February 2010

The Joy of Completion

February 14, 2010 22:18

It's a fine thing Bert is going to remove me from my computer for Valentine's dinner soon, because today has been intense. I put the finishing touches on two more music anthologies, after wasting considerable time and premium photo paper struggling with my Canon printer, which insisted on printing the black and white photo on the back cover in screaming electric blue.

My sixth volume of Celtic duo arrangements (Green: Songs that Celebrate Our Natural World) is about to go to press, as is my second volume of original short pieces, this one for violin and titled The Faerie Fiddler.
When I conceived The Faerie Fiddler, I had a mildly pedagogical intent, since the book incorporates elfin techniques such as spiccato, trills, and ornamentation. But a teacher reminded me that my offering is not really progressive and urged me to preface it with as many pieces as the book presently contains, starting with open string spiccato exercises. That assignment  seemed boring and non-elfin, and I've no doubt it has already been done in some century. I did incorporate her suggestion to include tempo markings, but now I consider The Faerie Fiddler as merely a collection of charming pieces, accompanied by whimsical verse, to make practicing the aforementioned techniques more fun. After all these years, I still have Mendelssohn on the mind....
Perhaps unemployment has contributed to my flurry of creative activity. When a project gains momentum, I have a burning desire to complete it. It's temperament, partly, because I remember instances of this feeling when I was as young as four. Perhaps the growing realization that, as a friend once said, "the curtain went up a long time ago," propels in me the urge to create. Or perhaps it's because practicing the violin is never complete: One day's practice is enjoyable, inspiring, and fruitful, the next day I'm baffled by what seems like the opposite of progress. Is it the weather, or my mood, that makes me dislike my sound today?

I could wonder about these mysteries forever, so it's satisfying to finish something. My ability to compose duos using counterpoint and implied harmony might still be a work in process, but the anthologies, once I take them to the printer (for their 10-copy run--the economy dictates I must now cut my print runs in half), the book is complete until the next printing. I proudly add it to my stash in the guest room, which is being overtaken by my music books. After I sell my stash, I'll consider whether to make further changes. Just like  Playford's Dancing Master, which underwent 18 editions (each of which probably comprised more than 10-20 copies) and which contributed some of the source material for my duos.
It would, I suppose, be more commercially rewarding  to make a CD, but since I am the only one in this house who is presently unemployed, I'm the only one who has the time for such fantasies. The anthologies I can complete as a solo venture, without for the most part disturbing my significant other.
My books, which sell at the rate of about one per month, are not a capitalist dream venture, but I follow up with fascination to see who my customers are. Many are recreational musicians, some of whom play instruments other than violin and recorder. Some are gigging musicians like myself. Some are from Europe. I was particularly intrigued when at holiday time someone from a far-away continent south of the equator ordered my entire library. The only one in the world thus far to do so--there has to be a special connection!
So on Tuesday, after I cross the Carquinez Bridge, drive west on 80, and bring my two new manuscripts to Berkeley to be printed, I'll resume my violin practice. And if I don't like the way I sound that day--well, I always have those anthologies in the guest bedroom as evidence of my existence.

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When I First Met Mendelssohn

February 13, 2010 09:04

When I First Met Mendelssohn
by Dorothea Barth ©2010
When first I met Mendelssohn
The music made me swoon
In summer of my 15th year
My heart jumped o'r the moon
I played it for my teacher
One who was most renowned
And after a few measures passed
She stopped me, smiled, and frowned
It's lovely, dear, but truth must tell
It's not how it should be
And furthermore, it's far too late
You are no longer three!
With heavy heart and spirit sunk
I brought the tan book home
Forgotten dream, now tucked away
No longer mine to own
And through the years that followed
My studies did go on
I met the Bruch, Viotti too
But not the Mendelssohn
Until some decades later
(I was past 43)
I thirsted for the music
Found one to mentor me
I have no more illusions
I hastened to make clear
Lest verdict recapitulate
I did not want to hear
And then the music flourished
The repertory grew
And a long-lost friend appeared
The Mendelssohn anew
Begin with the Andante
Rehearse it nice and slow
Savor the shifts, caress the trills
And let the music flow
Surrendered to the song's delight
Long past our first romance
It sounded sweet, we made it right
Our unexpected chance

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The Fiddler or the Band

February 12, 2010 19:27


The Fiddler or the Band
by Dorothea Barth ©2010
A musical dilemma reigns
When this choice is at hand:
Lose your soul but soldier on
The fiddler or the band?
Curb that swell and still that phrase
Maestro doth declare
Your feeling 's false, it was not writ
How do you even dare?
New bowings not bestowed today
But slam you if you try
To diagram your own bow's path
To help the passage by
All this swaying 's got to stop
Stay back and barely move
And if you neither feel nor see
Maestro will approve
Sit right here, no, sit right there
That seat your eyes devour
At dress rehearsal we will fill
With fiddler of the hour
Protectors of the fiddle
Might be inspired to flee
When oligarchic canon
Usurps their liberty
Would that the scene were balanced
Would that it not belittle
I'd pirouette and sing in praise:
I love both band and fiddle!
Where have you gone, my mentor
You wise and prudent guide
Who gave my notes direction
While staying on my side
To each his Dulcinea
To each his special song
To each the challenge to discern
What's right and what feels wrong
And so repeats the question
To fiddlers everywhere
I think I know the answer
The fiddle I will spare

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Steiner Street

February 10, 2010 20:52


Steiner Street

by Dorothea Barth  ©2009
Onto the street where music thrived,
Past boyhood park of glee,
With wonder we arrive to see
One thousand forty-three.
Steiner Street stands silent,
But when our car rolls in,
Glass breaks beneath a tire,
Reminder in the din
That everything must change and turn,
A biblical decree;
Whereto the spirit once within
Who played so splendidly?
Steiner house stands silent,
Victorian abode,
Mozart, Bach, and Schubert,
Gone from where once they glowed.
A chosen cherub blossomed here,
Fleet fingers, golden bow,
Sublime endeavor bearing fruit,
Beloved by Apollo.
Steiner house stands silent,
Soft lavender its hues,
Alluring are its secrets,
Bright boyhood and the muse.
Will you not share your story now?
Chimes curiosity;
In stillness comes the answer:
What can I offer thee?
Stringful house stands silent,
As decades disappear,
Contemplation deepens,
Is that Chaconne I hear?
Enchanting old adjacent inn
Welcomes us to see
The history and fair façade
Of Chateau Tivoli.

Steiner house stays silent,
At last we must agree,
Discovery awaits us
At next door’s B and B.
A cup of tea, a music stand,
A flute, a violin,
A serenade across the fence
Where once lived Menuhin.
Steiner Street stands silent
And we go on our way;
As neighbors we will soon return,
If only for a day.

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Horse of Russian Winter

February 10, 2010 20:42

Inspired by practicing Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, Winter Daydreams.

Horse of Russian Winter
by Dorothea Barth  ©2009
Too soon the mournful tune has passed   
Chromatics trot at fearful pace 
They leap and bolt, evading grasp 
As hands extend, relentless race
Eyes shift to follow notes' escape 
Sideways their orchestral glance
To capture what is not yet lost
And give the music its best chance 
Quite suddenly the sheet transforms 
The notes converge and flow downhill  
And from the snow-swept taiga woods
A horse bursts forth and then stands still
"Behold the Russian winter 
Behold the frozen ground 
Behold the lonely silence 
Behold the hidden sound 
See the Russian winter
Its vastness and its glow 
Dig beneath the Arctic snow
Find sustenance below
Feel the Russian winter
The white cranes have all flown 
Breathe the vapors of what was
In centuries unknown
Hear the Russian winter
The larch tree sighs and pounds 
Enter songful cabin 
Camaraderie abounds
Taste the Russian winter 
And savor now the shchi 
Raise a glass of honeyed  brew 
And bid the winter flee" 
A toss of mane, a storm of hooves
White winter's  horse has fled  
The symphony is surging 
What new themes lie ahead?
My fingers feeling fleeter 
There's no more need to count 
The horse of winter shimmers 
As I embrace the sound 

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