December 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
Harold Rubens was a Welsh piano prodigy, shown here playing for George Bernard Shaw. When he got too old for the prodigy business he moved to South Africa, where he became active in anti-apartheid groups. Working with Nelson Mandela, his piano playing skills were in demand.
According to Norman Lebrecht, writing on Slipped Disc, resistance groups would meet in Rubens’ home, where he could play loudly to cover up the conversations and prevent their being picked up by the secret police.
Lebrecht quotes Albi Sachs: ‘We were meeting in the underground in their cottage in Newlands. We would hear him practising the fourth Beethoven piano concerto, going over it and over and over again while we were doing our secret planning in the room next door. Happily the music was very loud, and if there were any bugs, all the security police would hear would be Beethoven and not us planning resistance to apartheid. Beethoven would have been happy. Such complex and mixed-up feelings in this simple building.’
I wonder about that Beethoven being so very loud. I play that piece and it is impossible to get the right elegant effect if you are too heavy. I guess I won’t be invited to host any resistance meetings around here.
Rubens’ sister was the novelist Bernice Rubens who wrote the novel Madame Sousatska, based on Harold Rubens’ piano teacher in London. It was made into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine as one of my favorite movie piano teachers.
November 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
Why is it so hard to read music? One reason is that doing many things at once, like reading and interpreting symbols, listening to the sounds you’re making, operating complex machinery at a high speed (that’s the piano, folks), coordinating 2 hands and 2 feet, 2 eyes and 2 ears in real time to a beat in your head, and trying to make sense of something you really care about, is genuinely HARD.
The other reason is that music itself is hard to WRITE. To simplify the process, lots of shortcuts have been made through the centuries. That leaves us with a system that is full of fancy repeats, symbols with multiple meanings, sporadic instructions (Key signatures? Accidentals?) and the things that try students’ patience and, fortunately, keep music teachers employed.
If it sounds like a lousy bargain, speeding up the writing but slowing down the reading, you have never written music by hand. It is a fussy, demanding job. And, up until computers, preparing the plates for printing was a laborious craft. Each mark on the page had to be made by hand, on a steel plate, backwards, perfectly, for printing. Every note, every stem, every slur, every dot, every flat, every sharp, every everything had to be scribed on the steel by hand. There is no moveable type for music. Gutenberg’s revolution missed us musicians.
This video, by the music publishers G.Henle Verlag, show the process in precise detail. The camera looks over the shoulder of a craftsman as he puts in the staff, knocks in the note-heads, rules the bar lines, scrapes, etches and punches his way through a line of music. It even shows how he corrects mistakes.
I could hardly breathe while watching this the first time. I knew it was an exacting craft, but I had no idea it was as demanding as this. This is the best video ever because it shows one reason why music is so hard to read: it is really hard to write.
July 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
I wonder what would happen if the athletes were told they needed to donate their labor. Seems like music and sports are roughly equivalent in terms of investment in training, personal dedication, expensive equipment needed, struggle and glory, etc. But we musicians get no help from sponsors.
Thirty years ago my husband got 400 bucks a month from Nike for being a low-tier runner in Eugene, OR. I think I’m a better pianist than he was a runner, but I would settle for the same rate today.
Nike, where’s my sponsorship?
April 23, 2012 Comments Off on Where, in the US, do they (we) buy the most classical records?
Right here in River City, Stump Town, The Rose City, PDX, Puddle Town, Rip City.
Here is the full article, by Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc. I would summarize it in some artful way but I have some practicing to do. You’ll have to read it yourself, if you’re done practicing for today.
April 14, 2012 Comments Off on Music and Memory
Here’s a wonderful clip from a documentary on the Music and Memory non-profit project. It shows a man in a nursing home being brought back to life by listening to music.
March 25, 2012 Comments Off on Not Sold In Stores
187 full-length selections from the beloved 12-tone masters of the Second Viennese School.
I remember when playing Pierrot Lunaire on the lo-fi would make my mom pull her hair out in mock horror. Now Schoenberg provokes nostalgia for the lost days when these sounds were new. Groups play this 100-year-old music with real enthusiasm today, instead of the dreary earnestness of my youth. Is there nothing shocking in music anymore?
- Classical music survey: What musical blind spots do you have? What works and composers just don’t speak to you? (welltempered.wordpress.com)