January 2005

January 27, 2005 01:20

I had a simple, fun gig last Sunday. I played for two services at a nearby church. This is somewhat unusual for me because I am not a Christian. (I belong to a Unitarian church.) My community symphony orchestra rehearses rent free in a local church and, in return, musicians from the orchestra donate their services to the church. When I contacted the music director of the church, he was happy to find that I play several genres in addition to classical music. He was especially interested in gospel music. I suddenly realized that I don't know a whole lot of gospel music, and a lot of the gospel songs I know have short verses, but many of them. I tried a Google image search in the hope of finding sheet music for gospel songs, but there was very little. However, I found lots of collections of lyrics, including the trusty Cyber Hymnal. When I sort of know a song, I can remember the melody if I see the words. Now I had several gospel songs for the music director, J, to choose among. I also suggested a slow, sweet Irish traditional song, Carrickfergus, to play during the offertory. I told J that in my own church, I always give more during the offertory if the organist is playing Bach. J didn't know Carrickfergus, so I told him that I'd get him a copy of the sheet music. I had learned the tune from a CD which I couldn't find, so I did another Google image search. I found Carrickfergus, but not the way I play it. I set out to write down the music my own way and confirmed what I already knew, that the folk tradition is aural and the written version is only an approximation of the sound. I wrote it all down, tried playing it, made corrections to my written version, and played it again. It was as close as it was going to get. I explained this to J and told him that in Celtic music, two consecutive notes are generally not played for exactly the same length of time. For example, two consecutive eighth notes are often played as a dotted eight followed by a sixteenth. I made some subjective decisions about when to write down two eighth notes and when to write down a dotted eighth and a sixteenth, and I told J that the truth was probably somewhere between the two possibilities. When we played it together, I played my written version, so that we would both be literally reading from the same score. All the music I played sounded really good with J's piano back up. It's so nice when something works out so well.

Being in the church was an interesting experience for me. The sanctuary was small and very pretty. It was round, with an A frame type roof, and glass panels going most of the way around the circumference. The view of the woods was beautiful, and you almost felt that you were outdoors. J told me that he often saw birds, squirrels, and even deer through the glass panels. All that glass made the sanctuary hard to heat, and the temperature remained at about 63 degrees Fahrenheit during the services. The minister mentioned at the beginning of the service that the Presbyterian church has a strong singing tradition. The singing and the piano and organ music were all very good. J played the organ really beautifully. The choral number that I liked the most was an excerpt from Schubert's Mass #2. (I didn't even know that Schubert wrote masses. I associate him with lieder and chamber music, as well as nine symphonies.) There were two soloists, one male and one female, and they both sounded so good. Although the theology was alien to me, I was quite happy with the music.

The people in the church were nice, too. There was a fellowship break, with coffee and pastries, between the two services, and I went to partake. Several people came up to me, said that they had noticed that I was new, introduced themselves, and talked with me. Those who had been at the first service thanked me for playing and told me they enjoyed it. I also got lots of appreciation after the second service. Members of the congregation praised J highly in their conversations with me. They told me that the church organ was only one year old, and J had given an organ recital to celebrate, with plenty of Bach. They all said that it was a great concert, and, based on the music I heard J make, it must have been. I got another perspective from talking to members of the choir, since J served as choir director. They just loved him.

The church is near my home, the congregation is friendly, and the music is great. If I could only tolerate the theology, I'd join the church. I will get on their mailing list so that I can attend some of their music events, including an organ concert by J if I'm lucky. Also, I told J that I'd like to come back and play for services again. In addition to having a good time, I had the satisfaction of helping my community orchestra pay the rent.

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January 17, 2005 22:11

I stopped in a music store today and bought some trifles, namely bumper stickers, even though I don't have a car. One of the stickers says, "If you can read this, thank a music teacher," and is ornamented with fragments of musical score. I bought this one to replace my previous one, which I lost. I had tried to stick it on my violin case, but it didn't stick. The case is covered with a fabric similar to what's used on backpacks. Oh well, I'm teaching music, not physics or chemistry. My other purchase was inspired by a frustrating lesson I gave to a talented student yesterday. It says, "Go home and practice," and it's ornamented with skull and crossbones. I passed up "Tune it or die," also with skull and crossbones, because I think it's better suited to a 12 string guitar. An interesting one that appealed to me personally says, "Support the arts. Kiss a Musician." (See my previous blog entry.) However, I felt that "marry" or "hug" would be more appropriate for me, and I already have "Hug a musician." To be practical, or maybe wishful, I hung a few of my business cards on the bulletin board. I managed to get out of the store without buying any more sheet music, but I confess that it was because they didn't have anything for violin there. So, my wild shopping spree only cost me $3.00 + tax.

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January 12, 2005 21:44

Like so many other bloggers on this site, I love teaching violin. I love making people happy. I feel at least as rewarded and excited as my students do when they make even a little progress.

Today I gave a lesson to an adult beginner with no background in music before coming to me for lessons. OK, he had some background -- listening to Irish fiddle music and loving it. I had started him with the usual: open strings, scales, Twinkle. I'm getting so tired of Twinkle. I was looking for something easy and Irish for him. Just to let him hear an Irish tune, I played, "The Castle of Dromore," aka "October Winds," and he said, "I want to play that!" It's not the easiest Irish tune to start with, but I couldn't say no to his enthusiasm. I taught it to him by ear and then wrote him a cheat sheet, with letters and numbers, to take home and practice. Today he played all the notes almost correctly and I helped him with his intonation. Then I told him that some notes are to be played for a longer time than others (quarter notes and half notes) and showed him some bowings. He picked up the rhythm and the bowings and started to emphasize the first beat of every three. Amazing! Most students find 3/4 or 6/8 time harder than 4/4, so I usually start them on 4/4. I told him so and reminded him that he had requested this tune. He replied that he loves it. This was only his fifth lesson and he is playing music, not just playing notes. Wow!

I wish I didn't need a day job to support myself. Then I could just teach violin. If I had stayed married, I probably could have retired by now. Then again, if I had stayed married, I'd probably be dead by now. Another possibility comes from some freelance work (technical editing) I'm doing for an inventor. I told him that when his inventions sell and he becomes rich, I want a small percentage, just enough so that I won't need a day job and I can teach violin. His wife told me that I have to stand in line. She wants to retire, too. I fantasize about marrying a "financially secure" man who is old fashioned enough to support me financially so that I can just teach violin and dispense with a day job. Perhaps I can post an ad that says, "Support the arts. Marry me." Reality is tough.

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January 7, 2005 00:26

I've had so much fun spending my Christmas gift money -- and then some -- on music, of course. One of my gifts was something that several people said, in a discussion on this site, that they'd like for a Christmas gift: a gift certificate at Barnes and Noble. I decided to buy something special, and that meant Bach. One can never have too much Bach. In fact, one can never have too many recordings of one's favorite Bach pieces played by different artists. I read recently that a newspaper reporter once asked Casals why he played so much Bach. Casals replied, "Because Bach is my best friend." Bach is just right for me no matter what mood or what stage of my life I'm in.

I bought two 2-CD sets. I know that I'll be able to listen to them for years without growing tired of them. The first set is the French Suites played by Keith Jarrett on harpsichord. Jarrett is probably best known as a jazz performer, but I love the way he plays Bach. He has an unerring ability to go to the very essence of the music. His playing is not minimalist or cold. It has real feeling. He finds the heart of the music and shows it to us, his listeners. I think that if Georgia O'Keefe had been a musician, she would have played Bach the way Keith Jarrett does. This aspect of Jarrett's style must be even more pronounced in recent years, since he's had chronic fatigue syndrome. He says that the name is not a good description of the illness, but he admits that fatigue is a big part of it. He has had to give up live jazz performances with improvisations since he can't keep up. He still records, and he also composes. I have a recording of one of his compositions, and it, too, has that quality of going to the very heart of the music.

For my second Bach 2-CD set, I bought The Art of Fugue played by the Juilliard String Quartet. I love this piece, and, for years, I have been listening to Neville Mariner's instrumental version. I know that I've been listening to it for years because I still have the vinyl recording. Bach wrote Art of Fugue for four voices, but he did not specify instruments. Many scholars and musicians believe that it is "made for" keyboards, but the Juilliard String Quartet feels differently. Of course, for us string musicians, a piece with four voices seems "made for" string quartet. I love the clarity of the sound with only four instruments. I'm more aware of the music as a conversation or interaction among four different voices. It is sublime.

I indulged myself in one more thing, a portable CD player. I considered this an indulgence because I didn't think I'd use it a lot. After all, I have a stereo, a boombox, and a computer which can play CDs. The I tried it. Wow! the quality of the sound is so much better than what I get with my boombox or computer, probably because there are no speakers to degrade the quality of the sound. I spend so much of my time at my computer. That's where I am now, listening to Art of Fugue with my portable CD player while I write. This is heavenly.

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January 3, 2005 21:30

I have come to a shameful realization. For a long time I've focussed on expanding my repertoire at the expense of improving my technique. No more! I'm going to do scales, arpeggios, thirds, fifths, and positions. I have a Suzuki book that I'll use for starters. I need to train myself in addition to training my students. This is my new year's resolution.

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January 1, 2005 11:16

I am so happy to be back in my own home! I've been listening to music steadily since I got here. I just listened to the Vienna Philharmonic's annual New Year's concert and loved it. The Blue Danube Waltz is almost a hackneyed cliche, but it sounded bubbly and great when they played it. I'm thinking about what I want to buy at Barnes and Noble with my gift certificate there. It's got to be a two CD set of something really special. It's sunny and unseasonably warm (62 degrees, like spring) here, and I want to go out for a walk. Then it will be time for chores, including unpacking, doing laundry to get the cat hair off of my clothes, etc.

Happy new year, everyone!

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