August 2006

Mendelssohn and providence

August 31, 2006 23:54

Last night I was up late listening to classical music on Internet radio (, as I usually do. I was getting really sleepy when a recording of the Mendelssohn concerto came on, and it was so overwhelmingly sweet that I forced myself to stay awake until it ended so that I could find out who was playing. It was Gil Shaham. Today I got an email from the Kennedy Center telling me about their September concerts, and, as if by providence, Gil Shaham will be there playing the Brahms concerto. My good luck held up and I was able to buy a ticket for only $20. I will hear Gil Shaham on Sept. 22 and Joshua Bell on Sept. 24. Wow! What a weekend!

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August 27, 2006 10:21

I just sent an email with attachment to the parents of my school-age students.


It's that time of year again. Time for renewing life. (See attachment). I've missed everyone who was away, even for a short time, this summer. School starts this week. As soon as you know your schedule, please contact me so that we can schedule lessons or confirm lesson times.



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Kiri's Piano

August 25, 2006 22:07

I keep thinking of that beautiful broken fiddle that was destroyed by years of neglect and abuse that I wrote about in my blog, August 4 and 6, 2006. I hope that never happens to my own beloved violin

Kiri's Piano

Of all of Kiri Ito's joys, the thing she loved the best
Was to play her prized piano when the sun had gone to rest
I used to hear the notes drift down along the silent water
As Kiri played the notes and scales for her dear sons and daughters
Now me I played piano though not as good as Kiri
She went in for that long-haired stuff but my, she played it pretty
The old piano had a tone would set my heart to aching
It always sounded sweetest though when it was Kiri playing

In December when the seventh fleet was turned to smoke and ashes
The order came to confiscate their fishing boats and caches
And Kiri's husband forced to go and work in labour camps
And Kiri left alone and fend and hold the fort as best she can
But the music did not drift as often from up the cove at Kiri's house
And when it did it sounded haunted, played with worry, played with doubt
For Kiri knew that soon she too would be compelled to leave
And the old upright would stay behind and Kiri she would grieve

I loaded Kiri on the bus with stoic internees
The crime that they were guilty of was that they were not like me
And if I was ashamed I didn't know it at the time
They were flotsam on the wave of war, they were no friends of mine
I went up to Kiri's house to tag all their belongings
And set them out for auctioneers who'd claim them in the morning
One piece that I thought I'd keep and hold back for myself
Was that haunting ivory upright that Kiri played so well

But Kiri had not left it there for me to take as plunder
She'd rolled it down onto the dock and on into the harbor
The old upright in strangers' hands was a thought she couldn't bear
So she consigned it to the sea to settle the affair
So many years have come and gone since Kiri's relocation
I look back now upon that time with shame and resignation
For Kiri knew what I did not that if we must be free
Then sometimes we must sacrifice to gain our dignity

James Keelaghan wrote this song, which is based on a true story about a Canadian woman of Japanese descent who was interned in a labor camp in Alberta, Canada during the Second World War. (

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The right stuff

August 23, 2006 21:36

I encountered some interesting beer bottles at a party earlier this summer. One of the women there pulled off some of the labels and gave them to people who were well suited to them, in her opinion. She gave me “Love Guru.” I like it because nothing could be farther from the truth. Does anyone see a label suitable for yourself or anyone you know?

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A violin teacher's dream

August 22, 2006 22:29

I once read that dreams are like letters to ourselves, if we only know how to read them. This one isn’t hard.

I went to a job fair held at a local hotel to look for violin teacher positions. I visited the booth of a local folk music store which has studios for music teachers on its staff and also gives referrals to other teachers. I like teaching music in my own home, but I wanted to consider teaching at a store where students could come to me for a few hours once or twice a week. To my surprise, the set up was completely different from what I had expected. The store had many, many teachers on its staff, and all the orchestral instruments were included. Instrument instruction was given as one big course which was team taught by all the teachers, in a manner similar to survey courses such as Introduction to Biology at a university. I asked how many times a week I would have to come to the store to teach, and I was told “nine.” This did not sound appealing. One of the staff who knew me suggested that I apply for an administrative position instead. The work would be coordinating the music course and would include such tasks as making phone calls, photocopying, and compiling and distributing schedules. In the past I would have shunned this kind of dum-dum work, but I decided that it might be more fun than teaching, so I applied for the job.

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Vacation pics

August 18, 2006 10:55

I haven’t gone away for a vacation, so I’m going to post some photos of a local tourist attraction and pretend that I went there on vacation.

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, my parents would bring me to Washington DC, about 40 miles away, to see the Smithsonian museum and the National Gallery of Art, and I thought of them as my local museums and art gallery. It was not until years later, when I grew up, that I learned that not every city has such gems.

The East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a bright, airy building designed by I. M. Pei, houses art from the twentieth century and later. The outside is faced with marble and flanked with sculptures and fountains.

East Wing, National gallery of Art

Plaza between the East Wing and the West Wing. Bram, I hope you’re reading this. I photographed the hotchix with you in mind.

Bronze statue by Henry Moore

The interior of the East Wing is a fun space. The shape is unusual – triangular – and there is a lot of open space and light within. The light pours in through the glass prisms of the ceiling, and the gallery is sunny inside, even on a cloudy day. All these things contribute to a sense of movement in the East Wing. There is real movement, too, in the form of a huge mobile by Alexander Calder which is suspended from the ceiling. I like walking around on the floor of the atrium and the walkways of the upper floors to see the Calder mobile. It looks different from every vantage point. There is one place on one of the ramps where I always feel that the mobile is going to bump right into me, but it never does. Even the people inside the Gallery seem to be part of the design, and they move around, too.

Atrium of East Wing

Calder mobile

The best part of my vacation is that I can go back almost any time.

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Invitation to hear Joshua Bell

August 16, 2006 01:10

Joshua Bell is giving a concert in Washington DC on Sept. 24, as I mentioned earlier (see comment on Sydney Menees blog, 8/11/06). He will perform the Tchaikovsky Concerto for the season opening of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. As if his performance won’t be enough, the entire program will be music by Tchaik, including Slavonic March, excerpts from Eugene Onegin sung by soloists from the Kirov Opera, Romeo and Juliet, and the 1812 Overture, and a ball will follow. Wow!! If anyone from would like to attend, please let me know. This would be a great way to meet each other. Sydney has organized a similar get-together for a concert by Anne-Sophie Mutter in Chicago, and I’m following her lead. (Thanks, Sydney.) I can’t guarantee that we can go backstage and meet JB, but if anyone wants to try

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Dancing skeletons II

August 14, 2006 02:33

I told a friend recently that I was feeling depressed, and he asked why. I said, “Nothing new, just old issues being recycled. It’s as if the skeletons have come out of the closet in my mind, and now they’re dancing.” “In that case,” he replied, “take out your fiddle and play for them.”

I love it.

See dancing skeleton

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Cultural wasteland

August 10, 2006 01:10

Years ago, when I was seeing a counselor to help me recover from my divorce, I complained that it was hard to find suitable bachelors. He said, “Maybe you’re being too selective. What are your criteria?” I told him that the hardest qualities to find in men are intellect and culture. He replied, “You’re down to 2% of the population.” “But this is the Washington DC metropolitan area,” I protested. “People here are supposed to be affluent and educated.” “OK. 4% of the population,” he said. I’m not sure whether his numbers were right, but sometimes I feel like I’m living in a cultural wasteland.

  • I was discussing education in the public schools with a friend who is the mother of a six year old. I told her that classical music is in deep trouble in this country, and if kids don’t learn about music, especially classical music, in school, the art form may become extinct. I’d like to do some music teaching as a volunteer in a public school, and I enlisted her help. She said that six year olds are just not old enough to learn about classical music.
  • Shar Music is asking people to share their thoughts on keeping young students motivated by teaching them alternative styles instead of classical music.
  • A parent called me recently to ask about violin lessons for his daughter. He said that he and his wife don’t want their kid to study classical music; they want him to learn some music that’s fun.
  • Another parent called me re violin lessons for her daughter, who has been taking private lessons for about three years. The daughter is losing motivation because classical music is so difficult to learn and requires so much practice and, besides, she doesn’t like to practice scales. She asked whether I could teach her daughter bluegrass music instead because it is easier and her daughter would not have to practice so much or learn scales.
  • Someone asked me to recommend a good video to watch so that he can teach himself how to play violin. He knew he wouldn’t have much trouble because he taught himself how to play guitar. He thinks taking lessons from a teacher would be a waste of time.
  • Someone else posted a question about chords on a folk music site. She said that she wanted to learn how to figure out which chords to play for a song, but she didn’t want to bother learning theory. Several of us tried to convince her that it’s easier if you do learn some basic theory, something as simple as the circle of fifths. Another woman told us, with great pride, about the tool she had constructed to enable her to figure out chords without learning theory. She made something that resembles a circular slide rule. It tells you which chords to play in a reference key. If the song is written in a different key, you rotate the center part of her invention so that the reference key is lined up with the key in which the song is written, and then all you have to do is read the chords in the new key. (I suppose she asks the band to pause before changing to a new chord so that she could rotate her tool and read the name of the new chord.)
  • I met a man who I hoped would be “suitable” for me because he said that he loves folk music and likes to attend acoustic concerts in people’s homes. He recently heard a very good concert of folk music sung by Max Ox and his sister. I asked him how “Ox” is spelled, and he said, “O-X, just like the animal.” I still didn’t recognize the name of this folksinger, so he gave me an explanation. Max Ox wrote protest songs back in the 60s, and the songs are still relevant today, so Max and his sister keep singing them. Some of his songs, such as “There But for Fortune,” were recorded by Joan Baez.
  • I asked someone on the staff at Barnes and Noble to help me find a certain recording of music by Bach. She was clueless, so I asked her if she knew who Bach was. “Sure,” she said, “but he’s dead, isn’t he?”
  • Someone told me that he likes folk music because it is emotional, unlike classical music, which is strictly intellectual.
  • Someone else told me that practicing scales is useless and it only takes time away from playing songs.

Getting Joshua Bell on Oprah’s show might help, but one appearance would not be enough.

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The value of a violin

August 7, 2006 00:50

One of my students, age 6 ½ years, is wise beyond his age. He told me that a long time ago, before there were machines, people made things by hand. They really cared about what they made, so their things were of very high quality. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the beautiful, century old violin, battered and cracked in many places and almost beyond repair. The violin, aside from its severe damage, looks very pretty and sounds sweet and beautiful.

The neck had come apart from the body, and the violin had been very sloppily glued together. The button is severely cracked, and the ribs are separating from the body. There is a long crack under the tailpiece, and the bottom of the violin is coming apart. The bridge was really strange looking. I have seen warped bridges, but this one has a sharp angle bend in it. It rises perpendicular from the violin, as it should, and then takes a 45 degree turn. Under one foot of the bridge, on the side near the soundpost, is another long crack. The bridge is imprinted with the name of a good violin store near here, so it was not poorly made or poorly fitted. It’s not as if the violin fell on the floor once but was treated with care and respect the rest of the time. It is a matter of chronic abuse and/or neglect. I still can not comprehend how people can be so uncaring. I asked my luthier, who is well respected and honest, how much it would cost to repair the violin. He said, “About $1500,” and I felt very sick. I had my next series of questions prepared in advance. I asked what could be done to make it playable, how much it would cost, and how long it might last. The bottom line was that it could be made playable for about $170, and it might last for a few years.

How can one express the value of a violin? Certainly, it’s not about dollars. It’s about love, a very personal love. If the violin were mine, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $170 on it. Even if I only had one year to play it, it would be well worth $170 to me. The violin belongs to a friend of mine who is not a musician. How can I explain it to him? I thought about the things that $170 could buy or not buy and did a few rough calculations. Here is what I came up with.

  • Asthma medicine. I used to have health insurance, which was quite handy because I have chronic medical conditions and I need to take several prescription drugs daily. For my asthma, for example, I used to take three different meds daily. $170 is not enough to buy one month’s supply of just one asthma medicine.
  • One pair of good athletic shoes. I am not a serious athlete, but I have serious orthopedic problems. When I was a kid, my parents told me that I had expensive feet, and they were right. I can’t stand up and walk down a flight of stairs in shoes that cost less than $100.
  • Concert tickets. I recently bought tickets for the cheapest seats possible to hear six performances by world class orchestras, including the National Symphony Orchestra, and world class soloists, including Joshua Bell and Pinchas Zukerman, for about $200.
  • Roughly ten full price CDs.
  • Commuting to work. $170 would buy enough gasoline or enough bus/commuter train fare to get to and from work (if I had a job) for about six weeks.
  • Digital camera. A brand new 4 MP Nikon digital camera (Coolpix 4200) with all the necessary accessories is listed at $155 by Cameta, a reliable camera store.
  • Printer. Staples sells several HP all-in-one inkjet printer lists for about $170.

I can’t explain it. I can’t explain beauty and love.

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Broken fiddle, broken dream

August 4, 2006 14:16

It looks like is experiencing an epidemic of broken fiddles. I’m grieving for the old specimen I fell in love with earlier this week. The violin isn’t even mine, but I feel broken hearted.

The neck and the body separated and were glued together sloppily. If wood isn’t aligned properly, it develops stresses when pressure is applied, i.e., when it is played. The button, where the neck connects to the body on the back, is battered. The ribs have come apart from the body of the violin. The fingerboard is separating from the neck. There is a long crack under the tailpiece and another crack under one foot of the bridge. To repair it properly would cost about $1500 now, and that just isn't practical. It’s analogous to seismic activity along the San Andreas Fault. There is one big difference, though. Humans can’t repair cracks in the earth, but they can repair cracks in a violin, if they care to.

How can anyone be so sloppy and uncaring about an instrument? This was a fine fiddle when it was made, about a hundred years ago, and probably for many years afterwards. It was repaired sloppily and developed more and more cracks and separations of wooden parts from each other over the years. It must have taken quite a while for it to get this bad. Think about all the people who have owned it and played it during the last century. Didn’t they notice that it was falling apart? If they did, they didn’t care enough to fix it properly. Its health has deteriorated almost beyond repair now. It still has a beautiful sound. Can’t anyone tell? Doesn’t anyone care? You can buy a fiddle for $50 or less on ebay. Why pay attention to quality? We live in a throw-away society. Things aren’t repaired, just replaced. (I believe that this attitude carries over into personal relationships.)

I feel sick.

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August 3, 2006 13:23

I never outgrew dolls. I still have about a dozen of them. One of my friends noticed some of them in my home and invited me to go with him to see a fabulous collection of dolls.

He described the doll collection with superlatives, but he did not prepare me for the wonders I saw. This is a multimillion dollar collection of tens of thousands of dolls, the nucleus of a doll museum, hidden away in an unobtrusive looking row house in Washington DC. The owners, Sunny and Louis Reyes, have been collecting antique dolls for 28 years, and they are delighted when someone comes to see their collection. They encourage all their visitors to tell their friends about their collection, and that’s what I’m doing.

I saw and photographed just a tiny fraction of the dolls, and the experience was overwhelming.

When you enter the house, you are greeted by several life size dolls near the door, including one striking Native American doll. (Sunny refers to some of them as Louis’s girlfriends.) Louis is a Native American, and he is partial to Native American dolls. He makes traditional costumes for them, including beads, headdresses, and fringed leather garments, by hand.

Life size Native American doll

Many of their dolls were made in the Victorian era, although some of them date back to the 1500s. Most of the dolls are dressed in elaborate costumes.

Victorian doll

Detail of the doll’s dress

The faces and eyes of the dolls are beautiful, too. They have real personality.

Face of a Victorian doll

The Reyes have a wonderful collection of wedding dolls, including both human and nonhumans.

A wedding couple

Another wedding couple

A large glass case holds wedding attendant dolls. When Sunny learned that I play the violin, she unlocked the case and got out a doll playing a violin for a wedding. This doll is in a glass bell jar about 6 inches tall. Her violin looks OK, but her bow needs rehairing.

Violinist doll playing music for a wedding

Sunny and Louis are getting on in years, and, since they have no children, they want to donate their doll collection to a suitable museum. They have several offers including one from the Smithsonian. However, the Smithsonian keeps over 99% of their holdings in storage, and the Reyes want all of their dolls kept where they can be seen. They have another offer from someone in Australia, but they want their dolls to be exhibited in the capitol city of our country. They are looking for a suitable, good home for their dolls. Any good leads would be appreciated. Just let me know, and I’ll pass the information

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Portraits in jazz

August 2, 2006 02:17

The Hot 8 Brass band

I had so much fun listening to the Hot 8 Brass Band, from New Orleans, when they played at the Smithsonian Folk Festival earlier this summer. They are hot! I heard them first onstage and later at a nighttime jam party. I got to listen to them, photograph them, and dance to their music twice. At the jam party, I even had a chance to talk to them. When I feel PO’d about doing volunteer work at the nighttime party, I just remind myself of these things.

The sousaphone particularly interested me. It is a huge instrument, exactly like the tuba except that its long tube is configured differently. In the tuba, the tubing is coiled into a relatively compact shape, but in the sousaphone, the tubing wraps around the body of its player, giving the impression of a giant serpent ensnaring its human prey. It weighs about 40 lb, so the player must be sturdy, especially if he is marching while “wearing” it.

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