Saturday, December 28th, 2013 12:25 PM

Caesuras

For the last year I have been struck by the logic of delineating musical phrases. There are several ways of doing this, depending on the music. When a phrase ends in a long tone, one can simply cut down the length of the held note to in effect insert a breath to indicate that one phrase is ending and the next is about to begin. One can alternatively insert a short pause, known as a caesura. Wanda Landowska, the first major harpsichordist of the 20th century and a fantastic pianist as well, wrote that "to allow air to circulate is like breathing a constantly renewed life into musical phrases; it gives them a relief indispensable to their comprehension. That is why all ancient treatises compare musical interpretation to eloquence. Nothing could be more annoying than those melodic lines that are never interrupted by the slightest breathing. They are comparable to an unpunctuated text or to extremely elongated spaghetti endlessly rolling with neither beginning nor end, but lasting forever!" (p. 376, Landowska on Music).
Sunday, December 8th, 2013 11:10 PM

Layout headaches for the composer

The problem of performing music using sheet music are manifold. On the one hand, making music easy to see and follow cuts down on rehearsal time and produces better performances. Over the years I've been careful to add cue notes; arranged lines of music so that rehearsal letters are placed at the left of the page; made sure not to put too many measures on one line of music to keep chord changes from being cluttered; spaced drum parts to reflect the length of a musical phrase, and on and on. On the other hand, these layout strategies lead to more pages-per-part. Now the composer has to worry about the practicalities of dealing with a long part on a music stand. Occasionally I've changed notes to rests just so the musician can take the time to flip over the part or turn pages. Sometimes I wish that musicians had page turners so I wouldn't have to deal with the part layout at all. 
 
The Manhasset folder makes it possible to have 4 pages visible on the stand instead of the usual 3 pages. This is a great help, but it significantly clutters up the performance space and consequently pushes musicians apart. Moreover, the big folder hides the performers from audience views. 
Monday, December 2nd, 2013 9:05 PM

Bukowski Liked Mozart press release


Several years ago, Carl Banner of Washington Musica Viva commissioned Charley Gerard to convert Mozart’s violin sonata #25 into a jazz piece. Mr. Banner was intrigued by the bass note passage on the piano and thought, wouldn’t this work great as a “walking” bass part with a drummer playing along? At first Mr. Gerard was hesitant to reinterpret Mozart, especially since jazzin’ up the classics was at one time roundly condemned by the musical establishment. But after examining the work, Mr. Gerard saw the creative possibilities. Mr. Gerard retitled the work Bukowski Liked Mozart after writer/poet Charles Bukowski, America’s bard of the down-and-out. This is Mozart that would fit into a barroom setting. 

The work has gone through a change since it was last performed locally with violinist Kathy Judd, Executive and Artistic Director at Washington Conservatory of Music. There were new parts for bass and drums and the piano part was also altered, but the violin part unchanged. 

 

In the present work, the violin part will now be assigned to a saxophone, and there are several additional spots for jazz improvisation. In a way, this is not too different from the way Mozart’s works were performed in the 18th century when musicians inserted their own improvised lead-ins at key harmonic points, ad-libbed cadenzas and improvised between movements. Since the work ends with a series of variations, it was not much of a leap to add a few more variations in a style that jazz musicians would be accustomed to.


Bukowski Liked Mozart will be performed at Twins Jazz on Dec. 5, 2013. The performers are: Mr. Banner, piano, Charley Gerard, saxophone, drummer Lennie Robinson, bassist James King and Dutch guitarist Syberen Van Munster. This group has performed at the Kennedy Center and the Czech Republic Embassy.

Twins Jazz is at 1344 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009 www.twinsjazz.com

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 10:41 PM

Kickstarter ideas

Maybe people like the idea of doing the sort of recording that became fashionable in the 1950s. Here's one: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/carsieblanton/jazz-is-for-everybody
Then there was Roswell Rudd's campaign of music for lovers that got him $20,000!
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 10:23 PM

Irving Flores, Jr.

Judi and I caught up with Irving Flores, Jr., the son of the bandleader I worked for in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico 36 years ago. We also met his wonderful girlfriend Lillian Johnson. What an amazing experience! Irving is an amazing jazz pianist with an impressive resume (see www.irvingflores.com). He currently lives in San Diego. We played together and the music was on a high level. After we ate an excellent dinner cooked by Judi, we reached Irving Flores, Sr. at his home in Puerta Vallarta. After speaking in Spanish, he told me in English that he loved me, and I said the same to him.
 
It's almost a dream-like experience to reconnect with a family after over 3 decades. Irving invited me to San Diego to make a record and do a concert. Who knows? I might take him up on it.
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 10:16 PM

Kickstarter Campaign

We called our campaign The Saxophone Never Sleeps. We got a great video filmed by Jeremy Busch with group shots and an interview with Jenny and me. I followed up a week later with a silly poem that went as follows: 
 
THE SAXOPHONE NEVER SLEEPS
Its promises it always keeps
It gives and gives to all who need
It’s always there for the Broken Reed
 
Like the guitar that gently weeps 
The saxophone never sleeps
Its vigil it seems is never done
Until the Kickstarter campaign is won.
 
Kickstarter is a wonderful vehicle for raising money for creative projects. How does it work? Kickstarter provides a design system and not much else. It doesn't even allow the artist or creator to send his/her email list so that the campaign could come from the Kickstarter site. But what it does do is invaluable: it makes the artist go through a set-up process that helps crystallize his/her goals. And Kickstarter then reviews the application and offers surprisingly pertinent suggestions. Kickstarter charges a 5% fee. Each campaign lasts a month. Unlike other crowd-funding websites, Kickstarter will not release the funds unless the artist reaches his/her financial goal. So if our goal of $2250 is not met, the pledges will not be charged, Kickstarter will not make any money, and the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet winds up with nothing.
 
Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites are one of the only ways that jazz and classical musicians and composers can continue to make recordings in the 21st century. Few people are buying CDs, and music-streaming services such as Spotify and Rhapsody pay pennies. The positive side of the current situation is that music lovers now find themsleves in the role of contributor, rather than just consumer.
Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 6:02 PM

New group

The current lineup is Jenny Hill, soprano; Charley Gerard, alto saxophone; Jacob Teichroew, tenor; Dimitri Moderbacher, baritone sax. I love all the musicians who have played in the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet. They've all been superb artists, and I've learned from each of them. But it was time for new blood and maybe some new approaches to music-making. I'm looking forward to the future with excitement!
Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 11:16 PM

Great concert

Great concert at Bryant Park this evening. The prospect of cancellation due to bad weather made me tense - especially since the Bryant Park Foundation (and many other groups) won't pay if the event is cancelled, and won't reschedule, either. So our 3 rehearsals would have been for naught. Instead, it cleared up enough to allow us to play about a half-hour. Then it rained again. After ten minutes, we started to play and then it started raining again. This time, the 4 of us huddled under an umbrella and improvised some standards - When the Saints, All of Me, Singin' in the rain, the blues. We had a dedicated audience under another umbrella, so it was fun. The group sounded excellent, throughout. Entertaining the audience wears me out, even though I enjoy it. And making sure the music is working out and giving body cues to keep people together is also tiring. But it was the tension about getting paid and not performing that really wore me out. Otherwise, it was good times for me! It was obvious that everyone loves each other and loves playing in the group. There's nothing better!
Thursday, June 27th, 2013 8:39 AM

More ideas for interpretation

Flexible tempos
Quantz: "the performance should be easy and flexible...without stiffness and constraint." p. 20
CPE Bach: [certain sequences] can be effectively performed by accelerating gradually and gently, and retarding immediately afterwards." "Certain deliberate disturbances of the beat are extremely beautiful...certain notes and rests should be prolonged beyond their written length for reasons of expression." p. 21
Accentuation
CPE Bach: "discords are performed loud and concords soft." p. 32
Balance:
"[when one part has merely] to fill in the harmony, it must be performed more softly than the other which makes the principal melody meanwhile." p. 37
Demarcating phrases
Robert Donington: "It is necessary for the audience to experience the patterns; and for this the separations in the line are just as important as the line itself." p. 30
 
Source: Baroque Music Style and Performance: A Handbook by Robert Donington
 
As a composer I have likewise demarcated my phrases, changed tempos and written out note extensions. In order to emphasize the principal line I have marked in "lead" and put it in all parts of an ensemble so everybody knows who has the melody and to adjust one's part accordingly. 
Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 8:40 PM

Email exchange on Historically Informed Performance

 
To violinist Elizabeth Field: I have become fascinated with historically informed practice in the last few months, and I have been taking a more creative approach to notation as a result. I recently purchased Performing the Score. In this excellent video you make a comment about passages with a reiterated note - I think it was a Vivaldi piece. You gave it a French name that sounded like bar elage, but I think I misheard it. What is the correct name? Also I'd love to hear your response to an observation: in the Mozart sonata you often play uneven 16th notes in a purposeful manner - i.e., obviously for expressive reasons. I understand that the French practice was something akin to swing 8ths, but this is something different. Any literature on the subject? 

Elizabeth Field's response: The word you are looking for is "bariolage". This was a common baroque technique where one continually returns to the same note alternatively while forming a melody with the other notes. The classic example is  from the first movement of Bach's 3rd Partita for solo violin where Bach has passages of reiterated "e's" under a melody. On a string instrument, this is an organic process that can happen with a string crossing, but it can surely be employed with other instruments.

As for the uneven 16th notes, this is simply a call to realize that true musical expression simply cannot be notated, in the same way inflections and nuances for written text are not notated. In other words, although actors share the commonality of text, they should be, and are uniquely expressive. This can be directly attributed to their fluency and complete comprehension of the meaning  of what they are saying. This organic comprehension allows them to all sound different and personal in their execution. It is painfully obvious with text that merely perfect pronunciation and enunciation with a nice voice (analogize, perfect intonation strict notated rhythm and a great sound) is not enough to make a great or expressive performance of a soliloquy.  


The 18th century was obsessed with language, and music was an extension of that expression.  Playing 16th notes strictly on the page with a metronome, would be like reading text letter by letter evenly with little nuance. It becomes clear how dull that reading would be. In my opinion, this is what the performance traditions of the 20th century has  done to 18th century music. Approaching that earlier notation like text makes you realize that very often, especially 16th note are grouped together and act as syllables or words, and should be performed that way. When we speak, we naturally compress our words, defining them from the first letter, and don't run  them into the next word.  

Large metered rhythm also has a much greater importance. Most of the time movements written in 4/4 time for example, have an underlying allabreve harmonic rhythm or structure, and that is crucial for establishing a rhythmic foundation; long lines are not formed through individual notes as they are in the 19th/20th century.

This all starts to make more sense when you also realize that the 19th-20th century paradigm is that all music leans forward over downbeats. 18th century music actually comes from the downbeat, with rock solid rhythm which allows a lot more freedom on little internal notes (hence uneven 16th notes)  because the rhythm is not dependent on those individual notes for support.

Its confusing to describe with words, but I have always supposed it was more similar to what I hear jazz musicians do.  Its essentially creating larger rhythmic structures to allow more expressive freedom in the details, the opposite of what classical musicians are taught in conservatories. Malcolm explains that "compression" for example, which we are taught is never allowed, is one of the elemental building blocks of playing 18th century music expressively and is mandatory.


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