New recordings for my beginner students

I have recently made and posted recordings of the pieces that my beginner students play! These recordings are slower than the recordings available on the Suzuki Book 1 CD, and also include music that I use that is not found in the Suzuki books.

Violin music is available here and viola music is available here.

Check back soon for Book 1 pieces!

Improving classical music’s performance practices

I love (European) classical music; I’ve played it since I was five and think it can be one of the most emotionally moving and fulfilling things to do.

But it’s incredibly difficult to get me to go see a professional concert, especially a symphony concert.  Why?  Because the social etiquette surrounding the performance is so dull. And the program notes are often so pretentious.

Hence my amusement at this updated version of program notes from the New Yorker.  If the tone at classical performances were more like this:

The opening section, “From Dawn to Midday at Sea,” begins with the plaintive call of the oboe, announcing the rising sun. The English horn and the trumpet answer in a minor key, as if to say, “Thanks for the tip, asshole.” The flutes quickly change the subject, introducing the famous surging triplet melody. The theme bubbles and courses through the orchestra, constantly elaborated and ultimately recapitulated in a massive crescendo of horns and trumpets, at which point the flutes are totally drowned out and seem not a little jaded and you have to wonder if they regret having introduced the theme in the first place.

“The Play of the Waves” is often described as a scherzo, light and humorous, although, as in much of Debussy’s work, the laughs come at the expense of the violas.

…I’d be more willing to go!

What I’ve been listening to lately

1) Kim Kashkashian playing Hindemith’s viola sonatas. This is just one example; the rest are equally amazing.

2) “We Are Marching in the Light of God”–I spent the weekend hanging out at the church in West Philly where I’m doing fieldwork and sang this at a choir rehearsal on Friday.  The church’s version was, of course, more awesome.  Imagine this with gospel instrumentation and a touch step.

3) Babyshambles, “Pentonville.” I can never quite figure out what’s going on with the patois here–whether it’s a guest artist or what.  I don’t know how well it sits with me; but here’s the song, as it’s stuck in my head.

4) The Wailin’ Jennys, “The Parting Glass.” I am trying to bring back the custom of singing this at parties, starting with the one I attended on Friday night.  Mark my words, it will return.  This version isn’t quite the one you’d want to sing in a social setting, but it’s still nice to listen to.

What I’ve been listening to lately

…in this crazy back-to-school week, no less.

1) Paul Simon, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; its jangliness suits my schedule right about now.

2) Bill Ricchini, a local singer-songwriter on whose upcoming album I’ve been laying down the violin and viola tracks.  This track, “A cold wind will blow through your door,” was on Grey’s Anatomy last year!

3) Balkan Beat Box, “Bulgarian Chicks.” All the cool young Jews are doing it.  Plus, being of Albanian descent I get happy when “Balkan” is used in a neutral or positive manner, instead of “look at how crazy that place is!”

4) Gregorian chant. This one in particular is the famous “Dies irae.” Can you tell I’m taking a class on medieval and Renaissance music?


The New York Times ran a few music-oriented articles over the past several days that I think are worth highlighting:

  • Carleen Hutchins, a fantastic violin maker (and a violist!) passed away recently after a long and innovative life.  String players–especially violists like myself–know that the instrument designs we’ve been handed down through the centuries are acoustically imperfect.  (This is why violists are always looking for the biggest instrument we can physically handle.  The viola would technically need to be much bigger in order for its acoustics to be ideal, and we wouldn’t be able to play it under the chin then, so we try to get as close as possible.)  Hutchins pioneered research into the minutiae of string acoustics and reimagined the string family–something that hasn’t been done for hundreds of years, essentially since Stradivari.  Now I want to play some of her creations!
  • Will the baby boomers get over Woodstock already?!  Let’s hope we’re not rhapsodizing over Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo like this in 40 years.  Yes, Woodstock was important, but the overly romantic way in which writers of that generation treat it is just absurd and typical boomer narcissism.  I’m happy that at least some of the Room for Debate bloggers acknowledge this.
  • It makes me cry a little inside every time I hear about an instrument mistreated like this.  The story of how this Irish harp, made by the influential Dublin craftsman John Egan, ended up in a dumpster but was rescued and is now being restored, is inspirational in the cheesiest sense, but I love it.

What I’ve been listening to lately

1) Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me” from What’s Goin’ On.

Definitely one of my favorite albums of all time.  It’s a concept album that works well as a unit–yet every single song can stand alone.  He’s one of the few artists who can combine a socially progressive message with sounds that you want to dance to.

2) Kíla, “Double Knuckle Shuffle” and “Tóg é go bog é” from their 1997 album of the same name.

Kíla are an Irish folk band–but they don’t sound “Irish folk” in the way that you may immediately think of when you hear those words.  “Tóg é go bog é” in particular reminds me of a Dispatch jam, but the beat is provided by a bodhrán, and it’s sung in Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic).  I happen to love Irish music of most kinds, but even if you didn’t grow up fiddling and step dancing like I did, it’s worth a listen (and particularly good for listening to while at the gym–the beat is perfect for running).  Also, in the first video, the lead singer is sick with the tipper on the bodhrán.  The second video has goofy graphics, so just ignore those and listen, there’s more amazing drumming.

3) Cat Power, “Breathless” from Jukebox.

4) Barbara Westphal and Ursula Oppens playing the Brahms Viola Sonatas.

Once again I can’t find good videos of classical music.  But this album is well worth looking up.  The pieces are two of my favorite in the repertoire and the musicians render them beautifully.

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