June 26, 2017

Lightning in a Bottle

The phrase "lightning in a bottle" means "capturing something powerful and elusive and then being able to hold it and show it to the world".

Last night's opening of Riverhouse Concerts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was definitely one of these beautiful and memorable moments.

Located in Fort Hunter Park on the banks of the Susquehanna River, The Riverhouse is the artistic creation of Gary Lysaght, who designed and built the house in 2014 with a handful of others.    Upon stepping inside, one is met with the marvel of modernity as the house has tall ceilings, clean lines, and a wall of windows that face the Susquehanna.

It was in this space that violinist Odin Rathnam and pianist John Nauman - men who have both forged impressive and worthy reputations for their instrumental and musical prowess - performed works of Bach, Chopin and Strauss for an intimate and sold-out audience of seventy.

One particularly meaningful aspect of the evening was that both Mr. Rathnam and Mr. Nauman were featured as soloists in the first half before coming together after the intermission to share the violin sonata of Richard Strauss.   It was beautiful to witness the honoring of their "class reunion" in this way:    both John and Odin were students at the Juilliard School during what has been referred to as a "golden time" by those who were students during those years.     This experience was heightened by the fact that programming was chosen to reflect the change of scenery as early evening turned into night.

This was just the first concert of what is turning into a series, and I do hope that everyone reading this pays attention and takes a moment to attend a concert.

June 21, 2017

"Living in America"

So....I shall get to writing about music very soon, especially considering that there's a LOT about which to write.   This, considering that we have all recently been bombarded by the video of Philando Castille's assassination, is important.


I'm housesitting soon. The people for whom I'm housesitting include a woman who is the "entrepreneur's entrepreneur" and a man who is a published author and a singer. (out of respect for them, I am not revealing names). These folks are also "adopted Mom and Dad", as they hosted me after Hurricane Katrina for six months (after what was supposed to be two weeks). These people have since 2005 loved, given "tough love" talks, spoken to me as if I were one of their blood family, and continuously gone over and above. The going "over and above" is most exemplified from the 2015 action of lending me a car to move into my current apartment while they were out of town.

Flash to this week, when she calls me: "I have an idea," she said. "I have a Notary in my office. We make a document on which we photocopy my, my husband's, and your driver's licenses and share on that document that you are approved to drive the car."

I've borrowed their cars many times since 2005, including driving someone to Dulles International Airport (and that was basically when I really learned to drive!). NOW, with the climate of this country and the "risk factors" (did y'all not see the recently released dashcam video from Minneapolis/St. Paul?), this woman wants to make sure that I'm okay, even though the fact is that I could be taken out by a "law enforcement official" even WITH verification that I'm "legal"....

Think about this....I have borrowed their cars numerous times between 2005 and now. I have picked people up from Baltimore's Penn Station and taken people to Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport AND Dulles. Twelve years ago, everyone on their street knew who I was. That was before Trayvon, Philando, Tamir Rice, the Charleston Nine, Eric Garner, (forgive me) et cetera ad nauseum. NOW, in 2017, a dear friend who is more than aware is concerned for me - more than she was before - because of the wanton murder of African-American men by the police, wants to ensure that I'm covered. THINK ABOUT THAT. Think about this, folks....and I"m going to say this knowing that my favorite aunt will see this online and talk to my mother (who knows the deal): MY BLACK GAY ASS who would not hurt a goddamned FLEA is living in a situation where I have to have my PAPERS, and those papers - even though engineered by people who care about me - may not save me. Y'all know better than to say "If he obeyed the law"....And as far as "papers" go, do you all realize that you can only replace your Social Security card ten times?

May 25, 2017

"Seven Last Words": Good News

Well, as I continue gathering my thoughts and notes on the absolutely fantastic and enlightening trip to Havana, Cuba that took place a few weeks ago, I did want to share some very good news.

In February of this year, I wrote an essay titled "Seven Last Words":   Artistic Responses to Current Events, in which I shared information about four works that I heard between February 2016 and February 2017 that dealt with the issue of "brutality - whether at the hands of policemen, self-proclaimed vigilantes, or 'terrorists'."   While we still grapple with the profound horror of these events - the most recent being the murder of commissioned Army officer and Bowie State University senior Richard Collins III by white supremacist Sean Urbanski - it is simultaneously heartening to know that musical groups throughout the United States are ensuring that the works mentioned in the February essay are not disappearing from the concert stage.


On June 18, 2017, the PRIZM Chamber Orchestra will present Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed at First Baptist Church Broad Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.   More information on the PRIZM Chamber Orchestra and the numerous concert, educational and community engagement activities undertaken by the PRIZM Ensemble (including the annual PRIZM Chamber Music Festival) can be found on the organization website, and PRIZM Ensemble founder Dr. Lecolion Washington has written a beautiful statement on his Facebook page.


Later this year, Ahmed Al-Abaca's Across the Calm Waters:   A Piece for Peace will receive its west coast premiere in a concert by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra.  This concert takes place on
Sunday, October 8, 2017, and the concert also features the premieres of short works by Craig Bohmler, Jeremy Cohen, Vivian Fung, Mony Lyn Reese and Michael Touchi.


As we all know from the events of November 2016 until today, it is very easy to either become distracted or so overwhelmed by the "news" that we turn it off and try to live as best we can.   That's the easy way out.    Just as we have to use discernment yet still pay attention to what is happening in the political arena, it is vital that the issue of brutality - "whether at the hands of the police, self-proclaimed vigilantes, or 'terrorists' " - remain in the consciousness of all citizens.    We should all be grateful to both Lecolion Washington and Barbara Day Turner (founders of the PRIZM Ensemble and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, respectively) for "taking up the mantle".

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).


AND THAT'S JUST ONE, FOLKS!


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....

#AltonSterling
*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?
#philandocastille
*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.