Friday, August 28, 2020

Another approach to flute playing during the pandemic

The NEW version of my flute cover! And my redesigned flute mask, with a hole in the mask and extra space for the flute head.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday, May 22, 2020

That Special Spark of Inspiration

As the days tick by, not only do I miss working each week with the wonderful members of the Portland Community Orchestra, but also the lovely soloists who have joined us over the years . . . violinists, flutists, oboists and singers. And even as we attempt to play "together" (virtually), that special connection and inspiration that we experience when we get to play with a talented guest soloist is hard to replicate.

In an attempt to remind us of that experience, here's an aria that we performed with the amazing Caroline Homer - Mozart's Ach ich Fuhls from The Magic Flute, sung by the incomparable Dorothea Roschmann.

Mozart: Ach ich Fuhls sung by soprano Dorothea Roschmann

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Portland Community Virtual Orchestra

Happy Sunday Everyone! I hope you are all still well and feeling a little better about our current situation now that Spring has been making inroads into Maine.

I'm very excited about this premiere performance of the PCVO (Portland Community Virtual Orchestra). It's a small first step, but a wonderful step in the direction to bring the PCO community together, making music again. Enjoy, and hope to see (or hear) you soon!

Handel: Royal Fireworks Music - Minuet

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Restarting Ourselves and Other Musical Activities

This week has been a challenge, as I (and many others) try to come to grips with the possibility of a long term shutdown of live music performances and rehearsals. Reviewing news stories about the quick spread of Covid-19 at choir rehearsals really cleared my eyes regarding the challenges of gathering any number of people together, especially those who "emote" by vigorously breathing out! Of course, like I mused in my last post, we can luckily fall back on our own solo rehearsal and performance options. I've even been pulling out some piano music that I haven't played in years! Another option - which I know a good number of PCO players regularly partake in (actually, partook - if that's a word) - is playing non-classical music; fiddling, bluegrass, folk, pop, rock, jazz, blues, etc. The great benefit is that is gives you one more option to make some great music! Even the other day, when I was helping paint the outside of a friend's house, he pulled out two guitars and we sat outside (6 feet apart!) and played a couple of songs together. It was a very nice feeling.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share two amazing videos that open our eyes (and ears) to some beautiful music making.

The nyckelharpa is a traditional Swedish musical instrument. It's partly played like a violin, but the notes are changed by pressing keys. Its keys are attached to "tangents" which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the string's pitch.

Here's a wonderful video of Emilia Amper performing one of her own songs, Ut i mörka natten (Out in the Dark of Night) and a Polonaise by C.M. von Esser. Sit back and enjoy!

Emilia Amper Playing the Nyckelharpa

Out in the Dark of Night
Out in the dark night you lead me,
to shiny black water,
I trust you.
The forest waits silently around us,
and the still silent mirror of the moon is kissed.
Over us a star falls down,
wish, you say, I close my eyes and smile.
Oh my friend you wanted to be mine
and I got to be your girlfriend.

As the cold air of the night, so clear,
as the stars are reflected in the lake, so wonderful
you shine for me tonight, my dear,
Angels are not needed when you are near me.
At the edge of the beach you gently take my hand,
together we enter the safe land of the forest.
Think, my friend, you wanted to be mine,
and I got to be your girlfriend.

Out in the dark night you lead me,
to shiny black water,
I trust you.
The forest waits silently around us,
and the still silent mirror of the moon is kissed.
At the edge of the beach you gently take my hand,
together we enter the safe land of the forest.
Think, my friend, you wanted to be mine,
and I got to be your girlfriend.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And I couldn't resist sharing the amazing Iva Bittova, violinist, singer, performer extraordinaire in a performance of the song Ne nehledej ("Stop Searching" . . . see the text below) (she's singing in Czech).

Iva Bittova

Ne nehledej (Stop Searching)
[translated by Google - unfortunately I couldn't find an English translation]

No, no not seek
I do not know where
where hiding
I do not know where
and neither I nor a dream
light or dark
nor is your
neither white nor black
then either immediately
here, even now
or dark, and a day, and it
here nor there
I do not have

Neither I nor sen
water or dust
joy or fear
nor white nor black
fire or ice
then either immediately
or a dark and a day
little or too
day and night, and it
and neither I nor a dream
here nor there
himself or herself
No, no, do not wait
I do not know where
where hiding
I do not know where
Long ago I was there two
and I long back
then either immediately
I do not expect

Long ago we were both back
and I long ago there
I do not know where
know yourself
Even a dark and a day
little or too
day nor night
and neither I nor a dream
here nor there
himself or herself
nor white nor black
good nor bad
you nor I
Seek me ease of search
neklekej(?) a country where soft
neklekej(?) the earth awaits thee
While waiting for burns where the sink and I

The bottle is the level of rolling
the feather bed, her hands pressed
not breathing or does not move a feather
the mouth water nahýbá(?)
Seek me where you expect every
neklekej(?) a country where soft
neklekej(?) remember when you clay awaits
While waiting for fire and sink when I

level in the bottle is rolling
the feather bed, her hands pressed
not breathing or does not move a feather
Now taking off and gaining altitude - flies!

As I now pohladíš(?)
hands in stiff fins
how to kiss me now
the most wolf muzzle
as to me přitulíš(?)
scaly body
so what your answer
Now what I want to say.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Challenges of Playing Music Together Online

This week I've been spending a good bit of time watching video tutorials about how to make online rehearsals or multi-player performance videos possible. I can send you some links, if you'd like.  You've probably seen them in the past few weeks, musicians playing TOGETHER, on screen, in the age of social distancing. And you would not be alone in thinking . . . let's do that, that looks like fun! And, on top of that, it would get us back to playing together as an ensemble.

Yes, it would be great!

But . . .  :(

The truth is that those folks are NOT playing or singing together in REAL TIME.

The problem that everyone faces when confronting the challenge of playing music together over the internet - whether it be two people playing a duet, three singers singing a song together, or a whole chorus or orchestra playing as an ensemble - is that it takes time for one person's electronic sound to reach another person (or persons).

WARNING: reading past this point may cause your eyes to glaze over. Good luck!

Even traveling at the speed of light through glass (your internet communications travel via infra-red “light”, the wavelength used over long distance optic fiber, at 200,000 km/sec, the speed of light through glass). However, on the way, the data also has to pass through a variety of supporting network components, such as network routers and optical transceivers, which slows down the average speed a bit. This slowing down is called latency. Signals that travel through optical network cables at this speed add roughly 3 milliseconds of latency for every 588 km traveled. And thus, the fastest that audio can circle the globe is in about 200 milliseconds.

Here's a real world example. Major League Baseball hitters talk about the speed of trying to watch a fastball from the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand until it crosses the plate. It actually happens too fast to react in real time. Hitters instead look for movement, which allows them to predict where the ball will go. It takes about 300–400ms for the ball to arrive at the plate, roughly the same amount of time it takes to blink an eye, and batters have about 150ms to react before it’s too late to even swing the bat.

According to mathematician and physicist Philippe Kahn, we still have one main challenge that prevents musicians from being able to achieve a real-time experience: Einstein’s relativity theory that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Here's how Kahn puts it, "No matter how efficient the network and equipment, latency is unavoidable. Therefore the problem of real-time remote music performance comes down to “What is the acceptable latency?” My personal opinion is that a consistent 10ms is a minimum to serve all musical styles. The less the better. But there is always going to be some latency. You can’t beat Einstein and the laws of physics, except in science fiction books where we travel in time, which is a lot of fun!"

The speed of light has about 5ms latency over a distance of 1500km. A network connection, under perfect conditions, cannot go faster than this. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have perfect network connections. We’re stuck with network traffic and trying to balance fluctuations from multiple musicians trying to connect with varied latencies. Achieving a real-time feel online won’t work for music despite our brain’s ability to learn how to compensate and predict. **

So . . . HELLO OUT THERE! ARE YOU STILL AWAKE? Close your eyes for a second before you call it quits. We're almost done!

With all that in mind, I'm trying to formulate a way that we can meet together online and do some collaborative rehearsing, and maybe even some sharing of music that we have been working on with all this "spare time" many of us have on our hands!

But that's for another post. For the moment, let's enjoy some music that we could play online without any fears of latency . . . a piece written for solo instrument - and NOT for piano! Here's a wonderful performance of Telemann's Fantasia in A minor for solo flute (a piece that I enjoyed playing in my youth when flute was my instrument of choice). Enjoy.

Telemann: Fantasia No. 2 in A Minor (Aisling Agnew, baroque flute)

** much of this is thanks to Caleb Dolister's Why can’t musicians jam with each other online without latency or other issues? Thank you, Mr. Dolister!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Originals and Re-thinkings . . .

The PCO has played various arrangements I've made of works originally written for piano, organ, string quartet, etc. The harmony, rhythm and musical structure of the original is still there, but the music is somehow transformed in the listeners (and performers) ears to something new, and hopefully beautiful. Using Ed's post about Bach's St. John Passion as a diving off point, here are a number of versions of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango - his original version, and some arrangements, especially the one for solo marimba featuring Anne-Julie Caron. Sit back and enjoy!

To find out more about one of Argentina's most gifted and original composer/performers, check out Astor Piazzolla at the Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music.

Astor Piazzolla: Libertango

Libertango -  Anne-Julie Caron, marimba (arranged by E. Sammut)

Libertango - Swingle Singers

Libertango - Russian Philharmonic - Moscow City Symphony

Libertango - 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Libertango - Yo Yo Ma and company

Libertango - 40 FINGERS

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Wondrous Beyond Knowledge

Here's a guest post by PCO first violinist Ed Mooney. Thanks, Ed for generously sharing your thoughts!

Xylophone! Castanets! Drums! You hear these prominently in a new Bach St. John’s Passion performed and videoed a week ago in the midst of our own passion — deep and profound suffering, mixed with joy.  Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Watch and listen here  Bachfest - Leipzig

The xylophone, castanets, and drums are yet to begin. The evangelist will slide easily from singing to speech.  Harsh death-delivering words can’t arrive in a sweet tenor voice.

There’s room for endless innovation in interpreting Bach’s scores (which are nearly devoid of helpful performance advice). And it’s a prerogative of performers to discover new ways. I admit I squirmed at first — then slowly got to like its daring. By the end it seemed right. The xylophone, castanets, and drums — innovations in delivery of the Bach — were harsh, disturbing at first — it’s just not done in performances of Bach Passions.

On second thought, the Biblical account is not a “beautiful story” to be replicated in “beautiful music.” But standard performances of the Passions convey the clash and clamor of the Crucifixion without xylophone, castanets, and drums. Why does an initial encounter with these noise makers seem untoward? Well, as my listening walked on with this new performance, I became more and more accepting, approving, excited and convinced. The new shifted from shocking or puzzling to stunned and transforming wonder.

As my teaching career drew to a close, I spent more and more time writing about the need to encourage open, unexpected response from students. I needed to undermine the commonplace assumption that the task of education (in the humanities) is to get to an objective answer to the question “What is this text (or portrait or poem) about?” At the deepest level there is no single correct answer to what’s going on in a poem or sonata. That’s an invitation.  It’s good news, not the bad news,  that in open-ended interpretation it’s all subjective, there’s no right or wrong, anything goes.
We are all beginners here, listeners, teachers, students, no matter how much we already know, no matter how many times — even over decades — we’ve crisscrossed the fields.

We travel beyond the edges of knowledge — happily, fearfully, amazed — lost in fields of wonder.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Magic of Making Music with Others

As our social distancing continues, it's a perfect time to think about what makes playing music with others so special. The act of playing music can bring us to a very magical place, whether we are making music in the privacy of our own homes or in a sold out concert hall. Those who have had the privilege of playing chamber music (duets, trios, quartets and even larger groups) know the joy of creating something that is much more than the sum of its parts . . . it's a uniquely satisfying artistic experience. And we who are lucky enough to take part in the music making of the Portland Community Orchestra can attest to the fact that those types of experiences are not only for professionals or virtuosos!

That magic of making music together is clearly displayed in a piece I love dearly, and which features three of my favorite instruments - Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915). In 1914, Debussy was encouraged by his publisher to compose a cycle of six sonatas for various instruments. Debussy explained in a letter that the cycle of sonatas would feature “different combinations [of instruments], with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” Unfortunately, only three of the six sonatas were completed at the time of Debussy’s death in 1918 - the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1915), the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915), and the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917). All gorgeous examples of chamber music - true conversations among equals.

Here's a beautiful performance of the first movement of Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, featuring members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Lark Ascending

Ralph Vaughan Williams originally composed his The Lark Ascending in 1914 for violin and piano. He put the score aside when he enlisted in the army in 1914, serving as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps, after the outbreak of World War I. When he returned home in 1919, he came back to the score and orchestrated it; the work now (in the words of Phillip Huscher) "a touching souvenir of a time gone by."

Vaughan Williams prefaced his score with these lines from George Meredith’s poem of the same name:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Here are two beautiful performances of The Lark Ascending, a video featuring the incomparable Hillary Hahn, and a recording of the work (one of my favorites) featuring violinist Pinkas Zuckerman. A good way to unwind into the weekend.

The Lark Ascending with violinist Pinkas Zuckerman

Another approach to flute playing during the pandemic

The NEW version of my flute cover! And my redesigned flute mask, with a hole in the mask and extra space for the flute head.