Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ready for Time Away

"It's been a quiet week in Lake . . . "

Well no, but I am getting ready for about ten days of vacation during which I intend to rejuvenate and recalibrate sufficiently to gear up for a new school year.

In this season of my life I juggle my playing and teaching very awkwardly around my kids' schedules. Summer camps, ballet classes, immersion Spanish at the local junior college, a middle school graduation—supporting these involvements often trumps memorizing another page of notes or pitching a concert proposal to a presenter two time-zones away. With three adolescents in the house life is never boring but I also know that this time is fleeting.

My wife and I are not nostalgic for the “terrible twos” but we’re not ready for the grandkids either. It has been a while since the sight of a newborn gave my wife that “I want another baby” look. We are solidly confirmed in our middle age, and we enjoy the vast majority of it. For two musicians to build a reasonably functional life in the same city, stay married and reasonably sane is no small achievement in these times.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the strange and wonderful life of college teaching was the calendar with the long summer vacation. Ironically, "summer" has become one of the more difficult of my life management challenges. This summer we could only find a single week when all five of us can get away at the same time.

My ideal vacation is close to a beach or the mountains with books, quiet and comfortable access to a piano. The kids have roundly vetoed any such concept this year. They want to be tourists, see a White Sox game, climb the Sears Tower and generally exhaust themselves with over-stimulation. Warning: it really is a bad idea to raise children who think independently--it's just so inconvenient. So we’re off to Chicago and we’ll have a blast.

An aside: Paul Robinson, my piano guru/technician/friend, took me to visit the newly rebuilt Steinway D that he recently finished at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Diego. It is GORGEOUS. A beautiful piano that plays like an absolute dream, it is a magnificent achievement. Bravo!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where's the Juice?

This past week I was directing the Point Loma Keyboard Institute for teenaged piano students where I spent quite a bit of time talking about developing clarity of musical intention. The patience necessary to read a score deeply enough to communicate its content is not common anywhere, let alone among the young. As I worked with these kids, in brief glimpses I saw moments of it spark to life (often in the midst of Clementi sonatinas and Burgmuller etudes).

There are different ways to pursue the poetic realm but it certainly is essential to our craft. Olivier spoke of being "workman-like" in developing a character and Serkin drew analogies between practicing the piano and digging ditches. However, this labor is in the service of a mysterious alchemy aimed at gilding our inner selves.

I am fond of telling my students that the music they learn today will become part of their intellectual furniture for the rest of their lives. A weekend post from Cathy Fuller reminded me that this golden stuff is the magical juice we long to find, and all too often we despair when it is absent.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Walter Rummel Bach Transcriptions

This morning I stumbled upon a fascinating CD of Walter Rummel's Bach transcriptions at the Hyperion website. Rummel was a Godowsky student who was active in the "Golden Age." Does anyone know of scores for these pieces? The MP3 provided by Hyperion is a gorgeous performance of Rummel's arrangement of "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen" BWV127, played by Johnathan Plowright.

Released in 2005, the 2-disc set is number CDA67481/2 in the Hyperion catalog

Friday, July 07, 2006

What kind of English?

Here is a funny diversion for speakers of American English that might be a fun at your next dinner party. I chafe a bit at writing the oxymoronic misnomer, "American English," but when I took the quiz found on the page linked below, my geographic origins were pegged very precisely. Quite weird!

As an upstate New Yorker, educated in the Midwest, my quiz results identified me as 55% General American English, 15% Yankee, 15% Upper Midwestern, 0% Dixie and 0% Midwestern. Now I know this is not high linguistic analysis, but it is a surprisingly accurate interpretation based upon a short questionnaire of customary usage habits.

Try it yourself and see what you think.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And another vote for Rzewski

Today on listen 101, Steve Hicken has written a very interesting post about the revolutionary nature of Rzewski's "the People United. . ." To me these are stirring words that musicians need to hear in a time when being revolutionary is as daunting as ever and certainly not a safe choice. I was especially taken with the images of Jasper Johns' and Barbara Kruger's flag pieces that Mr. Hicken uses to illustrate his entry. Heady stuff indeed and very timely in light of the recent congressional debate over a proposed flag burning ammendment.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Playlist suggestions for Independence Day

This week Sequenza 21 sent out a call for July 4th playlist suggestions that has prompted some really interesting responses. The suggestions submitted to date offer a very interesting list populated by American works from the usual suspects, e.g. Ives, Carter, and even William Billings, but also there have been some titles new to me.

My own slightly warped perspective might propose Frederic Rsweksi's 36 Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!' (1975) and Debussy's Feu d'Artifice for starters (Yes, I know he's not an American, so save it for Bastille Day!). Also, George Walker's Piano Sonata No. 2 (1979) is an "acknowledged masterpiece" built upon a masterful set of variations on a Negro spiritual melody. Incidentally, in 1966 Walker was the first African-American composer to receive a Pulitzer Prize in music.

What would you put on your list? You can either comment here submit your suggestions directly to the Sequenza 21 site.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Fun with Powers of 10

If you ever struggle to regain a sense of balance or perspective in your life, here is a classic video that might help. The film was made by Charles and Ray Eames in collaboration with composer, Elmer Bernstein. More information about the Eames' most famous film can be found on the Eames Office web pages. Also, the Elmer Bernstein home page is a tremendous resource of information about one of America’s most prolific film composers. From a purely technical perspective, it is amazing to see this collection of imagery executed decades prior to Google Earth®.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Put my music in your I-pod

My latest CD recording, Delight, Touch, and Inspire is now available for digital download through the Apple i-tunes store. You can also listen to streaming audio and download my music on Rhapsody.

Playing on the Point once again!

It's July and it's really hot by San Diego standards. It has been a long, long time since I have written in this blog. Honestly, I have been trying to find the right voice, the right content and just the right time to put stuff here. Maybe I am just getting old and lazy.

Anyway, I have lots of fun projects in the works. The Point Loma Keyboard Institute starts on July 10. I will be playing my Bach in America recital, teaching a piano literature seminar on Mozart and sharing master class duties with my friends Jane Bastien and Victor Labenske this year.

For 2006-07, I have recital tours planned for New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. I also have several concerts in California so check the concert calendar often on the web pages.