Alabama composition

Kudos to my friend CP and the motivated grad guys for a good first week of work and yes I am practicing. Roll Tide!

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Thoughts on the ISO Lockout

There is much good press being spread throughout the Indianapolis media. Both sides have set their ideas and claims adrift. To my surprise and to my pleasure I have found much interest in the proceedings and much sadness in the stalemate that appears to being setting in. I also find that the public opinion I have seen reflects strong siding with the ISO musicians. Today, conducting business in my local bank, I was inundated with questions about the lockout from bank officials who were concerned about their city and its cultural outlook.  One person had recently moved to Indy from NYC and had tickets for the first two concerts and another was a regular patron. Another recent conversation was with a high-ranking official in Lilly who had also recently moved and now called Indianapolis home. I have received calls from friends and relatives from other cities wondering how the orchestra could find itself in such a direful position in such a short time. This is still a big part of the puzzle to me. At this point I am not looking for a nemesis of sorts but some rational accountability that can help right a worthy ship.

A truth is that there are orchestras that are succeeding and some that are thriving. Why can’t the board swallow some pride and thoroughly investigate what makes other cities and their symphonies work. Rarely do symphonies compete with each other. Knowledge can be shared. The brotherhood of classical musicians is a deep one and rarely have I met someone who wanted ire or destruction. We all have much to gain and also to loose. To remain ignorant in such matters is no virtue.

Part of why we do what we do is the thought that classical music enhances ones existence. Not in a narrow elitist way which is the easy criticism but in a way that for many persons, transcends the notes and takes a listener and performer alike to a different place, a place worthy of travel. This experience is really unlike any other, if it were not so, the music of the last 400 years would have been lost like most of popular music that has a short life. (and fyi I do like pop, also).

As we age we all seem to get concerned about the “next” generation and what the current generation is willing to hand to the next. My wife and I have been fortunate to have interesting lives in that we teach at a wonderful university,  (Butler University) and have had successful performing lives in Indy, Philadelphia and NYC.  I mention this not to draw attention to us but to give ourselves a tad of “street cred” to the reader. For many of us this is a cultural issue as well as a survival issue.  When I see the thousands of young kids who come to the Symphony’s Discovery Concerts I am hopeful that a young persons life might be transformed in some way. The looks of wonder and amazement that go back to the performers are moving and at least are a part of an education that is worthwhile. What we hand to our children is our legacy. As a parent, teacher and performer I have seen what the art of music can do for people. I see it almost every day I am at Butler and I see it when I perform and when I attend concerts.

I feel I could go on for quite awhile giving my reasons why I believe the Indianapolis community and the ISO board of directors should financially support our orchestra and reach an honorable settlement with these musicians, respectively. But I want to end more on a personal note. Lisa and I know almost every one in the symphony. These are very hard working, dedicated professionals who have earned their positions in national auditions. It is damn hard work, grueling and at times injury –prone. Equipment is not of the Nike running shoe variety, but costs rather in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars category just to be competitive for audition.  Most of the players started their training between 5 and 10 years old and spent their lives pursuing art and the hope of a respectable wage. At times it seems more likely that someone could become a professional athlete than win an audition for the ISO. For these reasons alone the board should find ways to reward the musicians for their dedication to art rather than the cuts which are severe by anyone’s standards.

One more thing…. The tactic of cutting off health benefits is a low blow and it shows no honor. Is it necessary to bring the spouses and children of the musicians to their knees just to show your position is serious? This type of tactic is not easily forgotten and puts a bad taste in the public’s eye. Certainly not even a marketing firm can spin that.


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Reading “Violin Mastery”

For both colleagues and students, I suggest a quick read. The 1919 publication entitled “Violin Mastery” by Frederick Martens is a fascinating look at a bygone day. Interviews with Heifetz, Kreisler, Seidel, Elman, Auer, Powell, Thibaud, Elman and others allow violinists to peer into an era and its importances. Discussions about the “new” wire E string, whether to use a chin rest or not, repertoire and teaching are mentioned in 2 – 4 page narratives. Of course, it is dated, but yet occasionally one finds a gem of advice. A easy quick read that is republished by Dover. Certainly an artifact of a different society.

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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – Indy

In many of the early European classical music treatises, the word invention is discussed. Essentially it is what a player brings to the musical table that is not from the composer’s hand. Friday nights Indy concert of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones provided more of that thinking in a spectacular display of virtuosity, originality and invention. Lisa and I joked about how impossible it was to pick out a “best” player – one whose personality just dominated the evening. From start to finish all players gave freely to each other and sent out a wonderful collegial vib infused in the highest standards of chamber music. One couldn’t help being drawn to Futureman and his inventive new way at looking at rhythm. (Loved the Pirate garb). Simply everything was terrific.  Best concert I attended since Return to Forever last year.

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Vibrato-less Practice

I have noticed some tightness in my left hand vibrato the last week. Sensed that I was leaning too much on the vibrato for being the expressive element. Today I am in the process of working on expressive playing with only the bow being the tool. This has been helpful in the past and only heightens the adage that the bow is the king or primary means of expression. This was always the statement made by my mentors who had the most interesting and beautiful vibrati. Using old standard rep like Thais, Tchaikovsky slow movement and Swan Lake excerpts. Everything is starting to loosen and my vibrato is starting to incorporate itself into the bow sound more naturally. Back to the room.

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Return to Forever Concert

One of the finest concerts I have even seen. Stanley Clarke, Ponty, Corea, and others performed an amazing concert this week in Indianapolis. Virtuosity, musicality, original ideas – what a band! Proves that some people get even better with age.

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Kronos Quartet Concert and David Harrington Interview

Last night as part of the “pre-game show”, I had the pleasure to interview David Harrington, 1st violin of the Kronos String Quartet. I left with a very pleasurable first impression of him and of his approach to music. He appears to love music as much today as in his youth. Perhaps driven by his desire to seek new ideas, composers and new musical cultures, David and his cohorts count 731 pieces in their repertoire as of last night. At the concert that followed, we were treated to music of Indian, Icelandic, Mexican, Croatian, American and movie related origins. The Quartet used tape additions to reproduce readings from the Koran, church bells, poetry, sounds of exotic instruments and sounds of nature. The Kronos was slightly amplified which I did appreciate since the size of the hall was quite large (Palladium in Carmel, Indiana). I was pleased to notice that the audience seemed to appreciate the music which for the most part was accessible but yet challenging to new ears. I must compliment the Kronos for the diversity of music and the music choices themselves that I believe brought new members into the long time quartet’s mystique. It is difficult to put forth a concert of new music and to avoid the traps of infatuating with cheap comedy as well as  alienating with hyper-intellectualism. In last night’s arena, the Kronos Quartet was able to create an atmosphere where one’s attention could focus mostly on the music rather than on the musicians. Thank you for a pleasurable evening.

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Paul Zukofsky, All-Interval Scale Book (Schirmer)

I must praise this technical study. It is concise and direct, not expensive and should be in every violinists library. A fifteen minute daily regiment will pay rich dividends. The price of the book is worth the section on violin harmonics which is the best technical practical guide for both violinists and composers. It is possibly to play seconds, sevenths and elevenths in tune. Bravo Paul.

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Angela Brown – vibrato

I never forgot Broadus Erle’s comment about learning vibrato usage. “Listen to early Barbara Streisand”. After the Grammys last week, I still share that opinion but would also add Angela Brown to the list. A very talented singer with full control of her instruments. String players should notice.

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Death of Milton Babbitt

Rarely has a composer been so polarizing with thought and music. From charlatan to genius, sides are passionate. One thing to be certain, very little of his music is listened to and for obvious reasons, not played. Some of this spring will be spent with him in order to make up my own mind.

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