While attending a chamber music concert today, I noticed how well everyone in the audience seemed to understand the "rule" of not clapping between movements. And while this was clearly a knowledgeable and attentive group of veteran concertgoers, it also reminded me of something a wise friend once said: he loves hearing people clap at the "wrong" time during concerts because it means someone new is attending! The concert featured musicians including the renowned violinist and conductor Jaime Laredo, whom I had a chance to chat with informally after the performance about concert etiquette. We've all seen people clapping at the "wrong" time and others shushing them, and Mr. Laredo made a passionate case for cutting people slack for showing their appreciation when they feel moved, and for not shaming them when they do. Too many people already feel intimidated about attending a classical music performance because they don't know what to expect, what to wear, how to behave, and yes, when to clap. So here is a thought: those of us who are insiders can mentor, teach and draw in new audience members, bring friends, help them feel welcome, and guide them along so they can fall in love with this music, too. That's something we can all applaud whenever we feel like it!
With a little help from my friends
I recently organized a benefit concert for a non-profit agency that provides free tutoring to adults who need help improving their literacy skills. An array of friends donated their time and energy: musicians shared their talents, other friends rolled up their sleeves and gathered raffle items, designed and printed the programs, hosted a lavish post-concert reception, and provided muscle power to set up and break down the chairs and tables. My public radio colleagues helped generate publicity for the event to fill seats and raise awareness of the agency and its vital services. Every aspect of the event was the result of a successful group effort involving many hardworking friends. It was magical and gratifying and a big success. More and more, I appreciate the tremendous value and pleasure of collaboration. As a musician, collaboration is essential in ensembles of all sizes. And in daily life, constructive partnerships seem to yield the best outcomes -- as the saying goes, "Two heads are better than one." And for the literacy organization that benefited from the concert proceeds, the tutor/student collaborations yield the greatest successes, as well as meaningful and often lasting friendships. So, I start this new week and the arrival of Spring, with gratitude for my many delightful collaborators. We really do get by with a little help from our friends!
March is Early Music Month
All across North America, musicians, ensembles, publications, broadcasters and music lovers are celebrating Early Music Month throughout March. There is plenty to celebrate! Thanks to decades of renewed interest in baroque and early music, there are many terrific musicians with expertise and sensitivity for the repertory, and the level of performing quality and scholarly expertise has never been higher. Recordings of outstanding performances are readily available, from the beloved and familiar repertory to less well-known composers and compositions. Baroque and early music are more integrated into the mainstream music scene than they were in the past, and are now less likely to be treated as a curious sideline or oddity. Musicians who cultivated their expertise playing early instruments or leading period instrument groups are now routinely branching out to lead modern orchestras, too. For example, I recently attended a performance of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by renowned Bach expert Ton Koopman. The concert was thrilling! It's a great orchestra, and it was wonderful to see the players in different and smaller configurations playing an all-Baroque program. Their body language was freer than usual and their faces were beaming -- it was a true collaboration and musical conversation between the players, and the resulting performance was electric! Many communities have terrific musicians and ensembles who specialize in playing baroque and early music, and some are also celebrating Early Music Month with special concerts, workshops, and other events. I encourage you to give yourself the gift of music by attending one of these events in your community. And as always, listen to Sunday Baroque! Find out more about this month-long annual celebration at earlymusicamerica.org
Just what the doctor ordered
Last week I was rehearsing for an upcoming concert with two other musicians, one of whom is not only a fine pianist but also a cardiac surgeon. To accommodate her schedule, we rehearsed in the lobby of the hospital where there is a fine quality grand piano. It was purchased specifically to allow for these spontaneous musical encounters by patients, staff, and visitors. As we played, people stopped to listen, watched intently, clapped when we finished a section, and a few even made a point to come over and sit down to rest and listen for a while. Unfortunately it's all too rare for most people to experience music in their everyday lives -- especially live music, up close. How smart of the hospital to recognize the value of such musical encounters on people's health and well-being! One woman enjoyed her break and a snack on a couch nearby as we played, and when we were done she gave a big sigh and said, "You have NO IDEA how relaxed that made me feel." Oh yes we do ... we most certainly do!
Chamber Music Every Day
There is something uniquely compelling about chamber music -- a small group of musicians, usually playing in an intimate venue. As a musician, I love to play it, and as an audience member I have a special place in my heart for it, too. I attended a remarkable performance today featuring renowned baroque cello player Jaap ter Linden. He was joined by Annalisa Pappano playing bass viola da gamba, theorbo player David Walker and harpsichordist Michael Unger. [caption id="attachment_1119" align="alignright" width="450"] Michael Unger at the harpsichord, David Walker and his theorbo, cellist Jaap ter Linden, Annalisa Pappano and her bass viola da gamba[/caption] These instruments are all quite different, and the program had them grouped in various configurations for each selection. The musicians were a mix of genders, generations, and nationalities. It was delightful to hear their beautiful sounds blending and watch them exchange glances and smiles, breathe together, imitate musical gestures, and pause for dramatic effect. It's a hearty dialogue between the players -- civil, playful, sometimes a wee bit competitive, yet always respectful. The musicians take turns letting each other shine and playing supporting roles. It reminded me of how much better everyday life might be if people used chamber music playing as a model for their interactions. It probably sounds corny, but think about it! All the values of playing chamber music apply beautifully to communicating with friends, family members, coworkers, and even strangers: being civil and respectful, taking turns, being playful and competitive, but always in a good-natured way. And look how beautiful and satisfying the end result is when we keep some of those ground rules in mind! So, I'm going to make a point to think "chamber music" now as I go about my day. Maybe you'll give it a try, too!
My Favorite Things - Valentine's Edition
It's Valentine's Day, when many people's expectations are high for romance. Candy, flowers, cards and romantic dinners are OK, but what moves me even more is MUSIC. With that in mind, these are a few of my favorite things -- baroque and early music that is luscious and romantic and perfect for ANY time, not just a fleeting holiday. Always the perfect fit. At the top of my list is Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto in d BWV1043 for 2 Violins, particularly the rapturous middle movement. They are some of the most beautiful notes ever combined, and hearing them gives me goosebumps. Every. Single. Time. Next, the aria OMBRA MAI FU from George Frideric Handel's opera XERXES. Also known as simply the Largo, the familiar music is a beautiful tender melody paired with unlikely lyrics. It's a love song sung to a tree, praising its shade-giving and other qualities. It's like love in real life: tender and lovely, but also a bit goofy. The Chaconne by Antonio Bertali is a pretty and captivating repeated melody that ultimately unwinds and evaporates into thin air. My favorite performance of this pretty music by the Verona-born composer features violinist John Holloway, organist Aloysia Assenbaum and harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen. With so many beautiful settings of the ultimate romantic poetry -- the Song of Songs -- Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's settings have to make the list. How could anyone resist the invitation to "Arise my love, my dove, my fair one, and come away..."? (Try The Sixteen's recording!) I could go on, but now I'd like to know YOUR favorite baroque and early music. What piece helps you chill out? What composer always puts a smile on your face? Which CD do you turn to when you need just the right music? Do you have a favorite performer or ensemble? Let me know and ... Happy Listening!
Good for the heart, mind and soul
An article in the NY Times recently featured people who turn to making music in retirement. (Joanne Kaufman 1/29/17) Some were returning to playing instruments they played as children, while others were learning for the first time. Their passion for music had been deferred for a variety of reasons -- time, money, careers, families, perfectionism, and other distractions. Now, decades later, with time on their hands, more money in their pockets, and the wisdom of maturity, they are digging into music again -- dusting off long-neglected instruments, signing up for lessons, and approaching their practice time with enthusiasm and discipline they often lacked in their youth. The benefits abound: the delight in making music again, the satisfaction of mastering (or remastering) skills, the joy of connecting with others, and the continuation of learning. I love this! It's never too late. Never. A retired physician friend who adores music and has long played piano told me he recently joined a choir even though he's never sung, not even in the shower! He finds it exhilarating ... and terrifying. He loves it. When I meet Sunday Baroque listeners, they frequently confess their regret at giving up their childhood music making, saying "I wish my parents hadn't let me quit those [piano, flute, guitar] lessons ..." Nobody -- NOBODY -- has ever told me how grateful they are for quitting. So if you're looking for a belated New Year's resolution, or maybe just some outside encouragement to act on that nagging desire to rescue your lonely clarinet from the basement, here it is. Just do it. And don't feel you have to wait for retirement -- MAKE the time now. Call your local music teacher and tell her Suzanne sent you. Then let me know how it's going! https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/business/29retiringplaying-instrument-in-retirement-piano-flute-horn-chorus-ensemble.html?_r=0
Music for its own sake
For many years, we have heard about studies attempting to show a connection between musical training or listening to classical music with extramusical benefits, such as advanced brain function or activation. Remember "Mozart Makes You Smarter" and all the articles urging women to play classical music near their pregnant bellies, to name a few? The conclusions of some of those studies have been challenged or debunked, while others have produced some promising results. Either way, there can't be much harm in listening to more Mozart or bellying up to your classical playlist for baby's sake. Music certainly has a profound and positive effect on my mental state and my life in general in many ways. But while it's personally validating to have hard data about music's additional positive effects on the brain, intelligence, math scores, IQ, and such, these studies also make me a tiny bit uneasy, especially when they are used to justify the importance of music and music education. Maybe listening to classical music increases math scores in children, and maybe musical training in childhood affects IQ. But even if they don't I believe music and musical training have intrinsic value, even without all those extra bells and whistles. Listening to music and making music are pleasurable and valuable activities all on their own, for kids and for adults. Whether or not math scores improve, children should have access to musical activities and training. It can inspire creativity, emotional expression, teamwork and discipline. Most importantly, it creates happier, more well-rounded adults. The world needs people who love music, and the arts in general, simply because the arts are fundamental to our broader culture. So even if Mozart doesn't make us smarter, Mozart makes us happier. And that is enough for me!
Giving feels good
Recently I had lunch with a friend who is a generous, longtime public radio supporter. He expressed surprise that more people don't support their local public radio stations, and we talked about the excuses many listeners make for not contributing. He looked me in the eye and asked, "Do you know why *I* support public radio?" I threw out a few possibilities, and he said, "No! The reason I give is because it FEELS GOOD. That's it." He's right. It does feel good to be part of something you care about. It feels good to have a personal stake in the success and future of something that's an important part of your daily life. So, now I'm wondering: do YOU support your local public radio station? If not, why? If so, why? Do you agree with my friend that giving feels good? What would you say to your fellow listeners who don't support their local stations to try to change their minds?
The Lowdown on Downloads
Confession: I am not an early adopter. I have no aversion to technology at all. In fact, I savor the many conveniences and treats technology can provide, and I enjoy learning new things. But I won't run out and acquire something just because "everyone" has one; there has to be a demonstrable need or application to convince me. I didn't even bother with a cell phone until a couple of years ago because I truly did not need one. However, once that balance tipped, I went out and bought the newest smartphone on the market at the time. It was similar with CDs and downloading music. I'm still in the transition period for that. Having started in radio right as CDs were becoming the standard, I still have a significant quantity of them. But, slowly, downloading is taking over and I find myself wondering how long it will be until the transition is complete. How about you? Do you buy music to enjoy in your home, car or office? Do you still buy CDs? Do you download? Do you stream from an online service? Besides listening to the radio, how do you listen to music? What devices do you use? Are you still hanging on to your turntable and LPs? Do you have different sources for different genres of music, maybe listening to classical music from CDs but other genres on your iPod, for example? I'm curious to know your listening habits. Now it's your turn to fess up!