Monday, February 3, 2020

2019 Christmas Singalong

Here are some pics from the singalong we had at the Music Room this past December. It was quite a milestone for me. We combined some members the Fun Band with some members of the Rapidan Pops, creating for the event the largest and most expert group of musicians I've ever led. As for the singers, I've led larger groups, but never so many experienced singers - even though the singers only had lyrics with no music - and all the hymn tunes were transposed down a couple or three steps - there was often four part harmony in the voices.

Here's a pic that shows all the strings. Clockwise from the right: Brian, Pam, Betsy, and Jenny on violin; Michael and Darlene on viola; Mary, Joe, Barbara, and Caroline on cello; and Hank on guitar. Back against the wall you can see our vocalists Maryvonne, Alegra, and Karla, and then Judy on ukulele, and Dale on guitar. 

Also in this pic you can see how we seated some of the singalongers right behind the strings. The gentleman right there in the bottom left hand corner is Al, without whom the Music Room wouldn't exist. Besides starting the Orange community chorus and band, he somehow got me to join the band, which is where I learned to play the horn from a standing start, which later led to playing in the Rapidan Orchestra, and the orchestra needing a rehearsal performance space had a lot to do with the Music Room coming into existence.

Here is a pic of the winds - Rebekah on flute, Jane on recorder, Heather on clarinet and Madelyn on bassoon.

Here's Don on drums.

In this pic you can see our friend Sara sitting to the right of Judy and Dale. Besides having been a member of the Orange Music Society and then starting the Culpeper Music Society, she was the one who first started the Shakespeare in the Ruins outdoor productions over in Barboursville. She had a great time and with both her and Al participating there was a wonderful feeling of solidarity with previous community performing arts projects.

This pic shows the overall shape of the room, which is much like a shoe box - and when people talk about the great music spaces in Europe, a lot of them apparently have a shoebox shape, so that must have something to do with good acoustics.

We did a Christmas singalong two years ago and here's a pic of that.

You can see the lights have been changed, that risers have been added in front of the stage - and that curtains have been added, which did a great job of damping the too bright sound. With the curtains, and a lot of people in the audience soaking up sound, most people think the sound is exceptionally good. Back when Rapidan first started rehearsing in the Music Room, conductor Benjamin said after just a couple of rehearsals we were playing better because we could hear each other better.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How We Receive Music

     As we’ve gotten the Music Room up and running this year, what has struck me most has been the audience reactions. Because it’s a very comfortable space with sparkling acoustics, the audience experience is about as good as it gets aurally and socially. At intermission and after the music, people are physically and verbally animated; there are lots of wide eyes, hand gesturings and animated conversations. I always ask as many people as I can what it is they like, and the answers are all over the board. 

     Back in the 60’s I came across Karl Jung’s idea that there are four ways of experiencing the world around us - via thinking, via sensation, via feeling, and via intuition. A recent FaceBook conversation with Kyle Gann catalyzed my realizing those four modes are a great way to talk about how different people receive music, and that since we all have different combinations of these four modes of experiencing music, it goes a long way towards explaining why so may different kinds of music can have such ardent fans.

THINKING - “Theory mind” is the term I use for people who can distinguish instantly between major, minor, diminished and augmented chords and whether they have added pitches like 2nds, 4ths, 6ths, 9ths, 11ths and so on. Theory mind can also hear and name the chord functions in real time, such as the I chord leading to the IV chord, to the vi chord. When modulations occur, they can say what the new key is and how the chords in the previous key were manipulated to prepare the ear for that modulation. 

On many occasions I’ve had band directors and fellow brass players tell me that when you have the third of the chord it should be played slightly flatter than it would be in equal temperament, and I marvel that they can automatically know where in the chord the pitch they’re playing fits. 

Part of Kyle Gann’s FB comment that triggered this post illustrates theory mind:

The other day a cultured woman with a little musical knowledge asked me what I thought made Schumann's music so wonderful. I went into my spiel about his diagonal harmonies, how he'll hit a dissonant note and not resolve it until the chord meant to harmonize the resolution has already passed, and also about how unusual the spacings of his piano sonorities are.

SENSATION - I think one of the reasons the live performances at the Music Room so affect people is that they’re simply hearing the various timbres of the instruments much more fully than what recordings can ever capture, especially if those recordings are compressed down to mp3 levels. Even audience members sitting in the back are quite close to the performers, and the very good acoustics make the aural sensations immediate and fully textured. This means the fast/slow; high/low; and soft/loud parameters of the music are easily perceived. 

When playing the horn, I have to trust that my sensation is helping me play in tune, even though my weakness in “theory mind” means I don’t know where in the chord the pitch I’m playing fits.

FEELING - One way music “touches” us is that it often encodes physical gestures that trigger our emotions. Most straightforwardly, when we see a violinist caressing notes out of their instrument or a timpanist pounding out a martial rhythm, we feel the emotions we associate with those gestures. The neural pathway for this phenomenon employs mirror neurons. When we see someone making a physical gesture, our brain fires the neurons we’d use to make that same gesture (more here). I also think, with zero proof, that just hearing some gestures in music can trigger mirror neurons, even if we can't see the performer making the physical gesture. Less straightforwardly, while phrasings and articulations in music may not have direct physical cognates, they can evoke less specific feelings and moods.

Also, a piece of music can call up emotions we’ve come to associate with that particular piece because of when and where we’ve heard it before. 

INTUITION - Intuition is non-verbal and non-rational by nature, so it’s hard to talk about. I’ve been told professionally I’m more intuitive than most, and while it’s a great help to me as a group therapist, the problem is that I can’t know right way if my intuition about something is correct. With that caveat in mind, I’ll suggest that one way intuition may come into play is those of us without “theory mind” can still intuit the general structure of a piece. I think our intuitive side can also inform us as to how the performers are approaching the music and their connection to the audience.  

Our intuitive sides are probably also part of whatever it is that happens during “flow” experiences  when our normal ego fades, time flows differently, and we feel part of a larger whole (more here).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Concert Thoughts

The Rapidan Orchestra just completed its 5th season with two concerts (at St. Stephen’s in Culpeper and at the Music Room in Orange) and I want to jot down some thoughts before they get lost in the Christmas rush.

The program - Egmont overture, Carmen Suite 1 plus the HabaƱera from Suite 2, and Mozart #40 - was the most substantial we’ve ever done, and we played well. A number of musicians told me how much they’d enjoyed playing and the audiences were very responsive and appreciative.

The St. Stephen’s parish hall space is small and  T shaped, which makes the sound very bright and clear. We set up a little differently than in the past, and part of that was moving me from the far left of the stage to just to the right of the center of the stage. The difference for me was enormous - I’ve never heard the woodwinds so well and so well balanced. 

Several of the audience members there used the word “loud”, so I think in the future we need to dial back the volume. That space would be great for chamber music.

At the Music Room in Orange we had the largest audience ever - 140 people plus or minus. I heard later that one audience member was a young girl who conducted enthusiastically the entire time, and apparently everyone around her enjoyed it. There were other children scattered through the audience as well - some from the string program and others the siblings of one of our players. There was gentleman who snored off and on. There were three elderly people in the back no one knew, but who seemed to be very well versed in the particular music on the program, and to all appearances had a wonderful time. 

When I asked a family member who has very little experience with classical music what she liked most she said, without missing a beat, “the last one”, i.e. the Mozart. When I asked why, she said because it was so “animated”. That we played the Mozart well enough for his essential spirit to come through feels like real success.

In short, a wonderfully diverse audience enjoying this great music together in a relaxed way - exactly the kind of unstuffy experience I’d hoped the Music Room could offer.

At intermission, there was an eruption of conversation throughout the room, which made me realize how valuable the Music Room is as a community space over and above being just a music space. The music drew us together and provided the opportunity for everyone to enjoy each others company. That Karla has put so much effort into making the space such a pleasant one amplifies that experience. Benjamin had thought about not having an intermission and asked us what we thought. Since the oboe section, with the tacit support of the horn section, became vaguely mutinous at the thought of that much playing without rest, he went ahead with having it and I’m glad he did.

I was born in Orange County seventy years ago, so know it fairly well. I still have trouble believing we have a successful orchestra. One woman, Heather our lead clarinet, has done more than anyone else to make it happen. And because the orchestra needed a better venue, Karla had the idea of the Music Room and here we are. There’s no telling exactly where all this leads, but it feels like we’re on the right track.

Open Rehearsal Pics

Back in October  we had an open rehearsal of the Rapidan Orchestra and I asked my niece Carmon to take some pictures without using flash. These two show the general setup in the Music Room for Rapidan rehearsals.

Here are the brass and woodwinds (Stephen on cello is paying second bassoon parts when not playing trombone).

Here are some shots of the strings.

Here's a shot of Don on timpani.

Here are some photos of Benjamin.

Here's a shot with my cousin Ada - the single most supportive person of my musical endeavors over a life time, Ed - who's work with the Art Center down the street is an inspiration of the Music Room - and Lama Tashi - my spiritual friend of something like 25 years. In the background you can see the reception area of the Music Room.

Here's a pic of Lama Tashi running the sound board for the microphone we used so the audience could hear what Benjamin was saying to the orchestra. Tashi with his low voice chanting has been recorded numerous times for scientific, commercial and non-profit purposes, but he had never run a sound board himself. 

Here's a pic of more of the people who came to the open rehearsal. There weren't a lot, but they were all fascinated, had a great time, and encouraged us to keep having them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Street Festival '19 / Drum Circle

Benjamin Bergey, the conductor of the Rapidan Orchestra, got his doctorate in music at JMU, and the subject of his thesis was "Music and Peacebuilding", the idea being to bring people together through music making. One way to do that is Drum Circles and he leads some at the Music Room from time to time, including at the street festival.

Here's a shot of the group as the circle got started

Here's Don, Pam, and Benjamin

Here's Judy (who volunteers everywhere and just received a lifetime achievement award for her many years teaching music in the public schools), with her granddaughter Sydney and her daughter Kelly.

And here are a couple of shots of parents and children drawn into the Music Room by the sound of the drums

Monday, September 30, 2019

Street Festival '19 / Kenwood Players

The Kenwood Players did two sets at the Street Festival. Here's a shot of the whole group, from left to right, Joe T, Steve, Gary, Dick, Joe B, Maggie, Michael, and me. Gary on drums is new to the area, and Joe B on bass has been around for decades playing in all sorts of groups.
Dick on trumpet and his wife Maggie on clarinet are the heart and soul of the group, doing all the organizational work, finding the music to play, and willing to drive great distances from visiting family in Northern Virginia to get to rehearsals.
Steve on trombone in the pic below, is a cousin, and his sound helped me immensely when I was learning the French horn. He can play brassy and "dirty" when it's called for, but he can also make a sound so sweet and full, you forget it's a brass instrument. Michael on the right is simply amazing on the sax. Whenever he launches into a solo, I automatically start grinning because of the good feeling he brings.

Here's a nice shot of Joe T who has recently been helping us on the keyboard
Here I am trying to keep up on banjo. Everyone else in the group is a seasoned pro, but I came to playing Dixieland very late. On the one hand it's the musical genre that seems the most universally successful in raising people's mood. On the other, it's quite difficult! I had never bothered with augmented and diminished chords before Dixieland, and all the chords come at an amazingly fast pace.
Here are Don and Pam (who helped with the pops and the drum groups) bringing a little Big Easy fashion sense to Main Street Orange while we were playing.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Street Festival '19 / Pops

We also had two Rapidan Pops performances at the street festival - one following the Fun Band under the tent and another at the end of the afternoon inside the Music Room. The Pops books contain things I've been working on going back to the '90s - tunes from Handel's Water Music that have just three or four voices. Since then I've added some early Americana put together for a performance over at Montpelier years ago, along with some movie and TV themes from the 60's and 70's.

The performance under the tent was limited to just ten players because that's all we could comfortably fit. Here's a pic of that group from behind me looking down towards the railroad tracks. You can see all the mics and the mixer I'd set up. The idea was to test using sound equipment to try making outdoor performance by strings feasible, and it worked pretty well

And here's a pic looking from the other direction

Heather, Lynn, Caroline, and Joe
Lynn, Caroline, Joe, and Barbara

Jenny, Pam, and Don
Barbara and Darlene
Hank and me
For the indoor performance (which was really just an open rehearsal) Benjamin conducted and we played exactly the same tunes as earlier, but with more musicians.

Here you can see Lynn, me, Heather, Barbara (with Caroline hidden), Steve, Hank and Joe

Jenny, Don, Pam, Charles, Lynn and me
Jenny, Pam, Brian, Benjamin

Madelyn, Caroline, Joe, and Barbara

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Street Festival '19 / Fun Band

The town of Orange has a Street Festival the first Saturday every September and this year the Music Room had a number of associated activities. Some were under a tent outside in front of the building and others were inside. 

The first event was the Fun Band, which is a group we've had meeting for number of years. We're all retired, play various instruments in various other groups, and use books I've put together of mostly traditional, pop, and hymn tunes. Our most frequent performance venue is the local nursing home.

Here is the whole group

Bill plays both tuba and harmonica

Here's Mike on viola, Jenny on violin, Judy on ukulele, and Hank on guitar 
Here's Karla and Teresa on vocals, Joanna and Don on recorders. and Joe on cello

Here I am on guitar and singing

Here's a nice closeup of Teresa

and a nice closeup of Don

This family sat on the steps of the Music Room listening to our entire set, helped pass out songbooks, and insisted on making a donation to thank us for the music
And here is a pic of our most enthusiastic singalonger