Friday, November 28, 2008

Greg Sandow

Instead of posting here, I've been following the "audience" discussion on Greg Sandow's blog and writing in to him on his contact page. Click that link and scroll to the bottom to see that brief exchange. 

There seems to be some tendency on the part of music professionals to see the "audience" as an amorphous group needed mostly to keep them in a job. I think any performer can tell you a story of other performers dismissing the knowledge or taste of an audience (and other musicians!). The term may have gone out of style now, but a few decades ago some music was called schmaltzy, and anyone who liked it was some kind of rube. Then there's the whole ├ępater le bourgeoisie thing that still has its adherents. 

It seems to me the answer is not one kind of music, but offering lots of different kinds of music and styles of performance to appeal to the various audiences out there not being served. If this whole topic is of interest to you, click on the Sandow link over on the blog list to follow the ongoing discussion.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Here's a link to a discussion on Greg Sandow's blog about classical music needing to do a better job of connecting with the audience. I don't often click down into the comments sections of blogs, but did on this post because the need to engage the client for the music therapist is similar to the need of the classical musicians to engage the audience. If that connection is not made, not much else is going to happen.

The difference between the two situations is one of scale. A therapist can relate to clients as individuals. A concert series has an audience. I can craft a session to a particular client's needs and interests once they've been assessed. Any given audience is going to be full of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds and expectations. 

It is my intuition that most classically trained musicians tend to play for that segment of the audience that shares their deep knowledge and experience of the canon. It's also my intuition that their brains process the music differently than those of other audience members. Add to that the sort of guild-like mentality of many professional musicians that the opinion of "regular" audience members is not as valid as that of fellow professionals and you're getting into a situation where you want people to pay to come hear you, but you don't really care what they think.

Another train of thought has to do with the rarity of people hearing orchestral instruments playing live. One aspect of the learning materials project is to form a group of players that can go out into the local community and play small ensemble pieces at small events. There would be lots of benefits to that, and one would be building an audience for classical music.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Accent and Tempo

In tonight's rehearsal, maestro just said he'd enjoyed listening to the music we made at the concert, but didn't elaborate, moving straight to the music for the Christmas concert 12/13. 

Later he talked about how misplaced accents can slow the tempo and drag you down. We were doing a figure in triple time with two quick notes on the second beat. Accenting them threw things off. Accenting the first beat and letting them flow from that made all the difference.

Eb Tuba

The blog is now hooked into the net enough for it to show up in Google searches, and the word that's getting hit is "tuba", whether regular or Eb. 

There are two Eb tubas in the Friday group. They come in a wide variety of styles, were much more popular back in the 40's and 50's, and have a range from the Bb below the bass clef to the Bb sitting at the top of the bass clef. Their range is meant to extend a few more notes in both directions, but they are rarely called for.

The confusing thing about Eb tubas is that their name suggests a transposing instrument, but they are not. They play the same music as the regular, larger Bb tuba, but have learned the differing fingerings needed to get those same notes. Back when I first wanted to arrange some music for them I could not find that information on the net, nor could I find a fingering chart.

Eb tubas are a great fit for a small ensemble, giving a great bass without being too big a sound. They can also be fairly agile, but can't play running lines like a cello or bassoon.

One of the aims of the learning materials is to give everyone a chance at the melody line. Working with Bill last Friday I realized he generally never played legato, even on Christmas carols where he would use legato when singing. Just mentioning that to him flipped the switch and his playing was immediately more melodic. He said the effort he had to make was much more mental than physical.

The other thing I noticed was that if he played the melody line with full tone, I could play the alto line on the flute and it sounded better that when Andy and I tried that with cello. My first guess is that the tuba has stronger upper partials on the octaves than the cello.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stroke Recovery

This post, on a blog I've not previously encountered, talks about the benefits of simply listening to music after suffering a stroke of a particular type, one affecting the middle cerebral artery.
At 3 month and 6 month intervals post stroke, the patients were evaluated via cognitive assessment. The results of the assessment showed that the individuals who listened to music demonstrated an obvious increase in verbal skills, memory and focused attention when compared to the audio book and control group. The patients who listened to music also showed a decrease in depression and confused mood.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Story

Since becoming a music therapist in 1980, I've heard one particular story dozens of times, and today I heard it again. The person telling the story (or someone they know) tried out for choir (or band) back when they were in grade or high school, and were rejected by the music educator in charge. Every time I've heard the story, the tone of the dismissal was imitated as being cursory and blunt. This event has always been decades in the past, yet remembered as if it were yesterday. 

As a music therapist, this story always hits me very hard. The psychic damage done to the person in terms of their relationship to music making has usually become a permanent condition. I'm not sure the many fine performances music educators may achieve by brutal triage are worth all the wounded they leave behind. 

One of the issues facing the "classical" music world is that their audiences are grey and thinning. If they want the public to fund and attend all their high art, maybe they should work with music educators to have more than either/or options when it comes to musical participation. And if there aren't enough slots for interested students, maybe encourage the educators to at least have good manners when delivering the bad news. Whenever I hear this story, it's the ugliness of the dismissal that's most vividly remembered.

Monday, November 17, 2008


On numerous occasions maestro has talked about music casting a spell as it is being performed. The point he's making is that an error by any player can break whatever spell has been created up until the error. And that's all a prelude to the importance of "focus".

Yesterday I performed with the small ensemble at the Presbyterian Church, flute for the prelude and horn on the postlude. Then in the afternoon played horn in the Fall Concert of the concert band. Lots to process, but I keep coming back to maestro seeming to be happy with the band's  performance, which to me was maybe a C+. Some things worked, but other things didn't. If we could have strung together bits and pieces of rehearsals where we've played really well into a single concert, the audience would have been deeply affected.

I look forward to maestro's after action report, but right now I'm guessing what so pleased him is that while we might not have cast as deep a spell as we might have, spells were indeed cast, and for us that's a really big step.

World Music

A friend of over 40 years just sent me the link to this video. "Stand By Me" as done by people all over the planet, all out of doors, all wired together. Two of the initial players are in New Orleans, so there's this wonderful rhythmic undercurrent springing from the traditions of that great city. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Mosaic is a flute and piano piece I wrote in 1994 for Susan and myself. We've always enjoyed it, and it gets the best response from listeners of anything I've written. Andy and I have also tried it as a 'cello and keyboard piece, and with a few modifications, it works well. (Though nothing else is going to come close to Susan sailing through it bringing out all the melodic inflections written with her in mind.)

Yesterday I tried it with clarinet and trumpet both doubling the solo as well as taking turns playing it. It can work for clarinet, but not for trumpet. The trumpet needs a lot more rests for breathing and lip recovery. And even with a lot of modification, I'm not sure it will work because of the innate brilliance and power of the trumpet's tone. While the piece is very rhythmic and has a sort of happy bounce to it, there's a kind of wistfulness to it that's unsuited for the trumpet. 

If Maggie enjoys the piece enough to work it up, we could work on doing whatever we can to make it more suited to the clarinet, and then at that point, maybe add some trumpet descants or harmonies. And since Mosaic is a modular piece, maybe new 14 bar units written especially for the trumpet could be added to the pattern. The idea of possible future reworking of the mosaic's pattern has been there from the beginning. Will be interesting to see if it can be done. 

I think the appeal of the piece has a lot to do with its rhythmic foundation. It's not difficult, but not used very much. Throughout the piece, which has six beats per measure, a measure of 1,2,3,1,2,3 is followed by a measure of 1,2,1,2,1,2. Two groups of three followed by three groups of two. It's an easily felt pulse that has the impetus for melodic variety built right in.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leon Fleisher

This article is about the pianist Leon Fleisher's losing the use of one hand years ago to a condition called, "focal dystonia, a selective neurological disorder related to Parkinson’s disease." After 30 years he got the right diagnosis and botox injections allow him to play with two hands again. Here are two passages from the article that caught my eye.
“We are athletes, but we’re athletes with small muscles. There is a limit. Now you get kids today who can do things with such extraordinary brilliance on the keyboard that they belong in the circus. But it ain’t got nothing to do with music-making.” Practising anything more than five hours a day, Fleisher argues, is not just pointless but actively harmful. “It becomes mindless. And you imprint upon your brain something that is the beginning of the confusions of dystonia.”
His biggest mistake, he felt, was abandoning the principle of his teacher, Schnabel, by aiming for pure virtuosity over vision, tone quality and structure.

More Layout Tinkering

I asked my two long term music making friends Susan and Andy to check out the blog, and at their suggestion have done some more tinkering with the layout, mostly increasing font sizes and darkening colors. It looks fine to me in Safari and in the AOL browser. Further comment welcome, especially if something is unreadable. 

The Google Analytics page they offer for free is amazing. It tells me how many unique visitors and page views there are each day, along with all kinds of statistics that, as yet, I haven't any real idea what they mean.

If the blog ever turns up in someone's Google search request and they click on it, I'll be able to see what it was they were looking for that led them here. I keep thinking that all this technology has to be transforming the culture in ways we won't really see until we're further down the road. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Heart Healthy Music

This research from the University of Maryland looked at the cardiovascular benefits of music.
Music, selected by study participants because it made them feel good and brought them a sense of joy, caused tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate (or expand) in order to increase blood flow. This healthy response matches what the same researchers found in a 2005 study of laughter. On the other hand, when study volunteers listened to music they perceived as stressful, their blood vessels narrowed, producing a potentially unhealthy response that reduces blood flow.
We're just beginning to get an empirical handle on the effects of music. This study suggests there's a lot to learn, especially at the interface of physiology and emotion.
“The active listening to music evokes such raw positive emotions likely in part due to the release of endorphins, part of that mind-heart connection that we yearn to learn so much more about. Needless to say, these results were music to my ears because they signal another preventive strategy that we may incorporate in our daily lives to promote heart health.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Acoustics Matter

For the concert in the park today, maestro situated the band in a different place than where we usually sit (on folding chairs). Instead of out in the middle of the area, he had us set up in front of the brick wall of the bank that's on one side of the park. That had the effect of amplifying and giving focus to the sound. From my first warmup note I could hear the difference. Our sound was much less diffuse than in the past.

There's a lot to music making that's difficult to really talk about. But there's also a lot that's really straightforward. Paying attention to the acoustics of the performance space can make a huge difference in the quality and effect of the music made.

Veterans Day

The community band played for the Veterans Day ceremony in Taylor Park in Orange this morning and it went well. For me, the band's playing for this event each year, and on Memorial Day, has more significance than regular concerts. For the people attending these ceremonies, the music we play has real meaning and serves a definite purpose. It's as much music therapy as my one-to-one hospice volunteering, just on a larger scale.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Space and Rhythm

In band rehearsal yesterday we prepared a few numbers for the Veterans Day ceremony on Tuesday. At one point maestro said that when playing marches, leave plenty of space between the notes as that brings out the rhythm. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense once you've realized it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eb tuba and clarinet

Every Friday afternoon I'm having some friends by to proof out the part books of the learning materials. Posts with the "Friday" label will be things I've learned in those sessions. Current possible attendees are two Eb tubas, a baritone, a trombone, a clarinet, a percussionist and maybe a trumpet. For the Renaissance and Handel/Bach pieces from the Sampler I'm playing the horn or flute. For the Ten Traditional Songs I'm playing banjo or guitar and singing (sometimes with a mic) between instrumental solos.

This past Friday's biggest revelation had to do with how well the Eb tuba and the clarinet sounded doubling the highest voice with the other instruments covering the lower voices. It was like one food bringing out the flavor of another. When doubled with another brass instrument, the tuba tends to disappear into the bottom of the sound of the other, and it's hard to tell where the sound of one instrument starts and the other stops. The clarinet had the opposite effect of bringing out the top of the tuba's sound, as well as making its overall sound more distinct in the mix. In the Arbeau Pavane, with it's sustained notes, the blend was very nice.

Blog Format

I've tinkered with the format, changing colors of the fonts and the fonts themselves. It's still supposed to be a white background with black print. What colors did the color blind man choose?

To comment: Click on "1 Comments" below. Then choose "Name and URL" from the pull down menu and just put in your first name, leaving the URL field blank. (I think you'll just need to do this one time and you'll be remembered.) Click "Continue" and then type your comment in the comment box and click "Post".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Waves and Particles

Depending on what you're looking for, light can be measured as either waves or particles. There's something similar about music. 

On the one hand there's the flow, arc, and gestural nature of the music experienced over the time it takes to play the whole piece. The music needs to tell a story, paint a picture, create a mood, or have some other overall organizing structure available to the listener. 

On the other hand, there are all the individual bits of the music that make it what it is. Your tone, rhythm, intonation, dynamics and articulation all contribute to the effect of the music on the listener.

In working to improve your music making, be sure to keep both the waves and the particles in mind. 

CDs vs. mp3s

I've always thought of hearing as more of an extension of touch, not a completely separate sense. Your eardrum is really just skin with extra sensitivity than can feel sound waves. Then all the amazing mechanisms behind the ear turn that information into something the brain can process. 

If music has a strong bass line, or is just loudly played, we can feel it tactilely throughout our bodies. To my mind, that has to be part of how music can so affect us.

If all that's true, then listening to music via earbuds or headphones means your experience of the music is diminished. Terry Teachout, of the About Last Night blog over in the blog list, said sometime back that earbuds were fine, as most folks his (our) age are losing the ability to hear the higher frequencies that are lost turning CD quality sound into mp3 quality sound. 

Part of all this might be that we all listen to music differently. A critic has to be very analytical if he's going to be able to say anything interesting about the music. If you're dancing to the music, you're probably listening to and feeling the music differently, in a more non-verbal mode.

A great experiment would be to have a one group of folks dancing to a live band behind a curtain and another group dancing to that same music via earbuds off in a different room. My guess is the people who can feel the music as well as hear it are going to have more fun, and that their dance movements will be more fluid.

UPDATE: Here's a post on The Overgrown Path, one of the very best music blogs, talking about this subject.
Crumb's music just doesn't make sense unless you can physically experience the visceral quality of the sound, and you need serious loudspeakers to do that. Yet, much listening today is done on PC speakers, or even worse in-ear headphones that are prevented, again by the laws of physics, from reproducing the soundstage in front of the listener lovingly created by the recording engineer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Warm Ups

This story from the NYT talks about new science and athletes warming up before performing.
THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body.
Bouncy flexible movements are better than those long held stretches that have been in vogue for so long.

Making music begins with physical activity. Paying attention to that foundation can yield great rewards. Taking a few moments to prepare physically and mentally is a good place to start. One reason I so like the Epstein PDF mentioned below is that he pays attention to the idea of preparation before playing.

Mantra Mountain

Google is now finding the blog in searches, and includes in the results a link to the Mantra Mountain CD some friends and I did for Geshe Ngawang Tashi Bapu. If you follow the link, there's a long explanation of the project taken from the insert in each of the CDs that also has the sheet music for each track. 

Basically, the Mantra Mountain project involved the transcription, arrangement and recording of traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayers and mantras. The idea was to make this music meant for spiritual practice available to Western practitioners. The sheet music has the lyrics, piano arrangements and guitar chords. 

As a music therapist, making this material available to the West, most of it for the first time, was an exciting and rewarding project. I feel a seed has been planted that may sprout and grow over time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Consensus Reality

As I start writing posts in my head before typing them out, I've several times realized that there was some groundwork that needed laying before getting that specific. For one thing, while I think I have a fair grasp of consensus reality, it's not always where I start from.

When I was a boy back in the 1950's, geologists believed the Earth was just a big rock whose surface had never changed. To my eye the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America looked like puzzle parts pulled apart and I wondered how anyone could be so sure of what went on way back before people existed. Then in the 1960's "plate tectonics" was a phrase you'd see, and all of a sudden, what seemed obvious to any child's eye was hailed as a great scientific advance.  

Consensus reality is what's accepted by the majority of people as the way things really are, but that doesn't mean they're always right. When I started out as a Registered Music Therapist, the notion of music therapy was not generally accepted as a "real" therapy. To me it was like people not seeing the connection between South America and Africa.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eli Epstein

Here is the home page of Eli Epstein, the author of  Musicianship from the Inside Out. There is a link at the bottom of the page to the free PDF of the booklet. A closer reading is reinforcing my first impression that it's the best thing I've ever seen on the broader aspects of music making. A very refreshing read for anyone wanting to improve their musicianship.

Musicianship from the Inside Out, p.2

It's wonderful to see a music performer/educator say something like this:
Students already know much of what they need to know; they just don’t know it yet.
Music therapists and music educators do many of the same things, but with a slightly different motivation. Therapists tend to be more client centered, going in whatever direction seems best for that individual. Educators and their students usually have performances to prepare for, so performance technique is a big part of the mix. This quote strikes a great balance between the two approaches. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Musicianship from the Inside Out

Here's a link to a post on the Horn Notes Blog that will lead you to a couple of ways to download a free booklet titled "Musicianship from the Inside Out". It only took a few minutes for me to download it over dial-up. It looks to be one of the best discussions of musicianship I've ever come across. The author takes a very fresh look at music making and has a number of very helpful suggestions.

Lip Callus

Over the past several weeks I've had something like a callus that's been coming and going on my lower lip where it comes up to connect with horn's mouthpiece. Part of the problem is that I'm the only horn, so I have a more high notes than I can comfortably play. I end up jamming the mouthpiece into the lips, particularly toward the end of a piece, to squeeze out those notes. 

But having to play notes beyond my technical level has been the case since I started the band, as I've been the only horn the for four years I've been in it, with the exception of a few months a while back when a high school player joined us for a semester. 

So I've been trying to figure out why the lip callus problem has popped up now, all of a sudden. It may well be that it's connected to my having to take allergy medication regularly for the first time in years, which dries mucus membranes, and my mouth, and so my lips. Philip Farkas talks about people using the "dry lip" method of playing having way more lip trouble.

UPDATE 12/1/08 - This entry got a hit from a Google search, so I thought an update would be in order. I think the dry lips from the allergy med was the part of the problem. Another was that the mouthpiece I was using was old and had lost its slippery sheen, so I bought a new one. Another factor was that I'd been practicing an average of two hours over the course of the day, and really working on the high register. Stopping the allergy med, the new mouthpiece and dialing back practice time all seem to have helped. Also, I've tried to be better about applying "A&D" ointment, an over the counter product that's basically like Chap Stick but with vitamins A and D added, after playing and overnight. The callus is smaller, thinner and seems to be disappearing.

Maestro and cousin Steve, both brass specialists, suggested using a different mouthpiece with a broader rim and smaller cup. I've used a Farkas Very Deep Cup from the very beginning because the tone is so much more appealing. Other mouthpieces I've tried produce, for me, a sound not worth pursuing. In fact, looking into it all, discovered there's a Farkas Extremely Deep Cup, and if the callus completely goes away, might try one of those.

UPDATE 12/7/08 Trying to decide whether or not to try using a little vinegar to clear any lingering lime deposits in the horn, Googled around and found this great write-up on horn maintenance, the best I've come across. This passage really jumped out:
NOTE: Never play a mouthpiece with plating worn off on the rim or inside the cup. Get it replated or replaced to avoid the possibility of lip infection.
I think what precipitated my problem was that the outermost layer of the dry lip couldn't slide on the old mouthpiece and got partially separated from the layer next down, sort of like a blister. Then that thickened into a callus.

On Top of The Beat

One issue maestro keeps returning to in rehearsals is that of our sounding heavy footed and slowing down during passages that should crackle with forward moving energy. Several times he has talked about our using a "lighter" sound. Yesterday he said to not give quarter notes their full value and we played with that lighter sound he's been wanting. We played more "on top of the beat".

It is sort of a forest/trees issue. Our focus on individual notes as they came along was preventing our feeling the overall rhythmic drive. So in music making, heavy/light is a secondary range that overlaps fast/slow. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Indexed by Google

Google has indexed the blog and cached the first four posts.