Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Handel Dances

Using the order Christopher Hogwood comes up with in his Handel - Water Music & Music for the Royal Fireworks, these are the two minuets followed by the two country dances that come right before the concluding trumpet minuet of the Water Music (there's no autograph manuscript so the order is conjectural). There's a seamless join of the two minuets at the 48 second mark. The seamless join of the two country dances comes at 3:36.

I've been using these pieces for years, most recently as solo flute music preceding my nephew's outdoor wedding here on the farm a couple of Saturdays ago. People love them, even folks who don't normally listen to "classical" music. 

In terms of performance style, these players are sort of swinging the straight eighths as dotted notes, where I've always played them straight trying to make them soar. These players also really get the 6/4 feel that Hogwood says is the way to go on minuets. He also says the minuet was danced by all levels of the social order of the day, not just the Marie Antoinette types here.

Thanks to Elaine Fine of Musical Assumptions for finding this and putting it up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Maestro

After two years as band director, Bob Hamrick has moved on and our new director is Charles Torian. He's an oboe player from the Tidewater area of Virginia (with the musical drawl to prove it) now living in the Charlottesville area and has lots of experience directing and arranging music for bands. I'm going to continue to use the "maestro" tag for playing tips from the podium. Those preceding this post are from Bob Hamrick and this one and the ones that follow are from Charles Torian. These are not direct quotes, but my memory of what was said.

One thing he said yesterday was that on the final note of a piece, imagine projecting it to the back of the hall. When he had us do that there was a much better feel of finality to the final chord. He also said that mind games like this can be helpful, but that you can get too deep into them as well.

Something else he said was that if your triplets aren't even, try slightly emphasizing the second note, that paying it that attention will tend to slow it and even it out.

At a rehearsal a week or so ago we came to a passage where a lot of people stopped on the third beat and others had a pick-up on the fourth. He asked those stopping on the third beat to not tongue the note we stopped on to make for a more gentle release. That made a remarkable difference. Before, the music seemed to stop then start again, but when we did that it flowed right on through that measure.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Remaking the Self

Phil Ford just put up a terrific post over on Dial M, and I'm pasting in here a comment I made on it.

>>Wonderful post. Reminded me of, and sent me back to, your "Where is the self that performs?" post. I'd quibble that ignorance can be, but doesn't necessarily have to be, a willed state. Your point of it being a way to define the self is terrific. Hope you come back to the dualism of objectivity/subjectivity, and the challenge "to know ourselves and not just the things we study". Maybe one way of talking about the "in the flow" state is that the music is remaking you while you're making it.<<

More Jung

For our Vermont readership especially, want to paste in a comment I made on Jonathan West's latest post on musicality:

Jonathan - Per usual, lots and lots to think about in these posts of yours on musicality. For right now, though, want to pull out this bit:

>>When playing in a large group doing well, all kinds of instantaneous feedback and adjustment is going on between and among the players, who are responding to each other and not merely to the conductor. And this happens far too fast and unconsciously for anybody to be able to describe in any kind of detail exactly what is going on, even after the event.<<

My personal working assumption about this is that it really is a kind of what they used to call ESP, extra sensory perception. Some time ago I did a post linking research showing that when musicians are playing together, it can induce brain wave entrainment amongst them. That, along with all the sensory cues pouring in, seems to be able to create an altered state where things can happen that go beyond our normal individual capacities. That's when egos can fade and the music is more channeled than made. Sort of a brief manifestation of what Jung called the collective unconscious.

Goldberg Variations

The Aria from the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach (in the Kirkpatrick edition which writes out all the ornaments) has been a musical touchstone for me since discovering it as a keyboard major in conservatory back in the 70's, and CDs of the entire set are among the very few I come back to over and over.

In this post over on Sounds & Fury  A. C. Douglas compares the two recordings Glenn Gould made of them, one early and one late in his career. The writing about the music is as good as it gets. Agree or disagree, you know what he's saying and why he prefers one to the other.

This ties in to the previous posts on musicality in that both recordings by Gould are bursting with his amazing musicality, but the flavor of one suits some and the other suits others. 

Friday, September 25, 2009


Working through the ideas in the previous post led me to remember the final lines of this poem which have stuck with me since high school. Sure wish there was a poem that does for music what this one does for poetry.

               Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit

As old medallions to the thumb

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind -

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

A poem should be equal to:
Not true

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

A poem should not mean
But be

-- Archibald MacLeish

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's the music about?

Jonathan West's post on musicality keeps drawing me back because it's so unusual for a high level musician to go into the subject in such depth. Every rereading triggers all sorts of musings about the nature of music making. 

One thing that fascinates me is that he makes a number of wonderful points about how to play with more expression, and how to avoid breaking the spell the music is casting, without going into the nature of the expression or the spell. As he grew up in a musical family making music since early childhood, the reason for making the music seems deep below the verbal, conscious level. What a Mozart rondo is meant to express is simply part of his mental furniture. His post tells how to make pieces of music express their content, but not how to ascertain the nature of that content.

High level players are expected to play any piece put before them well and musically and with whatever spin a conductor wants to put on it. I guess the assumption is that when played coherently and correctly, any piece will convey the content the composer intended.

One of the things our previous band director would do from time to time was to give us a mental image of when, where, and why a piece of music might be played. That was an immense help to me in understanding why he (or the arranger) wanted particular articulations, phrasings, or whatever. For me, without a sense what that particular piece of music was about, all the details were simply that, details. With that explanatory image, the details would fall into meaningful place.

Knowing what a piece of music is about and what you want to convey to an audience by playing it is a key to success. If you're a "natural", then your right brain will probably supply that to you below the verbal level. If you're not a natural, giving thought to this issue will probably help your music making. For me, outside playing the banjo, reflecting a moment on the nature of the music I'm trying to play really helps.

photo - from John & Kate's

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Performance Styles

Over on Horn Insights on this post I made the following comment:

>>Thanks for this info. Just seeing them in the photo playing from memory, standing up and out from behind their music stands, suggests a vitality to the music making that surpasses immaculate recitation. The photo also suggests a couple of them are moving with their music making, something I wish more classical performers would do from time to time. Curbing the physicality of music making can give the music a formal sheen, but can also reduce its immediacy and accessibility.<<

Jeffrey Agrell then did a follow-up post elaborating on that comment. This general idea of broadening our notions of music making is one of the things folks like Greg Sandow is working with, to the consternation of folks like A. C. Douglas. It's an interesting topic to follow and I can see both sides of the debate.

To me it comes back to the fact that we're all wired differently when it comes to what music we like and how we want it presented. Some people have what I call "theory mind" and can consciously hear and appreciate all kinds of subtleties, harmonic and otherwise, that affect me only subliminally. I can see how for them anything other than a strict formal presentation of the music will be full of unwelcome distractions. They seem to be able to go straight from the cerebral to the emotional, not needing that visceral, almost physical, connection with the performance that I so enjoy.

The other thing to mention is that one of the great delights of blogging is the exchanges with other bloggers I follow, none of whom are music therapists. We have some mutual interests, but have different ways of talking about them, and that deepens and broadens my appreciation of various aspects of music making in ways I'd never expected. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hans Pizka

Thanks to Jonathan West for citing in this post on musicality the following quote from Hans Pizka :

>>If you listen to certain chords, and it starts running down your back icecold, and your flesh begins to creep, that's where musicality starts. If you listen to music, and you feel like flying in outer space, that's where musicality starts. If you listen to music, and you become angry or sad, that's where musicality starts. And if you are able, to bring others into the moods said above by your playing, well, then you are a musical musician.<<

The first step as a music therapist is to engage the client's interest in what you're trying to do. I've often used the phrase "getting traction" with a client, and this quote wonderfully explains how that can happen. For music to have any effect, therapeutic or otherwise, it has to effect some physical and/or emotional response in the listener. 

Good technique can give you more, and more subtle, tools to express your musicality, but perfect technique without musicality will get you nowhere with most clients and audiences. If there are exceptions to this, it might be folks falling somewhere in the spectrum of autism, or that type of pedagogue for whom technique can seemingly become an end in itself.

photo - at John & Kate's

Friday, September 18, 2009

Farkas & the F Horn

John Ericson put up this post on horn legend Philip Farkas talking about the F horn. Speaking from the peanut gallery, I'd say they're both correct. 1)There's something central to the sound of the horn in the F horn that players need to remain acquainted with. 2) The double horn is probably the best place to start. Prof. Ericson includes the info that these days few single F horns will have the quality of the F side of a double horn.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mantra Medicine

Here's a Reuters story on a doctor making CDs mixing mantras with meditative music to be used in conjunction with regular allopathic treatments. No new research, just anecdotal results. Reads more like a press release than a news story. Great title.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Horn Diary

Community Band has started up again, and I'm back on the Bb horn. Don't know how long it's going to last, but things are going very well and want to list some of the factors I think are helping.

Jeff Smiley's Balanced Embouchure book has been invaluable, mainly for giving me a mental construct for what's going on with the whole embouchure mechanism. Unless you're a pure natural player, the better the notion you have about how your instrument works, and more importantly, how on the physical level you make your instrument work, the better chance you have of finding your path to more fulfilling music making. Having something like that Catholic monk in China (Ricci?) called his "memory palace" for your music making is better than flailing away hoping something good is going to happen.

I've been carrying around a mouthpiece to buzz in free moments. Before I'd done some of it right before practicing, but it's different knowing that's all that's going to happen, that it's not just a preliminary. The best thing about it for me is that it allows for just the right amount of pressure for the seal, and without the distraction of actually trying to hit notes, that pressure can be calibrated very finely.

The work on the F horn this summer was a game changer for me. I'd actually gotten to where it was a toss up between frustration and enjoyment. Being able to get deeply into good tone has brought back my love of the instrument. There were times the good tone and intonation just flowed naturally without constant adjustment and I felt more like I was inside the tone than making it.

I'm using a Farkas medium cup mouthpiece, and the wide, rounded rim feels pillowed against my lips. That feels good in itself, but it also allows for me to better feel and adjust the various embouchure muscles. For my lips, this mouthpiece of the ones I've tried, provides for the most, and the most evenly distributed, surface contact.

I'm using a playing position that has trade offs, but really suits me. Back some time ago John Ericson (I think) put up a video of a horn player's audition tape of a Mozart piece and he had what's called a pip stick to hold the instrument. The instant I saw that guy's fingers effortlessly flipping the keys because his left hand wasn't having to hold any of the weight of the horn, I realized where a lot of my problems were coming from. 

Pip sticks are expensive and apparently only available in the UK. Plus, the idea of stressing the horn where it rests on the stick would make me nervous (I can imagine it loosening braces). So I just raised the guitar footrest to it's highest level to raise my right leg and rest the horn there on a folded hand towel used for drying water in the bell. Not having all the muscle involvement holding the horn in position more than makes up for having to pay attention to not letting that leg position trigger bad posture and breathing.(If you're thinking of trying this non-standard position, please see what Jonathan West has said in the comments.)
And speaking of trigger, back earlier this spring I redid the trigger so doing nothing means I'm on the Bb side. There's enough tightening up going on for the higher horn without having to squeeze the thumb as well.

Photo - at John and Kate's in Echo Valley

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Jonathan West has come back to the topic of musicality with this post on mimicry. I'm copying and pasting in here the comment I made on it.

>>Very nice points. Thanks again. Hope you keep coming back to this subject of musicality. These posts have been very helpful for me because while I've thought about much of what you're saying, using "musicality" as a general descriptor had never occurred to me, and it's very handy and helpful.

About the mimicry - I briefly worked with some very young children this summer so they could sing with my group in church. Most were too young to read, so I taught the song by call and response. Visited their Sunday School class a couple of times and made a CD for them that had a track of me rhythmically chanting the lyrics with hand claps. On the recording of the performance was really amazed at how well they picked up on the subtle rhythms and vocal inflections I'd used. The intonation was all over the map, but the rhythm was solid and the words clearly understandable and very expressive.

The other thing about the "mimicry" concept is that it's part of what a music therapist does when trying to engage a client in the process of making music. One way to do that is to try to mimic the client's emotional state with the music so as to make a connection, and to then move the music's emotional content and the client's behavior a therapeutic direction.<<

Friday, September 11, 2009

Möbius Bach

This video just turned up over on the ever surprising Boing Boing. Even before it gets to the möbius strip treatment of the manuscript, it's a wonderful illustration of retrograde motion. 

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Jonathan West has put up a post on musicality. It's a subject not much written about, largely, I suspect, because most music educators and their students are to some degree "natural" players. Everyone else has usually been triaged out of the system somewhere along the way.

In Tibetan Buddhist teachings, one will hear from time to time that a bird must have two wings to fly, which leads to talking about wisdom and compassion, both of which are necessary on the path to enlightenment.

To get your music making to take flight, both technique and musicality are necessary. One of the great joys of music therapy is helping people realize that practicing and playing with musicality can make the development of technique a lot more fun. 

If your motivation in making music is personal enjoyment and self-expression, exploring the many aspects of musicality in the comfort zone of entry level technique can be more beneficial than worrying about the rapid development of technique. Worrying about technique can cause burnout; while developing musicality is refreshing, and over time can motivate you to improve your technique to better express your growing musicality.

I'm going to return to Jonathan's post and comment on specific things he's said. Just wanted to make this overall point first.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Terry's Almanac

Terry Teachout's About Last Night is the most resource rich arts blog I've found. One feature is his almanac, a regular posting of quotations. They're interesting on their own, and they often seem to be sly comments on things he's talking about in other posts.
He's also a model of clear writing. Says he tries to write like he talks.

Here are two recent almanac posts that set me ruminating and I want to save them for future reference:

"Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before."
Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction

"True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision."
Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction

Photo - fall crocus

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Here's a link to a great anecdote about Wanda Landowska and Pablo Casals over on Sounds & Fury.

During my high school years my parents were good enough to give me a subscription to the Columbia Record Club and I learned about classical music pretty much on my own, with the help of the wonderful album covers of yore so that were so full of information. Discovering the harpsichord, and then discovering Landowska, was a very big deal.

Photo - feverfew, an herb meant to be good for migrane headaches.

Body Music

Here are two links I want to save. Jeffrey Agrell in this one talks about the physical aspect of being in good playing shape. And in this one, Elaine Fine talks about a sign interpreter interpreting music of the avant garde.

Both posts get at how there's such a physical side to music and to music making. It's easy to slip into a default mind/body dualism where we think the music is in our heads and the body's just a mechanism. 

Trying to feel the music making as coming from our hearts instead of our heads is one way to get at resolving the dualism. Also, the more we realize just how much our physical nature affects our music making, and then use that awareness to inform our music, my sense is that it will help us to make better music and to deepen our connection with the audience.

Photo - teeny tiny butterfly on lavender.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Great Quote

Here's an article on a memoir by Tim Page the music critic, who was diagnosed in his 40's as having Asperger's syndrome. When he was 21 and heard Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, he stayed up all night writing out his impressions. About the experience he says:

>>Today I find myself wondering if I would have responded so profoundly to this starkly reiterative, rigidly patterned music had I not had Asperger's syndrome. As the Quakers might say, this music spoke to my condition; it was what my insides sounded like.<<

Auspicious Symbol

Here's the front cover of the Mantra Mountain CD. The conch is one of the eight auspicious symbols, representing the sound of the dharma. Right turning conchs are meant to be more auspicious than left turning ones. 

I think you could make the case that the conch is a precursor of the horn, which would make it an auspicious instrument. That far carrying sound has been a part of human society for a very long time.

"Well, the lamb ram sheep horn began to blow, the trumpets began to sound,
Joshua commanded the children to shout, and the walls a come a tumbalin' down."

The Mantra of Compassion

Here's the back cover of the Mantra Mountain CD. Just wanting to see if the music is legible.

Recording to Learn

Because of it's ease of use, I've been using the little Sony PCM to record all the performances of the Kenwood Players. Then I run the audio into the Tascam 2488, tweak if needed, master and then make CDs for everyone. I've learned a tremendous amount by listening back, and several members of the group have spontaneously said how much listening back to performances has helped them.

The thing that's so interesting is that they've all mentioned things they need to improve that I hadn't really noticed. And when I talk about what I hear in my playing and singing and don't like, they seem a little surprised.

I think that if you are fairly familiar with how your instrument works and have a pretty good notion of the kind of music you want to make, recording yourself and listening back, while not the same as having a good teacher, is at least as helpful overall. It's that old saw about how we're all our own worst critic. The thing of it is, when I hear something deep in the substance of the music I want to improve, that work seems to improve other aspects of the music as well. 

Another way of putting it is that when you hear a recording of your music making and notice something that needs improvement, you know exactly what the problem is in a gestalt kind of way, with both the left and right brain in on the awareness. No teacher talking to you about your playing can get something like that across so completely.

(The header photo just to please the eye and our Vermont readership. It's about the last bloom on a volunteer sunflower just out the back door. Just wish I could catch the moments when I've seen the goldfinches perched on one eating seeds)

Friday, September 4, 2009

TeeVee Music

I gave up TV some years back as a mental health move and to free up time. If this catches on, though, I might go out and buy one. Via that invaluable internet resource and productivity enhancer, Mr. Dave Barry.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Loud Music

This article doesn't link back to the original research, but the notion makes sense. Apparently there's a primitive part of the inner ear, the sacculus, that can respond to the rhythm of music louder than 90 decibels by triggering the release of endorphins. This would explain why volume can be such an intensifier of the effects of rhythm, but not so much the other elements of music. 

>>Neil Todd, an expert in the scientific study of music, explains that the sacculus seems to be part of a primitive hearing mechanism that has slowly been lost as humans have evolved. He said it has a connection to the part of the brain responsible for drives such as hunger, sex and hedonistic responses.<<

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What A Friend : score

Here's a late draft of the score we're playing from in the post below. In the final print out for the individual instruments, the soprano and bass go on the left page each on its own staff, and the alto and tenor on the right. That makes it easier for folks not used to reading piano music. The guitar chords are above the bass staff instead of the treble so that those playing the bass line can more easily see and associate them with their appropriate notes. And in the two page layout it's much easier to tweak the placement of the chord names so they don't touch note stems.

Putting this up just to see how it looks on the blog, and it seems too small to be useable if printed out as is, and if you zoom in it gets distorted looking. But it does serve the purpose of indicating just how much of the performance below is improvised.

What A Friend

Here's a slide show of photos taken at Macedonia Christian Church this past Sunday with the Kenwood Players performing "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" as the soundtrack. I used iMovie (for the first time), to create and compress the file. Then after several failures at uploading directly to Blogger, went to YouTube, created an account, uploaded the video, have now come back to Blogger to embed it. Writing this while waiting for YouTube to "process" the uploaded video. If this all works, it will be a great way to make available what we're up to.

The preacher in that one photo is Crawford, one of the two Eb tuba players in the group, and his sermon was on the power of music to move us. That's me with the guitar, and Judy is barely visible brushing the drum. After my opening vocal, that's a Bill B. solo on alto sax, then Steve with one on trombone, then Dick on trumpet, then closing with another vocal with the congregation, which you can't hear very well because of where the recorder was placed. Maggie is playing harmony on clarinet. Bill C., the other tuba player wasn't with us for this performance.

My opinion of tracks on these performance CD's I've been doing often changes over time, but so far, this track feels like it's crossed the threshold of something to use on the CD portion of the learning materials.

As for Macedonia itself, the acoustics are amazingly good and welcoming, and I've come to have some strong personal connections with members of the congregation. A story I've heard about those beautiful pews is that there's some graffiti on one left by a soldier during the Civil War. The church is not that far from the Wilderness battlefield on one side and the Meadow Farm estate of the Taylor family on the other. The Taylors were the ones who encouraged James Madison's people to come to the area, which is how he came to grow up here.

update - I adjusted color on the photos, forgetting I'm a little red/green color blind. Seems I gave Crawford a red face. Sorry, Crawford!!!