Michaela Baranello and Douglas Shadle

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Taxes for Orchestral Musicians

The new tax bill presents more even serious problems for our profession than I anticipated. Daniel Braden's opinion piece in The Morning Call explains the problems clearly.

A Lot of Wisdom from David Dubal

David Dubal's 2012 "Let's tickle the Ivories," is great reading for any musician, and essential reading for anyone who has a piano in the house, or knows anyone with one. Eliane Lust made the text a public post on Facebook, so you can read it through the link below.

"...but forget about the world and save yourself." :-)

February, 2012
Let's tickle the ivories by David Dubal

On the...

Posted by Eliane Lust on Sunday, February 4, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Guy de Maupassant's Like Death is "Like Bliss" to Read

Michael and I routinely grab two copies of just about any new translation put out by New York Review Books. Richard Howard's 2017 translation of this amazing novel is a treat to read from beginning to end.

The protagonist is a portrait artist who does work that immediately brings the work of James Tissot to my mind's eye. Gounod's Faust plays an important part in the novel.

This passage (though not referenced directly in the novel) from the Song of Songs sets the tone:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.
I will give nothing more away.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Ramble in the Age of Musical Invisibilia

I haven't made many posts recently. The workings of the world (and some of my favorite people who no longer live in it) slip by fast. Sometimes it is a struggle to find something real to hold on to.

It seems that any time I get an idea about something to post, it is either too personal (musically or otherwise), or I become too distracted, and forget what I was thinking about.

Here at the rural Illinois homestead, all is going swimmingly. The insane cold weather that dipped into our temperate world from the arctic has gone elsewhere, the sun is shining, and I even hear birds singing. Life in our house is a series of books, meals, walks, household projects, writing projects, practicing, watching movies, and watching our granddaughter grow day by day through FaceTime. It is very pleasant. I teach a very nice handful of students, rehearse and perform with a terrific pianist, and play chamber music (it's never enough). Orchestral life for me has been sleeping since the first week of December, and this season (so far) has had little in the way of stimulating orchestral repertoire.

When I spy the workings of the "outside" world through Facebook, I feel really removed. I suppose that musicians tend to use Facebook as a way to keep themselves in the world's eye. They have to, I guess. I see photo after photo of happy people having great success and playing in happy ensembles with their friends. Every time I see those photos I think about how much I wish I were "there," playing with my old friends. And they live everywhere else. At the same time.

But then I wouldn't be here, doing what I do, and living the good life where I am free to do as I please. And I really do like it here.

I love to work. I love to practice. I love to write music, and I hope that the music that I have written is useful. I hope that the music that I will continue to write will be useful. People say nice things, but it seems that unless I keep dangling music in front of people's faces or forcing it into their hands, the work that I do adds little to the swirling din that I glimpse through my Facebook app.

I don't have it in me to do more than make my catalog and my music available to people who are interested, and I get tired of the Facebook "bot" trying to get me to boost my posts (with money, of course) so that I can have my activities reach more people's phones, as they are scrolling through their feeds.

This personal funk will pass, but I fear that if I do not tickle and feed the cyber beast, whoever I am and whatever I do will grow more and more invisible.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Margie King Barab (1932 - 2018)

Our dear friend Margie King Barab died peacefully in her home on Park Avenue in New York on January 3. Her 85 years of life began in Nebraska. Her singing voice took her to the Manhattan School of Music. She answered an announcement from someone looking for a room mate, and her "proxy landlord" (he was house-sitting) was the brilliant 50-year-old Alexander King. After a while, she fell in love with him. When she married Alex, Margie was not aware that he had an opium addiction. She helped him recover and served as his muse. Later in her life Margie wrote a book about him, and she told me a few years ago that it is being considered for publication by the University of Nebraska Press.

After Alex died, Margie married the great composer Seymour Barab, who was the kindest man in the world. You can read all the posts I have written about Seymour and Margie here.

I miss both Seymour and Margie so much. They were our true friends, and they were true friends to many other fortunate people. The world is considerably poorer now, but our memories of Margie and Seymour stay (together) in our hearts, and they continue to inspire us and give us comfort.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Did you know that "The Celebrated Chop Waltz" was written by the 16-year-old Euphemia Allen in 1877 under the pseudonym "Arthur de Lulli?"

You can see for yourself.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The March of the Women

The kind and dedicated people who volunteer their time to organize and maintain the IMSLP have created a category for women composers.

It is going to take a long time to look at the work of all the 444 (so far) composers on this list, so I am starting with composers I know. Yesterday I found a delightful Humoresque, by Ethel Barns. I went next to the listing for Barns's contemporary compatriot Ethel Smyth (who has a cello sonata that might be fun to transcribe for viola).

I was very happy to find the piece Smyth wrote in 1910 that became the anthem for the Suffrage movement, "The March of the Women." It happens to work beautifully as a solo viola piece.

You can read about The March of the Women here, and listen to a rollicking heartfelt performance (with an excellent array of images) here.

Mark the music

A certain world leader seems not to be able to sing along with his country's national anthem.

You can watch it here.

We might do well to remember the words of Lorenzo in Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Operas written since 1945: an impressive list

Vagne Thierry has created an impressive (and extensive) list of operas written since 1945. He includes the names of composers (with dates and nationalities), titles of their works, and links to their websites and to media (CDs and DVDs).

Just glancing through I learned that Beth Anderson wrote an opera about Queen Christina of Sweden (so now I don't have to), Giancarlo Aquilanti wrote an opera about Lot's women (so now I don't have to), and Hubert Bird wrote an opera about John Dee, the Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I (so now I don't have to).

I see friends on the list: Gary Bachlund's fable operas are on the list, and a good number of Seymour Barab's operas are there (with links).

Mr. Thierry kindly sent me an email message letting me know about the list (my operas The Snow Queen, Sister Beatrice, and EMMA are listed). I imagine he sent messages to all the living composers on the list with an email address, and that other composers are looking through the list and enjoying it as much as I am. I could spend all day with this (it took an hour just to make it through from A to C), but I will have to wait until later to dip in again. There's a lot to be learned from this list.

Writing an opera is a HUGE amount of work, and is, in my case, a labor of love. That love is so often unrequited because works by "unknown" composers are so rarely produced these days. I would venture to guess that most of the operas on this list have had few performances, and that many have never been produced.

Thierry is doing a great service for the musical community. I'm hoping opera-minded people (i.e. people who like to produce and perform operas) might find material for future productions here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Greeting the New Year With New Music

I'm greeting 2018 with a piece for two trumpets (which can also be played by two clarinets, two French horns, or two euphoniums).

Here it is played by computer-generated trumpets.

Listen to how different it sounds when played on computer-generated clarinets, French horns, and euphoniums.

You can find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Concert in January: Vasilenko, Bowen, and Ravel

On the program:

Vasilenko Viola Sonata, Opus 46
Ravel Sonata Posthume
Bowen 2nd Sonata for Viola and Piano

Saturday, December 16, 2017