Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Musikgarten at the Music Room

A cellist with the Rapidan Orchestra has experience with the Musikgarten organization, and has started classes in the Music Room. Here are some pics:

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Music Room Pics

Here are some pics of two recent events at the Music Room. The first was the annual Handel Party, which began many years ago with my friend Susan on flute, me on alto flute and Dr. Andy on cello playing through the ten pieces in the Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks that need only three or four voices to play. Over time more players were involved and more pieces were typed into Finale, and this year we had it at the Music Room and invited the Rapidan Orchestra, and Dr. Andy who's been a part of it all since the beginning. 

Here are two shots from either side with Benjamin conducting. 

Here is a pic of our timpanist Don. We did the entire Music for the Royal Fireworks (transposed from D down to G to keep the brass out of the screaming high range). This was the first time we've had timpani joining in and the effect was terrific.

Here are a few more pics.

And here are some pics of the supper following the music in the reception area of the Music Room.

The second event was a reception and chamber recital for supporters of the Rapidan Orchestra, again with Benjamin conducting (and playing the harpsichord). We set the musicians up against the long wall, which allowed for the audience to be seated in a semi-circle around us. 

The audience response was, if anything, even more enthusiastic than the full orchestra concert last April. Three reasons I think why are:

1) - The acoustics are very live and you can hear all the instruments well. 

2) - The full lighting helps the audience feel more a part of what the musicians are doing. 

3) - A number of people in the audience I've known all my life, and I think we as a group are pleasantly, but very, surprised something like this is happening in Orange.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Opening Night at the Music Room

Back on 4/13/18 the Rapidan Orchestra played to a full house at the Music Room. It was the first time the Music Room was open to the public, and there were a lot of "old Orange" people (that I've known since being a child) who came to hear the music, but also to see what's happening with the old Gill Hardware building there on Main Street. Even before the music started there was a pleasant buzz of energy in the room as people greeted old and new friends and looked around to see how the inside of the building has been transformed.

That night and in the days following, the most heard comments from the audience were the wonderment of hearing live music like this in Orange and how well played it was. The most frequent comment from the musicians was the incredible sense of connection between us and the audience - I used the word "electric" and our conductor used the word "palpable".

For me the empirical indicator of that connection was when and how the applause began after each piece. Between the conductor and the players there's a sense of the exact moment a piece ends, and sometimes audiences will applaud a bit before or after that moment. That night it felt to me the applause began in the nanosecond the music ended. 

And the applause felt as though it was erupting from the audience, that they'd been so connected to the music, when it ended they were responding in a way that was in part non-conscious and very enthusiastic. Sometimes applause can sound duty driven, but there was none of that I could hear. I have to say the only times before this I've performed and felt audiences that revved up and connected to the music was when I was playing banjo.

Some of the variables that contributed to all this:

1 - Set and setting - a lot of people there were very happy to see the old building put to new use for the community and were in a good frame of mind to begin with.

2 - The Rapidan Orchestra has come a long way, and our current conductor Benjamin Bergey has done a splendid job of helping us mature.

3 - Robert Carlson the piano soloist, though only a sophomore(!) in college, absolutely wowed the crowd and orchestra with his playing of the Beethoven.

4 - The acoustics of the space are really good. There's a real clarity to the sound, and you can hear everything going on very well (which is one reason Rapidan is playing better - we can hear each other so well in the Music Room). 

5 - Though it's a fairly large space, the audience sits very close to the musicians, and I think that enhances the connection - the audience essentially shares the same space as the musicians, as opposed to being off in the distance, with the musicians up on a stage.

6 - We haven't done anything to the lighting, so the whole room was fully lit, rather that the orchestra under bright lights and the audience sitting in the dark. My sense is that amplified the feeling of us all being together enjoying each other's company, and not the us/them feeling large halls and theatric lighting fosters.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

News Story on the Music Room

This link will take you to a story in our local paper - the Orange County Review - on opening night at the Music Room. Thanks so much to Jeff Poole for the pics and the story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Music & Peacebuilding

Here's Benjamin Bergey's lecture/recital for his doctorate at JMU that I got to participate in. I sat right in front of the soloists and got caught up in the flow of their singing and Benjamin's conducting. It was one of the most moving musical experiences I've ever had. He started the music at the 31 minute mark with an audience singalong. To get full screen start the video and then click the box in the lower right hand corner.

Opening Night Pics

This past Friday night we had a performance by the Rapidan Orchestra at the Music Room, and, courtesy of Jeff Poole of the Orange County Review, here are some pictures of our first public event.

Before things got underway, Rapidan conductor Benjamin Bergey thanked Karla for all she's done to make the Music Room a reality. As Benjamin said, the Music Room is the new home of the Rapidan Orchestra, as we'll be rehearsing and performing there.

Here's a shot from rear of the room. Besides the audience members seen, there are others sitting to the right of the large opening into the reception area.

This shot shows the back of the room, and one the ladders along the wall dating from when the building was a hardware store with floor to ceiling shelves.

Here are some pics of the orchestra and Benjamin.

Here are some pics of our soloist for this concert, Robert Carlson.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Music Room blurb #1

Here's the text of a little info sheet we gave out at the Rapidan Orchestra performance at the Music Room this past Friday:

 The Music Room

135 East Main Street
Orange, VA


     We are a non-profit looking to encourage more live music making in our community by providing space for groups to learn, rehearse and perform acoustic (non-amplified) music.
    Just last month we received our “Certificate of Occupancy” allowing us to invite the public in, and this performance by the Rapidan Orchestra is our first major event. Thanks for coming!
    To start with we’ll be doing just classical and traditional music. Venues are responsible for paying fees for performing rights of copyrighted music (anything written after 1923) to three different organizations and we’re sorting through whether or not the red tape and expense are worth it. 
    We’ve set up with the orchestra’s back to the front door for acoustic reasons. That stairway with its landing/alcove at the top creates odd acoustic effects. After we hear what the orchestra sounds like with an audience in the room, we’ll move forward on acoustic treatments that we hope will allow us to set up at either end of the space.
    We’re in what we’re calling “phase one” of the Music Room – getting enough done to be able to start using the space, and from there figuring out the best way forward. Besides acoustic treatment of the main room, we want to spruce up the reception area and create a library of books on music and musicians.
    We hope to host various classes and amateur groups, the first of which is being organized by Caroline Baldwin, who plays cello in Rapidan.
    Musikgarten is a leader in early childhood music education offering a sequential music and movement program for children from birth to age nine. This complete multi-year educational program helps infants, toddlers, and children develop a deep love of music and the ability to express it. Classes include age appropriate activities that cultivate a life-long love of music and stimulate the overall development of the child.  In addition to weekly classes, families receive wonderful CDs of the songs sung in class, instruments, and parent guidebooks. These home materials reinforce lessons and involve the whole family in the fun. 
    We’re looking to organize other groups as well, so if you play an instrument at a beginner or intermediate level and want to be kept informed, please let us know via the contact information on the back page.
    We’ll be hosting a few chamber concerts from time to time to showcase some of the fine musicians we’re lucky to have in the area. We’d also like to try some master classes and demonstration/lectures to see if the community might find them interesting. Until we have a web site in place, we’ll be sending out occasional announcements of activities to anyone letting us know they’d like to receive them.

 The Music Room
P.O. Box 269
Orange, VA 22960 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rapidan Program Notes

Here's a link to the FaceBook page where I posted images of the program notes for our recent Rapidan Orchestra concert. 

Why Live Music

In the previous post I talked about some advantages of acoustic music over amplified music, and in this one want to talk a little about live music versus recorded music.

One of the things the neuroscientists often say about what pulls the listener into the music is the unexpected. While we like some sense of structure to give us context, if there are no surprises along the way, we become bored. The thing about recorded music is that once you've heard it, it never changes. The first time or two I hear one of Glenn Gould's immaculately edited, so as to be error free, recordings of Bach, I'm amazed. On subsequent listenings, though, the some of the magic slips away. I often use the word "fresh" for music that I like, and recorded music can never sound fresh on repeated listenings.

Live performances usually mean finger slips along the way, but they also mean that you'll never hear that piece of music played that way ever again, and that in itself adds excitement. Over the years I've noticed some classical critics will point out errors in a performance, while going on to say that's what you get with live performance, and that even with an error here and there, live music is more moving to the listener than recordings.

Another thing about live performance is that the audience makes a difference. Years I ago came across this quote by Hilary Hahn:

The problem is that acoustic performers rely on the audience's attention and focus and can tell when the audience isn't mentally present. Your listening is part of our interpretive process. If you're not really listening, we're not getting the feedback of energy from the hall, and then we might as well be practicing for a bunch of people peering in the window. It's just not as interesting when the cycle of interpretation is broken.

Another aspect of watching live performance is the triggering of mirror neurons. When we see the physical gestures musicians make, we "feel" those motions in ourselves, and often associate emotions with those gestures. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Why Acoustic Music

We're thinking of keeping the music at the Music Room mostly acoustic for a number of reasons.

* Any time music goes through any kind of microphone / amplifier / speaker, something is lost. Sound waves produced by musical instruments have much more depth and complexity than electronics can ever capture. It's also the case that the electronics change what they do pick up, making some things louder and others softer. Live acoustic performances will always have richer and more natural sound colors than recorded or amplified music can ever achieve. With so many people now listening to music with earbuds and very low-fi mp3 computer files, we're thinking a niche might be opening up for experiencing music as it has been through all of human existence until the 20th century.

* Amplification can be very helpful for quieter instruments and for allowing people to sing without yelling and still be heard over the accompaniment. But it's also the case that a lot of musicians who use amplification develop tolerances to how loud they are, and what to them sounds like a good level of volume, can seem assaultive to people not used to being around that much sound. A number of times over the years I've noticed people entering a room and having a very visible and very visceral negative reaction upon seeing sound equipment set up.

* The acoustics of the Music Room are amazing. I have never been able to sing so softly with a guitar and be so clearly heard throughout a space. Our sound consultant remarked that the slap echo time is around two seconds, which is comparable to a large church. If anything, we'll have to do acoustic treatments to make the room less alive, and even then any sort of amplification would probably create unpleasant effects, along with way too much sound.

* We want to be good neighbors. Over the past several years a number of wedding venues have popped up around Orange County, and some of them feel entitled to degrading the quality of life of their neighbors with amplified bands and DJs creating a low frequency throbbing for anywhere from a half mile to a mile radius, depending on the humidity. Community building is a major part of what we want to do with the Music Room, so creating ill will with neighbors isn't a good fit.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Composer's Diary

Following up on these two previous posts, I've had a chance to talk with three of the people who told me they found my music very moving - a cousin who is practically a brother, a nephew-in-law, and a close friend from college days (50 years ago!). They all listen to a lot of music, but as a rule, not a lot of "classical" music.

Two used the word "accessible" in describing my music, and that's about the highest compliment I can get, as that's probably the number one thing I'm going for when writing music. In music therapy step one is engaging the client. If you don't get that done, nothing else you do matters. So in composing I want the music to be something the audience can immediately enjoy and be interested in, which is just another way of saying "accessible".

They all mentioned the fact that their knowing me had a big effect. One said he thought that knowing I was the one who wrote the music got him to listen more closely than he might have. Another said it was the fact that he knew someone who could compose music like that was what moved him even more than the music itself.

Other feedback which is interesting is that the second movement of one piece is a total standout of all I've written. It was written for a friend who witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a small child, and is one of the few things I've written that was meant to convey a particular feeling, in this case that of a lament or requiem. What's interesting is that while she feels it does that wonderfully well, my cousin, who has bird dogs that move with incredible fluidity and grace, said in reference to that movement, "I had visions of my beloved dogs coursing gracefully across the Montana prairie, with your music as the backdrop."

So to sum up - even though I wrote the music, and performed a lot of it, and then talked to people I'm close to about how it affected them - I'm still baffled as to how and why it creates the reactions it does.

I know that when I hear a piece of my music played for other people the first time, I have the sensation of being in a waking dream and wondering if others sense just how revealing it is of my inner self. Then over time, I can't believe I wrote it and it seems to have a life of its own apart from me.

The best I can come up with for what's going in is that I rely nearly completely on my intuition when composing, and that when things work well, the music triggers intuitive reactions in the listeners, and that those reactions can have little to do with my intentions and/or the reactions of others.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Music Room Christmas

This past Thursday evening we had a small gathering at the Music Room to run through some Christmas tunes from a book I've put together containing 31 songs in four part harmony with the guitar chords as well. Each instrument's book has all four parts transposed into its range. The soprano recorder would rarely play the tenor line, for instance, but it's there in case there are lots of instruments and it could double it one time through for variety. The guitar chords allow for higher pitched instruments to softly play the tonic (or third or fifth) while a lower sounding instrument has the lead. The guitar chords also allow for improv pros to add their jazz magic to the tunes.

One aim of the Music Room is to foster community socially as well as musically, so our hostess Karla provided lots of refreshments for when we weren't playing and were getting to know each other better.

We invited the Kenwood Players, the Kenwood Fun Band, and the Rapidan Pops, as well as friends and family of mine who have supported me musically down through the years. In the event well over a dozen people couldn't make it, but we had a quorum and had a good time.

The Music Room isn't really ready yet. All the dry wall still needs to be done for the new handicap access bathrooms, and until that dust has settled we don't want to bring in the carpets and drapes needed to dampen the sound. The people sitting out front said the sound was OK, but for the musicians it was sort of like those barbershop mirrors with infinite reflections bouncing off all those bare surfaces - keeping the beat unified was a challenge, but we did it.

We'd like to think this will be an annual Music Room event - and that by next year we'll have improved the acoustics and that we'll be able to be open to the public.

Many thanks to cousin-in-law Ed who took these pictures - and whose expertise in non-profits due to his work with The Art Center in Orange and the Virginians for the Arts has proved invaluable.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Roger Sessions on Gesture

Around the time I wrote this post on some audience members telling me they were deeply moved by music I've written, I came across this post of Elaine Fine's over on her blog Musical Assumptions In Sessions' book The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener he writes:

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.

I've always thought that one way music "touches" us is that it is in part physical gesture made audible. Sessions' point elaborates this in a way I hadn't really thought of. The way I take it is that a successful musical gesture is a sort of mini-archetype of an emotion that allows the listener to re-experience and/or to more fully experience an emotion in the moment the music is made, and in such a way that the feeling lingers. 

This goes a good way towards explaining how others feel emotions in my music I didn't consciously put there. If the music is well made, the gestures in it will elicit emotions in audience members that are specific to each person; and the better made the gestures are, the stronger the emotions.

One way of thinking about it is that a piece of music is like the script to a play, and each audience member casts and directs his/her own production of that play in their imagination, and no two of those productions will be exactly alike. In Swafford's new biography of Beethoven he mentions that Beethoven often had a plot line of his own for pieces of his music, but he never shared them with others, so that they could imagine/feel their own.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Restful Time

This video is the best matching of slow music and visuals I've ever come across. For full screen go here and click at the bottom right.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Composer's Diary

Here lately I've had the great good fortune of having some of the music I've composed over the years performed for audiences larger than the usual handful of musical friends and family members. What has most surprised me about the audience reactions has been the number of people telling me how emotionally moving they found the music. In writing music, trying to evoke feelings in the audience is not something I'm consciously trying to do. My main concern is with coherence, that the music flows with some sort of organic unity, all the while maintaining the audience's interest.

What these audience comments about the emotional nature of the music makes me realize is that I must make the decisions as to where the music goes based on how it feels to me, not just what makes structural sense. The thing is, though, the main thing I'm feeling when writing music is what effort it takes to keep at it through numerous false turns and detours before something I'm happy with emerges. The audience, on the other hand, is blissfully unaware of all that, and gets to flow along with the music and have various emotions evoked by all the little choices I made along the way which ended up working.

One other reaction to my music that absolutely made my heart sing was from Charles, who plays oboe in Rapidan, conducts the Orange Community Band, is a fine composer himself, and who instantly nailed the Darius Milhaud influence on Timepiece when I gave him the link years ago to the Fringe Festival performance. At a rehearsal leading up to our playing the orchestral arrangement of Timepiece he came up to me and said he was really enjoying it because it was "fun to play." For a music therapist, it doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Timepiece Orchestration

The original Timepiece is a woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon) written for a friend back in 1996. The title comes from my having loved Dave Brubeck's Time Out album in my early teenage years. Its most famous track is Take Five with five beats per measure, but there's also Blue Rondo á la Turk with nine beats a measure, with some measures in a 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2,3 rhythm. The idea of mixed rhythms stuck with me and when I started composing music thirty years later, they were fun to work with, and let me write music that has a fresh sound without being abstrusely avant garde.

The first movement is in measures of 1,2,3; 1,2; 1,2, which is cleanly stated by the bassoon in the opening measures. The second movement is in plain old triple time - measures of 1,2,3. The third movement is in measures of 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3,4 with the clarinet laying out the rhythm in the opening measures.

Two summers ago I was able to commission Tal Benatar, a former Rapidan conductor, to orchestrate the piece and these fall concerts are the first performances of that orchestration.

(This post is a first go at writing something for the program. For audio of the original quintet, more history, and early performance notes, go here.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Performance Diary

Here are two pics of the Kenwood Players at the annual Fall Festival in Gordonsville, which supports the local volunteer firemen. It's always the first Saturday in October and we've been doing it for years.

After we did two sets, the Rapidan Pops came and used the same sound system, which is why there are so many mics.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Performance & Composer's Diary

On 9/16/17 we had an afternoon of music I've composed and arranged. Jeff Poole of the Orange County Review, and a great photographer, was there in a private capacity and took these pics so unobtrusively I never noticed he was taking them. (Thanks, Jeff!)

Here's the music room with the 1923 Steinway where it all happened.
While people were gathering and getting their drinks, I played some of the piano pieces I wrote back in the late 80's and early 90's

Here's Karla, our hostess with the mostess, welcoming her guests.
The first number was Mosaic, dating from around '93 or '94, with Dr. Andy playing the lead on cello.
Then with Heather joining us on clarinet we did "Encumbrances of Angels", a poem by Dr. Andy's wife Janet I set to music sometime in the late 90's.
Here's Janet reading "My Tale", a poem of hers I set to music last year.

This pic shows Karla singing "My Tale" with Benjamin joining us on violin. 

I doubled Karla's vocal an octave down in the alto flute.

Lama Tashi was here from Arunachal Pradesh and we did the Mandala Offering and the Om Mani Peme Hung chant from Mantra Mountain, with Stephen joining us on cello.

From this pic it looks like I neglected to give Benjamin the music and he's having to look over on to Dr. Andy's music

Here's one section of the audience with top row from left to right my sister-in-law Carolyn, cousin John, his wife Kate, cousin Ada and cousin Wallace.

In this pic Heather, Andy and I are playing "explorations", a trio I wrote three or four years ago.

Here are Sage, Patrick and Benjamin playing Karlalied, which was written two years ago.

These three are all students at James Madison University and really fine players and here you can see them playing with a wonderful ensemble feel . . . 

. . .  and with marvelous expression

That feeling when you hear your music being played by others and you can just sit back and listen and hear them take it places you hadn't realized it could go.

Taking a well deserved bow

The last piece on the program was Mosaic again, but this time with Heather playing the lead and Dr. Andy playing an accompanying line I added just a few months ago