March 2008

Come, look through my window

March 27, 2008 21:12

This is what I see from my balcony, my dining room table, and my desk. It's a large Japanese cherry tree in bloom. I enjoy the flowers intensely while they last. A rainfall or strong wind will send them to the ground.

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The Sun's Birthday

March 23, 2008 11:38

i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

ee cummings


Happy Easter, Happy Spring, everyone.

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Natalie MacMaster, Great Cape Breton Fiddler and Dancer

March 21, 2008 22:28

I recently went to an exciting concert given by the great Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster with her small backup band. Natalie plays fiddle and step dances, sometimes at the same time. She has the energy of a three year old.

Some background: Cape Breton music is considered Celtic music, a descendant of Scottish music. Many people living in Cape Breton today are descendants of the Scottish highlanders who were thrown out of their homes and shipped to North America during the Clearances. They hung on to their native culture, especially their music. Since they had little contact with Scotland, their music evolved in its own way, and now it is a genre of its own. The stomping of the fiddler’s feet is considered a rhythmic accompaniment. The players and dancers wear a special kind of shoes that go “clomp” like tap shoes. Sometimes the album cover of a recording has something like this: Person 1, fiddle; person 2, guitar; person 3, feet.

Natalie’s playing was technically perfect, including lots of runs of fast notes, and always exciting. The tune that I especially liked was Reel O’ Tulloch with seven variations. I bought a book of Scottish music by J. Scott Skinner largely because of this piece. My favorite variation is one which has lots of fast crossings from the G string to the E string and back. I can play the tune and all its variations, but not nearly as fast as Natalie does.

I hope you like this video from youtube. She was much better in person.

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Hilary Hahn’s New CD with Sibelius and Schoenberg

March 19, 2008 23:24

Hilary Hahn’s new CD with the Sibelius and Schoenberg concertos (see my blog, 2.21.08) is scheduled for international release this month. If you want to read about it, including some of Hilary Hahn’s own writing, and listen to parts of it, just go to

I just checked, and they said that the release date is April 8, but you can preorder it. The last time I preordered something, I got my CD a week after it was available in stores.

I highly recommend visiting the site at the URL I posted above. You’ll enjoy it.

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Joshua Bell in Concert

March 14, 2008 23:25

About three weeks ago I heard Joshua Bell in concert playing a genre I hadn’t heard him play before, violin/piano duo with pianist Jeremy Denk. I think every seat in the concert hall was taken. A few days before the concert, the Kennedy Center announced that it would put some extra chairs onstage, behind the musicians, for desperate fans of Bell. The price of the seats onstage started at $95. I had a much cheaper seat in a good location, two flights above the stage on the left (facing the stage), and with my opera glasses I could see Bell and his violin as if they were within arm’s reach.

Joshua chose four very different pieces for the concert. He started with Tartinis Devil’s Trill, which is devilishly difficult to play in parts. It gave him an opportunity to show off his well known pyrotechnics. In an interview ( about this piece, he said “It's a fun reminder that virtuoso violin playing was not invented in the 19th century. Tartini was a great virtuoso.” The interviewer asked Joshua whether the namesake trill in the final movement was difficult for him, and he replied, “It's not easy. I'm still working on it right now. There's doing it and then there's doing it really well. And you can always get it better. It's technique, and it does take work.” Joshua must have done a lot of work preparing the trill because he sounded dazzling. The absolutely clean articulation, the speed, and the feeling of excitement he generated were awesome.

The next piece was Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1. It sounded rather cold and austere to me, and it was the piece on the program that I enjoyed the least.

Four Romantic Pieces by Dvorak were very different from all that went before, and I really enjoyed them. The violin part was warm and gentle and seemed to roll along very smoothly. It brought to my mind scenes of the foothills of the Blue Ridge, where I used to spend a lot of time. Among the gentle rolling sound, there were some very subtle changes in mood and color in the violin part. You won’t notice them if you let the music lull you to sleep. Josh handled the small changes in mood just as well as he handled the big change in Tartini’s Trill and in the Romantic concertos for which he is famous.

The final movement is altogether different from the preceding ones. It is dark and grieving, and the very last notes just fade away.

The last piece on the program, Sonata No. One in D Minor by Saint-Saens, resembles the Dvorak in having a relatively smooth surface with lots of movement going on underneath. In the last movement, the violin zooms off in a flurry of fast notes. Here was another chance for Josh to show off, and he made the most of it.

At the end of the program, Josh looked rather tired, but the audience applauded and shouted out enough to get two encore pieces from him. The first was his own arrangement of a song by Faure, in which his violin sang beautifully. The second was Heifetz’s adaptation of The March of the Marionettes from Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges, which Josh played vividly and brilliantly.

On a personal note, I have watched and wondered about Josh’s posture, which I’ve seen in photos, but in a more exaggerated sense in person. During most of the concert, his neck was arched back and his head tilted back as though he were looking at the ceiling. Sometimes his chin came right off of the chinrest. I couldn’t help thinking that he will develop severe pain in his neck, shoulders, and back if he continues to play this way.

It has been almost a year since Joshua Bell played in a Washington DC Metro station and almost no one stopped to listen. When he played at the Kennedy Center, every seat was occupied and additional chairs were put onstage behind Bell. Even at the starting price of $95, every seat was sold. The audience’s reaction to everything he played was wildly enthusiastic. Josh, I hope this compensates for the cool reception you got at the Metro station.

PS. Check out my website at

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Bad News and Good News.

March 7, 2008 01:04

First, the bad news.

An old friend called me and left a message saying that my ex-boyfriend has been hospitalized twice in recent weeks, and he’s not himself. The next day I spoke to my friend again, and she told me that he had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems. The first time, his adult kids talked him into going into the hospital. The second time, the police took him in. He had become very angry and got into a verbal fight with a bunch of tough characters. He started talking about shooting them, and they called the cops. My friend told me that he wanted to see her (they are old, close friends, not boyfriend/girlfriend), but she had gotten to the point where she really didn’t want to face him. He is a new and different person, indeed. I’ll try to explain what attracted me to him, but he doesn’t seem to have these traits any more. He was steady, easy-going, kind, caring, nurturing, loving, smart, very capable of many things but quite humble, and he played the mandolin beautifully.

This is not the first time I’ve had this or a similar problem. Similar things happened with another ex-boyfriend and with my ex-husband. Towards the end of my 18 year marriage, when I was trying to make up my mind about staying or leaving, I asked a lot of people I knew a philosophical question: Suppose a friend you knew well had some kind of neurological problems, including amnesia, and lost his personality. A physician just put another, very different personality inside him. Is he still the same person? I got no quick or easy answers.

In each of these cases, I felt as though the person I knew had died. Now I feel compelled to mark the event with some small ritual, such as lighting a candle. I regret that mental health is enormously difficult to treat, and that we can’t get our loved ones back.

Now, the good news

I’ve had some great musical experiences recently: a workshop and an unusual kind of concert with Alasdair Fraser, one of the best Scottish fiddlers alive; a concert by Joshua Bell; and a concert by Natalie MacMaster, the great Cape Breton fiddler who does Cape Breton step dancing while she plays. I will write about each one in a separate blog, and I’ve already started writing about Joshua Bell.

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