Tag Archives: bassoon

happy birthday!

well if you run in my circles, and you being here might suggest just that, then you probably know that today is the 100th birthday of Stravinsky’s *Le sacre du printemps*, or *The Rite of Spring*. sure, the lore is filled with apocryphal stories of riots, chaos, and confusion; counting beats and steps from offstage and telling those bitches in the deuxième ètage to shut up — we love telling this and other apocrypha to our students. whether it’s showing the Joffrey Ballet performance or doing a little performing of our own, this is the way that many of us try to relate this so-called entry into modern music. and let me tell you, those have been fun moments…

watching my students clap the opening rhythms at the beginning of the Adoration of the Earth has never failed at being HILARIOUS.

…but for me. at the heart of me, i’ve always related to Rite differently from musicologist me. because at the end of the day, no matter what i do, i’ll always be a bassoonist and let’s face it, my first *real* introduction to the piece was this way.

this isn’t really about the solo. and what i mean is, it’s not about what the solo is as an excerpt. it’s more about how that solo has figured into our understanding of what the piece is and what it means. somewhere along the way, the Rite got hyped. and that solo, in my opinion, is the most overly-hyped solo in history. why? because its worth as an excerpt has very little real world value.

i found myself ruminating over this last night. it seems like the one thing people have asked me countless times is to play the Rite solo: “oh, do you know the Rite solo?,” “have you played the Rite solo?,” “is the Rite solo hard?,” followed by some sort of vocal interpretation to me as to how the solo should go. did i know the solo when i was 14? yes. could i play it? not really. but it didn’t matter. i had been playing the bassoon for three years at this point and nothing struck fear into my heart more than that solo. i mean who were these people who knew NOTHING ELSE about the bassoon who were asking me about this? and why did they care so very much?

when i got to college, and more specifically, when i got to graduate school, my feelings about the solo changed drastically. for me, the solo had no currency. orchestras rarely play the piece and they rarely ask for it in auditions. and it seemed like no matter how i played it, i was playing it incorrectly even if the way to play it was not fixed. (yes, the solo has to be played rhythmically and those note values have to be correct but where you place them in space is another matter) — but there it was, staring us in the face, demanding to be learned.

so i learned it.

i even played it at an orchestral audition (which was probably the most worthless endeavour i have ever embarked upon) and i felt nothing.

i felt in that moment that i learned the solo for the same reasons that i had to teach the piece in Music Hum: it’s one of those things that has to be learned because it’s a signpost. and this seems to be accepted among bassoonists with whom i speak. just like musicology, other facets of music has their own canons but when it’s one that’s so incredibly tiny, like that of bassoon solo/orchestral rep, we glom on to the things that elevate us, that give us recognition and seeming purpose.

but there are other solos. solos that came before and came after the Rite solo. solos that are FAR more important. i’ve had a chance to play a few of them: Ravel’s *Alborada del gracioso*, the solos in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies, the solos in Beethoven’s Third and Fifth symphonies, the contra solo in Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Bartok’s *Concerto for Orchestra*, Berlioz’s *Symphonie fantastique*…and let me tell you, they’ve been game changers (especially the Ravel); these are excerpts i practiced for days, solos i’ve sweat over, solos i’ve played in auditions, solos that matter.

and it’s in those moments, when i’ve heard those solos played brilliantly, that i forget about all the stupid things people say about the instrument, how amazing it is and how talented and musical those performers are. the Rite solo has its flickers but it burns cold.

so let’s remember, that solo didn’t come to Stravinsky in a dream. he found the melody in a book of folksongs. and nowadays, high Ds are pretty standard (as are high Es and even, sometimes, high Fs –– if you’re French); the solo is showing its age and a little of its novelty.

so yes, our students should learn it. it’s worth learning. and students should feel good when they’re able to play it (especially when they can master their own take on the fluidity of it) but it is not the end all be all. the same for Rite itself. regardless of how you feel about the piece, it is important. that’s why we’re talking about it today. and people should learn about it, hear it, see it, experience it. but all music didn’t end or begin once this piece was premiered and maybe we should remember **that**, too.

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Fill the void veins of Life again with youth

i’ve decided that since it’s so difficult for me to really sit down and type blog entries at length that i’m going to start writing more composite posts (i must credit my boyfriend for this idea because yes i DO read his blog…) so here we go.

AMS/SMT 2010 Indianapolis
so this year i found myself in the very flat city of Indianapolis for the annual AMS conference. every two years, the conference becomes a joint one with the Society for Music Theory, which then of course swells the ranks by quite a fair amount. of course, i always joke about picking out the theorists from the musicologists (their bow ties are usually made of cotton as opposed to silk) but they make the conference interesting. as per usual, i missed the Amusicology party (i was stranded in Chicago, naturally) but made up for it by attending my fair share of receptions. (and i must say, i was really pleased with the number of prospective students at the Columbia reception though i’m sure that Walter Frisch was not pleased with how many times i brought people up to him) i didn’t attend as many papers as i would have liked as i became increasingly more sick (something from which i’m still recovering) but the ones i did attend and heard about were quite intriguing.

one of my favorite parts of the conference is the luncheon given by the Committee on Cultural Diversity. this was my entry into the world of AMS though i had been a student member for quite some time. in 2008, i received the Eileen Southern Travel Grant which paid for my trip to the AMS conference and introduced me to people i considered quite influential. so attending the luncheon and seeing the new crop of musicologists-to-be was very encouraging. let’s just say that diversity is not something that comes easily to AMS and it’s something i look to be a part of changing over the years.

i can only talk about the conference because, honestly, Indianapolis was not a destination of choice. it was cold, it hailed and all the streets look exactly the same. but the wine is cheap!

there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
today, at work, i found myself amidst a philosophical debate about music. it was strange. the break room at an Apple store is really not the place. but then, i thought about it and you know what? everywhere is the place. there are those who are satisfied with the definition of “something with aesthetic value” summing up the whole of their musical experience. that’s what music is, end of story. and maybe i’m in too deep but that always seemed like an unfair definition to me. it’s part and parcel with the whole idea that art has to have socially redeeming value and bring something to our lives, usually something of beauty. i think art, especially music, is in the unique position of showing us the ugly, naked, difficult and sublime. so much of music is self-described torment and it’s that torment with which we identify. now i’ll be honest, i don’t go around listening to 4’33” all day but i will say that when Apple released the piece as its free download of the day (it was an April fool’s joke) that not only was i amused but i was intrigued by the amount of ire it caused. and i DO go around listening to Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinge because i think it’s haunting and ethereal — even if it is electronic.

the comments on this youtube clip of Gesang de Junglinge describe the very conversation i was having today. and if i like this and think this is music, not because of some deep seeded intellectualism/elitism but because i really do like it and it speaks to me, what does that make me?

requiem aeternam
i guess it’s time for me to write about this since it’s been on my mind all day since yesterday…Casey Butler, a young freshman bassoonist at Peabody, died yesterday after passing out in her bassoon lesson. this has affected me on so many levels that it has astounded me, to be honest. first of all, the Peabody community is a small one and incredibly insular. something like this is felt immediately, even to those who are no longer in Baltimore. and for me, it’s even more personal in the fact that this is my studio, she was my colleague and a student of my teacher. this may be bias but i always considered the bassoon studio to be one of the closest at Peabody and my heart aches for my dear friends and my teacher. they held a memorial for her tonight and i’m sure it was an incredibly emotional experience.

on a personal note, i know what it’s like to lose someone close when they’re young and i’ve always felt like there’s nothing like the death of a teenager. death, of course, is never an easy thing to deal with but seeing a life so filled with hope and promise be taken away seems unjust in so many ways. no one believes it could be your friend, at a time in life when you feel invincible. i think that’s the thing that gets me the most and there’s nothing you can do about it. there’s a poignancy in that that’s inescapable.

my heart goes out to Casey’s family and of course to the Peabody community — my family.

(for more info, check here http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/4598)

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first things first, i think it’s curious that the one time i have a week off from EVERYTHING (google: snowpocalypse baltimore) that i didn’t blog. i was too busy being completely wrapped up in the beginning of my thesis and having crippling cabin fever. now that i’ve re-entered society, the blood is flowing and my mind is a little more agile. (so get ready for a barrage of posts)

now to this post…i had my first lesson in two or so weeks due to conflicts, snow and illness and i was really looking forward to it. i had done a lot of work on the allemande movement of the fourth Bach cello suite and any time my teacher and i work on Bach is a good time. my lessons tend to be a lot more concept-oriented and i think Bach brings out the best in my playing. i sit down and play the whole movement, repeats and all. PK rubs his chin and just looks at me. this induces a serious amount of worrying on my part. he looks at me and says, “the feeling that i get from that is that you’re holding back…”. i interject with, “do you mean, like, time?” and he says no. he meant sound wise but more importantly, musically. he continues on with this speech about how the conductor of our orchestra talks about me, how he likes what i do in rehearsals and in performance (which apparently means that he and i gel, whatever that means) but in orchestra, i don’t have to take risks, it’s not needed. here, in my solo work, i wasn’t being gutsy enough. to paraphrase (in a way my teacher would NEVER say), i was playing like a pussy.

well sure enough, as soon as he got to his point, i started to tear up a little. why? because he had hit a super sweet spot. he was right, i wasn’t taking any risks but it was subconscious. last year, i took lessons with BSO principal tubist David Fedderly, and one of the most important things i took from those lessons was that i was afraid of being musical because growing up, so many people had told me that i was being too risky and emotional with my playing. so i bottled up all of the emotion because i was a kid, what did i know. and after all of that time, i put up a wall. my collegiate professors (and even my peers) say the same thing: we can see you thinking about the music, but we don’t hear it.

and yes, i cried in those lessons, too. a lot.

so we spent the majority of the lesson trying to get me to open up. of course, i was amenable, that’s what i want but it’s hard to put yourself out there on the edge. it’s really scary. but isn’t that what performance is, anyway? that same night, i went with a friend of mine to a BSO concert (Brubeck, Ansel Adams: America; Mussorgsky, arr. Ravel, Pictures at an Exhibition) and while i was watching certain players, the first word that came to my mind was histrionics. and attached to that word was a certain kind of repulsion that really bothered me. but was that the kind of musical bravery that i was lacking? in an orchestral setting, it’s hard to tell, but it is definitely food for thought.

why do we allow our students and ourselves to hide behind a wall of proficiency? just like certain things that kids do intrinsically, we have to learn to trust our musical instincts and see them through, even if it means crashing and burning a few times. i see this as being a possible life-long battle, as it has taken years to build up these defense mechanisms. but there is hope, even if that means shedding a few tears.

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from the library stacks 11/5

Mobile Photo Nov 5, 2009 10 24 59 PM

books from top to bottom:

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas
Evolution of Communication Systems
Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw
Britten and the Far East
Scandals and Follies: The Rise and Fall of the Great Broadway Revue
Britten’s Musical Language
Britten’s Gloriana
The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity
The Origins of Music
The Cambridge Companion to The Musical
The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig
Bach Cantatas for Bassoon

all for 1) my Master’s Thesis (forthcoming 2010), 2) editing my Ph.D. application writing samples, 3) preparation of course materials for my course on the history of the musical in 2010 and 4) my laborious and ongoing study of all things baroque bassoon. bring it.

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