Friday, April 21, 2017

Yitzhak Schotten: The Art of the Bow Arm

Yitzhak Schotten played in my father's viola section in the Boston Symphony in the late 1960s and early 70s. My father often referred to him as "Dr. Shotten," and as a child I always thought that he must have been a medical doctor as well as a musician. I wondered what would happen if he got called to perform emergency surgery during a concert. Holding a high degree in a non-musical field wasn't that unusual to me. My father sometimes got mail addressed to "Dr. Fine" (because of his Ph.D. in chemistry), and Charles Kavalovski, the principal horn at the time, had a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

Perhaps my father's "Dr." title was an affectionate one, since Yitzhak Schotten is such a smart man.

His video about the bow arm is excellent. I'm posting it here so that I know where to find it. I hope you like it too.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Preludes to the Twenty-first Century

On December 30, 2000, just because I could, I started work on a set of six preludes for piano. I wanted to finish them before midnight, which would make them some of the last pieces of music written in the 20th-century, but I ended up finishing them shortly after midnight on January 1, 2001, so they are also among the first pieces of music written in the 21st century. This kind of thing doesn't happen often.

You can listen to a performance here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Climbing up the Stairs," an alternative to the "Monkey Song" for beginning violinists

I wrote this little piece for a beginning violin student, and thought I'd share it here. It is filled with all sorts of practical "word painting."



Like the "Monkey Song," you "climb" up the A string, but after the half-step interval of C-sharp and D we have the word "kiss." I like to refer to half steps as "kisses" with beginners. It helps them pay attention to their fingers touching when playing half steps (and when you have a lot of half steps, you have really romantic music). The word "mother" also has a half-step kiss, because she has just been kissed.

In order to get to the E string (which is a higher string) to play the open E, you need to lower your right elbow (so getting to a higher note requires lowering something!), and in order to get back to the open A (to get into bed), you have to lift the elbow of the bow arm. Notice that we have a rest following the word "bed."

You can get a PDF of the whole "lesson" here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Willa Cather explains why we go to the theater

Jim Burden, the narrator of Willa Cather's My Àntonia takes his friend Lena to a performance by a traveling New York theater company of La Dame aux Camélias in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The actress who played Marguerite was even then old-fashioned, though historic. She had been a member of Daly’s famous New York company, and afterward a ‘star’ under his direction. She was a woman who could not be taught, it is said, though she had a crude natural force which carried with people whose feelings were accessible and whose taste was not squeamish. She was already old, with a ravaged countenance and a physique curiously hard and stiff. She moved with difficulty—I think she was lame—I seem to remember some story about a malady of the spine. Her Armand was disproportionately young and slight, a handsome youth, perplexed in the extreme. But what did it matter? I believed devoutly in her power to fascinate him, in her dazzling loveliness. I believed her young, ardent, reckless, disillusioned, under sentence, feverish, avid of pleasure. I wanted to cross the footlights and help the slim-waisted Armand in the frilled shirt to convince her that there was still loyalty and devotion in the world.
What Jim thinks about after the play must be similar to what countless people in all times and in all places (at least in places where there is theater) have experienced.
When we reached the door of the theatre, the streets were shining with rain. I had prudently brought along Mrs. Harling’s useful Commencement present, and I took Lena home under its shelter. After leaving her, I walked slowly out into the country part of the town where I lived. The lilacs were all blooming in the yards, and the smell of them after the rain, of the new leaves and the blossoms together, blew into my face with a sort of bitter sweetness. I tramped through the puddles and under the showery trees, mourning for Marguerite Gauthier as if she had died only yesterday, sighing with the spirit of 1840, which had sighed so much, and which had reached me only that night, across long years and several languages, through the person of an infirm old actress. The idea is one that no circumstances can frustrate. Wherever and whenever that piece is put on, it is April.
I imagine that Willa Cather could easily have been writing about her own theater experience, and since she made mention of Augustin Daly's New York company, it is possible that the actress Cather describes could be Ada Rehan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Eva Kor

My friend Eva Kor has been awarded Indiana's highest honor. She will be the Grand Marshall of the IPL Festival Parade on May 27.

I became friends with Eva in 1995 when she came to the television station that was connected with the radio station where I worked. She was working mostly from her kitchen table to create the C.A.N.D.L.E.S. organization, and was working on her book, Echoes from Auschwitz, and trying to open a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute. Very few people knew Eva outside of her circle of friends and acquaintances, and now she is a symbol of strength for so many people. I am so proud of Eva, and so gratified that she has gotten the recognition and respect that she deserves.

Eva asked me and my string quartet to play for the opening of her museum, and I couldn't find appropriate music to play (short pieces that would give the flavor of the time and place), so I made some settings of Chassidic melodies that were connected to texts that I felt reflected Eva's character and mission. They were the first serious pieces I ever wrote. You can see them and listen to a performance here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Music Theory Examples by Women

Molly Murdock, Trevor Nelson, and Ben Parcell have put up an exceptionally interesting website that organizes concepts of music theory that are often studied. The concepts link to scores, audio files, and downloadable PDF files. There is also a pop-up page for each concept that cross-references other music theory concepts that are in the piece. All the examples of music theory concepts are from music written by women.

It is beautifully organized, but it is only in the beginning stages of a work in progress. The list of composers they draw from is pretty much limited to the "usual suspects" from the common practice era. The 20th and 21st century sections are still empty, so examples of modal, pentatonic, octatonic, whole tone, and twelve-tone scales are missing.

(Note to the organizers of this website: you might like to look around this blog to find information about women composers with music in the IMSLP who use the elements you would like to illustrate.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

More about Frances Goldstein

A couple of years ago I asked readers to share their experiences studying with Frances Goldstein at Juilliard. The comments on that post might be interesting to people new to this blog. You can find the post through this link.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Thematic Catalog Update!



It is hard to believe that my Thematic Catalog blog will be 10 years old in June!

I have reached the end of my task to repair all the broken links to audio files in the entries in my Thematic Catalog Blog, and am celebrating with this post. The music is arranged by year of composition (or arrangement), by instrument, and by instrument family (with an easy-to-navigate blogger sidebar).

Join the celebration! Look around!

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Taking Care of Business . . .

I finished a new piece for woodwind quintet the other day, and, as is my usual practice, I uploaded it onto the IMSLP to share with people who might be interested in playing it. The number of people who have looked at the music still remains at zero as I write:


so I cannot attribute lack of interest in the piece to its quality or playability.

I should attribute it to the fact that the people who might like to know about it don't know about it. I have shared the link to the listing for the piece in my thematic catalog on Facebook, but my Facebook friends are far more interested in life events than woodwind quintets. Facebook has very little in the way of woodwind-quintet-related group activity. Most of the groups labeled "woodwind quintet" on Facebook seem to have an average of five members, and sharing my new piece with these intimate groups of people I don't know doesn't seem right.

I started going through my Thematic Catalog blog to check on the viability of links to the 77 pieces that I have published by Subito, and I noticed that the links to audio files that I thought were viable are no longer active. I spent the past couple of days updating links to audio files for the pieces I wrote in 2000, 2001, 2002, and some of 2003, and plan to spend much of today updating more links to audio files for pieces I wrote from 2003 to 2006.

Going through all this music has been interesting for me. It is a chore to locate, generate, update, upload, and organize a body of work, but I still really like the pieces in my catalog, and I think that it is a good idea to promote them. I hope that some of the pieces I have neglected (for lack of working links) find their way to musicians who are looking for new music to play.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"In Praise of Women" Radio Program from Princeton University

I recently learned about WPRB, Princeton University's student-run radio station (103.3 FM) through a notice about a recording of my Trumpet Sonata being part of a month-long series of programs dedicated to music by women hosted by Marvin Rosen.

You can listen to the station on-line through this link. Marvin Rosen's "In Praise of Women" program airs tomorrow from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, which makes it pretty early for people in other time zones. Fortunately this and the other four programs of music by women will be archived until April 12. You can find the programs through this link.

Here is tomorrow's schedule. This and the other programs in this series provide a tremendous resource for people interested in learning more about music written by women.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cadence Podcast: Something New for Musicians to Ponder

Indre Viskontas, the neuroscientist-soprano who hosts the "Inquiring Minds" podcast about science in our lives, has started a new podcast devoted to music and the mind called Cadence. It looks (and sounds) promising, so I thought I would share information about it here. I have listened to the first of three new episodes. There will be many more to come.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Dances for Two Violins

In celebration of the season! You can get the music (for free) on this page of the IMSLP.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

My Brother, My Self

I have been contemplating the "why" of composition lately. After years and years of addressing the "why not?" of composing music, I find myself at an interesting point of pause. And today, after a rather busy few months spent in navigating the hows, whys, and wherefores of music written by other people (with a lot of emphasis on the hows lately), I realize that almost every piece I have written has been a "working out" of something.

I suppose that I have always thought of pieces of music as a way to work through thoughts and work out ideas. Sometimes those thoughts are veiled representations of people, places, stories, and characters. Sometimes those thoughts involve interaction between abstract ideas using instrumental voices. Sometimes those thoughts involve the behavior of characters in history or fiction that do their interacting without words, and sometimes those characters work out their "stuff" with the help of a text.

I used to think that everybody who wrote music did this, but now I am beginning to think that doing this might be a family trait.

My brother, Marshall Fine, wrote program notes for his music. In those program notes he gives explicit details of how he wove the contradictions and concerns in his personal and professional life into the music he wrote. His Rock Etudes for Solo Viola, for example, concern specific events in his life that he connected with particular rock songs from the 1960s and 1970s. (You can read the notes in the IMSLP listing.) I believe that he used a logical organization of things musical to try to work out personal frustrations and experiences in his life that he could name but could not understand.

Every person on the autism spectrum has a unique set of challenges that make interpreting the workings of the world difficult, but because of Marshall's particular make-up, his particular "off-the-charts" set of musical gifts, his outspoken nature, and the relatively small size of his communities (the community of violists, the community of classical musicians in Memphis and Branson), he loomed large.

He certainly always loomed large in my world (and still does). Understanding something of this brother-sister bond through our shared attitude toward creative work gives me strength. My perception of the world is (as far as I can tell) that of a "neuro-typical" person, but the musical "working out" of interactions and ideas is nevertheless the reason that I like to write music.

The Italian violist Daniele Colombo's recording of Marshall's Rock Etudes will be coming out in the Solitudes label in the not-too-distant future. Daniele plays them spectacularly.