Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two-Fingered Cello Playing

A great story: Brain Sanders is graduating from Eastman--a very prestigious music conservatory--and has only two left fingers. Hey! I've never really been happy with my fourth finger--maybe I should just stop using it. (Didn't Jesus suggest cutting off a body part that offends you? Well, that sounds a bit expensive.)

Anyway, now all of us cello teachers will be able to use Brian as an example to our unfortunate students who don't practice enough, are feeling sorry for themselves, making excuses, etc. "And Brian Sanders got into Eastman and graduated as a performance major with only TWO fingers!"

It's an inspiring story and great way to start the day.


Quick correction: Brian has all his left fingers. It's the right hand that has only two.

Reminds me of the oft-repeated story of Janos Starker telling a gifted but undisciplined student in a master class, "Too bad you can't cut off your hands and give them to someone more deserving."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

But I did get to watch more of

the 1937 classic Shall We Dance with Astaire and Rogers on TCM while writing that last post. Top of their form, with an incredible score by the Gershwins. I read once that Baryshnikov said that Astaire was the greatest American male dancer ever. This film shows why. Wow!

Another reason to be out . . .

I'm gay, I'm a good dad, and I don't molest anyone. Even grownups. Just in case you were wondering.

I mention this because an email message (shouldn't check it just before bed!) alerts me that Tennessee state representative Debra Maggart says,

I am not convinced that just because our foster children desperately need loving homes that we should just place them in homes that are available when research also shows that most homosexual couples have numerous emotional dysfunctions and psychological issues that may not be healthy for children. Now, of course emotional dysfunction can be found in heterosexual couples homes . . .
Hmm. Now where are those heterosexual homes without emotional dysfunction? I don't know any. (And if you are someone I know who is in a heterosexual relationship that is totally functional, no offense intended. Just let me know who you are!)

And, of course, much of the problem is that, as Sen. Maggart understands it,
homosexual couples prey on young males and have in some instances adopted them in order to have unfretted access to subject them to a life of molestation and sexual abuse
Really? I haven't heard of any. We did have a story here in Indiana some years back where the adoptive parents of a young girl objected to her biological brother being adopted by a gay man, until it turned out that the adoptive heterosexual father was sexually abusing the little girl. Does that mean no heterosexuals should be allowed to adopt?


OK, I got that off my chest.

(Stories about Maggart here and here, and also Google will give you more than you can stand to read.)

Thing is, Sen. Maggart is probably a very good woman who means well. She's not a bad person, she's not out to victimize or demonize gays (on purpose). As Mel White of Soulforce has taught me, it isn't that people like Sen. Maggart are malevolent. It's that on these issues their views are colored by outdated understandings, both scientific and religious. And lots and lots of fear--much of it inflamed by right-wing politicians and religious opportunists.

Throwing stones at Sen. Maggart and making fun of her isn't going to help. I would love her to meet the wonderful families I have met, including those at Jesus MCC church in Indianapolis. I'd love her to talk with all the wonderful children of gay parents out there, including mine.

When people are afraid of gay people, that's what they are, afraid. And meeting real, loving, wonderful gay people and their kids--well, that's what would help.

Because love dissolves fear.

Meanwhile, lets say that it's true that there's a higher percentage of screwed-up gay couples than straight ones. So what? That doesn't mean that it's better to leave a bunch of kids parentless than give them to the emotionally-stable, healthy same-sex couples willing to adopt. That's why all couples go through background checks and home inspections and whatever else couples who want to adopt go through.

Well, now it's going to take a while to calm down and get to sleep. Gotta remember, don't check that email just before bed.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Resuscitating Art Music

It's spring break and I'm spending it "in the Matrix" exploring the blogosphere, adding to my blogs with mania-like intensity, and catching up on reading I've been wanting to do. In the hopes of getting some constructive criticism and interaction for my improvisation book blog, I emailed everyone listed in the International Society for Improvised Music online directory. (Now there's a way to spend a Sunday afternoon!) And already it is starting to work--while no one has posted an online comment, I've received a number of interesting email messages.

In the midst of all this, I came across the article Resuscitating Art Music by John Steinmetz, a freelance bassonist in L.A. (at least when the article was written). It's fascinating, offering a rather different take on a subject being extensively addressed by Greg Sandow in his online book in progress. Very worthwhile reading.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why Are There So Few Cello Blogs?

I'd like to know. Technorati lists only 14 with "cello" as a keyword, two of them mine. And only one other, Cellomania, blogs regularly about cello-specific issues.

What, are we cellists that traditional?

Why Write About LGBTQ Issues? Why Not?

Just added a page of reviews to my website. Arrgh . . . I hate doing self-promotion. And I'm working on adding links to the sidebar here (look to the right). Is this my spring break project? Updating my website and blogs?

Actually, adding the LGBTQ links and beginning to write about some gay issues (for example, here, here, and here) is the result of a conscious decision to expand the scope of this blog.

It began as a place to write reviews of concerts attended during my sabbatical as well as musings on music and the cello. Some part of me was, initially, concerned that writing about LGBTQ issues, including how they affect me, might make some potential students and/or their parents uncomfortable.

But, I've concluded, to censor myself like that would be to project and/or reinforce homophobia (which probably isn't there) onto those hypothetical students/parents; to act out of fear rather confidence, trust, and pride; to inhibit my self-expression; and to fail to fulfill what I believe is a social responsibility of LGBTQ people: to lead open and affirming lives.

While LGBTQ-rights organizations focus, naturally, on legal issues, like employment, marriage rights, and hate-crimes legislation, the most powerful force for social change is LGBTQ folks leading open, self-affirming lives. That's what changes hearts and minds. People relate to people who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or otherwise queer as people, as part of us, when they have the opportunity to both know them and, especially, to know they know them.

A convoluted sentence, that lat one. Another way to put it: the question of "is the homosexual my neighbor" is a lot easier to answer in the affirmative when you have good neighbors whom you know to be, among other things, homosexual.

There are what are best described as, I suppose, editorial issues in having a mixed-subject blog. I have never minded, for example, Andrew Sullivan's mixing of commentary on political issues, commentary on gay issues, and reflections on his personal life. What he is doing in his blog is commentary, analysis. It's personal opinion, so writing from a personal perspective makes much sense. Same thing here.

A specific project, like writing a book via blogging, is best kept separate, and that's what I'm doing with

Friday, March 24, 2006

Well, maybe they all choked up . . .

Of course, it's (remotely) possible that everyone at the Milwaukee audition choked up and didn't play his or her best. That's what happened to me those many years ago--I wouldn't have hired me based on how I actually played in that audition. (Still Milwaukee's loss!)

The problem with taking an orchestra audition is that you, well, want the job, and are hoping to get the job, and feel there is a lot riding on the audition. And that tension, which is different then the usual anxiety a concert provokes, seems to make just about everyone play less well than they are capable of.

Then there is the story of a great French clarinetist with whom I had the great good fortune to play a chamber music concert with about 20 years ago. He was, at least then, the "super-soloiste" clarinet of the major orchestras in Paris--meaning he was co-principal, but always played first chair when both principals were playing.

He had won the job at a ridiculously early age--something like 18 or 19. And here's how it happened, as I remember him telling it to me.

Evidently everyone in Paris knew that a particiular well-established clarinetist was to win the audition. My friend, in his late teens, took the audition just for the experience of taking the audition. Certainly he was known as a hot, up-and-coming young player, which is probably how he was invited to the audition in the first place. But no one in Paris though anyone but the front-runner would win.

My friend, who had just had a birthday and reached the legal driving age in France, spent the entire week before the audition taking driving lessons, all day long. He did little if any practicing until a day or two before the auditions.

Imagine it, if you can. He was unconcerned. He knew he wouldn't win, so there was no pressure. He had been consumed with a teenager's excitement at learning to drive, which left no emotional energy for worrying and obsessing over the audition. Nevertheless, he was a marvelous, accomplished and deeply musical player. He arrived relaxed and unconcerned. And he played great--nothing to win, nothing to lose.

Even when, to his surprise, my friend was advanced to the finals, he didn't think he had a chance. He still assumed the other guy would, as everyone thought they knew, win. My friend's emotional focus remained on learning to drive. Since nerves didn't get in his way, he played his best--the kind of playing that many of us can usually do only in private.

The annoited winner, on the other hand, felt the weight of the Paris musical world's expectations very intensely. This was his big chance. What he'd been waiting for all his life. All eyes were on him.

This unfortunate front runner choked up and played subpar!

And who won? My friend. And he was as shocked as the rest of the Paris music world.

There's no question that this was a true discovery of a major young artist. But my friend knew that something had happened that he could never intentionally recreate. Had he thought there was even a remote chance he might win, he told me, he would have been an emotional wreck, and doubted he could have played any where near as well as when he was focused on learning to drive.

Milwaukee Symphony: No Principal Cellist

Well, the internet cello world is abuzz: no one won the Milwaukee Symphony principal cello audition.

Their problem is that they didn't hire me for the job when I auditioned in 1988! That was the last orchestra audition I ever took. DePauw hired me as the cello professor here, and I decided to stick with college teaching and playing chamber music.

As for the recent Milwaukee audition, I don't get it. I know a fantastic cellist who plays in the section of a major symphony, is an extraordinary artist, and who will someday make a great principal cellist. And I know at least one member of the Milwaukee cello section who would make a great principal cellist, too. What's their problem?

I don't know. Could it be . . . committees? The curse of academic life is being on committees which debate and argue endlessly and can never decide on anything. Audition committees can do the same thing. And music directors can get bizarrely picky.

The rest of us will never know what happened. But a lot of us know that there are great players out there who would make a great principal cellist, and some of them were at that audition.

And I'm glad I'm not taking orchestra auditions and applying for jobs any more!

Upholding the Bible or the Constitution?

Jamie Raskin is a professor at American University running for the Maryland State Senate. He recently made a remark that's been quoted all over the LGBTQ-friendly internet (this version is from a Baltimore Sun article reprinted on Raskin's website:

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, engaged in an impassioned debate with Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor from American University, over the influence of the Bible on modern law.

"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God - that is my belief," she said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals."

Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.

Maybe Josh can point this out to U.S. Senator George Allen when they next meet.

Meanwhile, I used to live in Maryland and I think I may send Raskin a contribution. And maybe something to Theocracy Watch, too.

By the way, I don't begrudge religious conservatives their active participation in the political process. They set a great example for organizing and being involved. We religious and secular libertarians and liberals just need to get our act equally well together. As do all who want to do something about global warming, universal health insurance, and the horrifying, ever-expanding national debt.

There's the Grieg Sonata and then there's the Grieg Sonata

One of the very advanced pianists at DePauw is fulfilling her chamber music requirement this semester by playing sonatas with me. She is such a wonderul pianist, and so musical and intelligent, that it is always one of the highlights of my week. (And, in general, I think it is a great way to learn and teach to have younger, less-experienced musicians rehearse and perform with older, more experienced players--it's what they do at Marlboro.)

I've always held the Grieg A minor sonata in rather low regard. No one would argue it is his strongest piece, and many of the themes have long struck me as just, well, unimaginative. But my young colleague had heard the piece on the radio, and was quite taken with it (much to my surprise). She asked if we could read it, and of course I agreed. Not only because she wanted to do it, but also because I've never played it, and it is a part of the cello repertoire.

We read through it this afternoon, and she said, "Well, I don't know why I liked it so much when I heard it on the radio. It seems dumb now."

Maybe it was how well they played it, I said. I told her a story one of my teachers, Denis Brott, used to tell me. His teacher, Gregor Piatigorsky, used to say that the an artist's job was to live up to the greatness of a great piece, and with a less-than-great piece, to play the music so well that it would seem great.

We played the first movement again, with all the imagnation, musicality, and sincerity of intention we were capable of. And what do you know? It was like a completely different piece. We liked it.

I realized I had never heard the Grieg played well. Some pieces can be played even poorly and they still are obviously great music. Just about any piece of Bach, for example. Other works have to be played with imagination and commitment to come alive.

There's a life lesson in here somewhere, too.

Maybe the world is getting better

From Andrew Sullivan, with whom I couldn't agree more (on this point):

The next generation of gay kids are the best yet. They haven't been as psychologically damaged by homophobia as my generation; and they won't take being treated as second-class citizens and human beings. I'm proud of being part of a gay generation that stood up for our dignity and equality at a critical time and changed history. I'm even prouder of the generations that are coming.
His comment was prompted by 16-year-old Josh's recounting of his polite confrontation with Senator George Allen. With teenagers like this, I have much hope for the future. (Lots of comments about the story on Josh's site and on AmericaBlog.)

Mass homophobia does indeed appear to be generational. I am amazed at times by the lack of homophobia among my teenage children's friends, and glad that by being an "out" gay dad I have contributed to that. I'm also amazed at the changes I've seen in the climate for LGBTQ students at DePauw University, where I teach, since I came here in 1988. 10 years ago, it was impossible to be an out gay man and live in a fraternity. Now gay men are living openly and comfortably in a number of frats, including some that used to be the most aggressively anti-gay.

"They haven't been as psychologically damaged by homophobia as my generation," Sullivan writes, and for the most part that is very true. My generation is pretty damaged. I don't personally know any gay men in their 40s or older, including me, who are not deeply, permanently scarred from growing up in a family and social milieu that taught us that who we are is sick, immoral, and sinful. While some of the damage can be healed, there is much that can only be managed.

There is nothing more wonderful in my life than seeing for myself that homophobia is unquestionably not intrinsic to the human condition, and that growing up attracted to the same sex doesn't have to mean growing up self-hating and rejected.

And stories like Josh's remind me of what a privilege it is to be a teacher and to get to know extraordinary young people.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Crash v. Brokeback

OK, I know this debate is so over. But I just got around to watching Crash, the film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. There's been a good deal of controversey--did it win over the front-runner Brokeback Mountain because of homophobia among (especially) the older, more concervative voting members of the academy?

Among the LGBT blogs and web forums I read from time to time the opinion seemed sharply divided: one camp which sees Brokeback as the greatest film ever made (or close to it) and Crash as "trash." The other group found Brokeback to be great in some respects but flawed, and Crash to be a terrific film, as profound and provacative in its own way as Brokeback.

Having now seen them both, I am in the latter group. Crash is an amazing film, and had Brokeback not shown up, I imagine many now proclaiming "Crash is trash" would be singing its praises. What film has captured the paradoxes of life, and of race relations, so well?

Brokeback, for all its power, struck me as overly melodramatic. I have to admit that I'm so sick of gays-as-victims movies that my perspective may be skewed. I'm looking forward to watching it on DVD and havingn a chance to reevaluate it.

In any event, I'm relieved that I liked Crash and thought it a worthy Best Picture opponent for Brokeback. I don't have to worry about some sinister anti-gay movement within the Hollywood power structure. After all, if it was homophobia that kept Brokeback from winning Best Picture, why didn't it keep Ang Lee from winning Best Director for the same film?

The most likely explanation to me is that it was a sort of tie, and the Academy gave BP to Crash and BD to Brokeback.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Let it snow . . .

First day of spring and . . . our biggest snow of the year. This may be the first day Greencastle schools were closed for the day due to snow this academic year. So strange--days with 60 degree weather in January, then lots of snow on the first day of spring.

In the last 24 hours I've posted three or four new articles to my improv-book-in-progress blog (link at right).

And, you know you are really a grownup when you go to a Border's bookstore in order to buy a copy of Roberts Rules of Order.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"A Farewell to Arms"

Tomorrow (Wednesday) night, I'm playing as cello solist in two works with the DePauw Chamber Singers. One is "A Farewell to Arms" for mixed chorus and cello, by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. It's a simply wonderful piece, about ten minutes long. The text is full of dying old soldier imagery, and the music is beautiful.

We're also doing an arrangement of a Civil-war era Shaker tune I found this summer, "Prayer for the Captive." It includes improvised interludes on the cello. I'll write about this piece on my improv blog.

If you are in the Greencastle area, it will be a good concert. It would be good even if I wasn't playing--the Chamber Singers and their director, Gabriel Crouch, formerly of the Kingf's Singers, are fantastic. Here's the blurb on the DePauw website.

My Baroque Playing: Less and Less Broke

It probably wasn't such a good idea to not have breakfast this morning--I was somewhat grumpy when I arrived for our DePauw Baroque Ensemble rehearsal. But my mood quickly improved as I played consistently in tune. As I've written before, one of the main challenges facing anyone who plays both "Baroque" and "modern" string instruments is that each exists in different pitch universe. For a long time, when I'd play the lower pitch level of Baroque cello, something would short-circuit in my brain. I'd find it so hard to hear in that pitch level, and would play quite sharp, thinking I was flat (because I was flat in A 440 terms), or would become just hopelessly confused.

This week, the low pitch just seemed normal. Ah, life does get better sometimes.

5-Year Double Degrees and the New Bard Model

I'm very interested in the new conservatory program at Bard College. Every student who enrolls in the conservatory--which has a first-rate faculty of big east-coast names--is required to be in a five-year double-degree program. A Bard student cannot earn a Bachelor of Music in Performance only--(s)he must also earn a Bachelor of Arts in a liberal arts or sciences subject as well.

I love this paragraph from the program's overview on the Bard website:

One may ask: For whom is the Conservatory at Bard intended? Is it for the person determined to have a career in music, enriched by the benefits of a liberal arts education? Yes. Is it for the person who seeks a combined career in music and some other field? Yes. Could it be for the person whose career goal lies in a field other than music, but who wishes to study music deeply? Yes. Simply put, the Conservatory is designed for the young person of talent and curiosity in multiple areas who is committed to continuing to learn and develop in these areas. The goal of the Conservatory, with its integration into the College, is precisely to support such students and to encourage them to keep their minds and their options open.
A number of other schools, including my employer, DePauw University, offer such a five-year program as one of many options. As college music faculty ponder the future of classical music in this country, and the ways in which our future graduates can participate in music and make some sort of living, encouraging students to pursue this sort of education seems more and more to be the only ethical course of action.

Yes, there are a very few who will be able to make a living as soloists, chamber musicians, and/or orchestra players. But that is a very few, and as there are more and more extraordinarily well-trained players being produced, while the traditional classical music job market continues to shrink, the competition increases.

We have to develop new models of what it is to be a serious, committed musican working in the classical tradition. We need to embrace models other that than of all-or-nothing professionalism. I'll be writing more about this. Meanwhile, the integrity of Bard's program is inspiring.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Surprise! Joe and his Gagliano are here . . .

So there were two pleasant surprises today. First, me playing in tune on Baroque cello. And then a note from a mysterious visitor.

After our Baroque ensemble rehearsal, I went back down to my office and found a note on the door. "Hi Eric," it read. "I'm in town for a while and am upstairs [in the practice rooms] practicing. Come on up if you have time. I'd love to see you." It was signed, "Joe Johnson."

Joe Johnson. Who is Joe Johnson? I racked my brain. He must be a former student. But I know I never had a cello student named Joe Johnson. Who is he, I asked myself. A DePauw alum who I've forgotten? Well, I never could come up with an answer. But then I had to run to a (very long) faculty meeting and teach a lesson and had no more time to puzzle over the mystery.

Just as that lesson was ending, there was a knock at my door. And there is Orcenith Smith, our orchestra director, with a handsome blond guy in his early thirties, cello case in hand. Joe Johnson.

So Joe came in and we started chatting. All the while I was hiding the fact that I didn't know who the heck he was--although the name did kind of ring a bell. Well, finally it turns out that he had auditioned for DePauw back in 1990, but ended up going to Eastman. Then he did a masters at Northwestern, and landed a job in the Minnesota Orchestra, where he's been playing for the last ten years. Family business has brought him to Greencastle.

He's a great, friendly guy and, it turned out, and an absolutely fabulous cello player. He was very interested to try the Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello that was in my office, and eager to show me his "baby," a beautiful Niccolo Gagliano cello he's had for about six years. It's an incredible-sounding cello, and it was clear from the first notes he played on it that he and his cello are true soul mates. I have met plenty of cellists with great instruments in my life. But I don't remember ever encountering someone who is quite so "one" with his instrument.

We played each other's cellos in my office and then went down to our recital hall, where Claude Cymerman was just finishing a practice session of his solo piano arrangement of The Rite of Spring. So we got to play the cellos for each other in there. It was such a delight to hear Joe, who is true virtuoso, play, and to hear his Gagliano, which manages to be powerful, rich, deep, and mellow all at the same time. He has a gorgeous sound (and flawless intonation), and I just fell in love with the cello all over again.

That's one of the great things about being a musician. Every once in a while there's a magic moment in which one is awestruck by the phenomenon of music and the beauty of one's chosen instrument. Sometimes it happens in a concert. And sometimes it happens just hearing a man in love with his instrument play it for you.

It was also great to hear Joe play the Luis and Clark cello. I hadn't before heard a professional cellist play this cello I play so often, in our recital hall. It sounded fantastic, too. Perhaps more powerful (or at least louder) than the Gagliano, if not as rich and complex. Both instruments are amazing, in different ways.

All in all, a very nice day.

Entering the Parallel Universe of Baroque Cello

I've experimented with playing Baroque cello on and off for some years now, but now I am taking it with new dedication. I'm not switching or diminishing my "modern" playing, just adding in something new. We've started a faculty Baroque ensemble at DePauw, rehearsing once a week. My ex-wife Allison, who is an incredible Baroque violinist, and our Interim dean Cleve Johnson, a music history professor who's also a wonderful harpsichord and organ player, have dragged me into this, kicking and screaming.

I'm making a somewhat gradual transition. I'm still using a modern cello, simply tuned down, and a Baroque bow. I developed the ability many years ago to play without vibrato, and that comes in handy. And while I have learned how to play the cello without an endpin, I have decided to stick with it for now. Playing without an endpin, holding the cello between one's calves, is the most anti-ergonomic thing I can imagine. I have the cello that low, but I'm using the endpin so I can keep my legs in a healthier position.

Even with these compormises, playing "Baroque" and "modern" in the same period of time is like trying to exist in parallel universes. The instrument looks so similar. But tune it down to a = 415 instead of A = 440, and use a different bow, and it is an (almost) altogether different beast. And then try to play with a harpsichord that is not tuned in equal temperament, and oy vay! It's hard enough to play in tune dealing with one tuning system. But change the pitch level and the temperament, and the brain (at least mine) starts to short circuit. Really.

Today, though, was a breakthrough. For the first time since we began rehearsing regularly about five weeks ago, I felt fully comfortable in the lower-pitch universe. Until today, I kept tending to play sharp, instinctively trying to bring the pitch up to the A 440 level. But today, I felt totally at home in A 415. That was just a joy.


I don't know why I like to watch the Oscars. I don't see that many movies. It is a silly spectacle. Somewhere today (forget where) I read that they were started by Louis B. Mayer as a way of not just placating his tempremental employees but more importantly spurring them on to better work.

I didn't think Jon Stewart (of whom I am a big fan) would work as host, and I am in the he-didn't camp. He's ironic and mocking, and outsiders mocking Hollywood just don't go over well. The whole event is bizarrely and sickly self-important. Friendly, self-mocking humor from a Crystal or Goldberg works. Outsiders don't.

Some gay bloggers and web forum posters took umbrage at Brokeback not winning, with theories from it being too envelope-pushing to being too conservative being suggested. I was rooting for it, but thought it had some weaknesses. I haven't seen Crash, but I know there are plenty of people who thought that it was just the better movie. I know Hoffman's Capote performance was amazing, and his win was no surprise. But I thought Heath Ledger's Brokeback performance was extraordinary and I'm sorry he didn't win. The two leading contenders for best actor gave rich, nuanced, and deep performances playing gay men; that's a geat step forward for equality.

Hmm. I have seen three of the five best-picture nominated films. That's more than usual. And it's due, no doubt, to the fact that they were smaller, more interesting and less blockbuster-type movies than typically show up.

Perlman sounded great. As he is performing less and less as a violinist, it was a treat to hear him, especially sounding to in shape. I loved the hip-hop number and that it won the best song award. Dolly was great, too. My favorite, though, of the three songs was the other one (hah! I'm up too late). You know, the other one whose name I can't remember at the moment.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ethan Winer's Way-Cool Multi-Cello Video

Ethan Winer is a very cool guy. He exemplifies the kind of rich, varied and creative life one can live, and is an especially good example of how can have a real commitment to classical music without being a full-time classical musician. Part of the future of classical music, anyway, lies with people such as Ethan.

Now he's made a video that has been taking the internet cello world by storm. As he describes it on his site:

I thought it would be a fun project to write and record a pop tune using nothing but cellos, then make a video of the performance. The original goal was to keep everything entirely acoustic, with no recording studio effects or other processing. I quickly abandoned that idea to get more variety of sounds, but everything you hear was played entirely on my cello. There are 37 separate cello parts recorded on 23 tracks using 37 plug-in effects.

I don't know if I should be embarrassed to admit I spent hundreds of hours on this project, or proud to have paid so much attention to detail. You be the judge.

He doesn't go into the details of creating and producing the video, but it obviously took hours and hours.

The video is so much fun. I think it's going to be great for cheering myself up when I'm having a bummer of a day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In Which The Author Decides to Write a Book By Blogging

I'm supposedly writing a book on improvisation for classical musicians, especially classical musicians who have never improvised before.

I say "supposedly" because while I've done a lot of research in to material written about improvisation, done a lot of improvising, taught improvisation and led workshops, and attended even more workshops, especially Music for People workshops, than I've led, and written a very extensive outline of the book . . .

. . . I haven't written much.

So I've decided to follow Greg Sandow's lead (his book is here) and try writing my book online by blogging it.

This has what I hope will be a number of advantages. First, blogging is much less intimidating, for some reason, than "writing a book." When I try to go into write-the-book mode, my inner critic(s) go into hyperdrive. It's not good enough. It's not good enough. (The theme song of my inner life.) Blogging is just, well, blogging. Short little improvisations. (OK, I rarely if ever write genuinely "short little" blog entries.) Sketches. Which don't have to be terribly well organized. (Which is how "well" I do organizing, anyway--terribly.)

Second, it creates the opportunity to get feedback, including suggestions and constructive criticsm, from readers. And perhaps some encouragement as well.

There is something, well, fun about blogging. I think it appeals to my need for instant gratification. Write a bit, click, and presto! it's published online for all the world to read.

The instantaneous nature of blogging is also a good antidote to perfectionistic procrastination. I've tried writing this book a number of times over the last ten years. I write and then disown what I've written (same thing happens when I try to make a CD of original music). So writing by blogging gets me to not just write, but not hide what I've written.

I'm not a scholar. I'm a pleasantly narcissistic performer. One thing that had me stuck until recently with the book is that it seemed to want to be two books: both a "how to" guide for a classical musician interested in improvisation, and a memoir of my experiences with improvisation. Improvisation has been an integral part of my growth as a human being over the last decade or more. It's a story I am ready to, and seem to need to, tell.

And, since I'm not a scholarly, objective "writer," I write best as what I am: an introspective, self-reflective musician who likes to write about his own experiences.

The teacher in me is happy to write the "how to" instructions as well. Perhaps I'm writing two books. Perhaps I'm writing a book that's a memoir interspersed with "how to" chapters--much like some memoirs by chefs.

Blogging from both perpectives, the memoirist and the "how to" teacher, will allow me to write what wants to be written and let it sort itself out.

So that's what I'm doing. And the first post on the new blog is up.

Percussion Plus

Amy Barber, until recently the Dean of the School of Music at DePauw University (where I teach), is both our percussion professor and the mastermind behind the Percussion Plus Project. Amy started this ensemble in the 1990s when she was living in Prague. It's a unique percussion ensemble: everything they perform involves a non-percussion soloist.

Last night's concert on campus featured works Amy has commissioned from James Beckel (principal trombone of the Indianapolis Symphony), Augusta Reed Thomas, and Carlos Carillo (rising young composer currently teaching at DePauw), as well as a work by George Crumb. The soloists were Velvet Brown, tuba, Paulette Herbich, mezzo-soprano, and Emilio Colon, cellist.

Amy's greatest accomplishment in her time as Dean here was to create a much greater--and much needed--presence of new music in the school's life. In addition to the Percussion Plus Project and her own recitals, Amy developed and still organizes the annual "Music of the 21st Century" festival here (which I've written about below).

I love percussion ensembles. And it was, well, just great to experience a concert knowing that most of the pieces would not exist except for the work of my colleague.

Which leads me to realize that while I have always been willing to play works by composers I know, I have not been particularly proactive in arranging to commission works. I'm just 47; there's still time. Time to get started.