Sunday, March 30, 2008

It's Van Gogh's Birthday!

Vincent van Gogh. Mademoiselle Gachet at Piano. 1890. Oil on canvas.

No, don't cut off your ear. Play some music instead, and think of the colors... Here's a quote from Van Gogh, A Retrospective (edited by Susan Alyson Stein, Beaux Arts Editions, 1986):
He was always comparing painting to music, and in order to gain an even better understanding of the value and nuances of tones, he began to take piano lessons with an old music teacher who was also the organist in Eindhoven. This did not last long, however, because during the lessons Van Gogh incessantly compared the tones of the piano with Prussian blue and dark green, or dark ochre with bright cadmium, so that the good man thought that he was dealing with a madman and became so afraid of him that he discontinued the lessons.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Laura's Simon Sinfonietta review

I asked my good friend Laura to review recent the Simon Sinfonietta concert for the paper, in part because I had committed myself to another concert on the same night. There was a better reason though: she is a talented musican, as is her significant other, and both are very knowledgeable about music. (We play as a quartet, Laura on violin, another Marilyn on flute, me on cello, and Fritz on violin, viola, or harpsichord.)

Since the guest artists for the Sinfonietta were violinists, Paul and Linda Rosenthal (from Alaska), it seemed a perfect concert for Laura to review, and you can read it here: Laura's review. Thanks, Laura!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Blog (There Always Is)

Having an extra three minutes in my day, I decided to start another blog, an "official" arts and entertainment blog for the newspaper. I haven't decided exactly what to do with it, but am starting with a series on area coffeehouses (the musical sort) . I'll include my various reviews, along with other thoughts; and try to make use of blog features (links, pictures, audio, video, comments, etc.).

I am calling it "Notes on the Arts." It's not terribly creative, I know, but if you think of "notes" as musical notes, it creates a nice mental image. Perhaps a good graphic would convey that.

It is in Wordpress, which seems like a foreign language to me, after Blogger, so I haven't figured everything out yet (and am resisting change, though there seem to be some advantages to Wordpress). It's not publicly online yet, but I will keep you posted.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Marcello Sonata

I've been looking forward to working on the Marcello sonata for a long time.

My favorite flute piece when I was in high school was a Marcello Sonata in F. I lost track of this sonata when I stopped playing the flute regularly, and, though bits of the piece would come back to me at odd moments, I couldn't remember enough to track it down.

Then, one day, I walked into my flute lesson a little early and heard a friend in her lesson, playing the piece. I recognized it immediately and went out and bought the sheet music, so happy to play it again. (I have since transcribed it for both woodwind/cello quartet and string quartet, but we have not played it yet in either group.)

The Marcello cello sonata is structurally very similar to the flute sonata. (Actually Marcello's other flute sonatas are all kind of similar too.) I tried the cello sonata recently and was disappointed by it. I searched Youtube, looking for a good version of it, to inspire me, but to no avail. (I couldn't find my Suzuki CD.)

We worked on it in my lesson this morning though, and wow, my cello teacher transformed what I thought was a bland piece into a gorgeous one. I was so relieved, to have my regard for Marcello restored. Hopefully, I can do the piece justice.

Here is a version of the flute sonata in F, from the Wikipedia page on Marcello:

It was the festive second movement that I most remembered fragments of, though not quite at that speed. I do love the first movement too, and the fourth is not bad either.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Little Bird

This is for Laura, who said she liked my artwork. This is a small Arist Trading Card (ATC) done for an ATC exchange of drawings of "everyday objects." This was sort of a stretch for an everyday object. It is a little pottery container topped with a crow-like object. It sits on my desk and holds loose change. It is pretty much the size you see it.

I bought this a while ago. I had two small children and needed a break, so, leaving the kids in the care of my husband, I hopped on my bike and rode along the bayside road to a local art show, scenically located in a boathouse/community center overlooking the bay. A pottery maker had made these little pottery boxes with strange creatures inhabiting them, sort of for a lark--her way of getting rid of left-over clay. I liked the little bird, and it was one of the few things I could bring home on my bike. It is still on my desk, long after the kids have more or less flown.

Here it is, in real life. I have prettified it a bit for this ATC trade, as in its wild-eyed state it all-too-closely approximates some of my feelings on some days, about parenting. :-)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Haydn's London Trios

For those not familiar with Haydn's London Trios, here are performances of the first and third (of four) trios by Cesar Peredo, Javier Rodriguez, and Marco Oiveros. The cello seems subdued in this, at least compared to when I played it (on flute) with another flute and cello. Our cellist was our most accomplished player, and he played so vibrantly that I felt like I was playing in a "cello forest." I liked it that way.

Haydn, London Trio no. 1.

Haydn, London Trio no. 3.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Play some Bach!

It's Johann Sebastian Bach's Birthday. He is 323.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Flute as Cello

A few years ago, I played Haydn's London Trios (2 flutes and cello) as first flute, with another flutist and a cellist. I love these trios (especially playing with the cellist, who was very good, despite not having changed his strings in 30 years. Well, ok, that part annoyed me, but my hints that his tone might be even better if he bought new strings fell on deaf ears).

I am working on the cello parts now, hoping to play the trios with the flute quartet (all flutes). I play both flute and cello in the group, but have not played cello with them all winter, because sometimes it is just easier to leave my big bulky instrument at home and take only a flute.

So, I found a version of the London Trios for 2 C flutes, alto flute and bass flute. Alto and bass play essentially the same part, the cello part. We have an alto flute in our quartet, but no bass flute, so, right now, I am playing the bass flute part on my C flute, which makes it an octave higher than it should be, but it sounds fine. I am also enjoying doubling the alto, I who generally prefer not to play doubled parts.

Oddly enough, the flute/alto flute is a reasonable substitute for the cello. It is also helpful in terms of reminding me of the tempos, the rhythms, etc., and so my playing of the music on my cello is benefiting. Eventually, the weather will warm up, and I will bring my cello to play with the group. I will still be doubling the alto flute, but, this way, all four of us get to play these lovely pieces, and it can be comforting to hear someone else playing the same part.

The cello parts are both relatively easy and interesting, and I love the flute parts; and it is fun playing a piece that I know the other parts to. Sometimes, in sightreading unfamiliar music with the other flute quartet (flute/violin/viola/cello), I am so intent on my part that I can't appreciate the others (or even recognize the piece from the upper parts), so I am enjoying this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Memorization, more or less

I finally finished Suzuki Book Three. Yes, it has taken me years, in part because my teacher not only insists on my memorizing each piece, but also my performing, from memory, all the pieces in each book with a pianist (at the same recital) before moving onto the next book. And memory means the ability to start at any point in a piece, know all the notes, etc., not just play it by rote. Memory is the first step in learning a piece; after that, you polish and refine. This is the way she teaches her young students, and it is the way she teachers her older ones. One is supposed to keep all previous pieces current, and I try.

It is difficult for me, all this memorization, but not memorizing is not an option with my teacher. On the one hand, I do think I learn the music better than someone who learns a piece and moves on, never to play it again. I think I am probably better off than people who skip around, or skip quickly through the books, not remembering earlier technique. It's not a race, I say, to reassure myself.

On the other hand, sometimes I think 98 percent of my mental powers and practice efforts go into memorization, and other crucial things about playing the cello, say intonation or vibrato, do not always get the attention they deserve. So, I tend to define success as "getting through the piece," not playing it musically.

Other factors conspire to slow my progress. I play two instruments and have limited time to practice; I play in numerous ensembles playing widely different types of music; I have big recitals, not just the pieces in the Suzuki books, but numerous ensemble pieces so that I can also perform friends (and so they can enjoy being part of the recital, not just suffer through my performances).

The memory thing, for me, has its pros and cons. I do like being able to play pieces from memory, not only the Suzuki pieces, but also fiddle tunes and other music, and my memory capacity much better than it used to be. But, memorizing can be very frustrating for me, and sometimes I feel that my head can only hold a certain amount of music memory (a lot more now than when I started, but still a finite amount), and trying to perfect one phrase causes another one to escape. I had a difficult time getting all the pieces in Book 3 to stay in my head at the same time, so I finally split the pieces into two recitals.

So, to get to the point of this post, I am delighted to say I don't have to memorize the Breval Sonata (because it is a sonata, not because it might be helpful for me to try to learn a piece before memorizing it, rather than the other way around). And, after a week with it, I am thrilled at my progress. The old (memorization) way, I would be two lines into it by now. But I am playing it straight through, with my teacher accompanying (sounds good that way). There are still parts to smooth out, and I have to get it up to tempo, but gosh, this is a nice change of pace.

I have to admit I never cared for the Breval until I started playing it, but was determined to learn it because it is often selected as the junior (grades 7 to 9) audition piece for state orchestra competitions. I do enjoy it now, and I am so delight to be finally playing, somewhat musically, at the 7th grade level (if not quite yet at the winning-the-audition level).

Sunday, March 16, 2008


It is spring break at my daughter's college, and she left today on a long-planned trip to see a friend--in Atlanta. Perfect timing. She had originally planned to go in January, but plans fell through, and the day she would have left, Atlanta had a snowstorm.

We thought the weather would be better in March, but the tornadoes Friday night and Saturday afternoon proved us wrong. Her friend's father's home survived the storm, but many neighboring houses were damaged and, of course downtown Atlanta and other neighborhoods are quite a mess.

I really didn't want her to go, but am happy that she has arrived safely. It won't be quite the trip she imagined, but she is glad to be there. And, as inadequate as it sounds, I hope Atlanta recovers quickly from the devastation left by the tornadoes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mark Twain's view of amateur musicians

The piano teacher I mentioned yesterday has a wonderful quotation from Mark Twain in her brochure for older adult students:

"I have learned that there lies dormant in the souls of all men a penchant for some particular musical instrument, and an unsuspecting yearning to play on it, that are bound to wake up and demand attention some day."
--Mark Twain

Lovely quote. But you must read the whole story: "A Touching Story of George Washington's Boyhood."

Here are some more quotations about music by Mark Twain: twainquotes

On a more serious note, she gave me a copy of this article on the Music Making and Wellness Project, about the benefits of group keyboard lessons for seniors.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Piano recital

I attended a piano recital this morning, given by a piano teacher who teacher primarily adults, and primarily older, retired adults. Most had been studying only a year or so, and the teacher was very enthusiastic about their progress. Another teacher attended, older and retired herself, to play a duet with the host teacher.

And they did sound pretty good to me. I have taken piano lessons myself, so was familiar with some of the pieces (Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata, for instance). The pianists stumbled a bit here and there, varied the tempo, and occasionally started over, but all in all it was a great recital--and probably easier to listen to than a recital by cellos students taking lessons for the same period of time!

I've been wanting to write about the joys and benefits of playing music for older adults, and this group is perfect for such an exploration (I didn't want to write exclusively about people I play with). The oldest student is 83, and just started playing a few months ago.

Of course, by the end of the social hour following the recital, I had agreed to come back and play cello with them (students and teachers) at the next recital. I was hoping they'd ask.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

August Rush, revisited

Now that the movie, August Rush, is out on DVD, interest in the film is high, and many people are finding my blog with the search terms "August Rush true story."

I just want to clarify this for any one who might be under the impression that the story of August Rush has any relationship to reality: It is not a true story! The movie is pure fantasy, with so many logical loopholes that it is hard to set them aside and enjoy the movie, even though there is a cellist in it.

Here is a quote from the boy (whose name is later changed to August Rush by the Wizard, played by Robin Williams) beginning of the movie that should give you a clue:
I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales. But I hear it came from my mother and father. Once upon a time, they fell in love.
The boy is growing up in an Dickensonian orphanage in an isolated location in upstate New York, the product of a one-night stand between an Irish guitarist and a cellist (during which so few words were exchanged so "lust" might be the more operative word), sheltered from real life by her father, who manages to give her baby up for adoption without telling her, by telling her that it died and forging her signature on the adoption papers.

But, the story goes on. The child, now 11 years old, has refused to be adopted because he is waiting for his real parents to show up. One wonders how he managed to convey his wishes to social workers as an infant. He hears the music in the grasslands all around him, but has never seen a guitar or a piano, so one has to assume he has never left the grounds of the orphanage, and the orphanage has no tvs, radios, CD players, Internet, or iPods.

The boy decides to go to New York City to find his parents, and quickly is found by a street urchin gang of musical prodigies who live in an abandoned theater with their "protector," Robin Williams (modeled after Fagin and his band of pickpockets in "Oliver") and learns to play the guitar and the organ. Shortly after that he is not only enrolled in Julliard, but he has become a composer and has written a symphony that he will conduct at a huge concert in Central Park. Oh, and his mother, who hasn't picked up the cello in 11 years, is also on the program as a Julliard grad, playing a solo with the same orchestra. And his dad is in town for a gig.

I like fairy tales and magic and ambiguity, but I like believable unbelievability, if you know what I mean. This movie just asks me to suspend disbelief a few too many times.

On the other hand, if there had been a little more cello playing, and cello playing not smothered by guitar playing, I might have suspended a boatload of disbelief.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I feel like a mother who forgot to take her baby out of the carseat....

Monday is a busy day for me; I have a cello lesson at 11 am, in the middle of the workday. Since there is not much space at work to store a cello, I drop my cello off in the morning at the violin shop (where I also occasionally work), just down the street. Then I work or an hour or so, to get my share of the Tuesday paper done. Then I rush back to the violin shop, get my cello, go off to my lesson, return the cello to the shop, and head back to work.

Last night I was up working on a freelance project until about 5 am. I didn't get much sleep, and I missed half my lesson because I spent too much time rewriting one of my reviews. I meant to leave work at 2 pm to go home and rest, but didn't actually get away until about 4 pm.

Imagine my dismay when I saw my cello in my car! I had forgotten to drop it off at the violin shop. Luckily no one driving by my car that day had a craving for a cello. I felt terrible, but the relatively mild weather would be on my side.

All is well, the cello is fine! The lesson went well too, and I had a good practice this evening, and my lovely, forgiving cello sounded beautiful to my ears. I am thanking my lucky stars....

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New ways to get lost

My husband and I attended a concert last night at a great little coffeehouse in the next town. I printed out the coffeehouse's web site directions, the MapQuest directions (but not a printed map, because it looked easy), and entered the address into my cell phone GPS system.

We still got lost. The pouring rain did not help; it was very difficult to read the street signs, or even to see the road. At some point I realized I had entered the address incorrectly into my cell phone. After I corrected that, it was relatively smooth sailing, and we got to the coffeehouse just before the show started.

The music, by the Back Bay [classical] Guitar Trio, was pure magic, and by the time we left, the air was clear, and the sky was full of stars. We managed to get lost on the way home too. The GPS system sent us in circles (or perhaps it was our faulty reading of it) until we figured out where we were.

Maybe next time we venture out to a new venue, I will take the map book too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Harmony, or not

I ran into an old friend last week. Well, I didn't exactly run into her--she was singing in the choir that I was playing flute with. It was great to see her again, and it was easy to forget the unpleasantness which had separated us.

We used to play in the same ensemble, but there was a big blow-up (over the sheet music, more or less) and we went our separate ways. I found it quite unpleasant and painful.

This wasn't the first time this happened in a group I was a member of. A few years ago, I sang in a women's choir that imploded when the director quit. It's complicated, but ironic. This was a group always talking and singing about the harmony among women. The director started another group, inviting only a select few to join her. I was one of them, not for my singing ability, but probably for my desktop publishing, web site, and PR skills. Eventually, there was another little explosion, and I was asked to leave. Again, it is complicated, and I am sure she feels justified.

It's sad though. I have run across many silly and not-so-silly problems in amateur groups, and in and among more professional music organizations. You'd think music would have charms to soothe the savage musicians.

I play in three groups at the moment, and happy to say that they are all congenial groups in which people really seem to care about each other, and about the music. I can't tell you how happy I am about that!

The flute playing, by the way, went fine in the pre-preformance rehearsal, but I felt a little rushed during the actual performance. I said something to the director about it, thinking it was just nerves, and he said he speeded it up because we were running late. Well, at least it wasn't me. Anyway, I got a lot of nice comments, though I think the pre-performance was better than the one people actually heard.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I am so proud!

My daughter was interviewed for an article on the voting habits of young people, or, as this article refers to them:
the Millennials, or alternatively Generation Y or the iGen — the group of people born between roughly 1980 to 1990 who have grown up with the Internet a defining reality in their lives.
I have never heard of this generation being referred to as the "Millennials." Shouldn't that be the generation born between 2000 and 2010? What do I know? The Internet defines reality in my life too. :-)

Anyway, my daughter is one of the people who thinks it is important to take part in the political process, and I am proud of her.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Musical Accompaniment

I'm not saying we should pick a president on the basis of a music video (and it is a little scary to think this may be happening), but I love this video and really wish I could hire Black-eyed Peas and the rest of these mostly-unknown-to-me celebrities to enhance my next cello recital. (Not that Laura isn't doing a magnificent job of accompanying me.) This was produced by and Jesse Dylan (son of Bob).

And, this one,, is even better, politically speaking. I laughed until I cried.