February 15, 2017

"Seven Last Words": Artistic Responses to Current Events

Well, here we are.     Three days have passed since the twentieth annual Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players and SphinxConnect, an annual gathering held in tandem with the competition.     SphinxConnect was a tremendous time, a time including three days of discussions ranging from profound and to some "difficult" conversations about the industry to enlightening talks about working in Europe, finances, maintaining networks, navigating institutions and - yes - YOGA.    The entire list of topics can be found at www.sphinxmusic.org, and there are links to video documentation of the sessions.

The highlight of Sphinx weekends are the competition finals, which serve as a real opportunity to hear young people of both Black and Latino descent perform at the TOP of their game as well as to hear new works commissioned by the Sphinx Organization.   This year, we were so fortunate and FLOORED both to witness the artistry of Junior Division winner Ifetayo Ali during the annual Honors Concert and to have a difficult time choosing one artist who stood above all others during the Senior Division Finals.

This year's premiere was particularly relevant and poignant as it was the world premiere of the fully orchestrated version of Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.     Originally premiered in 2016, this work contains seven statements closely aligned with Joseph Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.    The text, comprised of the last words spoken by seven unarmed men, is well known to those who have followed the news over recent years:

I.     Kenneth Chamberlain - "Officers, why do you have your guns out?"
II.    Trayvon Martin - "What are you following me for?"
III.   Amadou Diallo - "Mom, I'm going to college."
IV.   Michael Brown - "I don't have a gun!   Stop shooting!"
V.    Oscar Grant - "You shot me!   You shot me."
VI.   John Crawford - "It's not real."
VII.  Eric Garner - "I can't breathe."

On a personal note:   while listening to this work I saw many audience members crying, especially during the movement honoring the life of Oscar Grant.  I could not cry:   I sat, listening, amazed, and personally overwhelmed.   The level of both musical and topical commitment exhibited by the members of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club on that afternoon is something that I shall remember for the rest of my life.   How can anyone present in the Max Fisher Music Center forget the choir, almost a capella, during the fifth movement:   voices randomly saying "You shot me", accompanied by the slap of a hand against the chest.

Seven Last Words is one of FOUR symphonic works composed over the last four years (if I am wrong, please correct me) that deal with the issue of brutality - whether at the hands of policemen, self-proclaimed vigilantes, or "terrorists" - that I have heard within the space of twelve months.   The first one, which was premiered in Washington DC and later performed in Baltimore, was Judah Adashi's Rise which featured poetry by Tameka Cage Conley.

Months later in 2016, I had the honor of performing two works that dealt with tragedy.    In September 2016 the Morgan State University Choir and the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra premiered Mother's Lament:  So Many Names Unknown, a three-movement work by James Lee III based on poems by Vincent Dion Stringer and dedicated to all mothers who have lost children to violence.

In October 2016, those of us who performed at the Colour of Music Festival in Charleston, South Carolina had the tremendous pleasure of meeting composer Ahmed Al Abaca and performing the premiere of his Across The Calm Waters of Heaven:  A Piece for Peace.   Mr. Al Abaca is from San Bernadino and this was his response to the tragedy of the summer of 2016.     This work is particularly special as it evokes the response from performers that Ralph Vaughan Williams' Rhosymedre elicits from young string players who, while perhaps not fully understanding, continuously find themselves profoundly moved as many of us did in our early years.

So we have these, and included in this canon is the work by Mr. Henderson.   All stirring, moving, relevant works for the concert stage.    I find myself after reviewing these works left with questions for the industry.

My questions:   will these works survive?     Shall we hear them again?    Will orchestras across the United States and the world take these works and present them as they have presented Shostakovich's "Leningrad" SymphonySchwantner's New Morning for the World:   Daybreak of Freedom, Arvo Part's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Samuel Barber's Adagio (which has become the American "go-to" piece to express any deep emotional sentiment)?

My answer:   these works have to survive.   Specifically, they must be wholly embraced by American orchestras as our large ensembles are still viewed as the prominent exponents of concert music.

These works have to be programmed, regularly - while the conversation surrounding American orchestras still includes questions regarding "relevance", demographic diversity and inclusion, the continued programming and presentation of these works will show that those "in control" have a profound social conscience.    If our orchestras are truly "museums", then we have an obligation to treat them as such and include some "museum pieces" that are just as disturbing as the work of Willem De Kooning.

They have to - simply because the works chronicled here are as worthy of performance as any work written by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Mahler, Strauss, Schumann, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Walton and Holst.   The works mentioned here are simply programmatic, although not based on mythology as the tone poems of Jean Sibelius.    These works are MORE than worthy, well-conceived, well-written, and thoughtful works for the concert audience.  Furthermore, should these works have short stage lives and longer shelf-lives, that will say more about the industry known as American orchestral life than we are all ready to admit.

And that's all for today...

January 29, 2017

Year Zero

Please forgive me for "waxing personal", but is that not what the blogosphere is about?

I cannot sleep.    I have not been able to sleep peacefully since November, and this last week has ramped the insomnia up  about 500%.

We are now only nine days into the tenure of President Trump, and I cannot sleep.    The eighteen-year-old "me" wants to reject everything and throw myself in to the resistance just as that "me" wanted to in the early years of the AIDS crisis, but the forty-six year old me feels the weight of personal responsibility and keeping a roof over my head.

The eightteen-year-old me doesn't (excuse me) give a damn about what he says, but the "grown up" me finds himself afraid to say what he really thinks.    Unfortunately, that means that those in power are winning.

I'm sure I'm not alone.   I hope and trust that I'm not.   Furthermore, I sincerely hope that you can all share strategies that combine self-care and resistance,  because I can't right now.  

How odd to live in Baltimore, knowing that demonstrations are taking place at airports in the District of Columbia (thirty miles away), Philadelphia, and the city of New York.   How just crazy to sit in my apartment, looking at a stunning painting given as a gift by an Iranian neo-expressionist, and wonder whether or not he will be allowed back into the United States.   How crazy - and this is what they want, folks - to call a dear friend and colleague out of concern to ask her if she's an American citizen,

If I were to go so far, this is Day Nine of Year Zero in the United States of America.

In case you're wondering:

YEAR ZERO: "The term Year Zero applied to the takeover of Cambodia in April 1975, by the Khmer Rouge, is an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar. During the French Revolution, after the abolition of the French monarchy (September 20, 1792), the National Convention instituted a new calendar and declared the beginning of the Year I. The Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh was rapidly followed by a series of drastic revolutionary de-industrialization policies resulting in a death toll that vastly exceeded that of the French Reign of Terror."
The idea behind Year Zero is that all culture and traditions within a society must be completely destroyed or discarded and a new revolutionary culture must replace it, starting from scratch. All history of a nation or people before Year Zero is deemed largely irrelevant, as it will ideally be purged and replaced from the ground up."
In Cambodia, so-called New People—teachers, artists, and intellectuals—were especially singled out and executed during the purges accompanying Year Zero."

January 19, 2017

On Teaching - Once Again

Note:   this is being shared here via the request of a very good friend and colleague who wishes to share the post on her teaching studio wall.  This originated as a Facebook status.

So...a student came on Tuesday afternoon - a very conscientious student with both an amazing talent for drawing and a fascinating ability to understand and take on new challenges. Mind you, this is a kid who last year, after hearing a work played in another student's history presentation, found it, learned it, and played it in recital WITHOUT ANY PROMPTING FROM ME. (Of course, this guy, the one who with no outside prompting listened to all nine Vaughan Williams symphonies and the Concerto Accademico during his freshman year in college, was totally over the moon!)

As we started the lesson, this student made a confession.
Student: "I'm so sorry, I didn't practice all week."
Teacher: "...and you think that I'm going to be upset about that."
Student (somewhat embarrassed): "Yes."
Teacher: "Well, I'm not - I'm more thankful for your honesty."

*Teacher then tells story about how, when in graduate school, he never felt that he had practiced enough between lessons but was so amazed and remains grateful that his teacher (and there are QUITE a few of you who know who I'm talkin' about) taught 100% anyway*

So we talked, and that talk consisted of figuring out the student's schedule and what the student does every evening after getting home.

Teacher: "Let's try this for the next week. Immediately after dinner, practice for a minimum of fifteen minutes, with a timer, and be very specific about what you do during that time."

After that conversation, one of the most productive lessons of the school year to date.

In 1993, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the Helen and Immanuel Olshan Texas Music Festival, a four-week summer festival held at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. During the first of those four weeks, we had the great honor of working with the late Sidney Harth.   Mr. Harth was sixty-eight at the time, and during that first week he  conducted a program that included Dvorak's Eighth Symphony and Verdi's Overture to La Forza Del Destino.    Mr. Harth showed himself to be incredibly observant during that week of orchestral rehearsals:   while I don't know if anyone else remembers, there was a moment during a rehearsal of the last movement of the Dvorak in which he spoke to the first violin section and said, quite sincerely "That is the perfect place to play an expressive glissando just like you're doing right now."

It was during that week that Mr. Harth both played a spectacular recital during that week that included a more than memorable "stand-and-deliver" reading of Richard Strauss' Violin Sonata and gave a master class.    Oh, that class:   the memories of him talking about Tchaikovsky Concerto and Lalo Symphonie Espagnole while having the ability to demonstrate - flawlessly - everything he talked about.   Oh, that recital:   he simply stood, like a Titan, and delivered.    

At the beginning of that master class, Mr. Harth said "Teaching is not subjective."    I understood then, but I understand more now.   While there are personal conversations that I could share, I shall not.   Nevertheless, this profession - be it serving as a classroom teacher or one who has one-on-one time with students, involves everything from figuring out schedules and setting goals for practicing to at times hearing stories about topics unrelated to music. It can involve, as some instructors have, leading students to yoga practice and healthy eating.    It also involves, as I have been made aware by many friends and colleagues who have become American citizens, teachers allowing students to live in the teacher's home after migrating so that the student can really get his bearings in a new nation.

No, it's not subjective.    It seems to be about service, and that service is about finding out what each student needs.   I have a feeling that many of you will agree that the most rewarding aspect of the profession is seeing that needs are met.   

January 15, 2017

Donald Trump/Steve Harvey/John Lewis/REALITY.....

Note:    this is an edited version of a Facebook post.

So....about that meeting between Donald Trump and Steve Harvey (and the President-Elect's statements against Representative John Lewis):

If I were to be petty:    let's remember that President-Elect Trump did not serve during the Vietnam War. While the President-Elect in 1968 enjoyed exemption from serving during the Vietnam War due to BONE SPURS IN HIS HEELS,   Representative John Lewis was probably still in ways recovering from having his skull bashed in more than once during the Civil Rights Movement.   After all, Representative Lewis, "who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the Civil Rights Movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States."

Let's look at this:   After reading an article in which Representative Lewis expressed his sentiments about the "election" of President-Elect Trump and subsequent decision not to attend the Inauguration, the President-Elect went on yet another Twitter rampage during which he referred to Representative Lewis as "all talk, no action".

I need not list the arrests, the injuries, the grave injustices that Representative Lewis experienced as a young man who believed in true equity, equality, and social justice many years before the President-Elect was removed from the draft because of bone spurs.    Looking at Representative Lewis' record both from the turbulent 1960s and now, are those actions the actions of a person who is "all talk, no action?"   HARDLY.

With that, is President-Elect Trump's meeting with Steve Harvey, while simultaneously insulting a social justice warrior, an example of President-Elect Trump's desire to be "everyone's President" as his both he AND his wife shared during the Republican National Convention? HARDLY.

Unfortunately, President-Elect Trump is speaking from a very old and tired playbook, one that will resonate with anyone who is NOT paying attention.   For the record:   not every African-American lives in poverty, and this is exemplified by the FACT that hedge fund manager and Venture Capitalist Robert F. Smith was, this year, appointed the FIRST African-American Board Chairman of Carnegie Hall.   Additionally, not every inner-city looks like a battlefield, and if the discussion is truly to be had one has to balance that tired view of the "inner cities" (coded language) with the reality-based view of cities and towns that, once prosperous cities in the United States, are becoming ghost towns (there are myriad of recently published articles that support that statement, and I need not reference them because - because GOOGLE).

In the book Black Like Me - a fantastic and fascinating read, by the way - John Howard Griffin recounts a time during which he was being called across the United States by community leaders during the turbulent 1960s. Those community leaders were asking what they should do about the uprisings in African-American communities (and that's a WHOLE different discussion). When Mr. Griffin asked those leaders if they had really gone into neighborhoods and met with leaders in those neighborhoods (and he specifically referred to churches and barber shops), the response was one of dismay. The author's response: "That's why people are angry. You SAY you want to help them, yet you don't talk to them".

President-Elect Donald Trump HAS spoken to some people, yes.   However, has President-Elect Trump REALLY gone into communities and asked members of those communities what they need?

Yes, meet with Steve Harvey. That's great. Yes, Steve Harvey took a diplomatic stance on this, and that's great too.  Furthermore, it needs to be said that Steve Harvey is not just a comedian, radio host, and host of television's "Family Feud":   Mr. Harvey and his wife are the founders of the Steven and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, a foundation whose mission is "to provide outreach to fatherless children and young adults by promoting educational enrichment, one-on-one mentoring and global service initiatives that will cultivate the next generation of responsible leaders."   The Harvey Foundation's programs include both the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men and Girls Who Rule The World:  Mentoring Girls, Creating Leaders.    Not shabby stuff, to say the least.

There are, however, scores of organizations, non-profits, and foundations that provide mentoring in the African-American community that were founded by people on the ground, one of those being Munir Bahar's COR Community, a group that focuses on keeping children both active and healthy.

It is vitally important to note the work of Mr. Bahar and COR Community:   as President-Elect Trump has in his speeches lamented the blight and crime that in his view pervades African-American life, Mr. Bahar's organization is truly special as its focus is on physical health, and the organization is in the process of refitting a group of abandoned Baltimore rowhouses into a fully-equipped fitness facility (if there is anyone reading this who knows more about COR Community, please chime in).


So - and while I am hesitant to write this as it may be interpreted that I am giving President-Elect Trump a pass - the talk with Steve Harvey was one that may have been easy.  After all, they are both famous.
If given the CHANCE, however, would President-Elect Trump have a conversation with Mr. Bahar, a man who is unapologetic regarding his love for young people and the consequent profound distress we all feel when we look at SOME urban areas?

Furthermore:  insulting a civil-rights hero who happens to be of the same hue as the man with whom you've just met shows a GRAVE lack of concern and interest in doing REAL, substantive, and on-the-ground work, the type of work that has nothing to do with "meeting the stars". The lack of sincerity evident in the President-Elect's actions and choices is at best reprehensible.

SHOULD President-Elect Trump have been truly sincere and SERIOUS about wanting to help the African-American community, he would have immediately made a statement after the horrific shootings that took place at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
*but of course not, as that would have resulted in his disavowing the KKK and the legion of White Nationalist groups existing in the United States.  Dylann Roof, recently sentenced with the death penalty, is an avowed White Supremacist.   Mind you, there has been NO commentary about that from our President-Elect.*

He should have IMMEDIATELY made a statement about police brutality in the wake of the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015 or even in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri.
*but of course not, as that goes against his stated desire to institute a national stop-and-frisk policy and would have lost his the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police*

He should have gone to Baton Rouge and Minneapolis during the summer of 2016, and he did not.

*read statement about FOP endorsement and national-stop and frisk*

Instead, during that time period he was having "Make America Great Again" rallies during which he told security to "kick out" African-Americans and protesters, and also said that "In the OLD days, we would make sure that they wouldn't protest again".

That's all for today.....make with this what you will.   It's all so Shakesperian....

December 30, 2016

Which Song do I Post: Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas?

The last time I posted something about relations with the police was not the best of times:   that was in December 2015 when the first of the six police officers indicted in the death of Freddie Gray was cleared due to a mistrial.   Well, if you've been paying attention, you know that now we're "three for three":  since December 2015 two other officers have been acquitted.

That, however, is not why I'm here.  Why AM I here, you may ask?   Well, while it's ain't exactly clear, there's something happening here in the United States of America.

This one, by Buffalo Springfield, seems to be the most appropriate.    Why?   Well, let's look at the last forty-eight hours in our great nation.    While I COULD recap, I'll simply start by reposting (of course, posts are now edited to include information SHOULD anyone have found themselves not paying attention).

1.   July 6, 2016.
So...Baton Rouge.   As we watch the videos, let's contrast the apprehension (and execution) of Alton Sterling to that of Dylann Roof.   Remember him?   Dylann Roof, the young man who shot and confessed to shooting - murdering - nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston last year.   While there are "questions" surrounding Mr. Sterling's dealings with the police (watch the videos - he was assassinated), let us not forget that Mr. Roof was apprehended alive, placed in a bulletproof vest, and taken to Burger King.

Apprehended alive.   Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge....

*that's all for today*

2.   July 7, 2016
So:    Falcon Heights, Minnesota.   Shall we discuss the fact that the deceased was obeying the officer's orders when he was shot WHILE IN HIS CAR, with both is girlfriend and a four-year-old child watching?   shall we discuss the fact that his girlfriend, a very brave woman, remained incredibly articulate as she shared footage LIVE via Facebook (if you're curious, the video in which this woman watched the love of her life BLEED OUT is still circulating)?

Shall we discuss that Louisiana is an open carry state and that the deceased in Minnesota WAS licensed to carry his firearm?  Shall we discuss that neither of the deceased at any time brandished their respective firearms at the policeman who, well...does it even need to be said atain?

I don't think we have to be reminded that Dylann Roof was apprehended alive, fitted with a bulletproof vest, and taken to Burger King - do we?

Do we need to discuss that this was the SECOND in less than twenty-four hours?
*that's all for today*

3.   So:   Dallas, Texas.
Dallas, Texas.    One of the many cities in which there was a LARGE demonstration in response to the unreasonably vicious disregard for human life evident in the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.  THIS one, however, ended with savage attacks against the Dallas police and has (at present writing) resulted in the death of FIVE officers , the injury of six others, and a civilian injury.

How many memories of Dallas do I have?   The most present and most gruesome being when, after five days in the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Basketball Arena, and the basement of the Hyatt Hotel, I arrived in Dallas in a post-Katrina ten-hour bus caravan.   More on that at another time.   The second is from 2010 when I was able to attend the National Performance Network Annual Meeting.

All of that is a big WHATEVER, though, as I am deeply disturbed.    Someone - a group, perhaps? - found out about a Black Lives Matter demonstration taking place in Dallas and decided to take the law into his (or their) own hands last night.   Snipers.   Five police officers dead.   This was NOT the work of a "loose cannon":   with five policemen dead, it is more than safe to say that whoever the assailants were, they were well trained.  I shall not speculate, but I remember a poem titled "Earth" in which one of the subjects said "the fact that they did that shows that there were intelligent people living there".   I'll find the poem, but think about it.    What we just witnessed was NOT a part of the Black Lives Matter demonstration (as further evidenced by reports in the news).    This was a coordinated attack against the police by skillful, well-trained shooters whose intention was to besmirch the Black Lives Matter movement.
With that, we're WAY past gun control.   Far, far, FAR away....

While news reports are saying that three people in Dallas are in custody and a fourth suspect "neutralized", let's look at this - and let's look at it in the lens of what happened in Orlando and what COULD have happened in West Hollywood just a few weeks ago:

June 12, 2016:
Twice in less than twenty-four hours attacks against the LGBTQ community were brewing.   Fortunately, the one in Los Angeles was stopped before it could start.   Sadly, however last night's Orlando tragedy will stay in our hearts and minds.   

TWICE - in less than twenty-four hours.   Less than ONE year after the Supreme Court ruled that states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.   It's time to revisit Larry Kramer's 2004 Cooper Union speech again (for those who are truly interested, the title of said speech is "The Tragedy of Today's Gays", and it's a darned good read.   Mr. Kramer pulls no punches, and everyone in indicted for good reason).
TWICE - think about it....and while Marco Rubio has declared the assailant in the Orlando massacre "the new face of the war on terror", shall we see an elected official call these premeditated attacks on the LGBT community exactly what they were?   Furthermore...will ANYONE step up and call these attacks exactly what they were to be - targeted mass murder of gay people?

December 6, 2016

I still love playing the violin, and the understanding and accepting of the clinical aspects of practicing have made it even more meaningful...

So, we've had an election, and while the world is still reeling (and many still hope that a looming Electoral College meeting will change the results)...what can I say?    Interesting times that we live in, and definitely enlightening times should one make the choice to become enlightened via reading.

THAT, however, is not why I'm writing, although I could.

A fascinating few months, months that included my decision - a difficult yet necessary one - to leave the Main Street Music Studios in Fairfax, Virginia.    What can I say?   I live in Baltimore and do not yet own a car, which means that getting to Fairfax involved a twice weekly 5 hour round-trip commute.   While I was excited about the work that I was doing with my students during the 2015/16 school year (during which I had seven students), this year the student load dropped from seven to three, and then to two.   It was after the drop to two that I decided to pull the plug.  

Thankfully, I still teach at another school, where I have fifteen students and many other opportunities, and I am still playing concerts, so this was not as painful as some transitions could be.   Ironically, one week after I stopped teaching in Fairfax one of my students there successfully auditioned for her Junior District Orchestra!  

Ah, auditions and auditioning.    The fact that permeates any attempt to reach a new horizon is that the true benefit of preparing carefully and really paying attention to EVERY detail of both the music and one's technique is in one's preparation.  The reward may NOT be "the win", although that does feel good (and we can all admit that), but the feeling of having approached a Herculean task with all of one's self can serve as intrinsic reward.    In fact, violist Kim Kashkashian shared a similar sentiment.

Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to coach students for some auditions.    As an educator, the most rewarding work has involved "serious" orchestral repertoire, and I still find myself amazed that there are both junior and senior high school students in the DMV who are required to learn repertoire that regularly appears on audition lists both for regional and major orchestras throughout the world (Prokofieff Classical Symphony?!    Brahms #4?!   Franck D Minor Symphony?!).    The work with my students was incredibly clinical - I remember Larry Rachleff referring to this type of work as "flossing" - but MAN!   When you're the person responsible for imparting the information, the responsibility itself can change your approach in ways that are first beneficial for the student but later PERSONALLY beneficial.   Yes, it's clinical, but the results of that kind of deep looking are something that we should all be proud of.

Which brings me to this recent Washington Post article, an article in which a Julliard-trained violinist shares how her relationship with the violin and music went from one based on love to one based on "duty", and how that sense of "duty" made her fall out of love with the instrument.

Again, what can one say?    There are so many quotes, including the one in which a person said "When it become a job, you lose your heart", or something like that.   (NOTE:   I shall find the original quote and post it here).

This can be true:    the love of music and musicmaking CAN disappear when one realizes that one has to become a dentist of sorts to reach the heights while also realizing that "those" heights may not be reached.    It's sobering.  Unnnerving.   Humbling.   At times frustrating but in the end so rewarding.

While I am in no ways discounting or dismissing the thoughts shared by the writer of this recent Washington Post article, I have to say that a part of my journey has included both embracing and truly enjoying the clinical aspect of refining repertoire, with the real focus being on improving my violin playing at every turn of fortune's wheel.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day with a former teacher.   It was during that time that I asked him why, considering the level of playing exhibited by many of the young people auditioning for spots at that specific school, he chose me.    I am still humbled and floored by the fact that he said "I chose you because it was so clear from listening to you and watching you play that you loved music."  This led into a conversation about "love and genius".     Side note - it need not be said that after we parted, tears started to flow and did not stop for the rest of the day.

In 2011, violinist Odin Rathnam published a note on Facebook in which he shared this sentiment: "Music and its needs are like a refining fire, constantly challenging us to re-evaluate our choices, our approach, our tools.   It is music that humbles me, day after day, year after year....But confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important and humility towards music."

A refining fire, indeed.    Yet, Mr. Rathnam also said the other important thing, that being "confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important as humility towards music."

So?    How do we balance the combination of the scientific and Dyonisian minds?  

In a 1999 Strings Magazine article, Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider  spoke quite candidly about the continued searching for technical and expressive discipline that lead him to study with Boris Kuchnir.  Praising Mr. Kuchnir for articulating his personal dissatisfaction, Mr. Znaider embarked on a course of study that included weeks playing open strings and an entire year studying Camille Saint-Saens' third Violin Concert, the result being "an entirely new way of think­ing about sound pro­duc­tion, artic­u­la­tion, inton­a­tion, phras­ing-exactly what I want to do, to really think it through, also to be able to defend it.”

More later, but the metronome ticks.... 

October 24, 2016

It was the summer of '93...

"...the violinist will be revisiting his own memories and making his own discoveries.   He too is continuing...a path going back decades...." 
- Paul Griffiths
This "broadcast" comes to you from the comfort of my Mount Vernon (Baltimore) apartment, where I now sit after having gotten out of a train at 8am this morning and headed straight to school to meet the young people that I teach.   While it was good to be away for many reasons, it was also good to return to the familiar.

Yesterday, the fourth annual Colour of Music Festival came to a close.  This festival, started in 2013 by Lee Pringle, takes place in Charleston, South Carolina and its mission is to honor the participation in and contributions to western classical music made by people of the African Diaspora - and is not limited to participation from African-Americans.    Last week we had the great pleasure of hearing French violinist Romauld Grimbert-Barré share one of the most elegant and sincere readings of Max Bruch's Op. 26 Violin Concerto, and that was followed one night later by the premiere of American composer Ahmed Al Abaca's Across the Calm Waters of Heaven  A Piece for Peace, a work for string orchestra that rightly deserves a permanent place in the string orchestra repertoire alongside Barber's Adagio for Strings, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.    Furthermore, if one is a "fan" of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one will find that one of the distinctive features of Mr. Al Abaca's captivating work is the feeling of unease found in the Cavatina of Vaughan Williams' eighth symphony, that feeling of spaciousness and emotion heightened by the very sensitive piano playing of Sakura Myers.

But why the reference to memory, you ask?

The festival program also included two works that have been with me for much of my life, including Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.    I first heard Carmina Burana in 1983 when, as a youngster, I accompanied my violin teacher to a rehearsal of the Charleston Symphony and Charleston Ballet.

My love of and fascination with dance - and still-burning desire to collaborate with dancers - was lit on that morning in 1983:   that performance included a choreographed portrait of Fate ("O Fortuna") as he, cloaked as the Grim Reaper, revealed both beautiful and tragic destiny to the characters circling him.    Memory shows me that the reactions of those characters went from muted joy (after all, if you know the work you know that "O Fortuna" is a sinister and bombastic D Minor journey) to abject terror, arms rising in fear and falling in fruitless pleading bows to Fate for some sort of intervention (they all died at the end!).   How fitting, with this profound memory, that I would play this work with orchestra on the stage of the Gaillard Center thirty-three years after seeing these images on the same stage, albeit during a time that the newly renovated Gaillard Center was the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.   the memories of going into the orchestra pit at break, and still so much gratitude to the dancers who let me stand in the wings of stage and ask questions that only an inquisitive eleven-year-old could ask!  

The second memory takes us back to 1993, when I stepped into the world of "real" violin playing and musicmaking via attending the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival at the University of Houston.   The first week of that festival featured the late Sidney Harth both as conductor and master class instructor (who doesn’t remember this man who in his seventies tackled Lalo Symphonie Espagnole and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the energy of a twenty year old combined with the wisdom of a veteran!), and what a time!    Participants that year included violinist Anabel Ramirez (of the Mexican musical Ramirez family), violinist Beverly Shin (she and I reconnected four years ago in Philadelphia), and violist and Ojai Music Festival executive director Abhijit Sengupta (in addition to many others who have remained great friends and colleagues).  

Mr. Harth was the conductor during the first week, during which we performed the eighth symphony of Antonin Dvořák, and it was during that first week that we were all moved to tears after playing his fingerings in a very tender moment of the fourth movement.   

How can anyone forget us playing this passage and having Mr. Harth in his matter-of-fact yet sensitive way talk about a most beautiful glissando on the G-string, a glissando found in the middle of a passage which left all of us in tears?   Revisiting, it was during that moment I could only think about Mr. Harth and that special summer, yet in reality moments are meant to be savored and remembered.

I can only hope, however, that at some point my five-year-old niece remembers the final concert of the week.   At the end of that concert, she came on stage and said “I want to play the harp”.

The fact that this little girl had the opportunity to touch a harp for the first time, guided by another person of the African diaspora, means just as much as Mr. Harth’s diplomatic yet attentive and sensitive acknowledgement of my twenty-two year old response to one of the most beautiful and meaningful moments of the symphonic repertoire….

…and that’s all for today.


September 21, 2016

"Making America Safe Again"

Well...it amazes me that the dots did connect.    As I thought about last night's post I immediately thought about Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point.    The product of extensive research into numerous industries and fields, Mr. Gladwell's book is a fascinating window into how trends and movements grow - and fade.
At 10pm, Donald Trump will be on Fox News in a prerecorded town hall meeting filmed in Cleveland and hosted by Sean Hannity.   Reports detailing the content of this town hall meeting are already circulating, and this closed town hall meeting took place after a "Meeting on African-American Concerns" that took place at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights.

Before I continue, a recap from last night:   "...since the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been intense discussion about the militarization of the police.    Last year in Baltimore we saw it in full force on April 27, 2015 and in the week that followed (which included the National Guard being deployed and a curfew).    More and more we are seeing law enforcement coming out in riot gear and riot formation in response to demonstrations.   We saw it this past summer in Baton Rouge (and I am so grateful to have been around a wonderful group of friends and colleagues when that took place - cast members of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, the Schubertiade could not have happened at a better time and we did ALL need that!).   We're now seeing it again - in less than a few hours after Keith Lamont Scott's death.

The Fraternal Order of Police just endorsed Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.   The Philadelphia Police Union also gave Mr. Trump an endorsement.   Mr. Trump has said that he is the only person that can "make America safe again", and has been speaking from a very old and if I may TIRED playbook that ignores the legislation and practices that resulted in the creation of America's oh-so-frightening inner cities.   We cannot talk about the "decaying inner cities" without talking about the historical practices of redlining and deed restrictions, both of which left Black Americans OUT of the "American Dream" for decades.

That's not the point, though.

For a while, there WAS discussion about the militarization of police.  That discussion seems to have died down, only to be replaced with story after story about Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.  Tonight, in Charlotte, North Carolina, we are again getting glimpses at what could turn into extreme police action.
We have a candidate who says that he's the only person who can make our nation "safe again". "

WELL....at 10pm this evening, we can all watch Mr. Trump's town hall meeting.    Please do.  Why?   Well, the Washington Post (as well as many other news outlets) have shared a portion of the content of that meeting, during which Mr. Trump "unveiled" one part of his plan to "make America safe again".


That's right. The policy against which New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio campaigned.   The policy that was ruled both unconstitutional and a form of racial profiling by a federal judge in 2013.    

I am not anti-police.   However, consider again these things:
1.    Everything mentioned yesterday and highlighted today,
2.    Mr. Trump's incendiary comments about Mexicans and Muslims.
3.    The incendiary commentary - again by Mr. Trump - that resulted in the wrongful conviction of a group of men who will forever be known as the "Central Park Five."

While I am confident that there are journalists that can write about this with far more finesse than I do, the message is still the same.   IT AIN'T FUNNY ANYMORE.   We cannot laugh this off anymore.  We cannot joke about this anymore. 

That's all for today....

September 20, 2016

"Stop, Hey - What's That Sound..."

Charlotte, North Carolina - Realtime
photo credit:   Adam Rhew, Charlotte Magazine
many thanks to Shaun King for posting this photo on Facebook

As I type this, demonstrations are taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled man who was in his car reading a book.    Yes, witnesses say that he was reading a book while there are now reports coming from the police stating that
Mr. Scott had a gun.  Mr. Scott's daughter went Facebook Live immediately afterwards - much like Diamond Reynolds did this summer when her boyfriend Philando Castille was shot while in his car and obeying police orders in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

As far as Charlotte goes, what we know for is that the police were on the way to serve an arrest warrant to another person.

*we don't all look alike, folks*

Mind you, while the police are reporting that Mr. Scott was armed, we have seen many cases over the past few years "in which policemen have planted guns on victims.   I certainly hope that no one has forgotten that former North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager was indicted for murder after it was discovered that he planted a weapon on the late Walter Scott (after shooting him), and also hope that the news of a former St. Louis police officer planting a gun in a victim's car (after going after the victim with an unauthorized AK-47) reached everyone today as we all scrolled through "the Blue Pages".

Forgive me for the cynicism, but Keith Lamont Scott's murder took place TWENTY-EIGHT hours after the murder of Terence Crutcher, who was shot by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The reason I write this, however, is neither for the simple fact that tear gas has already been used against the demonstrators in Charlotte nor to highlight that again, like in July of this year, two deaths happened in such close proximity.  

Let's think about this for a moment:   since the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been intense discussion about the militarization of the police.    Last year in Baltimore we saw it in full force on April 27, 2015 and in the week that followed (which included the National Guard being deployed and a curfew).    More and more we are seeing law enforcement coming out in riot gear and riot formation in response to demonstrations.   We saw it this past summer in Baton Rouge (and I am so grateful to have been around a wonderful group of friends and colleagues when that took place - cast members of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, the Schubertiade could not have happened at a better time and we did ALL need that!).   We're now seeing it again - in less than a few hours after Keith Lamont Scott's death.   However, all of that talk seemed to disappear during the summer of 2015 and the rise - albeit sadly being taken humorously - of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

The Fraternal Order of Police just endorsed Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.   The Philadelphia Police Union also gave Mr. Trump an endorsement.   Mr. Trump has said that he is the only person that can "make America safe again", and has been speaking from a very old and if I may TIRED playbook that ignores the legislation and practices that resulted in the creation of America's oh-so-frightening inner cities.   We cannot talk about the "decaying inner cities" without talking about the historical practices of redlining and deed restrictions, both of which left Black Americans OUT of the "American Dream" for decades.

That's not the point, though.

For a while, there WAS discussion about the militarization of police.  That discussion seems to have died down, only to be replaced with story after story about Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.  Tonight, in Charlotte, North Carolina, we are again getting glimpses at what could turn into extreme police action.

We have a candidate who says that he's the only person who can make our nation "safe again".

Pay attention, folks - and act accordingly.

September 19, 2016

So, about this pending election....

So...school has started and at the moment I am grateful to share that I have seventeen students for whom I am responsible.     Teaching has proven itself fulfilling in many ways over the past few years:   not only is it wonderful to share information, but I have also found that being the person who is reponsible for sharing the information has shaped my playing in incredibly beneficial ways.

Today, as I found myself on the edge of being late (good old Maryland Transit Authority), I called a taxi to school.   During the cab ride the driver and I started talking about the election.  

Mind you, a few years ago I wrote a post about voting.    Today's conversation made me rethink that post and here I shall share both the details of said conversation and my thoughts which, while they are the same, they are being expressed in a bit less incendiary manner.

This taxi driver, like many Americans, expressed both his frustration with and dislike of both candidates.    He also shared that he might forgeo voting altogether - "After all, our votes don't count anyway," he said.    "It's up to the Electoral College, and I don't even understand that."

My first response.   "Well, we live in an age in which information can easily be found.   I'm sure that you're not the only person, but we can all Google 'Electoral College' and find out for ourselves."  

"The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors who cast votes to decide the President and Vice-President of the United States. When voters go to the polls, they will be choosing which candidate receives their state’s electors. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes (270) wins the Presidency. The number 538 is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia."

As we continued our conversation, the driver shared that he was incredibly disappointed with Hilary because of something that she said recently (and no, it wasn't that "deplorable" thing).    He did also express the fact that he had been most impressed by Bernie Sanders.

Did I mention that this cab driver was African-American?

He and I did get into a somewhat heated discussion during the fifteen-minute ride to school, and I found myself speaking in a manner that surprised me as, well, many of you who know me know that I have the habit of flying off the handle.  This time that didn't happen.  The controlled, clear, and articulate response was this:

"You know, we have seen so much over the past year, that including the frightening reality that Donald Trump secured the Republican party's nomination (despite the warnings of many in the Republican party) and the fact that the DNC basically planned to run over Bernie Sanders.  Yes, we've seen it.  We've also seen the fact that Secretary of State Clinton may not be the most honest person.   However, we're at a choice point, and this choice point is so much bigger than 'personalities' or 'the lesser of two evils'."

There was more, of course, but please allow me to take a sidestep before getting to that "more".

A few days ago, President Obama spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.   In that speech, he shared this:   “I will consider it a personal insult—an insult to my legacy—if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake. All the progress we’ve made is at stake in this election. My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot.”

Now, it would be very easy to say that Mr. Obama was both speaking from his ego and many say that he has done nothing for the African-American community.    Think about this:  considering that sixty years ago the possibility of having a Black president was just a barely-expressed dream, the fact that he not only won but won TWICE is a symbolic advancement for the African-American community.   This is a fact that cannot be ignored.   "This is not about me, this is not about Michelle...we understood the power of the symbol," he said.

While there are people who adamantly fight the fact that every discussion about President Obama leads us into discussions about race, which many people - including the person who lost my friendship on Sunday - are deeply uncomfortable having, think about this:    we cannot ignore that President Obama has faced nothing but obstruction from the Republican party since he stepped into office in 2008.   In case you forgot, Mitch McConnell - the man who has been more than vocal about stopping a Supreme Court justice nomination during President Obama's term - was the man who said that the "single most important" thing to do was to ensure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.   For the record, Mitch McConnell is one of the many Republicans who has NOT taken a stance against Donald Trump.

The obstruction that President Obama has faced is nothing but racism.  Racism is not about dislike:   racism is about power and control.  Should there be any question about the obstructionist stance against Barack Obama and history, take a gander at Chapter Three of C. Vann Woodward's
The Strange Career of Jim Crow:

"Up to the year 1898 South Carolina had resisted the Jim Crow car movement which had swept the western states of the South completely by that time.   In that year, however, after several attempts, the proponents of the Jim Crow law were on the eve of victory.  The Charleston News and Courier, the oldest newspaper in the South and a consistent spokesman of conservatism, fired a final broadside against extremists in behalf of the conservative creed of race policy."

'As we have got on fairly well for a third of a century, including a long period of reconstruction, without such a measure, wrote the editor,  'we can probably get on as well hereafter without it, and certainly so extreme a measure sound not be adopted and enforced without added and urgent cause.'  he then called attention to what he considered the absurd consequences to which such a law might lead one the principle of the thing were conceded.   'If there must be Jim Crow cars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways.  Also on all passenger boats...If there are to be Jim Crow cars, moreover, there should be Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations, and Jim Crow eating houses....There should be Jim Crow sections of the jury box, and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand in every court-and a Jim Crow Bible for colored witnesses to kiss.   It would be advisable also to have a Jim Crow section in county auditors' and treasurers' offices for the accommodation of colored taxpayers.   The two races are dreadfully mixed in these offices for weeks every year, especially about Christmas...There should be a Jim Crow department for making returns and paying for the privileges and blessings of citizenship.   Perhaps, the best plan would be, after all, to take the short cut to the general end...by establishing two or three Jim crow counties at once, and turning them over to our colored citizens for their special and exclusive accommodation."

In resorting to the tactics of reductio ad surdium the editor doutbless believed that he had dealt the Jim Crow principle a telling  blow with his heavy irony.   But there is now apparent to us an irony in his argument of which the author was unconscious.   For what he intended as a reductio ad surdium and obviously regarded as an absurdity became in a very short time a reality, and only that but a reality that was regarded as the ONLY SENSIBLE SOLUTION (caps mine) to a vexing problem, a solution having the sanction of tradition and long usage.   Apart from the Jim Crow counties and Jim Crow witness stand, all the improbable applications of the principle suggested by the editor IN DERISION (caps mine) had been put into practice - down to and including the Jim Crow Bible."

This was written in 1955, and was written to chronicle the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.

Now....regarding President Obama's sentiments:   he is WELL aware of the symbolism surrounding his presidency, and his awareness of the historical context is something to which we should ALL pay attention, especially now.   Never more than now.

"So", you may be asking, "what's Sam's point?"

First (and this is a BIG stretch for me), to the community of American citizens who are of the African diaspora that includes the profound and sickening horrors of slavery and Jim Crow:   WE CANNOT SIT THIS ONE OUT DUE TO PETTY PERSONALITY POLITICS!   We have watched, we have seen, and while Secretary of State Clinton is at best less than squeaky clean, consider the alternative.  

We have ALL fought too much over too many years to let this happen.    PERIOD.

While there is more that I could say, this is hopefully enough.   There's TOO MUCH AT STAKE for us to argue and denigrate the DNC for its shadiness towards Bernie Sanders.    Mr. Sanders himself has recently said that this is NOT the time to cast a protest vote.  The stakes are too high, folks, and as I said in December 2015, "If you don't get it by now, you ain't ever going to..."

DO THE RIGHT THING.  ANYONE who has been paying attention since 1965 has a moral and KARMIC obligation to keep things moving forward, and despite all of the CRAP that we have seen, the choice is now clear - and if I may, the choice ain't the man who will create a serious racist, xenophobic, and antigay police state that will be one hundred times WORSE that what we're experiencing at the present moment.

"That's all I have today..."