Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

We begin with the kind of formulaic article that isn't wearing quite as well as it used to: "If Male Musicians Were Described The Same Way As Female Musicians." Sure, it's funny. But the official subtext of an article like this is to show How Terribly Unfair We Are To Women. But the real reason this stuff is funny is a bit different. Take this quote for example:
In a white top that reveals just the smallest tease of greying chest hair, light blue denims and a tattered apron around his waist, Bruce Springsteen (65) invites us into his home.
Tattered apron? Okaaay. The thing is that female musicians present themselves differently than male musicians do. Here's an example: Jennifer Lopez (46):


If you can imagine Bruce Springsteen wearing anything like that, then you have a better imagination than I have!


Describing what Springsteen is wearing is comic because you are describing a basically utilitarian outfit as if it were fashionable. That's where the humour is.

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Alex Ross alerts us to an interesting bit in an interview with Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki:
"No guilt when it comes to music. There are days when Led Zeppelin is the only right thing to listen to."
Mind you, if you use the Mayan calendar, as I do, then that day only comes around once every five thousand years.

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Luxury hotels welcome us with even more annoying music! But they think they are being alluring: "How Luxury Hotels Lure You With Music" in the Wall Street Journal is about how hotels are tweaking their canned music:
When the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver wanted to attract younger travelers and add some pizazz to the nearly 40-year-old hotel, it ditched the jazz music in the lobby and the mellow lounge tunes in the restaurant. In their place? Upbeat and indie pop tracks, like “Groove Jumping” by the British DJ Jimpster, arranged by a music-curating company.
The new music “keeps us interesting,” says hotel manager Joerg Rodig. “For some people, Four Seasons the brand can be intimidating. We’re trying to take that intimidating away and just be welcoming.”
Ok, let's hear that Jimpster track:


Somehow that does not make me feel that I am being welcomed to a luxury hotel. It makes me feel edgy and ill at ease. That's hipster music! Do most people actually find that welcoming? I have to tell you that my prime criteria in selecting a restaurant to dine in is that they have NO music playing. The only exception would be ethnic music in an ethnic restaurant, which is ok.

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The latest in copyright news is that "Happy Birthday" probably is no longer under copyright. So feel free to sing out the next time you are at a birthday party.
In other words, there's pretty damning conclusive evidence that "Happy Birthday" is in the public domain and the Clayton Summy company knew it. Even worse, this shows that Warner/Chappel has long had in its possession evidence that the song was at least published in 1927 contrary to the company's own claims in court and elsewhere that the song was first published in 1935. We'll even leave aside the odd "blurring" of the songbook, which could just be a weird visual artifact. This latest finding at least calls into question how honest Warner/Chappel has been for decades in arguing that everyone needs to pay the company to license "Happy Birthday" even as the song was almost certainly in the public domain.
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Robinson Meyer, in The Atlantic, offers an extensive critique of how poorly classical music is handled in the new streaming model. Nico Muhly offers examples from his collection:
“To give you a really specific situation, there are two settings of the Te Deum text by Benjamin Britten. And it would seem to me that if you type in ‘Britten’ and ‘Te Deum,’ you would see some of them,” the composer Nico Muhly told me. “But it says, ‘no results found.’”
I want to submit to the record here that Muhly’s hard drive contains seven different files that could be reasonably called the Britten Te Deum. In fact, it contains more than 2,000 files, or 11.9 gigabytes, of music by Benjamin Britten. It also contains 97 different settings of the Te Deum text.
“What’s extraordinary about it is that I tagged everything really, really well. It’s in Artist, Album Artist, all these things are organized,” he said.
But when “Britten Te Deum” is searched—and he sent me a screenshot of this—nothing comes up. “It’s not like, let me show you too many results. It just does not compute.”
Read the whole thing. I have a pretty simple system that works quite well. Here let me show you:


 Now, of course, it is a tiny collection because I lost most of my CDs and all my LPs due to an Evil Moving Company. But my system works great. I have a shelf and on the shelf I have my CDs filed by composer. Early music collections appear at the very beginning and collections by specific performers appear at the end. Now it would be great if I had tens of thousands of MP3s. I guess. But not if I couldn't find anything. With my system I can find everything. Instantly.

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Here is a moderately technical summary of how the music business is in very bad shape these days. The bottom line:
Sales of recorded music have declined by 70 percent since 1999, even while adjusting for inflation
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 Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc alerts us to an upcoming musicology conference that seems to reach new highs in irrelevant triviality: "Music on the Move: Sounds and New Mobilities".
Breathing to sing, echoing screams in a cave, plucking guitar strings, applauding and clapping, surfing the web to download, dancing to music, performing foreign scores, translating an opera, chanting in protests or in religious processions. Sound is movement and music is on the move. Since the end of the 20th century, the notion of ‘mobility’ seems to be ubiquitous in social sciences as a prominent cross-disciplinary agenda. Many scholars even refer to a new mobilities paradigm or a mobility turn (Sheller and Urry 2006; Adey et al. 2013; Faist 2013) stressing the importance of movement when studying historical or contemporary societies and individuals (Cresswell and Merriman 2011; Dureau and Hily 2009). If the entire world might seem to be on the move, it has become crucial to understand ‘how the fact of movement becomes mobility’, i.e. how ‘movement is made meaningful’ (Cresswell 2006, 21).
And that was the introductory paragraph! Why is academia these days so often giving thinking a bad name?

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The New Yorker has an interesting article on stage fright titled "I Can't Go On". Sample quote:
In a number of ways, stagefright doesn’t make sense. Laurence Olivier, when he was in his late fifties, was visited by a spell that lasted, intermittently, for five years, causing him great anguish. At the time, he was the most celebrated stage actor in England. How could he be frightened of failing? Ditto Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, Baryshnikov was the most famous ballet dancer in the world, and he probably still is, though he ceased classical dancing some twenty-five years ago. Since then, he has built a successful career in modern dance and theatre. But he experiences terrible stagefright, and says that it has only got worse over the years.
Oh yes, this is very common, even among seasoned performers. A friend of mine grew more and more anxious about memory lapses every time he performed so he eventually stopped playing from memory entirely. And then there is the story of the famous cellist who fell downstairs one day, breaking his arm, and his first thought was "thank God, I don't have to play cello any more." (In the article a slightly different story is told about Casals.) Many very famous performers have struggled with stage fright. Segovia said once that every afternoon before a concert he sought to find a rationalization for why he had to cancel. Jascha Heifetz suffered a total memory lapse in a concerto performance that was so devastating that he walked offstage and never returned. In all these cases, the artist is very unforgiving of themselves which creates a kind of psychological dilemma: you need for the performance to be perfect, but you know it can't be and because of that, your anxiety just increases, which means that the performance will definitely not be perfect!

* * *

 Here is a clip about a cello built out of styrofoam. I wouldn't base a judgement just on hearing a video clip, but it sounds surprisingly good. I guess styrofoam is an acoustic medium like wood. I do know that some guitar builders have started using things like balsa wood bridges and carbon filament in the interior strutting of guitars, to good effect.

* * *

Courtesy of one of my commentators is this rather fascinating American Sign Language interpretation of an Eminem song:


* * *

And to end, here is an equally fascinating article about imaginary musical instruments titled "Cat Pianos, Sound-Houses, and Other Imaginary Musical Instruments".

That gives us our envoi for today: the ondes martenot, a real musical instrument that just sounds imaginary:


The most famous piece using this instrument is Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie:


So I guess I have to do a post all about that rather remarkable piece of music!

73 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

I had read that article citing Nico and his Britten and meant to check then but didn't: am en route to work and so can't check Apple or Classicsonline but Spotify has a score of recordings of Britten's Te Deum. My point is that other writers about music are less than careful about their facts than you.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much for the compliment! I was willing to trust Nico Muhly's testimony on this, but am very eager to see what you turn up.

Marc Puckett said...

Britten's Te Deums. Serious music people use iTunes (if only because you can download CD tracks into a variety of high quality files for storage; not an option at Spotify), so I'd be willing to bet that Nico M./the Atlantic writer used iTunes/Apple Music to hunt for the Britten; since the Apple streaming business only opened last month, personally I'd cut them some slack: don't early adopt if you don't want to deal with the occasional glitch. Unfortunately, I can't check Apple Music or ClassicsOnline at work since one has to download the apparatus onto the computer.

Marc Puckett said...

Had forgotten, but I do have ClassicsOnline (the Naxos streaming service) on the mobile; they have at least two versions of the Te Deum op 32 and one of the other but the mobile version's user interface is so awful-- had to go through each album's contents by hand-- I'm stopping.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much for your diligence, Marc. Keep us posted.

Marc Puckett said...

Of course, as I follow your link, I realise that Meyer in the Atlantic is writing specifically about iTunes/Apple, which I had forgotten about. Tsk.

Ken Fasano said...

I'd much rather look at a J Lo album cover than this one mentioned in a recent Tom Service article. Now, who thought of that title?

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51TvcolTh8L._SX355_.jpg

Bryan Townsend said...

I think I remember that one!! From a post on Unfortunate Album Covers? There was one extremely suggestive one with a recorder player that sticks in my mind.

Marc Puckett said...

Asked two clients at work in re the checking into a luxe hotel to the sound of Jimpster. One shrugged and said he'd never spend the money for a luxury hotel; the other said it was 'upbeat' but 'not relaxing, really', which I think meant more or less 'not welcoming'. She would feel most welcome if One Direction carried her bags, so....

"Since the end of the 20th century, the notion of ‘mobility’ seems to be ubiquitous in social sciences as a prominent cross-disciplinary agenda." That was where I stopped.

Marc Puckett said...

Am going to re-read the Cat Pianos essay; I love reading that sort of playing about with words and ideas and artefacts of history but can't take it too seriously. What's his name, tsk, I enjoy his novels but when I sit to read his scholarly essays on semiotics, eh, so many words for such a recondite amount of wisdom. Umberto Eco.

"Yet in their own strange ways, imaginary musical instruments exist. What’s more, they have not merely shadowed or paralleled musical life; they have formed a vital part of it, participating in ways that show the fragility of the distinction between imaginary and real." I mean, it's a pleasant fantasy or intellectual game but which composers or musicians do you know for whom e.g. cat pianos "formed a vital part" of their "musical life"?

"Oram’s invocation of Bacon’s sound-houses suggests that such moments create openings for the imaginary to flood in-- not just from the creative minds of individuals, but from a collective storehouse of fantasies. Imaginary instruments help ideas circulate together with the desire for (or fear of) their realization." We rid ourselves of the Freudian fantasies only to be 'flooded' by the Jungian ones; but I don't really see how cat pianos have much at all to do with the West's collective imagination, although it is true that a surprisingly large number of people seem to know about them.

"But only in light of later theories of sound propagation would the design appear fundamentally flawed, the concept out of line with basic physics in addition to human craftsmanship." Loughridge and Patteson need an editor, don't they? I guess they mean, 'it would be hard to make that extended spiral horn, and in any case acoustics demonstrates that it wouldn't be the most effective way to make the intended sound'?

I don't know that Athanasius Kircher thought that every oddity he included in his multitude of books was 'real', in the sense that someone had actually made the damned cat piano or the tubo cochleato-- but the Kircherian world is a vast abyss of scholarship and a devourer of time.

Do those musicians in the 1596 etching or woodcarving or whatever it is look "confused" to anyone else? Two are arguing about how to properly transcribe the music, one is striking the keys, one is 'playing' the cats, one is accompanying on the lute (sic?), and one is drunk.

The "uncomfortable connection" between music and abuse, pft. "That keyboards facilitate cruelty is a notion hardly evident in the history of realized instruments...", well, yes. In English, that is 'in the history of actual musical instruments there is no connection between keyboards and cruelty'. "A rare hint [of this 'uncomfortable connection'] is found on an eighteenth-century spinet inscribed, 'intactum sileo percute dulce cano'-- untouched, I am silent; strike me, I sing sweetly." Just ridiculous to read 'hints' into a straightforward Latin tag, a charming truism decorating someone's spinet; it happens more and more often these days as putative scholars who aren't actually proficient in the classical languages and literature rape poor Clio with their postmodernist drivel.

Still. The future, music, fantasy, creativity, patterns of thought etc. Interesting to read etc. And Grandville's Un autre monde is fascinating; alas, it appears he only illustrated L’Explosion, mélodie pour 200 trombones and Rive gauche et Rive droite. At this point, am having to take Loughridge and Patteson's assurance that Grandville's Dr Puff is all about steam power! etc and not drugs-- I see, looking about, that he died insane, that Walter Benjamin has used him, that the surrealists thought him grand etc.

Marc Puckett said...

Imaginary instruments.... Have you seen this Leonardo Da Vinci-inspired 'viola organista'? This is the lengthiest video I could find i.e. the one with the most music played on the instrument itself-- one just has to skip around to find it (but there are other videos on YT). Have forgotten the name but evidently there were instruments built in Germany, at the beginning of the modern period, I think, based on the Da Vinci design. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5648Pm_gNfQ]

Marc Puckett said...
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Marc Puckett said...

This viola organista and Geigenwerk caught my fancy and so have been exploring.

Quite how Dr Zubrzycki [the Pole in the preceding comment who's made his version of Leonardo's viola organista] doesn't mention the work of Akio Obuchi (but perhaps he does, or perhaps he really has done his work without relying on A.O.'s at all; who knows)-- anyway, what caught my eye on this page -- [ http://obuchi.music.coocan.jp/Geigenwerk/Geigenwerk%20articles/Rubbing%20cat%20belly%20with%20horsehair.htm ] -- was the title, "Rubbing cat belly with horsehair", ha. Dr Obuchi's first language is not English, I think.

Am now wondering what connection there may be between cat pianos and the use of cat skin and cat gut in the making of instrumenta, including this 'imaginary instrument' of LdV.

Bryan Townsend said...

Wow, Marc, you got a lot more out of that essay than I did. I just skimmed it and enjoyed the illustrations. Yes, like a lot of stuff we read these days, it was in need of some editing. The downside of word-processing is that it is all too easy to write a LOT of words. Too many.

Rubbing cat belly with horsehair is a nicely crude way of describing how all bowed string instruments work! Or did until they started replacing catgut with other materials. We still have the horsehair, though.

Marc Puckett said...

Yes, I did get carried away with enthusiasm for Grandville after supper (echoing Mr Pickwick) and those cat pianos, ha-- sorry for going on so. In my ignorance I thought catgut was actually (at some point, anyway) made out of cat gut. Tsk.

Marc Puckett said...

Do you know about Hardanger fiddles? a Norwegian instrument, I gather from the Wikipedia article. [https://youtu.be/Ie_1TAzYX6g] -- That is what I listened to, that caught my interest. "He spent more and more time at the family farm in Kvam, keeping his music to himself-- all manuscripts neatly filed in wooden chests. The catastrophe could therefore hardly have been any worse when his house burned to the ground in 1970."

Marc Puckett said...

I finally did remember to look at Apple Music, which, you will recall, Nico M. and the Atlantic writer searched and found no Britten Te Deums.

Today, at any rate, that isn't the case. AM first returns 'Top Results', which are three in number-- to one TD, to the other TD, and then to the 'Britten Te Deum Radio', which means AM pulls together tracks it computes are similar to Britten's Te Deum, one or the other, and then plays them one after the other until you scream at the computer to stop.

Below the 'Top Results', AM lays out 'Songs', which comprise three versions of each Te Deum.

Below the 'Songs', AM presents 'Albums', some 25 of them, ranging from Out of Darkness: Music from Lent to Trinity from the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, to Christmas Choir from the Robert Shaw Chorale, including several that are obviously Britten, ha. Each of the six I checked has at least one of the Te Deums on it, so presumably all of them do. But you don't know unless you check out each album.

So, who knows. My guess, as I wrote the other day, is that between the date Nico M. checked AM and today Apple has been adding to its searchable catalogue for Apple Music. Perhaps someone at Apple is a fan of Nico or of the Atlantic....

On the other hand, I tried to click from the Apple Music interface to search in iTunes and having made that move iTunes wouldn't let me search it for anything-- not even Hozier-- until I logged out and logged in. That's surely a glitch.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have experimented with gut strings on classical guitar and the sound is most interesting. But the high E string, the thinnest, tends to fray with playing and after a few days is worn out. Nylon strings, which replaced gut, are far more durable, but have a slightly different sound. I never knew much about how gut strings were produced until just now, reading a Wikipedia article. They are made from gut, certainly, even if not from the guts of cats: usually sheep or goats.

I have heard of the Hardanger fiddle before, in connection with Grieg, I think. He used some stylistic elements in some of his music. But I didn't know much more about it. My mother would have been absolutely fascinated. There were quite a few instruments, like this one, and the baryton that Haydn wrote for, that used sympathetic resonating strings. They are very important in Indian music: both the sitar and tamboura use sympathetic resonating strings. I suspect that all this category of instruments became less useful when the equal-tempered tuning system made modulation to all the keys possible. Modulation is not something you can do on an instrument with sympathetic strings, because they are fixed at certain pitches.

Re Apple Music: so either they weren't looking very closely or Apple has been fixing search deficiencies? Can you say from your experience if Apple Music is worth it? How much do you have access to and, if you are a classical listener, how easily can you find stuff, and, is the sound quality good enough?

Marc Puckett said...

Ah, knew I'd seen something about 'sympathetic resonating strings' elsewhere but had no idea where or when. Makes sense that the H. fiddle etc survive in folk music making traditions. It is-- the H. fiddle-- what makes the theme music for the TV series Lilyhammer distinctive, although I didn't know that was what I was hearing until I read the Wiki.

I think they looked before Apple Music fixed a deficiency (because one doesn't have to look closely at all, it's pretty straightforward). Apple Music is certainly worth it for the first three months, which are free. I've been concentrating in my investigative moments on ClassicsOnline (Naxos), which is free for 28 days, versus Spotify, and certainly CO is better quality than Spotify-- for high definition CDs, the streaming happens at 2500+kbpm whereas Spotify tops out at 360kbpm. The catalogue is smaller than Spotify's but there've only been a few musicians who haven't been there at all, and it's almsot always the case that if one searches for a specific piece of music some recording of it is there (e.g. CO has two recordings of Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie; there are 13 on Spotify).

Apple Music streams X number of tracks while iTunes has the greater number Y for downloading, but I don't know what those numbers are. Presumably, the longer AM exists the more of the iTunes catalogue will be made available for streaming? There have been a higher number of unavailable albums at AM than at Spotify or CO, but I'm presuming that that deficiency will resolve itself as time passes.

So far as the sound quality goes, CO has a box that displays the streaming speed for each CD, and you can set the system so that in optimum situations (your Internet connection is working well) it will stream the track at the highest speed possible (which = highest quality sound), or you can opt for 'lossless' play, which will stream (output the music from CO) in such a way that there won't be any interruptions (due to the vagaries of the Internet at the user's end), which however sacrifices sound quality (evidently). The cache is important in this, somehow, in a way that exists beyond my understanding of the technologies involved. In other words, you are able to prioritise the highest possible sound quality versus the listening experience free of any gaps or interruptions, presuming of course that your Internet connection doesn't stop entirely.

Apple Music may have all of CO's capability but I haven't yet spent enough time there to know where to find the controls etc etc. I'll continue investigating.

All of this also must factor in the quality of the CD recording itself. Some CDs are recorded at 16 bits/44kHz, some at 32 bits/96kHz etc etc. Spotify doesn't stream in such a way that the encoding onto the CD itself makes a difference; CO and Apple Music both are able to make use of that extra encoded information. That sentence is a hypothesis rather than a statement of fact. CO makes a point of specifying the sound recording quality of each CD; Apple Music doesn't, but am presuming-- based on Apple's reputation!!! etc etc-- that it does, although I can't see any evidence of it searching the online interface. But it may be that CO/Naxos does this because of the expectations of classical music listeners while for Apple, classical music listeners are a minor subset of their larger listener base.

At this point, I'm inclining to keep CO after the free month's trial-- the sound quality is much better than Spotify. But since I'm familiar with how Spotify works, and its user interface is much better, I'm not going to jettison it. And its catalogue is much broader, too, so when I see a critic refer to some contemporary classical or other musician and am curious, Spotify is much likelier to contain his or her works, or some of them. A friend of mine who did (awful!) music (requiescat in pace), his albums are on Spotify, as are those of another friend.

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, thanks for this EXCELLENT discussion of the ins and outs and plusses and minuses of the different music services. I'm sure that it will be of great benefit, not just to myself, but to everyone who reads this thread!

Marc Puckett said...

"And this suggests that what we explore in the humanities is not just some decorative, pathetic human candy on a rather boring cupcake of unthinking matter. We are too often afflicted with a form of Stockholm syndrome in which we beat up on anyone who declares that there is more to life than what fits the default, dominant materialist reductionism. The aesthetic dimension (the place where patterns happen) is where all the relations between things live (that’s what a pattern is, after all). Taking patterns seriously means that the aesthetic dimension isn’t just a cinema that humans get into sometimes, but rather that what we call “aesthetic” isn’t confined to objects in the Centre Pompidou but is in fact the sensual glue of the universe that enables things to happen."

From a review in Los Angeles Review of Books by Timothy Morton; the book is by Steven Shaviro, called The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. Looks interesting.

[https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/rock-your-world-or-theory-class-needs-an-reality-upgrade]

Morton goes on about Whitehead and calls Shaviro a Whiteheadian; I know very little about ANW and have certainly not read his work: but when I was a monk, back before the dawn of this millennium, the prior, before his conversio vitae, had studied philosophy in NYC, at Fordham or Columbia, I don't recall, concentrating on Whitehead, and knew the man.

Marc Puckett said...

There is a Tom Service notice of the Andsnes Beethoven concertos at the Proms in which he writes about the equal temperament business-- [http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2015/jul/28/beethoven-leif-ove-andsnes-concertos-mahler-chamber-orchestra?CMP=ema_630]-- and Beethoven. Which lead me via the Nicholas Lezard essay he cites to Ross Duffin's book How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care), which I may read. Should I care?

Bryan Townsend said...

Somehow I missed that Tom Service essay. Thanks for bringing it up. I think that he goes astray in a few places. First of all, that quote from Beethoven. He says "It appears in William Kinderman’s 1814 essay on Beethoven’s piano music in the Cambridge Companion to Beethoven" which makes it sound as if Bill Kinderman wrote an essay in 1814. Not so! Bill is a musicologist working today, and probably the leading authority on Beethoven. He and I used to teach together at the University of Victoria. The other big error is in what he says about equal temperament: "Beethoven would have heard Andsnes’s instrument as being crazily out of tune." No, he wouldn't. The big shift in temperament from Pythagorean or meantone to equal temperament, that we use today, took place in the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries. By the time of Bach, it had largely been completed. Between meantone and equal temperament were a variety of compromises, many of them the work of a theorist named Andreas Werckmeister who published some works in the 1680s and 90s in which he argued for a kind of well-tempered tuning that would do away with most of the unpleasantness of the meantone system. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is an obvious reference to Werckmeister. This work, often cited as being the first example of equal temperament, was probably not intended to be played in our modern system, but in one of the ones worked out by Werckmeister. But it was close to our modern equal-tempered tuning because all of the keys were usable.

Beethoven, of course, coming well after this, and using all the keys with equal freedom, wrote for equal temperament. Oddly, one thing that Tom mentions completely disproves his case: "the distance between the C minor of the first movement and E major of the slow movement is a shocking shift from one world of feeling to another, which he then makes a joke of at the start of the third movement, translating G sharp to A flat." G sharp and A flat are only the same note in the equal tempered system. Tom is completely confusing the distance between C minor and E major in the circle of fifths with the difference between G sharp and A flat in Pythagorean tuning: it is called the Pythagorean comma and it is why the use of remote keys like A flat is only possible in equal temperament or something close to it.

Marc Puckett said...

I'll have to pull out the diagram of the circle of fifths etc but I believe I get what you're explaining.

It seems that the Nicholas Lezard (who Tom S. links to at 'equal temperament') is saying that the old system survived well into the 18th c., citing a Haydn note as late as 1802; perhaps that is just the idiosyncratic thesis of the Duffin book he was reviewing.

Nowhere in that review does he, Lezard, state that Beethoven would have been 'amazed' at the modern system: while he asks the question ("And when Beethoven started going deaf, was he still hearing his compositions in the old style, or in newfangled ET?"), the Beethovenian amazement ("Beethoven would have heard Andsnes’s instrument as being crazily out of tune") is all Tom Service.

Bryan Townsend said...

I didn't follow the links to Lezard or Duffin, but I know the history of temperament very well--I used to live with a harpsichordist who tuned her instrument to Werckmeister III every week. I would be curious to read the Haydn note though. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there were lingering pockets of pre-equal-tempered tuning well into the 19th century. All those old organs, for example. Not sure if I'm surprised or not at the shallowness of Tom Service's musical understanding...

Christine Lacroix said...

I suppose that if we women only dressed like men we wouldn't have these problems. I guess we've been asking for it all along.

Bryan Townsend said...

Some women musicians do dress a lot like men, in plain, utilitarian clothing, and a few male musicians do show off their bodies (like Justin Bieber). But a lot of women musicians present a very sexy image to sell records: Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Shakira. The list goes on. They have decided that this is part of their marketing. So what's your point?

Marc Puckett said...
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Marc Puckett said...

I would agree with what I take to be a part at least of Christine's first point: women performers have more often than not been presented (by their own volition and for their own purposes? by 'the management' for its purposes?) as artists and as women who are attractive, both at once-- and what has a woman who has wanted the spotlight only on her artistry to have done in those circumstances? I don't know when women began to perform publicly in the classical music venues but I'd expect that black evening dress etc had a purpose other than that of presenting a uniform stage appearance (why that would have been considered desirable is a different question). No one ever was publicly enthusiastic because Mstislav Rostropovich wore fashionably cut black tie attractively.

I had forgotten this, from last Friday, that amusing piece describing male musicians as if they were females. I think you mistook the joke, in a way: the reason that was funny about Bruce Springsteen was not that she (the author) fitted him out in a 'utilitarian outfit' actually the opposite of fashionable, but the way that she used the descriptors that male writers commonly (perhaps, thoughtlessly) use about females: 'a revealing top', the 'smallest tease of chest hair, as if it were the female breasts being so partially uncovered, the 'tattered apron' and being invited into his home, as if to confirm to us readers that that is his true and authentic sanctum, not the stage; and finally of course his age! which is much more often inserted into copy when the subject is female than it is when the subject is male.

That she can pull it off fairly well for that range of male performers-- from oldest Springsteen to newest Hoosier or whatever his name is-- indicates to me that perhaps she isn't making all of it up out of thin air, although I detest going on and on about the sort of identity politics that some feminist activists seem to want to reduce their legitimate insights to. But I pay very little, almost no, attention to the popular music scene and even less to writing about it, so I'm not a very reliable observer, obviously.

(There's a fine example of Tom S. at his pandering worst up at the Guardian today. JLA and friends are saving the climate etc etc.)

Bryan Townsend said...

Both incongruities are funny, of course. Mass media writers do often describe women differently than men and if you turn the tables as the writer did, it becomes comic. But, it is also the case that many women musicians present themselves in an overtly sexualized way for the purposes of marketing. This used to be mostly in pop music, but it is starting to spill over into classical music as well. I went into this in some detail in this post: http://themusicsalon.blogspot.mx/2012/07/celebrity-musicians.html

I discussed a number of different tactics for both men and women.

Christine Lacroix said...

Bryan you asked what my point was. It wasn’t my point. It was your point. I simply reformulated it.

Unless I haven’t been paying attention I don’t think that irrelevant comments about peoples’ appearances are reserved for women. Look at the endless jokes about Donald Trump’s hair, or the reaction to Barak Obama’s mom jeans some years ago. I saw the German violinist, David Garrett, squirm with embarassment when the interviewer asked him who his ‘stylist’ was and informed him that he looked like someone who would be on the cover of a romance novel. “I’m a guy!’ he answered. He didn’t run off stage but he looked like he wanted to. But as I said, maybe I haven’t been paying attention because here’s clip along the same line as your post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9sEkdJrIRM

As for your comment, Bryan, about some women ‘presenting themselves in an overtly sexualized way for the purposes of marketing’ I’m willing to bet that the Jennifer Lopez in the picture you posted is simply being Jennifer Lopez and expressing her femininity the way a lot of women do, in a more exaggeratedly feminine way. You might be surprised to see how ‘overtly sexualized’ her appearance is even when she’s home alone cleaning her house. It’s just the way some women are. If these days they are turning up on the classical concert stage sexily dressed maybe it’s because due to evolving dress codes they can.

Bryan Townsend said...

It is always funny to turn expectations upside down, something that Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers always exploited successfully. Sure, you could be absolutely right about Jennifer Lopez and maybe Beyoncé, Rihanna and all the others. But that makes me wonder, how is a young male classical musician of ordinary appearance or even a female one who doesn't pull out all the stops going to make a marketing splash in comparison? Because I don't think it is just happenstance that all the big name divas in both the pop and the classical world are extremely good looking and dress to accentuate that. Of course, to counter my own point, Hilary Hahn, while very attractive, never seems to project herself sexually.

Christine Lacroix said...

I think you're right about physical appearance.It counts enormously. Studies show that it's easier for lawyers to get acquittals for attractive defendants, good looking people earn more money and get better promotions in business, cute babies receive more affection from their parents and the list goes on. It's not fair but it's a reality. On the other hand good looks alone won't get anyone very far in the world of classical music or even in show business. Hilary Hahn is gorgeous. Her personal style reflects an attractive innate modesty.It's impossible to know how successful she would be with the same skill if she were ugly. Maybe it's not fair to have both beauty and virtuosity? Should we apply some sort of handicap to the gorgeous ones to level the playing field? If they were only allowed to wear black suits that might even things up. I remember reading about a French CEO who said that if he had two equally qualified candidates for a job he always chose the homely one. Why? Because he knew he'd had to work so much harder and be that much smarter to get where he was.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think we have a couple of instances where good looks have been a significant part of the basis of a career in classical music. The case of Vanessa-Mae would be an example, or even Lang Lang. I wrote about that in this post:

http://themusicsalon.blogspot.mx/2011/08/classical-music-with-pop-sensibility.html

Christine Lacroix said...

Wow, you're comparing Lang Lang to Vanessa Mae . You must be really upset with him about that perfume he came out with. Heh, heh, heh......

The 2CELLOS are forever being asked in interviews if they think they would be as successful if they weren't so good looking. Their answers are candid 'We're still wondering about that ourselves' or when asked about the cause of their success with their first viral video, Smooth Criminal, one answered 'it's my face'!
Aren't young people surprising?

You know that the average listener isn't really capable of hearing the difference between extreme talent, so so talent, or no talent when it comes to classical music. In fact I'm lucky if I can hear any difference at all.
When I hear this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y2ibqnPAdU

I just know that I love it. Is it because the musician is good looking? You've really got me wondering! I just went and listened to Mischa Maisky and Jacqueline Du Pré versions and still prefer Stjepan Hauser. Maybe because it was the first one I heard? Plus he's certainly cuter than Mischa Maisky! Could it be the hunk factor?

Bryan Townsend said...

The perfume AND the Bugatti!!

Paul Newman used to have this nightmare where he woke up in the morning, looked in the mirror and saw his eyes had gone brown overnight! That was it for his career, in the nightmare, at least.

I see that reading the Music Salon has corrupted you irredeemably! You ask yourself critical questions such as "do I like this performance because the performer is good looking?" And then you go and compare different performances!!

All I can say is, yes, Kol Nidrei is a wonderful piece and why wouldn't you love it? But keep listening to different versions. I find that whatever performance I hear first of a piece tends to stick in my mind, even years later. Here is a performance by Pierre Fournier:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7cNznH0GhI

The average listener doesn't listen very actively, doesn't compare different performances and think about them. So you are probably becoming an active listener!

Congratulations!

Christine Lacroix said...

I've just listened twice to Pierre Fournier. There is a totally different sound to his cello. Very deep. He seems to have a heavier 'coup d'archet'. Maybe it's more technically perfect? The Stjepan Hauser version is much lighter however. It has definitely become to my ear 'the way it's supposed to sound'.

Here's something for you in case you don't know it (is that possible?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkGR7FzBtxw

Bryan Townsend said...

I think that the more you listen to different cellists or guitarists or pianists the more you notice how different their sound, their phrasing, their interpretations, are. One thing seems clear: Stjepan Hauser definitely has real ability as a cellist.

It is safe to say that I have not heard MOST music!! There is just so much out there. But, I like to think that I have listened to a lot of the important music.

Christine Lacroix said...

Had you heard the Rudolf Matz piece Elegija before? Did you like it?

Bryan Townsend said...

Never heard it before, but I do like it. Expressively powerful.

Christine Lacroix said...

I'm happy to have been able to show you something.

If you like discovering different composers maybe you don't know Giovanni Sollima an Italian cellist and composer? He's well known here in Europe, I don't know about North America.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgl6njyKe2w&index=22&list=PL565863AD56CD0807

I don't like everything he does but that one is nice, to my ear anyway. Sometimes too dissonant for my taste.

Christine Lacroix said...

So I've just googled 'bugatti' and 'Lang Lang'. I thought maybe a Bugatti was a typewriter. He does do some silly things, doesn't he? But I thought you said we weren't supposed to look, we're just supposed to listen to the music. What do we care what he does in his spare time? Is there some unspoken code of decorum for classical musicians that I don't know about? Are they shunned by the community if they don't follow the rules, or worse, excommunicated? This is a strange new world for me.

Thanks for the homework listening material list from an earlier post. I've printed it out.

Bryan Townsend said...

The Sollima is also quite interesting--maybe a little over-heated. It gets a bit too Philip Glass later on.

Criticism of the music and criticism of the marketing and promotion are different things. I suppose that I would justify my comments on marketing by pointing out that if it looms very large, it tends to impact on the aesthetic reception of the music--and I think it does in the case of Lang Lang.

No unspoken code of decorum that I know of, but I think there is a general standard of civilized behaviour (much though it may seem in abeyance at present). Some people are harder to take seriously than others. Believe it or not, most classical musicians still disdain shameless money-grubbing.

Bryan Townsend said...

Christine, where do you live in Europe?

Christine Lacroix said...

I think most people disdain shameless money-grubbing and overt ambition.
I saw a BBC documentary on Lang Lang. He comes from an impoverished background and like David Garrett had an ambitious bullying father who basically deprived him of a happy childhood.Being Chinese the cultural frame of reference is very different to ours too.I'd be inclined to give the guy a break.Let him have some fun.I have to admit he sometimes reminds me of a comic strip character however. One day he's performing at the Eiffel Tower then he's at the top of a mountain in Nepal trying to save earthquake victims, then he's giving Chinese lessons on the web. He even looks a bit like a cartoon character. But who cares? It's the piano playing that's important and remember, you did say we should just listen and not look. So ask somebody to set up a blind test for you. Lang Lang and other pianists playing the same piece but you don't know who is who. Maybe you'll be surprised.

I live in Villevieille, a small village between Montpellier and Nimes in the south of France. I'm an American citizen but I've lived in France most of my life.

You didn't say who your favorite performer of Kol Nidrei is. Do you have one?

Villevieille hosts a classical music festival every summer and I thought of you at one of the concerts because of a post you had on attracting younger listeners. At the concert there was a sea of white haired folks with canes, crutches, walkers and wheel chairs. I'm not exaggerating. One of my friends is seriously worried about the future of the event.
Here is a link to the program in case you're curious;

http://villevieille.over-blog.com

Bryan Townsend said...

Perhaps you are right: I hope so! But there are a lot of places where shameless money-grubbing seems pretty popular!! But probably not in rural France and small-town arts-colony Mexico.

It is not that I want to deny Lang Lang any fun--perish the thought!! But I think that the overt self-promotion and money-grubbing is an ugly model for young artists. He's not the only one, of course.

Yes, it is the piano-playing that is important. I have seen a clip of him doing a serious recital in Vienna and it was pretty good. But I would welcome your blind test. I really like those! Unfortunately someone, not me, has to set it up.

I haven't listened to a lot of different Kol Nidrei's so I don't have a favorite. Ask me who my favorite Beethoven sonata player is and I could answer.

I will have a look at your festival. Sometimes I long to live in Europe, if only for the multitudinous music festivals. Salzburg!!

Bryan Townsend said...

I don't think you have seen my Lang Lang post?

http://themusicsalon.blogspot.mx/2014/06/maybe-i-should-release-my-own-fragrance.html

Marc Puckett said...

Am following the conversation but have been distracted by tiresome nonsense here the last few days. Matz, Sollima (I've seen the name but have never heard any of his work), Villevieille-Salinelles-- festivals are such great pleasures! although, after having watched the Salzburg Fidelio (replay via Medici.tv) I also looked about their website and good heavens! even if I lived in Europa I'd have to win the lottery to be able to afford the tickets.

There was, just the other day, an article in the Guardian in re changing attitudes toward speaking about money and one's financial affairs in conversation or in public-- didn't read it so don't actually know if the writer discussed 'money grubbing', ha. In the past, the social conventions governing conversations or attitudes about ambition, money-making, wealth etc have varied depending on location and class: now that television, the Internet, and social media are so omnipresent many of the traditional expectations have fallen by the wayside, I think (although the 'social conventions' have been changing since... the 60s, anyway, since the Second World War, since the Great War...)-- in any event, it doesn't surprise me that certain classical musicians utilize what works for certain pop musicians or celebrities of whatever variety, literary or theatre or film etc. But there are microcultures where the older social norms have withstood the pressures of the contemporary world or some or many of them, and I'd expect the classical music world to be one of them: which is of course one of the (often unstated) reasons critics, whether intentionally modernist or post-modernist, Marxist or materialist, advocate for new ways of doing classical music! and all of that nonsense.

Bryan Townsend said...

This is the 49th comment on this thread which I think is a record here at the Music Salon.

Whew, I see what you mean, looking at tickets for a recital at the Salzburg festival that run from 66 euros for the cheap seats to 177 euros for the expensive seats.

In days past, one never spoke about money! Good point about how the reasons why certain positions are publicly trumpeted so loudly are so often unstated. I should do a post...

Christine Lacroix said...

Hi Marc and Bryan

Marc if you listen to the Rudolf Matz piece and/or the Giovanni Sollima piece I'd be curious to know if you like them. In my ignorance I assumed Matz was some famous classical composer everyone knew. I was very proud of myself for being able to introduce something new to Bryan!

Bryan I've just read your post on Lang Lang. He really is a funny guy. Looking at the picture he is actually very cute. I know we're not supposed to notice that sort of thing but there you go.

I enjoyed the Sokolof piano piece that accompanied the post and tried immediately to see if Lang Lang had a recording of it. No luck, but there is a ten year old Chinese boy playing it very differently on YouTube. Hardly recognized it.

I think the big difference between us is that I put myself in the place of a Lang Lang or 2CELLOS, coming from poor or modest means and having sacrificed enormously to get a classical education with no guarantee of any future and I think, what would I do in the same circumstances if someone offered me a lot of money to put my name on a car? I have a struggling artist friend who has made enormous concessions almost humiliating herself to try to make enough money to pay the rent. Our motivations and choices are very different when we've been poor.

If you have the patience to listen to this interview I think it will give you an insight into what's going on in the minds of some young classical musicians, how they perceive the opportunities and obstacles in the classical world and why they make the choices they do:

http://performancetoday.publicradio.org/listen/static.php?name=/performance_today/perftalks/2015/03/06/interview_2cellos_20150306





Marc Puckett said...

Hi, Christine! I want to point out that just because I don't know someone's reputation means very, very little, ha; I discover composers and musicians new to me almost every week. For many, many years, 'classical music' for me was the three Bs, Chopin, and two oratorios of Handel.

Bryan Townsend said...

Matz and Sollima are, as far as I know, quite obscure composers, but then, most composers are! I can't speak for Marc, but I also come from an impoverished background. One of the reasons that I did not put composition as my first priority for most of my life is that there were no models--I couldn't quite envision being a composer. I struggled up from nothing and nowhere just like a lot of others have. But, unlike some people, I don't cry the blues about it. But hey, if Bugatti wants to put my name on a car, that's ok. Of course they don't and it might be interesting to ask why. The reason is that I do not have the enormous public profile that Lang Lang does. A great deal of what he does is to expand and cultivate that public profile. I find most of it embarrassing and inappropriate.

Christine Lacroix said...

O.K. I think I get it now. Self promotion whether it be through highlighting good looks, sexuality, unseemly marketing, whatever, is offensive to you maybe because there is a dishonest quality to it, like 'sleeping your way to the top' instead of relying on pure merit. And if by chance you happen to be a modest somewhat reserved introverted type it must be all the more annoying. I guess I'm just happy for successful musicians or artists of any kind. And in the interest of full disclosure I'm often accused of refusing to see any sort of ill or dishonest intent in peoples' motivations.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm cursed with some inherently Canadian virtues! Mind you, if I were doing my career all over again, I would do it quite differently and do much more self-promotion. It is essential to building an audience. But it can be done adroitly or not. If you are a fairly serious artist, you don't want to portray yourself as a clown because the sort of audience you would attract would not find your performance satisfying. Be who you are is good advice, but at the same time, display who you are at your best.

Christine Lacroix said...

It occurred to me that our difference of opinion might partly be due to cultural differences. Though I'm sure a lot of Americans would share your viewpoint.

I just submitted our discussion to a group of French friends and they agreed that the perfume business is a bit over the top. Doesn't stop them from enjoying Lang Lang's performances however. I work in both the scientific and business worlds and self promotion is important in both. It doesn't seem fair that the flashier extraverts often come out on top. But don't you think that pure luck, getting a break at the right time, is important too? If you know Lang Lang's story it would seem that a lucky break contributed to his success when he was still quite young.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hmm, interesting. Oh no, anything that Lang Lang does in the way of promotion needn't prevent me enjoying his performances. But, a lot of his performances are tarred with the same brush as when he jams on a Bartok piano concerto with a rock drummer or performs with Metallica. That kind of stuff I am aggressively not interested in.

There are an awful lot of factors that affect your career: family connections and assets, luck, having an extrovert personality, meeting the right people at the right time and so on. But this has more to do with the scale of your career. What I am interested in are more those things that are not so easily affected: inherent aesthetic worth and creative ability. So if someone is scarcely known outside the closest circles of the classical world, like Grigory Sokolov, but is a huge aesthetic genius, then I am far more interested in him than in someone like Lang Lang who has chosen to go for the big career and spend his time on shallow promotion. I think a blind comparison of the two of them would reveal their real aesthetic strengths and weaknesses.

Mozart had a lot of bad luck with his career, a lot of it stemming from the fact that the mother of the Emperor Joseph II, Maria Theresia, took an active dislike to him and his family. This is the reason why he never got a good, stable position with a court, but had to scramble his whole life. Didn't prevent him from writing some of the greatest music ever, though.

Marc Puckett said...

This is an interesting discussion, indeed. It seems to me that the bottom line is whether this or that extra-musical activity affects e.g. Lang Lang's pianism-- and since I don't follow him particularly, I'm not in a position to judge.

I grew up in a small university town outside of Cincinnati, not poor by any means, although I tend very much to appreciate Mother Teresa's comments on poverty in the affluent countries of the West-- it isn't material poverty that's necessarily the worst. Precariously middle class, the precariousness due to parents' divorce. Anyway, while I've had the opportunity, through friends, acquaintances and the circumstances of life, to get to know people from both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum, it wouldn't occur to me personally to bring up the subjects of income and my private life in conversation, except in very particular circumstances, and people who glibly prose on about their intimate lives in public are exotic creatures so far from my own experience that I can't but doubt their sincerity and suspect their motives; but that's me, and as I wrote above, the Lang Langs of the world can do what they like as long as it doesn't affect their music, which is my only interest in 'em. I've listened to the cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, for example, quite a lot over the years, and Cecilia Bartoli; their most scandalous public moves, so far as I can tell, are likely to have been... a less than successful choice of a particular piece of music for a recital or concert, although CB certainly has managed to garner... a sufficient amount of publicity.

I listened to Matz's Quartet in D minor (four cellos!) from the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in 2000 (on YouTube, although there are also two versions on Spotify of the same piece-- seems to be the only Matz on Spotify, alas). Never having listened to four cellos play together for 25 minutes, it was perfectly pleasant; whether and how often I want to listen to multiple cellos for that or greater lengths of time, I'm not sure: certainly I liked it enough to give it another hearing; one of the Spotify versions, although not until later in the weekend. Matz seems to have been a great cello pedagogue-- a perfect exemplar of the musical virtues of the ancien regime in the states of the House of Austria.

Christine Lacroix said...

Hi Marc

Maybe it simply comes down to whether or not we like the musician's personality. I have friend who heard a French popular singer give a very rude interview and since then he can't bear to listen to his music.

Here is the piece by Matz that we were discussing with Bryan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkGR7FzBtxw
It's the only one I know. Let me know if you like it! It's short enough!


Marc Puckett said...

I think that Matz's Elegia (I don't think the composer would mind if we use the Latin instead of the Croatian!) is lovely, a proper mix of Romantic melancholia and subdued but hopeful expectation. Judging by this and his Quartet in D minor for four cellos, he is a fine composer, and I find it odd that there doesn't seem to be much of anything written about his work except perhaps in Croatian-- perhaps because he doesn't seem at all interested in the modernist, minimalist etc etc currents. But of course it is foolish to judge very certainly based on two compositions.

The 2Cellos fellow, Stjepan Hauser, well, well, I'm sure he is an accomplished musician but I find his stage persona a bit off-putting-- he needs to stop wagging his head so. But, pft, I wouldn't not go to a concert of works from the classical repertoire because he was the performer, and am not competent to comment on his technique etc. Began listening to the Performance Today audio but was interrupted and haven't made it back.

Christine Lacroix said...

Marc I'm glad you enjoyed the Matz piece. Bryan said of the cellist,Stjepan Hauser, that he definitely has 'real ability as a cellist' and I'm supposing that's a step higher than having 'facility'. I haven't yet completely understand the rating scale yet. It's true his emoting isn't to everyone's taste however.

I haven't yet listened to the Quartet in D minor for four cellos but I will.I'm still reeling from a harpsichord concert I attended yesterday evening. Luckily the venue was lovely because the music and I didn't connect at all.

Bryan Townsend said...

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Rudolf Matz (1901 - 1988), well-known in cello circles at least:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Matz

Perhaps I should preface my remarks by indicating whether they are "ex cathedra" or not! Heh! A lot of what I say is simply the expression of the accumulated wisdom of musicians over the centuries. The rest is just my possibly fleeting personal opinion.

Lucky you, Christine! Harpsichord concerts are very thin on the ground around here!

The interesting thing about the cello is that it was not particularly liked as a solo instrument until the very end of the 19th century. It was a continuo instrument and there are concertos by Vivaldi (who wrote concertos for everything) and Boccherini (who was himself a cellist), but until the Dvorak concerto, it garnered little respect as a solo instrument. You might almost think of it as a 20th century instrument as that is when it came into its own.

Christine Lacroix said...

I don't really understand what you mean by ex cathedra, sorry!

The harpsichord itself was lovely, (clavecin in French) and the man who had built it was there to answer questions about it's construction. And as I said, the chapel is beautiful. My favorite architecture, very simple unadorned stone. I just wish I'd been able to appreciate the music better.But I'd invited my friends to thank them for a favor and they were thrilled so...

Thanks for the info about the cello. The 2cellos are amazed themselves that they are filling up arenas and concert halls with only 2cellos since, according to them, the cello isn't or wasn't a particularly popular instrument. Apparently now there aren't enough cellos or cello teachers in Croatia to meet the sudden demand.

By the way the tickets cost 20 euros. Somebody mentioned the cost of music festivals in a comment. And at this concert there weren't any wheel chairs or walkers. Only canes and crutches.

Concerning our discussion of the musician's persona one of my guests wrote me a message to thank me this morning and said that at first she didn't think she was going to like the concert because the musician seemed so smug and self satisfied. I'd never thought about how much the perception of the performer's personality, looks etc could impact appreciation of the performance.


Bryan Townsend said...

Marc could probably explain it better, but as I understand it, when the Pope is speaking in his official person on matters of faith or morals he cannot err. This is called papal infallibility. The use of this power is referred to as speaking "ex cathedra".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility

Oh yes, performers need to be careful about what they project, even if inadvertently. I think my ideal performers, people like Grigory Sokolov or Rostropovich, try to be akin to a window on the music, transparent, as it were, and not like a stained glass window that alters the light that passes through it. Mind you, this is an ideal that is often challenged and it is the opposite in the pop world.

Marc Puckett said...

Back in the 70s, when I was in high school, I remember (or seem to) not infrequent harpsichord recitals at the university-- I believe there had been a renewal of interest in the instrument, and that it had even become fashionable. I guess that was toward the beginning of the 'historically informed performance' business.

I may as well confess it: have been looking at violins and cellos and thinking about whether I could be serious about learning to play one or the other; years, it would be, before I acquired a basic facility. Hmm; any (printable) comments about a project like that? A local tutor was very enthusiastic, but am pretty sure that is her ordinary state of being rather than a comment on my specific prospects. Would actually prefer to return to the piano but that's not practicable in the foreseeable future whereas the comparatively modest investment in a violin or cello is. I honestly don't know if I can manage the hand and finger coordination. Perhaps recognisable notes! by the time I'm 60.

Bryan, like most well-educated Catholics who also take their faith seriously, I think we all of us can fairly easily distinguish between the formal pronouncements of dogma and the daily homiletic insructions. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

This is turning into a monstrously long comment thread!

A long time ago I put up a post on learning music as an adult:

http://themusicsalon.blogspot.mx/2011/12/learning-music-as-adult.html

Might be worth reading. I think that the most economical approach might be to purchase a digital keyboard (they start around $200) and re-learn piano. Violins and cellos are more expensive than you think, for a decent one. Also, with piano, even an electronic one, you have access to an astonishingly large repertoire. I also think it is easier to get started as an adult.

Marc Puckett said...

Hmm. Thanks for the pointer to the 2011 post. I have thought about the keyboard option, too, and frankly the only reason I've pushed it aside is that the gross incongruity of investing in an electronic keyboard when there is a perfectly fine, if practically unusable (long story...), upright piano in the house is too offensive to my sense of economy.

Bryan Townsend said...

You know, I think I actually almost understand!

Christine Lacroix said...

What's the worst thing that could happen if you tried the violin or cello? Can't you rent one? And don't people often say that any 2 year violin student could play like Lindsey Stirling? That's always amazed me. I'm not a fan but just 2 years? Really? If it's true go for it! You can buy yourself some Peter Pan costumes, dance around on YouTube and get rich and famous! Sorry, I couldn't resist joking.

Marc Puckett said...

Ha, Christine! had to go look up Lindsey Stirling; I think I draw the line at letting myself be captured on video dancing, whether it goes on YouTube or not. Haven't read that post of Bryan's yet, but it's common knowledge (probably actually real knowledge in this instance, because of the way the brain works, I gather) that one learns languages and music easier and more efficiently or better at an early age rather than at 55. In any event, no earth-shattering harm can come from trying the violin or cello out, I suppose, but am not decided. Hadn't thought about rentals.

Christine Lacroix said...

Just looked on eBay for violins :
http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.Xviolins.TRS0&_nkw=violins&_sacat=0

It might be harder for adults in some ways but maybe easier in other ways. We supposedly have more maturity, right?

Bryan Townsend said...

The most important factor in choosing an instrument is that you really like that instrument! Whatever it is, if you like it, the sound, if something about it really attracts you, then go for it. Even if it is the sopranino ophicleide!

Some people might say that any 2 year violin student could play like Lindsey Stirling, but they are most likely idiots. Bowed string instruments take a lot of work. My violinist partner says that it can take a couple of years just to get exactly the right angle and position for the right hand holding the bow.

I have had a number of adult students over the years and while what they can achieve is curtailed somewhat by not starting young, still, they seemed very happy with what they were able to achieve!

Christine Lacroix said...

I like your analogy about the stained glass window vs clear glass. It must be a devilishly difficult goal to reach. Just look at our handwriting. We all learned the same strokes in school but no two people write the same way. As a child I tried desperately to change my handwriting. Never succeeded and it's still basically the same. Is that a bad analogy?

Bryan Townsend said...

People may wonder what classical musicians are doing during those ten or so years it takes to "master" (not that you ever really do) an instrument. Part of the answer is training yourself to read and understand musical scores with the goal of making them come alive in the most transparent way possible. I am avoiding using the word "intention" as it is problematic, but what we are trying to do is see the musical meaning inherent in the score and make it come alive for the audience. This involves historical, theoretical and aesthetic understanding.

Handwriting is a somewhat oblique analogy, but perhaps a related one might be what Medieval monks did with manuscripts: they copied them as accurately as possible, though sometimes doing nifty illuminations.