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Music for the Moment

Margaret Mehl

Written by
Published: November 29, 2014 at 4:26 PM [UTC]

Yesterday (28 November 2014) was the Big Day. The day set for launching Not by Love Alone: The Violin in Japan, 1850–2010 with a burst of music. Bowed of course, by myself, brilliantly aided and abetted on the piano by one of my chamber music companions, Jean-Claude Grivel. For both of us a recital is a big change from our day jobs as researchers, Jean-Claude at the Technical University of Denmark, I at the University of Copenhagen.

We played pieces by three composers discussed in my book and in a short talk I introduced each one before we played their work:

Kôda Nobu (1870–1946)
Sonata Movement for Violin and Piano in E flat major (1895)
Kishi Kôichi (1909–1937)
Tsuki (Moon), Suifu no uta (Sailor’s Air) (first published and performed 1934)
Miyagi Michio (1894–1956)
Haru no Umi (Sea in Springtime, 1929) Violin version as performed by Renée Chemet with the composer in 1932

playingAs the day drew nearer I did my best to push away all thoughts of my own recklessness. I had actually asked people to come and listen to me not only lecture – after all I do that as part of my profession – but play my violin, and not one but four pieces! Most of my rare public performances are in ensembles with several others and organized by someone else.

To help me prepare, I’d finally splashed out on one of the recording machines recommended by Gerald Klickstein’s Musician’s Way website. Now I not only had a most excellent reason to record myself as part of my practice: the new gadget would also enable me to record THE BIG EVENT. So I got to know the dream machine well enough to use the ”rec,” the stop and the playback switches. I even recorded myself tuning the violin up from 440 to 442 Hz to adjust to the pitch of the karaoke koto (plucked zither) recording for ”Sea in Springtime” (Lesson learnt: If it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it – apparently I’d tuned to 442 previously and the strings were still in place).

Reckless or no, here we were, in a large church hall in the centre of Copenhagen. The combined mailing lists of the Japanese Embassy, the Danish-Japanese Society and as many personal invitations as I managed to write before running out of steam brought in an audience of over 70 people – pretty impressive, seeing that we were competing with ”Black Friday” (held for the first time in Copenhagen I hear), the finals of the popular TV show ”Vild med dans” (Crazy about Dance) an the beginning of Advent and the Christmas party season. The drinks and nibbles and – of course! – copies of Not by Love Alone were ready, the president of the Danish-Japanese Society (which was sponsoring the event) welcomed everyone and introduced us, and then we were on.

Talking first worked brilliantly – talking comes much more easily to me than playing the violin. Kôda Nobu’s lovely sonata movement went pretty well (ok, so some bits remained slightly dodgy, but I’d given myself advance pardon for that). The pieces by Kishi Kôichi and Miyagi Michio I’d decided to play from memory – don’t think I’ve attempted this since my last performance in a student recital back in the early ’80s. I felt that Kishi’s pieces demanded a freer approach than Kôda and that it was easier to establish a rapport with the pianist. And for ”Sea in Springtime,” in the absence of visual cues from my invisible partner, I wanted to be all ears.

After the last note had sounded – I remembered to stay in playing position with my bow on the string until the invisible koto player had concluded ”Sea in Springtime” with his final arpeggio – I felt I had surpassed myself in one of the most challenging performances I’d ever attempted. Of course, perfection eluded us, but we’d given the best we could. Deeply thankful for the friendly audience and everything and everyone who had helped make the launch truly special, I sailed through the rest of the evening.

signing

Not until this morning as I was eating breakfast with a distinct ”morning after the night before” feeling did an appalling thought come to me: I knew I’d switched on the recording machine. I was almost certain I had pressed the ”rec” switch. But had I pressed it twice? A quick test confirmed my dreadful suspicion: throughout my dream performance the dream machine (complete with fresh 32-GB SD card and brand-new batteries) was on standby!

Yet even while disappointment hit me, I felt that maybe there was something entirely right about the absence of a recording. After all, what were my real motives for wanting the performance recorded? True, I had no intention of uploading it on Youtube or Facebook. But was I not driven by the wish to hold on to what I hoped would be an amazing performance, rather than the wish to learn? Anyway, would I have learnt from a recording? That I was right in suspecting that my playing had been far from flawless? So what! Hadn’t I always meant to be a unique event? And if so, what would I gain from dissecting a recording? The most important and useful lessons from yesterday are already engraved in my brain and in my heart.

Ultimately music is meant to exist in the moment when it is played. These days we forget all too easily that music isn’t a thing, a mere commodity. Music is best when we play and listen actively as it unfolds. So the music on the Big Day was truly music of and for the moment, to be savoured as a memory, without the illusion that we can cling to what rightfully belongs to the here and now.


Not by Love Alone is now available from Amazon. ( as Kindle as well as paperback).


From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on November 30, 2014 at 6:25 AM
kairos time... :-)

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 1, 2014 at 4:58 PM
Congratulations on the publication of your book, Margaret!

From Margaret Mehl
Posted on December 2, 2014 at 8:40 PM
Thanks Laurie!

A few people have asked me about recordings and sheet music of the works I played, so here are the details in case they’re of interest to others on violinist.com:

Nobu KOHDA’s sonatas:
Nihon josei sakyokka no ayumi – vaiorin sakuhin (Japanese female composers, violin works; Chihiro INDA vn, Mariko HORIE, pf) Mittenwald MTWD 99038.

Mittenwald is a small company in Tokyo (despite the name) specializing in the recording of works by Japanese composers, particularly violin and chamber works: http://homepage3.nifty.com/mittenwald/ (in Japanese)
e-mail: mittenwald-vn@nifty.com

KISHI’s short violin pieces:
Koichi KISHI, Sonata for Violin and Piano; Compositions for Violin and Piano (played by Masayuki KINO vn, Mami KINO pf) Mittenwald MTWD 99013.

Michio MIYAGI:
There are numerous recordings of Haru no umi (Sea in Springtime) in the original version for shakuhachi and koto: you can also find the piece on Youtube.

For the version with Renée Chemet and the composer:
Miyagi Michio (by the Japan Traditional Music Foundation) VZCP-1101.

The “Chemet version” of Haru no umi was transcribed by a member of the Archives of Modern Japanese Music at Meiji Gakuin University Library
http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/library/amjm/en/ (in English)

The other sheet music:
Nobu KOHDA, Two Sonatas for Violin and Piano (edited by Shin-ichiro IKEBE), Tokyo: zen-on music,2006. ISBN 4-11-338004-X

Kishi Koichi (Koichi KISHI), Tsuki (Moon), Senpu no uta (Sailor’s Air) as well as his other four short violin pieces are published individually by Konan Gakuen (the school he went to): see http://www.konan-u.ac.jp

Happy listening!
Margaret

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