Tag Archives: Band camp for Adults

Some thoughts on music

I’m leaving for what one of my friend’s grandsons calls “Band Camp for Adults”. Mercifully we usually all agree to allow the world to spin on its axis without our help, meaning we talk only about music leaving politics behind (thank God).

I’ve agreed to play the Brahms horn trio with an excellent violinist and an equally excellent french horn player.  It’s scary. Brahms must have had enormous hands, asking you to play an octave with your right hand while trilling with the fifth finger.  He must also have had a huge technique, asking you to jump about playing octaves with your left hand.  Adding to the anxiety, is that the other two have performed the piece despite the fact that we’re amateurs.  They want to perform it as well, something that gives me the yips (they’re both very good).

I asked one of last year’s coaches to note whether the hard headed scientific types (mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers) play any differently than the touchy feely types (who are scared of ‘chemicals’ etc. etc.) both invariantly present in about equal numbers among amateur chamber musicians.  I don’t think so, but we’ll see what she says.  Probably she forgot, chamber musicians having to be extremely precise  when they play, leading them to be sloppy about most other things.  We’ll see.

There are excellent faculty concerts most nights and hopefully they won’t have much ‘eat your spinach’ contemporary work on the program.  You all know what it is, contemporary music with no rhythm, melody or structure and usually hideous sound, that you are supposed to sit through because it’s good for you.  A few years ago, there was a concert with no intermission where they literally locked the doors and played an awful Elliot Carter string quartet.  It wasn’t announced on the program so we couldn’t bail.

Which brings me to another point.  People who say they like all music, really like none of it.  To really like music there must be music that you hate.  I hate Shastakovich (which is tough as a cellist I play with has cats named Shasti and Kovich), my cousin hates Ravel.

Which brings me to another point — how musical criticism has brought classical music low (see the bit about Adorno later).  Classic composers if they want to be played and heard have to bow to current elite critical opinion.  Fortunately this seems to be ending.  There are several people composing in the area whose music has melody, rhythm, structure, tonality and is good to listen to.

One is Zeke Hecker — http://zekehecker.com — whose wife is an excellent violist that I played one of the Faure piano quartets with.  He’s written lots of stuff in classical form (symphonies etc. etc. ) which is musicly interesting.

Another is Scott Slapin — http://scottslapin.com — and we recently went to a concert where he wrote some very interesting music for 4 violas.  He has a sense of humor and since he lives in South Hadley Massachusetts, he wrote a 12 minute piece for 4 violas called the South Hadley Mass.

Now to the dark side — an article in the New Yorker described how a critic, Theordor Adorno, singlehandedly nearly destroyed the magnificent German musical tradition — https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/24/ghost-sonata.

Here’s a quote from the article — “Implicit in his assault on mass culture is the belief that any work of art that attracts large numbers of people has no value.”  So the music he champions certainly doesn’t attract hordes.

Here’s more.  “In 1949, it worked: “The Philosophy of New Music” wowed the confused young minds who were seeking new certitudes, new laws, new gods. Adorno, together with his comrade-in-arms Boulez, probably succeeded in frightening more than a few composers of the neoclassical type into thinking that their music was not just bad but criminal. It is instructive to look at the names of works that were played at Darmstadt from 1946 on. In the first few years, you see titles such as Sonatine, Suite for Piano, Chamber Symphony, Scherzo, and Concerto in E Flat. After 1949, the year of the “Philosophy,” neoclassical titles dwindle and are replaced by phrases fit for a “Star Trek” episode: “Music in Two Dimensions,” “Schipot,” “Polyphonie X,” “Syntaxis,” “Anepigraphe.” There was a fad for abstractions in the plural: “Perspectives,” “Structures,” “Quantities,” “Configurations,” “Interpolations.” Audiences enjoyed “Spectogram,” “Seismogramme,” “Audiogramme,” and “Sphenogramme.”

How did such an idiot gain such power?  It’s worth reading the whole article in the link (although it’s pretty depressing)

Well there is a human urge to listen, play and create music and it’s coming back. To hell with the higher musical criticism.

Advertisements

Off to band camp for adults 2018

No posts for a while, as I’ll be at a chamber music camp for adult amateurs (or what a friend’s granddaughter calls — band camp for adults).  In a week or two if you see a beat up old Honda Pilot heading west on the north shore of Lake Superior, honk and wave.

I expect the usual denizens to be there — mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers, MDs, touchy-feely types who are afraid of chemicals etc. etc. We all get along but occasionally the two cultures do clash, and a polymer chemist friend is driven to distraction by a gentle soul who is quite certain that “chemicals” are a very bad thing. For the most part, everyone gets along. Despite the very different mindsets, all of us became very interested in music early on, long before any academic or life choices were made.

So, are the analytic types soulless automatons producing mechanically perfect music which is emotionally dead? Are the touchy-feely types sloppy technically and histrionic musically? A double-blind study would be possible, but I think both groups play pretty much the same (less well than we’d all like, but with the same spirit and love of music).

A few years ago I had the pleasure of playing Beethoven with Heisenberg —   along with an excellent violinist I’ve played with for years, the three of us read Beethoven’s second piano trio (Opus 1, #2) with Heisenberg’s son Jochem (who, interestingly enough, is a retired physics professor).  He is an excellent cellist who knows the literature cold.  The violinist and I later agreed that we have rarely played worse.  Oh well. Heisenberg, of course, was a gentleman throughout.

Later that evening, several of us had the pleasure of discussing quantum mechanics with him. He didn’t disagree with my idea that the node in the 2S orbital (where no electron is ever found) despite finding the electron on either side of the node, forces us to give up the idea of electron trajectory (aromatic ring currents be damned).   He pretty much seemed to agree with the Copenhagen interpretation — macroscopic concepts just don’t apply to the quantum world, and language trips us up.

One rather dark point about the Heisenberg came up in an excellent book about the various interpretations of what Quantum Mechanics actually means: “What Is Real?” by Adam Becker.  I have no idea if the following summary is actually true, but here it is.   Heisenberg was head of the German nuclear program to develop an atomic bomb.  Nuclear fission was well known in Germany, having been discovered there.  An old girl friend wrote a book about Lise Meitner, one of the discoverers and how she didn’t get the credit she was due.

At the end of the war there was an entire operation to capture German physicists who had worked on nuclear development (operation Alsos).  Those captured (Heisenberg, Hahn, von Laue and others) were taken to Farm Hall, an English manor house which had been converted into a military intelligence center.  It was supplied with chalkboards, sporting equipment, a radio, good food and secretly bugged to high heaven.  The physicists were told that they were being held “at His Majesty’s pleasure.”.  Later they told the American’s had dropped the atomic bomb.  They didn’t believe it as their own work during the war led them to think it was impossible.

All their discussions were recorded, unknown to Heisenberg.  It was clear that the Germans had no idea how to build a bomb even though they tried.  However  Heisenberg  and von Weizsacker constructed a totally false narrative, that they had never tried to build a bomb, but rather a nuclear reactor.  According to Becker, Heisenberg was never caught out on this because the Farm Hall transcripts were classified.  It isn’t clear to me from reading Becker’s book, when they were UNclassified, but apparently Heisenberg got away with it until his death in 1978.

Amazing stuff if true

 

Jerry Lewis R. I. P.

Jerry Lewis died while I was at band camp for adults.  Although regarded in this country as a bozo, he did a lot of good.  The muscular dystrophy association wouldn’t be what it was without all the work he did for it.  I ran one of their clinics in the 70s and 80s.  Back then, they were so flush that they didn’t even submit claims to insurance companies for visits to the clinics (initially at least, but they wised up eventually).

 I went to two directors’ meetings, one in LA the other in Tucson.  They were purely scientific.  Jerry would have received quite a round of applause, but he didn’t show.  A major topic of conversation between directors was why and how Jerry became interested in muscular dystrophy.  No one knew, and I don’t think anyone does to this day.  The New York Times obit said he raised 2 billion for the MDA.

We will never understand the French.  They thought Jerry was a comic genius and took his work very seriously.  At first I thought it was a form of condescension, but it wasn’t.

The French will never understand us.  At the band camp I was fortunate enough to play a Poulenc sonata with a marvelous flutist.  Years ago I heard an interview with the great French pianist Pascal Roget, when here to play some of Poulenc’s music.  He noted that Poulenc wasn’t highly thought of in France being regarded as somewhat of clown.  He is greatly admired here in the states.

Band camp had the usual collection of amateur musicians — out of 115 or so, there were (at least) two full professors of mathematics, a physicist, a programmer, a PhD in mathematics education, and numerous MDs.  And those were just the ones I met and talked to. This always seems to be the species of people interested in playing music not professionally (but not unprofessionally).

Band Camp for Adults — 2015

This is not a scientific post, although it contains a lot of scientific types. Adult amateur chamber musicians are an interesting lot. The festival just concluded contained two people with books coming out, two organic chemists, two math profs, an english prof, multiple MDs, a retired foreign service officer and those were just the people I played with. Not everyone attending these things is so fancy and one of the best amateur cellists I ever played with was a moving man and probably the best violist ever was a 300 pound jail matron.

I’d not been to this one for 11 years or so, and it was amazing how people remembered the things I’d done back then. One classic neurotic back then was quite worried she was crazy. Her friend said she’d repeat over and over what I told her — I know crazy and you’re not crazy. Unfortunately she died an awful death of metastatic ovarian carcinoma, far too young in her 40s, as did another good friend, an RN.

Someone else brought up what I’d done for her at her first time at the festival. I’d totally forgotten about it. The first time my wife an I went there, I wasn’t assigned a group the first day and we didn’t know a soul. Everyone else appeared to know everyone else and had play dates arranged for the rest of the week. So the evening of the first day my wife and I were moping about in a local bar, when a gregarious participant came up to us, found out what was going on and set up the Dvorak piano quintet for me the next day.

The following year after the general initial assembly was over, I and the gregarious one got up and announced that we wanted 7 first timers for an immediate session — the Schumann piano quintet for me and a Mozart string quartet for her. The process has since been institutionalized.

I even met a reader of the blog, an excellent young violinist and organic chemist who I tried to steer into drug design. Probably not a good idea given the employment upheavals appearing nearly daily in Derek’s blog. One of the things we played was Vaughn Williams 6 studies on English Folk song. They have been scored for piano and violin, piano and viola, piano and clarinet and piano and cello. Few seem to know of them. They are each two piano pages long, extremely interesting musically and just not that hard to sight read.

Another great thing about the site, is that there is a whole piano and percussion building and many rooms have two pianos. This means two pianists can get together and play without squeezing onto the same bench. I strongly recommend trying two transcriptions of Bach concerti in C major and C minor. Both parts are quite interesting and well done musically, and you can switch so you’ll get to play each part. It’s  Peters edition #s 2200a, 2200b (BWV 1061, no BWV # given for 2200b). Start with the slow movements of each, the back and forth of the voices is great. I heard it today scored as a concerto for oboe and violin.

Unfortunately many of the people I played with 11 years ago had passed on, including Edwin Gould a violinist. Organic chemists of a certain age know him has the author of the ‘bible’ of physical organic chemistry back in the 60s.

Just by chance, two of the MDs were at places I’d trained — Colorado General Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and it was fascinating to hear how they’d changed.

Also just by chance there were two graduates from Brown who would have been near classmates with my son, had he chosen to go there. Fascinating to hear about paths not taken.

One of the math profs has a book coming out and the other explained what a Toric variety is (David Cox, from whom I audited a course, wrote a 600 page book on the subject).

All in all an intellectually and musically stimulating week.