Where I live, we are now just a few minutes into December 31, 2007.
As a v.commie, I am a member of a virtual network of people all over the world who share a love for the violin. I can’t say “thank you” enough to Laurie Niles, who created and maintains this site. I wish all of you a very happy and successful new year.
Joshua Bell will perform with the New York Philharmonic on New Year’s Eve, and you can watch and listen in your home. The concert will be broadcast on Monday night on “Live from Lincoln Center” from 8-10 PM EST. Joshua Bell will play an impressive repertoire of romantic violin showcase pieces: Kreisler’s “Liebesleid” and “Liebesfreud,” Saint-Saen’s “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane,” Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita,” and Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” The outgoing Philharmonic conductor, Lorin Maazel, will lead the orchestra in Paul Dukas The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero." What a good start for violinists in 2008!
When I found out that Kathleen Battle was giving a Christmas concert at the Kennedy Center, I bought a ticket right away. The last time I heard her, she sang only gospel and jazz, and she was magnificent. I ignored the other people on the program -- Joel Martin (on piano) and the WPAS (Washington Performing Arts) Children of the Gospel Choir. I won't ignore them again. The concert was wonderful and full of surprises.
The first surprise was the group of people waiting outside the the door to the building. They were young to middle aged, white, and healthy looking. They were sitting on camp chairs, drinking from thermos jugs, and chatting, and I saw warm sleeping bags piled up nearby. They were obviously not street people or protesters, so why were they there? Another concertgoer answered my question. Later this month the Kennedy Center was going to put on a free Messiah sing along performance, but tickets were required. Tickets would be available the next morning, and these people were going to camp out overnight to be at the head of the line for the free tickets.
The next surprise was in the entrance hall inside, where one side of the hall was cordoned off. On the other side of the rope was a long line of young girls in ballet costumes -- tutus, tights, and ballet shoes. I asked someone about them and was told that they were trying out for bit parts in a performance of The Nutcracker.
As I walked through the lobby, into the concert hall, and then to my seat, I noticed something unusual about the crowd. Normally, the concertgoers are almost all white, including middle aged to senior Americans and Europeans of all ages. This time, there were many African American women, all dressed beautifully. A few of them spoke English with accents, suggesting that they were born in another country, probably somewhere in the Caribbean or West Africa. They all carried themselves very proudly, as if they had come to root for the home team.
When I took my seat, I read the program and saw many Christmas related songs, some that I liked, some that I didn't like, and some that I had never heard of. I read the program a second time and saw "The program will include selections from the following." Kathleen Battle decided what she would sing as she went along and told the pianist before she started each piece. (I've seen Itzhak Perlman do something similar, but he makes it a real comedy. He has a large stack of papers in his lap. He goes through them one by one and tosses them everywhere on the stage. By the time he finds what he wants to play, the audience and the musicians on stage (a pianist or Pinchas Zukerman) are laughing heartily.) The first two songs Kathleen Battle sang were classical -- Rejoice Greatly (from Handel's Messiah) and the Schubert Ave Maria -- and she sang them beautifully. She is 59 years old, and her voice isn't what it used to be, but her musicianship and artistry were as good, if not better, as ever. Her singing was very moving, and she still has a remarkable ability to engage the audience.
The next surprise came when the Gospel Choir sang their first song, "O Come O come Emmanuel," a song that makes me think of old cathedrals lit by tapers with a choir singing slowly and sweetly. The Gospel Choir, led by Stanley J. Thurston, artistic director, sang a very different version arranged by Mr. Thurston himself. It was sung in the African American gospel style. It was very lively, to say the least. The audience got excited and clapped along during the whole piece. It was a bit of culture shock for me, but I loved it. I also loved the African American gospel style of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" as sung by the choir.
Yet another surprise was in store for me. During the next segment of the concert I felt as if we had been transported into a jazz club. Each piece began with a long, jazz solo introduction played magnificently by the pianist who had played in other styles earlier in the concert. He always sounded very good, but when he played jazz, his music was dazzling. Kathleen Battle seemed to have been transported to the jazz club with the pianist. She sang Christmas carols and other happy songs in the style of a torch singer. She sounded wonderful in this genre, too. She sang "My Favorite Things" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," two songs that I don't like, but when she sang them like a torch singer, I loved them. One sign of a very good musician is that he or she can make you love something you previously disliked.
Of course, after the program there were encores. The last encore was "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," sung by Kathleen Battle. I've heard it sung slowly, sadly, yet with a touch of relief. Kathleen Battle sang it as a happy song. I've been told that in some parts of this country, gospel songs about death and dying are sung as happy songs because of the joy of going to heaven.
Overall, the songs in this concert were beautifully performed, often in styles which were surprising to me. I left feeling that my spirit had been strengthened.
My bow was overdue for rehairing, so I put it in an empty violin case and started off for the luthier. I walked to the Metro station with my purse over one shoulder, my violin case over the other shoulder, and a small backpack containing a book to read on the train and bus plus a small snack. When I got close to the Metro station, a saw a huge batch of fresh flowers on the sidewalk next to a telephone pole. It looked like they had rolled downhill and were stopped by the telephone pole. I love flowers, and these didn't seem to belong to anyone, so I took a lot of them, concentrating on those with long stems and those that I know will keep well indoors. It was raining lightly, and my gloves and the flowers were wet. I suppose I looked like Ophelia from Hamlet. When I got to the luthier, I told the staff there to take as many of the flowers as they liked and asked them to wrap the remainder in something good to carry them in for me. They were delighted to have the flowers. They told me that they are always looking for things to put in the store window, and these would be just right. I gave them the bow to rehair and started walking to the bus stop. I passed a store with a sign that said "Antiques," so I went in. I would describe the place as a flea market.
I bought it for the princely sum of $3.20, thinking that the staff at the luthier's shop might like it for their window.
When I got home, I put most of my flowers
The next day, I walked to the Metro station again, and the flowers were still there. I found that most of them were in potted floral arrangements. The first one I picked up was too big and heavy to carry, but I found
About a week later I went to the luthier to pick up my bow, carrying the orange violin, a gift of gourmet chocolates, and a hand written note of thanks to the staff. (The flowers were gone from the sidewalk this time.) First, I showed them the orange violin, and they were delighted. They believed that it would look great in their store window. They saw the pins sticking out of it where pegs should be, and one of the staff said that she had an idea for reconstructing the missing pegs. Then I pulled out the chocolates, and the whole staff gathered around the gift, all extremely happy with it.
I enjoyed the whole experience very much. I love making people happy.
Bernstein conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra, Beethoveen's Fifth Symphony
“It is as though I must succumb to this world that Beethoven has created, and I suppose I almost treat it in a religious sort of way. In the world of his music, Beethoven is God. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it is as though I begin to warm up to what religious people refer to as a loving God within that musical world. I feel as though I surrender to this. I feel that there is somebody who knows this world so much better than I do – and it is Beethoven himself, who created it – and there is something very comforting about that. Somehow that gets me feeling very relaxed. I think what a privilege it is to be a part of this great, beautiful piece of music. And this helps me get rid of my nerves and stops my extraneous thoughts about technical issues and what I did or didn’t do in the practice room.”
I know that v.commies can argue endlessly about the best players and the best performances, but keep this in mind: None of these great performances would be possible without Beethoven himself.
Happy Beethoven's birthday, everyone.
The Plains and Midwest of the U.S. were hit hard by an ice storm earlier this week. The storm left a glaze of ice up to 1 ½ inches (approximately 3.8 cm) thick. Many trees and power lines were downed by the ice. Streets were impassable and power outages were widespread. At worst part of the storm, approximately one million (1,000,000) homes and businesses were without power. Fortunately, warmer weather has come and the ice is melting.
Toyota is expanding its R&D in robots. (See http://news.thomasnet.com/IMT/archives/2007/12/light_friday_norad_tracks_santa_battle_robots_toyota_plays_violin.html?t=recent .) The company is building a new research facility and hiring more engineers to work on robots. The giant auto-maker recently unveiled a violin-playing robot which stands 5 ft. tall and features 17 flexible joints and mechanical fingers.
I recently came across some words of wisdom on music that I would like to share. The writing is by Dan Haerle on his retirement from the University of North Texas, College of Music, Jazz Studies Division in May, 2002. The emphasis in bold is my own.
Parting Thoughts - Some Ideas for Music Students
If you don't have a natural curiosity about the musical world and the sounds you hear every day, a musical profession is probably not for you.
Share the wealth. Pass on what you know to others. Music is an aural tradition that is continually handed down from generation to generation. You must listen to and assimilate the good qualities of great musicians.
Music is composed of notes and rests. Space is as important as sound.
Every instrument is hard and every instrument is easy; it all depends on your attitude.
Playing music is the ultimate high, with no retribution!
Don't play music to glorify yourself, give of yourself to glorify the music. Give up your ego and make the music more important than you.
Adopt the Hallmark philosophy of music. Care enough to send your very best!
Performing in a group is as much social interaction as it is a musical experience. A good performance by a musical group is an excellent example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
At any time, you are perfectly alright and simply in some stage of your growth. There will always be musicians who are more or less experienced than you. Be inspired by all of them.
In addition to the usual, practice away from the instrument, study with the instrument in hand.
Learning the melodies to songs correctly is a simple matter of respect for the composers.
It is the performer's responsibility to make a piece sound as the composer intended or else to write his or her own composition. An artist learns how to recognize the ways in which the composer indicates what the sound of a composition is.
There is only one tempo for a tune, the one that was counted off. Subtle differences in tempo can create entirely new experiences with the same music.
Music is sound, not notation on a page. Learn pieces by ear and be able to sing them.
Bring something strong to any performance; don¹t be the weak link in the chain.
The standard of excellence in music is well documented on recordings. Wherever you may be, you must aspire to that standard.
Music is not the Olympics. There are no medals awarded for the highest notes, greatest number of notes in a solo, or the fastest notes.
All music speaks to someone and therefore has value even if you are not prepared to receive what it has to say.
Musical performance at a high level demands everything in terms of commitment and guarantees nothing in terms of employment.
There will always be someone who likes your music and someone who dislikes your music. Get over it and focus on the music as being the most important thing.
Now and then, make a point of going to hear some music that you are pretty sure you don¹t like. You may confirm your suspicions or you may come away from the performance changed in some slight way.
Daydream about music, hearing yourself singing or playing and sounding great. This will strengthen your conviction of what you want to sound like.
Always get a good sound; it is the representation of your musical soul.
No one can teach you anything, only guide your learning. You learn by an investment of effort (practice or study). The best way to learn is by discovery through searching for the answers.
There are only two kinds of music in the world, good and bad. Always try to involve yourself in music of any style that is well done with conviction.
When you improvise in a jazz setting, you are baring your soul musically and there is a chance that someone will ridicule you. Believe that you have something that deserves hearing as much as anyone.
Music of integrity can have wide appeal. Commercially successful music may still be artistic.
There is never enough time in life. Learn how to use your time efficiently and try to accept the tasks that have to be done even though they interfere with the things that are important to you.
Some people may try to demean you or make you feel inferior. You don't deserve to be treated this way and should not acknowledge this kind of behavior.
All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Plus, what goes around comes around.
Try to see problems in music or life as opportunities for growth.
You are often expected to perform at a high level when tired, wearing uncomfortable clothes or in a bad environment. Deal with it; you can rest, change clothes and take a shower later.
He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.
Guilt is a useless emotion. Rather than feeling guilty, take action to correct or improve the situation.
Never give up. There are always other choices if something doesn¹t work out.
We must all be both teachers and students of music and life. There is always more to learn and there are those who can benefit from our knowledge and experience.
Don't worry about things that are out of your control and that may not really matter anyway. Continue to try to determine what does matter to you.
Be a positive force in the universe and always try to see the good in life.
Don't be afraid to take risks. It is by taking risks that we learn to be brave.