Happiness is a state of mind
"Happiness is a state of mind." That was the wise message I received in a fortune cookie the other day. It had me thinking about things that give me happiness, and observing things that make others happy. Music is, as you might expect, a huge source of happiness, and some recent events illustrate that beautifully. A few weeks ago I performed with my trio in another city, and I stayed at the home of a 20-something family member. She's a smart, well-educated and accomplished young woman with a successful career and life, a circle of friends, and diverse interests that include travel, pets, cooking and more. I invited her to attend one of my group's performances, and when we got in the car to go home afterwards she announced with breathless enthusiasm, "I LOVED THAT!!!!" She went on to explain that she hadn't known what to expect, doesn't really listen to much music of any genre, and had assumed classical music was quiet and low energy. She was truly surprised and delighted by the experience -- more than just polite praise, this was unbridled enthusiasm. I am still tickled by her outpouring of enjoyment. And then yesterday, I attended a chamber music performance in a small church. Some of the audience seats are in the choir section directly behind the performers, so the rest of us in the audience could see their faces. One woman, in particular, was clearly mesmerized with delight as she watched the performers intently, beaming and slightly swaying to the music. It added to the joy on the performers' own faces as they exchanged meaningful glances and gestures while playing. I can think of many other examples of spontaneous, outward joy created by music, and I feel fortunate to have that connection to something that is a source of such happiness for me and others. Do you have special memories of music giving you that kind of emotional rush? What experiences stand out in your mind when music has filled your heart with happiness?
It Takes a Village ...
I attended an impressive concert yesterday! Christina Nam is a 15-year-old violinist who is preparing to compete in Geneva, Switzerland in the Menuhin Competition. She is one of 44 of the world's top young violinists competing before an international panel of judges, acclaimed musicians who have all gone through what Christina and her fellow competitors are experiencing now. It goes without saying that Christina has tremendous musical talent -- technical skills and beautiful tone. One does not qualify for a prestigious international competition without that! But there is so much more to say about her ... she is poised and confident, focused and disciplined, and she has mature musicality. Maybe best of all, she is also (according to her teachers, and from what I have observed) a normal 15-year-old girl, albeit one who is currently playing on a priceless 18th century violin. She is a kind, funny, giggly teen with lots of friends. One of her most influential mentors described her as "grounded." I heard Christina play at a house concert hosted by family friends, and the audience included an extended network of friends and family, her teachers, and professional musicians in the community. We were all impressed. Seeing young people on fire for classical music gives me optimism about the future of the genre. It is equally encouraging to see young people so passionately pursuing their hopes and dreams, musical or otherwise, supported by so many people in such healthy and meaningful ways. Christina's parents (who are also musicians) have given her support, encouragement and guidance, as well as space to be a 15-year-old girl. Her teachers have given her excellent training and mentoring, while fostering a realistic and healthy attitude about the life ahead of her. And her circle of friends and family are eager to cheer her on! It really does "take a village" to raise great young people, whatever their strengths and passions may be. I can't wait to follow Christina in her quest. Here is a link to the Menuhin Competition website, in case you would like to know more. https://2018.menuhincompetition.org/
Two outstanding women!
March is the annual celebration of Women's History Month. It's designated as a time to celebrate the vital role of women in American history, as well as applaud the contributions of contemporary women in all fields of work. It's a perfect opportunity to single out two outstanding women for well deserved praise and celebration: Julie Freddino and Joelle Schrock. They are the two behind-the-scenes producers at Sunday Baroque, and you may recognize their names from the credits you hear each week on the program. They do the hands-on work to load the CDs you hear, manipulate computer files, edit audio, comb through the finished product to make sure it's perfect, work on the website, interact with staff at stations around the country who broadcast Sunday Baroque, provide helpful feedback and suggestions to me, and so much more. They are dedicated and disciplined, capable and creative, enthusiastic and eager to excel. Each is a dynamo on her own -- together they are an amazing team! While I get to be the public face (voice) of Sunday Baroque, Julie and Joelle are the solid foundation of the operation. EVERYTHING you hear has been touched by one or both of them in some way. So, here's to you, Julie and Joelle, with thanks for ALL you do!
The annual Sunday Baroque Bach Birthday Bash will be broadcast on Sunday, March 18. Although I don't usually overtly observe birthdays of composers on Sunday Baroque, I have produced an all-Bach edition of Sunday Baroque every March since I originated the program more than 30 years ago. That's because Johann Sebastian Bach is different. Many musicians refer to Bach as an inspiration, even musicians known for non-classical genres (as well as poets, artists, scientists and others), so his legacy has special significance. His reputation is well known enough to make its way into popular culture, such as that classic scene in the '70s-'80s television show M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye advises Radar on how to impress a woman by saying, "Ahhh, Bach!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYSG8AQO3tw When I'm crafting the Bach Birthday Bash every year, I seek out different angles in which to frame Bach's music and present it in contexts that illustrate the master composer's continued relevance all these centuries after his lifetime. This year on the Bach Birthday Bash you will hear selections from outstanding recent recordings by top performers of Bach's music, as well as some of the composer's familiar favorites, and selections that have been adapted for unusual instruments by contemporary performers. The featured musicians revere Bach's music and legacy, and they approach it with their greatest technical expertise, sense of authenticity and profound reverence. Every year, the Bach Birthday Bash is my way of honoring that legacy and introducing listeners to what Bach means to musicians, including myself. With the allotted time, we can only scratch the surface of such an extraordinary genius, so I hope the program will be an "appetizer" that provides an entertaining listening experience and inspires you to seek out more on your own. After listening, I hope you'll also want to say "Ahhhh, Bach" and have many wonderful ways to explain why!
Baroque or (ba)Rock and Roll?
How does one define "classical" music? How is it different from other genres, such as "rock and roll" or "jazz"? In what way is "baroque" music different (or the same) as other so-called "classical" music? Why do we carve musical genres into these subsets, anyway, and what are the characteristics that define each and create distinctions from other genres? Is there more commonality between genres than we realize? I ponder these questions, and use these specific examples, in part because I thoroughly enjoy music in all these genres (and more), and I notice that some other people have more exclusive and fixed musical tastes. And the question is important because I wonder if people who *think* their tastes are finite might thoroughly enjoy other music if only they were open to the idea and exposed to high quality examples. A number of music lovers over the years have told me their favorite two musical genres are baroque and ... (surprisingly) heavy metal! I have heard this too many times to count, from teenagers in Metallica t-shirts attending a harpsichord recital, to adults who email to say their lifelong love of Megadeth has morphed into an affinity for Bach's Magnificat. And while I *LOVE* these stories, and have heard variations on them for decades, I have yet to identify the connective thread between the genres. Maybe you can help unlock this mystery. Are you someone who likes many different musical genres? How did your tastes evolve? Can you describe what you like about various types of music? Are they connected in some way that you can explain? Why do you like the music you like?
Rumor has it there is some sort of big sporting event happening today. Not knowing much about these things, I can't take sides or even comment! But it brings to mind some famous (and a few infamous) MUSICAL competitions and rivalries in the baroque era! George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti were once set up to have a friendly "competition" to determine which man was the better keyboard player. The diplomatic judges named Handel as the better organist and Scarlatti as the superior harpsichordist. Jean-Baptiste Lully's admirers were displeased when Jean-Philippe Rameau came along with new and challenging ideas for French opera. The so-called "Lullistes" and "Ramistes" fought over those aesthetics for many years. There was also Christoph Willibald Gluck and Niccolò Piccinni, whose loyal fans continued to lock horns very publicly over which musician was a superior composer. When Johann Sebastian Bach was the leading keyboard player in Germany, his friend and colleague Silvius Leopold Weiss was the leading lute player. One of their contemporaries, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, claimed that Weiss challenged Bach to a friendly private competition improvising fantasies and fugues. (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Weiss-Silvius-Leopold.htm) Some of these stories may be apocryphal, or exaggerated, and I suppose we may never know the whole story. But it seems the desire to choose sides and compete is a deeply human impulse. On a happy note, we can enjoy music by ALL of these fine composers, whether or not we take sides or have a favorite. Everyone's a winner! Now, please pass the guacamole!
You don't know what you have until it's gone
Let's be honest: we often take important things for granted, despite our best intentions. Being deprived of something that has become a regular, expected part of life can bring us to a screeching halt. Despite the immediate inconvenience, there can also be a silver lining. For example, I recently lost my voice -- NOT a good thing for someone who works in radio! However, there was a positive aspect to my imposed silence: music. I normally listen to a lot of music, as you'd expect. And while I do listen for pleasure, a LOT of my music listening is for my work on Sunday Baroque. But during my laryngitis, I listened to more music and more varied music than usual. What a pleasure it was to reconnect with music that had migrated to the bottom of my usual playlist, and to reconnect with the practice of listening to music purely for pleasure. It's a great reminder that we need not wait for the inconvenience of an involuntary deprivation to be mindful of things we care about, and to reconnect with semi-forgotten things we enjoy that might be outside our established daily routines. I look forward to making more time to listening to music for pure fun. (And I look forward to getting my voice back!)
Resolve to share your love of music
Happy New Year! Even if you're not the type of person who makes New Year's Resolutions, I'd like to offer a suggestion to consider. As a classical music broadcaster and a musician, I am frequently faced with the question of how to get more people to listen to classical music. For decades, pundits have been raising alarms about the supposed "graying" of the audience, forecasting the demise of symphony orchestras and other performing groups, and lamenting the decrease of classical music on the broadcast airwaves. While these trends are worthy of our attention, I am not quite so cynical about what they mean for the future of classical music. There continues to be a steady stream of new, young performers and ensembles coming onto the scene and there are new and innovative ways to distribute and listen to their artistry. They produce their own performances, retain the rights to their work, perform in new unconventional venues, and recruit their peers to attend their concerts. It's exciting and inspiring to witness the innovative spirit and entrepreneurship of talented, technologically savvy musicians! Classical music audiences have always been a little "grayer" than the general public. Maybe it just takes wisdom, experience or a different stage of life to appreciate the art form. Maybe it's just different for everyone, and takes time for some of us to "age into" embracing the genre. There's also the obstacle that while some people are open to the idea, they are intimidated by real or imagined fears: how to choose something they will like, what to wear, when to clap. One thing is certain: people who are never exposed to classical music will never learn to love it. So here is my suggestion for your 2018 resolution: make it your business to introduce someone to the music you love. Be a mentor. Play Sunday Baroque for your niece or grandchild, take your neighbor to a concert, share musical performances on your social media, and do anything else you can think of to make that love connection between the music and someone who hasn't yet heard it. I have season tickets to a chamber music series that offers vouchers to subscribers to bring a friend for free to many of the season's concerts. Maybe your favorite ensemble or concert series has something like this too? Find out, and bring someone. You love music, I love music, we listen to music. Let's resolve to spread the word and SHARE our love of music with someone new in 2018!
Music & Human Connections
Sunday Baroque listeners frequently contact me to say how much they enjoy the music and how much it means to them. You've told me it helps you feel happy, provides companionship, enlightens you, and more. These stories affirm my personal belief in the power of music, and remind me to appreciate how extraordinary that power can be and not take it for granted. Every now and then, a story about music illustrates just how profoundly it can influence human connections. Take the experience of Naomi Feil and Gladys Wilson. Ms. Feil used music to reach into Ms. Wilson's mind, long isolated in dementia, to create a warm human connection, elicit a reaction and a create a communication breakthrough. Their one-on-one exchange is deeply touching. Watch it here: http://www.memorybridge.org/video9.php There is so much to love and admire about this, and it takes my breath away every time I watch it. How do you experience the power of music? Have you seen music provide connection to a loved one who was otherwise unreachable? Please share your personal story of what music means to you.
I love to bake. I love to cook. I love to entertain. That's why, at this time of year, I am in my element! As the winter holidays approach I get a little giddy as I start stocking up on flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, sprinkles, walnuts, extracts and other staples of my winter baking pantry. I pull out the recipes employed for decades to bake a variety of holiday goodies, including many that are longtime family traditions. Favorites include my family's Hungarian cookies featuring a cream cheese/butter dough, rolled out and filled with walnuts and raisins or apricot or prune. Other must-haves are Italian anginetti cookies -- tiny citrusy cakes iced and splashed with cheerful sprinkles, pignoli cookies -- a rich almond base studded with pine nuts, baklava, and chocolate Yule log -- OH MY! The funny thing is that I don't have much of a sweet tooth. (Thankfully!) However, I love to MAKE these goodies, and I love to serve them and give them as gifts, and it's why I enjoy this time of year so much. What are your food traditions at this time of year? Do you have recipes lovingly passed down through the generations? How did you learn how to make them? When do you start preparing your holiday treats? What other holiday traditions to you look forward to celebrating? Please take a few minutes away from the kitchen to share your favorites!