Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lip Callus

Whenever I check the Google page that shows how and why people get here to the blog, there are always a few looking for info on lip calluses, especially on trumpet players. I know from when I looked when I had mine, there's not much out there on the subject. I tried to summarize my experience in this post

Jeff Smiley's method, The Balanced Embouchure, is what helped me figure out what was going on and to correct the situation. Mentioning it again because in this post over on Hornmatters, John Ericson talks about a high level horn player who used the method to deal with a blister in what sounds like the exact same place I had my callus. 

Every so often I'll feel just the slightest ghost of the callus where it was on my lip, and then it will go away completely again. My best guess is that this happens when I let the mouthpiece get a little more dry than wet, but it's all so evanescent I can't be sure.

UPDATE - Dave Wilken was good enough to leave the following comment, which I'm bringing up to the post to increase the chance of someone looking for info on this subject seeing it. The comment reminds me that somewhere Farkas discusses dry and wet embouchures and says dry ones are more prone to having physical issues. I should also add that when I talked to my cousin, who's a pro level trombone player, about the callus, his suggestion was to just live with it. As Dave's saying something similar, makes me think trombone players are particularly devoted to their music ;-)

Hi, Lyle.

I used to get something very similar to what you're describing back when I played with a dry embouchure. It never really bothered me, but I do notice that they stopped coming back when I switched to a wet embouchure.

There's nothing wrong with either wet or dry, in fact I think it's good to practice a bit the opposite way you normally play to see what happens. Sometimes one or the other works much better for a particular player.


UPDATE #2 - Dave Wilken has expanded on this comment in this post over at his place.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Defining Music

Back in this post I said that an article by Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct, was the best overview of music neuroscience I'd seen up until then. (This later post talks about a another contender.) His book has now come out over here and it's looking to be the best I've seen on what all the new thinking and research is telling us about music making since This Is Your Brain On Music. For now just want to enter into the record this quote:

. . . music. . . is the most remarkable blend of art and science, logic and emotion, physics and psychology, known to us.  (pg. 2)

And juxtapose it with this quote from the current Wired by Kevin Kelly (among other things, one of the people behind The Whole Earth Catalog, which will be familiar to those of a certain age):

. . . Really, we should think of ideas as connections, in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters. . . 

And add a link to this post where there's this quote:

. . . Neuroscientists are split between a traditional view that the brain is organized as a hierarchy, with most regions feeding into the "higher" centers of conscious thought, and a more recent model of the brain as a flat network similar to the Internet. . . .

All of which point to the notion that making music involves way more than we've figured out. I'm not sure music makers need to spend a lot of time pondering this, as it could lead to something of a catatonic response, not knowing where to start. You don't need to be able to tune a piano to play one. But for teachers and therapists, this new info coming down the pike is bound to be very helpful, if not transformative.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cultural Wars

Just want to save this quote from Greg Sandow from this post:

In that essay, you'll find AC's passionate belief that art created in the high-culture realm aspires to transcendence, while things created in the realm of popular culture -- however powerful or affecting they might be -- don't have that aspiration. Thus high and popular culture exist in separate aesthetic realms, with the high-culture realm ranking higher in the all-important hierarchies of life.

He's talking about A C Douglas who's long been one of my regular reads. We'll see if ACD launches one of his salvos in response. Whether or not Greg has correctly stated ACD's position, though, this distinction plays right into a conversation I've been having with Jonathan West down in the comments to this post.

When Jonathan is playing Debussy on the horn and I'm playing Dixieland on the banjo, we're both making music, but in very different ways for very different audiences, and my sense is that figuring out that distinction will help me be a better musician as well as music therapist.

As a side note, I made a comment on Greg's post complimenting him for not falling into the trap so many bloggers do of listening and talking only with those they agree with and dismissing the rest.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gestural Thought

Pliable is back blogging again after travels abroad and his first post touches on a theme dear to my heart. The title of the post is, "He thinks completely with his body" and it contains this quote from John Heilpern.

An ultimate example of this is revealed in a film of Picasso at work [see above]. In one lightning stroke you can see how the tip of Picasso's brush captures his entire imagination. His brushwork can actually be seen as his thought process. The same is true of the great orchestra conductor. After years and years of work, he thinks and transmits in one gesture. The whole of him is one.

Back in the 70's music therapy was a fairly fringe concept, but over time has become more and more accepted as the data comes in. My feeling is that over time the same is going to happen with embodied cognition, or what I've always called gesture. Just as we play an instrument to create complex sound shapes, music plays the brain creating and connecting all sorts of things beyond the aural.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

V.S. Time Signature

Here are a couple of sketches in the time signature I'm thinking of using, having beats in two groups of three followed by a group of four. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. To get Finale to automatically beam the notes in a way that shows that grouping I have to use a compound time signature of 3/8+3/8+1/2. To avoid making things look needlessly complicated I'll probably hide that numeric time signature and let the beamed notes (and dotted and undotted quarters) speak for themselves.

I like using the rhythms that can spring from unusual time signatures. Trying to get something that works is almost game like, as there's that feeling of things falling into place when you get it right. I've used this beat grouping before and like it a lot, both in the third movement of Timepiece, and before that in a solo piano piece called Soaring. 
So that's the starting point. Having set the basic parameters as laid out in these posts, the next step is to write 16 measures or so that are interesting and solid enough they can be extended into a whole piece. While I think about structural stuff at this point, once I get going it's written note by note by, measure by measure, straight until the end. I recently fired up an old computer to find a piece I'd forgotten I'd written and found it, along with numerous discards that never took off. The hardest thing is when you work on something for hours and come to realize you need to toss it and use that experience to do something much better.

(Should add that the key signature went to F minor from F major due to those extra flats just coming naturally to my fingers when doodling around with this time signature and thinking about what melody to give the flute that would show off that quality of tone Susan can generate in the middle to low range.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fun with Music

Humorist Dave Barry is one of my regular non-music reads and from time to time he puts up a Beatles video like this one to remind us how good they were. Along with everything else, they just seem to be having such fun making the music and I think that gets across, somehow embedded in the music itself.

The use of tobacco makes this seem like an anthropological documentary of a lost era. It's hard to believe how many people smoked back then, particularly musicians, especially, it seemed, the towering piano players like Horowitz and Rubenstein. 

"The body is in the musical space. . . "

This article grabbed my attention because of the various references to the physical side of making music, which you can sometimes forget about when approaching things too abstractly. The title of the post comes from this longer quote by the subject of the article, Vijay Iyer:

"I used a paradigm of embodied cognition—seeing the mind as not just an abstract machine but as something physical, grounded in bodily processes and experiences. Rhythmic activity is based on those processes—breathing is connected to phrase; the heartbeat and walking are connected to pulse; speech is connected to ornament and melodic detail. The body is in the musical space, interacting with the instrument.

"These concepts haven't just influenced my scientific work—they have also affected my playing. For example, musical patterns that are not intuitive melodically can arise because they lie comfortably under the hands. Physical logic can be used to generate musical ideas. You can hear this happen in Chopin, whose music is very 'pianistic'—that is, it lies well under the fingers."

Besides all of this fitting so well with my idée fixe about the importance of gesture in music, I think he really understands Chopin. I've long thought that Chopin, being one of the very first composers with access to the modern piano, completely grasped the possibilities of the instrument in terms of sonorities and playability. I don't think anyone has ever done better. The waltzes were among the first 3 or 4 classical LPs I ever purchased. I've mentioned from time to time not feeling particularly connected to a lot of classical music, but my enjoyment of either listening to or playing the waltzes is deep and abiding.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where to Practice

This NYT story looks at what research is saying about study habits in general, not music specifically.

. . . For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. . . 

 . . .The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding. . . .

This tallies well with my experience. I think with music it's especially important because the acoustics of the various places will be different, and besides that helping you encode the info, it will make it easier to adapt your sound to a particular performance space when the need arises.

I also think everyone (except maybe piano players) should play outside from time to time. It's just different from playing indoors, as good tone is an absolute requirement for good sound without that reverb effect any room will have. Plus, playing in a natural surrounding can be great fun. Some years back my yearly routine involved two short stays in the Ozarks and I loved taking my cello out into the woods and sawing away, mostly simple improvs responding to nature.

Music does get a mention in the story here:

 . . .Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

This story also has some of the contemporary push back against the notions Martin Gardner put forth years ago in his Frames of Mind, which I find very helpful. I think the pendulum will find its way to somewhere in the middle once all the data comes in and we've made some sense of it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brain Wiring : Nano-level

A lot of the articles I've linked to talk about "rewiring" the brain. This article discusses how the neuroscientists are getting down to the nitty gritty on how that happens. 

In experiments with neurons in culture, the researchers can distinguish two separate steps during long-term potentiation, an enhancement of communication between neurons thought to lie behind learning and memory. Both steps involve the remodeling of the internal "skeletons" of dendritic spines, small protrusions on the surface of a neuron that receive electrical signals from neighboring cells.

The results hint at why people with Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder caused by a deletion of several genes, including one that alters dendritic spine remodeling, have such an unusual blend of cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Abusive Educators

Looks like the whole mean choir/band director stereotype has some history behind it. This is from Richard Taruskin's Music from the Earliest Notations to the 16th Century (pages 5 & 6) where he's writing about St. Gregory, he of Gregorian chant. The quote is from John the Deacon's biography of St. Gregory:

"He (St. Gregory) founded a schola which to this day performs the chant in the Church of Rome according to his instructions. He also erected two dwellings for it, at St. Peter's and the Lateran palace, where are venerated the couch from which he gave lessons in chant, the whip with which he threatened the boys, and the authentic antiphoner (book of chants)."

Makes me think my sometimes caricature of directors seeing themselves as training seals, instead of helping people appreciate and develop their musical nature, has a bit of merit as well. In his Introduction, Taruskin talks about the fine arts necessarily springing from elites. I'm wondering if there's some kind of psychological trade off between being acknowledged as extra talented and being treated in ways non-members of the elite might see as abusive. As I've said before, I find this type of behavior pretty weird, but folks who've come up through the system seem sincere in their not understanding why I have issues with it. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Living with Music

Opera Chic has up a post with a great quote from Ricardo Muti (she's a huge fan) that talks about how deeply involved one can be in making music. 

"I am very tough with myself. I never like what I do. Wally Toscanini, the daughter of [Arturo] Toscanini, when I said to her I am never happy with what I do, she said to me, in La Scala, 'My father, when he was 80 years old, and he would still conduct "Traviata," every time after a performance, or after a concert or after a recording session, he went home' -- and when his wife, Carla, was still alive and she would be preparing the risotto -- 'he went through the score again after the performance -- at the age of 80! -- to see what went wrong and why it went wrong!'

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on Improv

In an example of what Jung called synchronicity, after publishing the previous post I came across this video. On the Apollonian to Dionysian spectrum, Michael Hedges was over on the Dionysian side with a little shamanism thrown in. Before he died way too early in a car crash, he was making music like nobody else. It had to do with his wonderful connection with audiences, his using custom made guitars, tunings that made the guitar sound like some kind of other instrument, and a real familiarity of what was going on in the "classical" music world, having formally studied composition.

But what really set him apart for me was the improvisational feel his work has. He sounds like he could improvise for hours and not be boring, and that's the point of this post. My sense of his playing of this Bach piece is that it's informed by his improvisational skill. I think most people would put Bach more over on the Apollonian side of things, that his works are beautifully crafted works of art, nearly mathematical in structure. Hedges makes this piece sound like he's making it up as he goes along, expressing his feelings of the moment, using technique and a feel for the sound of his instrument that has to have come from his time put in improvising. 

On a music therapy note, his playing a calming piece at the end of a long concert is a wonderful example of using music to help people transition from one feeling/mental state to another.


I keep coming up against the very strong feelings of high level players on the value of sight reading, and I understand what they're saying, especially as it applies to high level players being able to fill in at the last moment. It's also a terrific skill at lower levels of play as well, as it allows you to browse through material to see what you want to work on.

With the exception of Jeffrey Agrell, though, they rarely talk about improvising. I think what my problem is with sight reading is that it's not balanced with making up some stuff on your own. They are two completely different ways of making music and working on both will make you a better music maker as different parts of the brain get exercised. Going with just one seems to me to have to distort your sense of what music making can be.

As I think about it, I've read through a number of practice routines mentioning scales and etudes and sight reading and current literature, but have never seen mention of spending as little as five minutes a day improvising. No wonder so many high level classical players freeze up at the thought of improvising or composing. 

Part of what's going on here is my focus on the music maker and wanting to enrich that experience, whereas educators are more biased towards the needs of the music itself. Why you're doing what you're doing affects how you do it.

Listening to Singers

Over the past few months I've had several conversations with different people talking about general ways to improve instrumental technique and expression. I've mentioned seeing in a number of books written by the highest level players the advice to listen to singers, as what you're trying to do with your instrument (I guess with the exception of percussion) is to bring to it the unmatched expressive power of the human voice.

Just wanted to make a brief post on this because that info was new to some people, but since I've seen it so many times over the years, thought everyone was aware of it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Flute Diary

On my Vermont trip I got to hear Susan play the flute. Simply hearing her tone made me a better player. 

Back when she was here in Virginia I played either alto flute or keyboard with her on flute and Dr. Andy on cello, and I never got my soprano flute out of its case. Here in the past year or so I have played that exclusively and not the alto. Putting in all those hours made me a better player, but they also set me up to better appreciate Susan's tone in the sense of having a better proprioceptive insight into what she's doing. 

All the neuroscience talks about how making music tickles a lot of parts of the brain at the same time and in coordination with each other. What I'm talking about here is the interface between the part of the brain that appreciates hearing good tone and the part that tells the muscles what to do to get it. 

Susan's tone, especially in the low and mid registers can have a tactile, Dionysian power to it. A lot of flute players are more Apollonian in tone, and Susan can do that if need be, but that feeling she can generate that the flute's tone is getting traction on the listeners' emotions is what amazes me.

All that's not as well expressed as I'd like, but the point is, immediately upon hearing her for the first time in years, doors opened in my mind and muscles that are leading me to do all kinds of proprioceptive things I can't begin to explain, but which improve my playing.

Dave Wilken has a great post that got me thinking more about all this here

Horn Diary

The hiatus of the community band ends with the first rehearsal of the new semester tomorrow. From 7/6 until now have been playing only what I want, and that meant spending most of my time on the F horn in the octaves below and above middle C. In band music notes in that lower octave are rarely called for (for first horn) and I'd never gotten them as well as I felt I could. I did a lot of etude like improvisation, always going for the best tone and intonation I could muster, and never stressing the sound, going for full and big tone as opposed to loud. What music I played was a hunting horn tune transposed around the easy keys and the lines of arrangements I've done that fell into that range.

The results have been wonderful. All those notes come easily and well now, though the low octave C and the D above it are not as good as the rest. I really do like the F horn, and I think part of it has to do with simply feeling its reverberations in my upper body and head better than the Bb. From what I've been reading on the horn blogs, they simply are not making decent F horns any more. If they were I'd look into getting one because I'd love a lighter instrument that would be less burdensome to hold and would speak more easily as there would be less metal to set vibrating, and I'm not really interested in going above high F or G.

I helped sort the band music into folders and brought home the first and second horn folders and have looked through them. For the first time, with the exception of a piece that has a section in five sharps going up to high G sharp, all the first horn music looks playable to me. The issue is going to be endurance. I'm still the only horn, though we may get ringers for concerts. Right now I feel I have the endurance needed, but having to shift back up to higher notes in piece after piece in rehearsal is going to be wearing.

The next time Dr. Andy comes for some music I want to spend some time with him on cello and me on horn and play around with how those two instruments could work in a duet. I may have a large enough range on the horn now that something along those lines could be worth pursuing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

V.S. Key Signature

The next step is choosing a key signature (pitch set) to work with. Since the harp likes flats, since I'm contemplating an alto flute part (which adds a flat in transposition), and since strings might be involved (I think of them as having a slight preference for sharps), that narrows it down to one or two flats, three at the most (on the alto, four is my practical limit).

One flat would yield F major, which from the F above middle C to the one above that nicely covers the ambit of flute pitches in that mid range I want to really dig into having Susan's tone freshly in mind. The two octaves of D minor above middle C would probably incorporate the full gamut of pitches to use to avoid overpowering the harp.

Adding the other flat would yield G minor, which is a nice one step up from F major, and having just played around a little with it on the keyboard*, those two keys are where I'm going to start, as I think moving from one to the other can make for a pleasing and fresh sounding shift.

There are, of course, possible modal uses of those key signatures as well, and "modal" is a comment I sometimes hear about my music, so I must be doing something along those lines some of the time.

* Should say I simply can't imagine composing music without access to a keyboard. I took piano lessons as a child but never "got" what classical music was about until I heard Susan and a flute friend playing the Bach Two Part Inventions at a garden party out in the Virginia countryside early on during our time at Shenandoah. What did happen during all those years of lessons, though, was that the physical arrangement of the keyboard became the way I thought and still think about music and music theory. I do not have "theory mind", but with a keyboard and plenty of time, I can fake it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

V.S. Players and Instruments

The first thing I settle on in writing a new piece is who's going to play it on what instruments. In this case it's my flute playing friend Susan and her harp playing friend Carol. On my recent trip to Vermont, they played Mosaic for me. I wrote it in 1994 for Susan on flute and me on piano and they had worked it up as a flute and harp piece. It really works that way, but I kept thinking a piece written expressly for the two of them would better exploit that wonderful pairing of instruments.

I've known Susan since the '70's when we were at Shenandoah Conservatory together. I've never known anyone to more fully inhabit the music she makes and I've never heard better tone on the flute. She's a pro level player, so the only concerns about the instrument are those inherent in it. Her low number Hanes has a B foot, but I never write that note as other flutes might not have it. The E above high C on flutes is the hardest note and worth avoiding if possible. Being a product of the music education system Susan. tongues. every. single. note. un.less. o.ther.wise. no.ted. It was for Susan I first wrote music for small ensembles (Dr. Andy on cello and me on alto flute or piano) and she loves the new and unusual, so besides writing things for her I think suit her personality, there are no limits on what I can try.

I've just met Carol on this recent trip. She plays the harp very well, and like Susan, has a wonderful Louisiana laugh. She's also pro level, so instrument considerations are of a general type. I've never written for harp before and only know what I read up on and what Carol showed me in a brief clinic after she and Susan played Mosaic. The main things seem to be the harp prefers flat keys, too many accidentals or key changes mean a lot of messing with pedals, and she said an octave and a third was a good limit on chord fingerings. She also made the point that when a harp plays high notes, it's good to have low notes with them so they won't sound tinny. 

One thing I want to go for is having Susan in her low and mid ranges more than the high. Playing softly in the high range of the flute can be done, but it's tough. There was a blend of tones when Susan was in her mid range where the harp and flute sounds really melded. The high flute range can be used, but it will tend to overpower the harp. The other thing for me to keep in mind is that the harp strings are plucked by fingers, not struck by levered hammers as on a piano, so that loud percussive side to the piano is not something the harp can do.

Once things get going, I may add a third part for alto flute or violin or viola. When I was in Vermont and making music with Susan I mostly played an electric keyboard I'd taken, but we did try one duet I'd done years back for flute and alto flute. I didn't play that well, being very rusty on the alto, but the combo of those two flutes creating difference tones on close harmonies is an amazing sound, and one the harp would frame nicely. The alto's range is exactly that of a violin (starting down at the G below middle C) and the upper three strings of a viola and Susan has family members who play them, so the alto part could be covered by one of them when I'm not in Vermont. If written, that part would be easy enough for me to play and there would absolutely not be any E's above high C (concert B as the alto is in the key of G) and low D (concert A) would be as low as I'd want to go.

photo - yard violets, which some consider flowers and not weeds.

Inhabiting Music

Jonathan West left the following comment down on this post:

Being good at sightreading means that when you have to learn a piece thoroughly, you can start from much further forward than you otherwise would. Being good at sightreading means that for relatively easy pieces, you can pay attention to balance, phrasing and expression even in the first rehearsal. Of course, it is possible to treat sightreading as an end in itself - for instance so that you are able to produce a decent performance in a concert even when you join an orchestra only for the final rehearsal on the afternoon of a concert. British professional orchestral musicians are famously good at this, partly because British orchestras are perpetually short of money and therefore rehearsal time. But even here, one can argue that the quality of sightreading makes for a concert which will be enjoyed more by the audience than it would have been otherwise. Of course, there is a degree of inner satisfaction at being able to memorise a piece, memorisation is a tour de force which greatly impresses audiences, and I agree entirely that not being tied to the need to keep the music in sight frees you up for more visual expression as part of the performance. There are occasions when this makes a lot of difference to a performance, and other occasions when it makes little difference. For instance, I doubt that you would find it worthwhile to memorise the horn parts for a band concert. While it might in principle be good to do so, the effort involved would be disproportionate to the effect achieved.

And that reminded me of what Jeffrey Agrell said sometime back in this post:

For some time now I have been convinced of the efficacy of doing a lot of practicing with the eyes closed (with the prominent exception of sight-reading…). In learning a new piece, chop it into small bits, and do 97% of your practicing on it eyes shut. Playing it from memory automatically forces you to a higher level. You have to get past the struggle stage, but you actually acquire facility in the chunk much quicker and better. With eyes open, you still are “processing” the visual material, which slows you down. Your attention is also on the ink, outside what is really happening, both kinesthetically (physically) and aurally, i.e. we’re not really feeling or hearing what is happening. The ink tells us zero about what we just played. By forcing yourself to learn it from memory, you are able to really listen to what is happen and feel the details of what is happening, making it also easier to make an adjustment to do it better the next time.

It's not an either or situation, but as a therapist I tend towards nurturing in clients that feeling Jeffrey is talking about, what I sometimes call "inhabiting the music and letting the music inhabit you". That kind of engagement with music making is where a lot of its therapeutic aspects begin. Once you get that going sight reading can be encouraged, but without that kind of engagement, making music isn't going to be enjoyable enough over the long term for the client to want to continue.

A couple of other points - 1) Jonathan grew up musical, so his experience of making music is very different than that of someone without those blessings of nature and nurture. As a rule, people that fortunate don't need a music therapist (unless they burn out). All music therapy really is is trying to help regular people get a glimpse of what comes naturally to folks like Jonathan. 2) I do memorize my horn parts in band, at least the exposed solos. As Jeffrey says, it's a great way to practice and feel the music as opposed to seeing notes. I do keep my eyes open in rehearsal though ;-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

And In This Corner . . .

There's something of a flame war going on in the musical blogosphere. In one corner there's Greg Sandow, whom I've linked to a number of times. Championing the opposition is Heather Mac Donald in this essay. It's got people riled up. One blogger I follow regularly (and think of as normally mild mannered) allowed as how Greg is a "windbag"(!) a ways down in this multi-topic post.

I see it all as froth on top of the tidal shift in the culture of music making brought on by the advent of recorded music. There are good points to be made on both sides of the issue, which has to do with whether or not classical music is losing its audience. A lot of music specialists can talk a long time about music without ever mentioning the audience, because the music itself is what they are about. For me as a music therapist, it's how the audience is experiencing the music that's the salient point. So I find this discussion very interesting because of all the talk and conjecture about the audience. It's also interesting that the discussion has tinges of what's usually associated with discussions about politics and religion.

Pliable over at On An Overgrown Path touches on this subject from time to time as well. In this post he quotes composer Jonathan Harvey:

'Young people don't like concert halls... and wouldn't normally go to one except for amplified music. There is a big divide between amplified and non-amplified music... The future must bring things which are considered blasphemous like amplifying classical music in an atmosphere where people can come and go and even talk perhaps.. and certainly leave in the middle of a movement if they feel like it. Nobody should be deprived of classical music, least of all by silly conventions.'

Memory vs Sight Reading

Here's a short post on memorizing music. The takeaway quote: 

“Memorization is not a trick. It internalizes the music for you; it makes the music, somehow, a part of your own physical being,” Oliver says. “And you can express so much more like that. If you don’t see a singer’s face and you don’t see the posture of a singer, the address of a singer to the audience, you’re really not getting what a singer can deliver in music and what composers expected the singers to deliver.”

Insert “musician” every time he says “singer”.

Sight reading is a wonderful activity, but it's not an unalloyed good, at least to my mind. Music on the page is strictly two dimensional and people who do a lot of sight reading are training themselves to miss a lot of depth. When I play music I've memorized it's much easier to feel it in three dimensions and it's easier (for me) to get to that place where you're inhabiting the music and it's inhabiting you. The gestural content of the music becomes much more apparent and the whole endeavor becomes less abstract, which for me is a plus, but may seem messy to someone with "theory mind", especially if they don't agree with the interpretation.


Just a quick bookmark link to a post on Casals and the Bach Cello Suites. His books Joys and Sorrows and The Art of Interpretation are wonderful, and the book talked about here looks to be very interesting. It's amazing that Bach slipped into obscurity and had to be rediscovered. Makes you wonder what subsequent generations will feel about our tastes.


This article is a nice round up of what various people think about the importance of sound to our ancestors. It's the sort of thing we'll never know for sure about, but is fun to speculate on.

I've always had great respect for the awareness the ancients had for sound ever since visiting Epidarus on my first backpacking trip to Europe in 1976. I was sitting high up in the theater seats when a tour group came through and the guide had them spread out all through the seats. He stood at the center of the stage and struck a match and it was perfectly audible to all of us. Simply amazing.