Posts Tagged ‘music i love’

Last night I went to a jazz recital in support of a friend. It was one of those recitals where I wasn’t sure if I’d like the music at all, and usually those are the recitals I don’t attend, but like I said, I was going to support a friend, so there I was in the back of the audience, ready to listen to the music of Tim Berne. Incidentally, if you have no idea who he is, clicking the link may be a helpful resource. But I digress.

The music was like a strange kaleidescope, shifting from sonic texture to groove and pausing at every place in between. There were people moving and head-bobbing in the audience, although I’m not sure how they did it aside from sheer force of will. It was the kind of thing I could only observe as closely as possible. And it was interesting, to hear the shifts as they occurred, the way you couldn’t count on any sort of solid ground to rest your ears on. You just had to keep listening. I think there’s a kind of hope and trust involved in that, you know? Whatever comes next could potentially be terrible, but everything that’s come before has been great, so you just hold on and keep listening.

And there was, too, this really interesting idea of strain. What I mean is, at least when I play bassoon, I try to make everything look and sound super easy. But here, I could tell when things were hard and I liked that. Maybe it wasn’t intentional — sometimes I think things aren’t universal and it turns out I’m being too forgiving — but I really liked it. Why should we pretend all music is easy for us? Sometimes it’s crazy difficult and even if I’m nailing it, isn’t it okay to get a little sympathy? Or maybe not.

There’s this weird and almost unbelievable dichotomy between classical and jazz majors at Eastman, sometimes I feel like we’re oil and water and no one’s interested enough to mix us. But sometimes, there we are in the same room, and I’m so glad that I went to the most unlikely recital and that my ears had this sonic adventure. Of course I come to this realization at the end of the school year, but on the other hand, better late than never, right?


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I’m playing in a reed trio at the moment, and it has been a complete blast. Picture an ensemble where all reed complaints are immediately understood, where the instruments have similar technical concerns (although I win when it comes to the question of thumb dexterity), and, perhaps most importantly, where we all have a similar reedy sense of humor.

…Okay, maybe not the last part.

But anyway, I’m playing in a reed trio with the oboist from my quintet at Eastman (he lives about half an hour away), and one of our clarinetist friends who will be a freshman at Eastman in the fall (he lives only ten minutes away!). They’re amazing musicians and are sort of turning into my brothers. Which is always a good time, if I should ever need anyone beaten up once I get back to school.
Granted, musicians are never good as hired thugs. Just thought I should put that out there!

We’re working on the Francaix Divertissement, which is adorably French and a little jazzy and effervescent and fun. It’s a perfect piece to work on in the summer, because when you play and really get into the groove it feels so effortless.
It’s also super hard and which we’ve only had for two weeks, and which we’re performing for the first time tomorrow, but I have to say that I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short span of time.

And anyway, my recital is in August, so there’s plenty of time for practice to make perfect. 🙂

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Yesterday I had a lesson at Northwestern — my last lesson with Professor Kirk until next year! (He takes me on as a temporary student when the breaks for Eastman and Northwestern are different, which is always a good time. And I have a lesson with my old teacher scheduled for tomorrow. So there hasn’t been too much distress.)

Anyway, it was (as usual) fantastic. I would stop there, except that there are a few things I need to share with the wider world.

One: If you are a bassoonist with even a little desire to improve your technique, you should go out and buy Christopher Weait’s Bassoon Scales for Reading & Bassoon Intervals for Reading. You should do this now. (They sell both at Trevco!!) These books are the bassoon music equivalent of a salad from California Pizza Kitchen: fun, tasty, and so healthy you can practically feel yourself glowing. I worked out of both books for an hour today and I can feel them working already.
If for some strange reason you can only buy one of the books, definitely definitely buy Bassoon Intervals for Reading. It’s extremely bizarre — try the consecutive major second page if you don’t believe me — but amazing for technique. If you work at for a while, I’m pretty convinced you should be able to hit any interval on the first try. Maybe the second, if it’s a particularly bad down-slur. But still. Definitely invest in this book!

Two: This might be my inner indie-snob coming to light, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. I like the Weber a lot (I even made up a little romantic comedy that corresponds to the music of the first movement!), but the Mozart has never won me over. Also, I’ve never played it.
Anyway, I had to have the first two movements prepared for yesterday, and somehow I fell in love. It’s just all so comprehensive; the technique is so organic and the mood moves from light and happy to serious and gorgeous to bombastic and silly seemingly without effort. The Weber does this at its best moments, but Weber definitely took advantage of the orchestra in creating the transitions…whereas Mozart manages them within the actual bassoon part.
Of course, this makes the technique harder because it has to have that sense of flow. And so much of the technique is just a fancy way of moving around to the next gorgeous moment, so it has to be controlled enough to come into the background. On the bright side, it just goes to show Mozart’s supreme confidence in future bassoonists!

All in all, it was definitely a great lesson and I am pumped to keep working on the Mozart.
We’ll see what Mr. Hunt has to say about it in the fall when I’m gearing up for sophomore jury… 🙂

(Also, in unrelated-but-entertaining news: I cannot stop listening to The Decemberists’s “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”. Even if all you listen to is classical music, I really think you should venture out on a limb and listen to it. The lyrics against the simplicity of the music and the texture of Colin Meloy’s voice are absolutely fantastic.
And you thought all I wrote about was bassoon!)

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At least in my experience, Gustav Mahler is the indie composer of the classical music world. Beloved of college students in music schools across the country, thousands cherish this long-ignored genius.

Of course, being me, I was scared away by the massive symphonies and the fact that I kept confusing Mahler and Wagner. And symphonies of Valkyeries are definitely not an appealing thought when you’re trying to break into the already rather snobby world of classical music.
I even missed the Philharmonia’s performance of Mahler 1 this fall — admittedly, I had conflicting plans — and tried to pretend I knew what everyone was talking about when they went on and on about how the standing horns were amazing and our grad student bassoonist had done really well in that one solo.

But over spring break, tired of feigning ignorance, I decided to take the plunge and listen to some Mahler. My first stop was the local library, where I managed to check out every symphony (except, for some strange reason, his eighth), and then, while making some reeds, copied these recordings to my computer. Alas, I only managed to listen to the first symphony before I went back to school and mostly ignored this project.

Still. Mahler 1 is more or less amazing and surprisingly (and brilliantly) hilarious. Right from the first measure, it wasn’t what I expected at all. This wasn’t the pompous, overbearing music I had expected from the composer I kept confusing with Wagner! This was fresh, exciting, fun music. It had epic moments, true, but these were natural, not contrived, and stood out like mountain peaks amidst the landscape of the music. (Shut up, Mahler makes me wax rhapsodic.)

So when I came home for summer break, I was sitting around and trying to figure out what to listen to from my iTunes library. Somehow I scrolled past Mahler 1 again. It was a little like seeing your best friend from elementary school. You can’t not stop by and say hello. Of course I had to listen!
And it was like magic. Classical music has a knack for expressing those things words can’t even begin to handle, and there are some pieces that do it best. Some composers who just had a knack for music that seems beyond human limitation. This, my friends, is Gustav Mahler in a sentence.

The next day, biking to a nearby bookstore, I listened to Mahler 1 while biking there and Mahler 2 while biking back. I think Mahler 2 is a little more epic than its predecessor, which was fitting for the slightly greater strain of the ride.
At home, I listened to it again.

Last night, I stayed up late to listen to Mahler 4, which now (of course!) has replaced its predecessors as my favorite Mahler Symphony. The sleigh bells at the beginning! The adorable use of a lyrical oboe with bassoon accompaniment! The mastery of the small chamber groups of a symphony orchestra, the use of the entire orchestra!
It’s brilliant — but I don’t expect Mahler 4 to long remain my favorite symphony.

After all, I’m listening to Mahler 5 while I write this.

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In the past few days I’ve had so much to say, but no time to say it in. Life has been crazy! It’s also been amazing.

Today, for instance, I woke up wanting to listen to Okkervil River on the way to lunch from practicing. I was only about twenty seconds into “Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe” and suddenly I was nearly in tears. The combination of the lead singer’s voice and the music and the gorgeous lyrics were so unexpectedly moving.
I mean, how can this line not be dazzling:

It’s a life story, so there’s no climax.

I could write volumes about that line. It’s so gorgeous.

Also today, I had a rehearsal with my accompanist — which is always a treat, because a) he’s a fantastic accompanist and b) I worked with accompanists a grand total of twice before college — and things just fell into place on the David. I’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year; it was so obvious that he mentioned it.
I can’t wait until I get to play the David in studio! The piece, especially the fast movement, takes on a slightly different character with accompaniment, and it’s so much more fun to play.

Also today, my iPod wouldn’t play!
Thank goodness all I had to do was reset it. What’s a music school student to do without her music?
Probably practice more bassoon…

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It seems like I just can’t keep from updating this blog! In Miami it was definitely weird, not being able to update the greater online world about my bassoon-ish exploits. Or my crazy larking about.
Hey, these things amuse some people. (And to all of you: I am forever grateful.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about classical musicians and classical music today, probably because I was listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and am now listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Should classical musicians be listening more or less exclusively to classical music? I’m torn.

For one thing, although I grew up listening to classical music (until I was around eleven, I thought pop music was all kind of dirty), pop music makes it easier for me to relate to the people around me. I can start playing a Beatles track and everyone in the room will catch the drift of whatever I’m trying to express. I can’t always do that with classical music, even if what I’m trying to explain is why the first minute of Rite of Spring always takes my breath away.

Furthermore, I frankly often feel intimidated listening to classical music. I rarely know the theory behind a given piece, and sometimes don’t know the history (yeah, I know this is not the usual complaint), and sometimes other classical musicians seem to act as though these things are required. And sometimes, to be honest, I don’t want to listen to an hour-long symphony. I just don’t have the time or mental energy to process.

But here’s the thing about classical music that always draws me back: It more consistently expresses thoughts and feelings more clearly and beautifully than any other music I can think of. The first movement of Resphigi’s Pines of Rome never fails to bring a smile to my face, and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto always takes me on a wild rollercoaster of emotions that transcends my powers of explanation. Anything by Samuel Barber is guaranteed to hold within it the nuances of so many feelings I don’t have the power to express in any way other than by experiencing that music.

I love these transcendent experiences, but all the same I feel as though the fact that I listen to a variety of music makes these experiences more powerful, and the music that creates them that much more important. And here’s the thing, too: sometimes music can be transcendent that isn’t classical, and sometimes some classical music just isn’t transcendent, to me.

In the end, can I say it’s a bad thing that I’ll listen to that magic second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and then skip over to Andrew Bird’s sultry “Skin Is, My”?

You should know I’m not going to say that. You should know that I’m going to keep doing it — and letting those choices and those moments of transcendent beauty continue to shape me as a bassoonist. Because, seriously? Someone has got to figure out some more sultry bassoon solos. They are way too few and far between.

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I just got back from watching No Country For Old Men. Amazing.
That said, it’s keep-you-sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat stressful, but have you ever seen an artsy thriller with fantastic writing and acting? I think you almost need to see it because of just how many odds it defies. It definitely deserves everything it’s been nominated for, and let it be known that I don’t even like thrillers for the most part. It’s simply an excellent movie.

Only five more days until I leave for break!
Break is such a weird thing. On the one hand, I’m so excited to leave the cold (the perks of the family tradition of celebrating Christmas in Little Havana) and to see my family, but on the other hand, words can’t express how much I love it here. It’s like at home people rarely understood why music was so important to me — I’m not saying this to be emo, but it does kind of get discouraging when people are always trying to talk you out of practicing — and it’s so lovely how here that part of me is simply and wordlessly understood. Music school is a strange and wonderful place.

I’ve mentioned in this post that it helps to schedule yourself. For once I figured I should follow my own advice and bought this planner. I really love it; it’s just small enough to fit comfortably in any purse while being big enough to write down anything. If you’re looking for a planner you’ll actually enjoy using, I highly recommend it. (And yeah, I know there’s only one left, but ModCloth has lots of other planners, too, if you poke around.)

Oh! And before I forget, if you’ve ever thought that woodwind quintets are harbingers of boredom, then you need to listen to Silas Durocher’s wind quintet, Peanut Butter On Rye. I guarantee the bassoon riff will be stuck in your head (and happily so!) for the rest of the day. Even if you don’t play bassoon.

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