On this day… September 26

I’ve decided to start up a new feature which will hopefully be informative, and fun. Basically, each day I look at a major classical event that happened on this day – be it a birth, death or premiere. Thanks to the wonderful place that is YouTube, where possible I’ll upload a video of a performance related to the topic. Added with a short biography or description of the event, it should be a fantastic way to get exposed to a large amount of music. Today, the stars seemed to align themselves, as today I can bring together two of the biggest names of American classical music. Continue reading “On this day… September 26”


Lessons from Graphic Design

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been dabbling in a bit of graphic design. I had to convert my work’s logo (which we’ve only ever had in a small JPEG format) to a vector format so that we can make a nice banner for our general meeting. What this involved was basically re-creating it in Photoshop and then converting it to vector format in Illustrator. Looking back at the process, I can relate parts to learning a piece of music. Continue reading “Lessons from Graphic Design”

New Directions

Well, today marks the day that applications for the World Council of Churches Youth Internships close. I actually got mine in Friday night (if I remember correctly), but all the same, now starts the waiting game. I’m not actually sure when I’ll find out about it, and I’m in the odd situation of wanting to plan for next year, but not being able to. I can’t in good mind take on new students with the possibility of me only being able to teach them for a term, however if I get the internship I’ll need a little bit of money for travel expenses. Continue reading “New Directions”

How does he know?

You know, sometimes it’s incredible how people know exactly the right thing to say, seemingly without any prompting. Perhaps sometimes someone can be really good at reading people, but others it’s just incredible. For me, it’s happened with my teacher a couple of times. Once when I was thinking once again about my practice techniques, and what does he bring up in string class, but a lengthy “lecture” on practice. Just recently is the more incredible one though. After having been away for a week, I get to my lesson on Tuesday and he brings up the topic of focus and where I’m wanting to head in music, what I would like to be doing once I leave uni etc. The incredible thing is that I had just been thinking about that very same topic on the weekend. I hadn’t even talked to anyone about it, just thinking about it – yet he comes up with this one hour talk/discussion on it. I didn’t end up playing a note in that lesson – but I got so much out of it.

Orchestral playing is what I really love, and Peter suggested that towards the end of the year I might take a couple of mock auditions in which I could practice taking auditions – and play the repertoire that I would be expected to play for an audition. So I’m now learning the Tchaikovsky Violin concerto, as well as Mozart Concerto Number 4. Tomorrow in my lesson, I’ll suggest a couple of dates for the mock auditions, as well as bring him a list of excerpts that I would like to learn.

I seem to be rather excited about this prospect – like I’m actually making steps towards my goal. While I know that all the stuff that I have been doing previous to this have helped, this actually seems like physical steps towards the goal.

I did 3 hours practice straight today – a rarity in recent times. It did have something to do with not having anything on today, and wanting to get into the tchaikovsky, but also the fact that I was motivated to do it, made it seem like it went past really quickly. Let’s hope for more of the same!

Oops…a new site

Wow, I’ve finally updated this site. A brand new design, and a new format. Figured it was time for a change. I used to host this site off my own server, but it got to be too much of a hassel, so I decided to move it onto a different server – this means that it will be available more often. Just don’t suddenly make it incredibly popular, as I’ve got limited bandwidth.

Unfortunately, in the process of moving, I’ve lost all of my posts that had been made. I’ve still got them on my home server, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting them moved across easily. I’ll go through them and find any posts that are worth saving and put them back up, but more than likely a lot will get lost (probably for the better).

Einstein’s Violin (Pt. 2)

January 6, 2008

Well, today I climbed, after a descent to the “beach” of large rocks at the wind farm. 507 steps, and quite steep as well. A nice bit of exercise for me.
Continued reading Eger’s book. Brought up some more interesting points – one of which I am a fan – the need to consider the audience.
He brings up examples starting with Schoenberg, and moving through to Yoko Ono, of how classical music in the second half of the twentieth century scared audiences away and kept them away. It turned classical music into an elitist genre – only if you can understand this will you enjoy it.
I have studied Schoenberg’s music, and many other modern pieces. As a “musicologist” I can understand this music. I can appreciate the methodology behind it, and the meaning and reasons for it. However, as a listener, I would not choose to listen to it. If there was a choice between a concert of Beethoven or Schoenberg, I know which I would choose.
As a composer, I also understand the necessity to shape my compositions. if I make my music too pleasant to the ear, critics will claim that it’s commercial rubbish – catering for the masses, yet if I make it too complex, there will be no audience, and who really wants to play to a full house of critics?
I think some time studying the scores of John Williams might prove fruitful. While I know he has stolen classical themes in the past, I am also aware that he writes great music for films, which are often quite atonal, yet also pleasing to the ear.

In an unrelated note, it has come up a couple of times today – business. Eger, early on in his career, wasn’t much of a businessman and missed out on cashing in on a lucrative project that he was involved in.
Beethoven despised the business side of music, and a friend encouraged me to consider all sides of music, and stressed not neglecting the business side of my studies. I am planning on taking the second semester of 2008 off from uni, so I might look into taking a business skills course at TAFE or somewhere.

Einstein’s Violin (Pt. 1)

While I was down in Albany, I did a lot of reading, and a bit of journaling. One of the books I read was “Einstein’s Violin” by Joseph Eger. It was a really interesting book, combining both his musical memories, but also his interest in Physics, detailing his theory that the Universe is made of Music. While I was reading this book, my journal entries contained my thoughts about issues he raised, and I’d like to share them with you.

January 5, 2008
Once again, holidays. So fantastic. An early morning walk became some unexpected “rock climbing” – literally climbing on large rocks. I started a 500-piece puzzle, and we went wine tasting, bringing back 17 bottles of the Porongorups finest. Uncertain as to how many of these will make it home.
I also started reading Joseph Eger’s book “Einstein’s Violin” – which are his notes on Music, Physics and Social Change. I’m still quite early in the book, but a couple of points have got me thinking.
In Chapter 6, he starts talking about “What is Music?” – an age old question that barely fits in a book, let alone a chapter (or a journal entry for that matter). After a couple of sections looking at the origins of music, he starts to look at what music is used for and has been used for. He calls up a few stories from different cultures where music has been used to heal – David and Saul from the Hebrew tradition, music being used to treat outbursts of the mentally ill and so-on. He then turns to China, where the ancient Chinese “believed that music was the basis of everything.” The Chinese philosopher Confucius said that if the music changed, then society would accordingly change. Confucius attached the same importance to music as nations attach to military and economic issues today.
Eger relates a storey of Emperor Shun, who would travel through his kingdom once a year to ensure all was in order. He did not check health, or diplomatic issues, but the five notes of the scale to ensure they were in perfect correspondence with those then in use. Eger goes on to say that society reflected the music – if the music was wistful or romantic, the people would be wistful or romantic. If the music was strong or military then the people would be militaristic. Stable musical style promoted a stable society, but a changing style saw change in peoples lives.
I can think of a couple of examples of this in modern times where society seems to follow music. In the early twentieth century, music saw incredible change. Thanks to technology, people were able to hear music from all over the world. This inspired “Western” composers and brought about massive musical change – from the French Impressionists such as Debussy and ravel to the Serialist composers of Schoenberg and Webern. As a result of these massive changes in music, society also experienced massive change. Two world wars within thirty years, with the results of those wars still being felt today (The division of land in the Middle East, for example).
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Korean and Vietnamese Wars occurred <>. While this is an area of history that I’m not too familiar with, I doubt anyone would be able to dismiss the importance of the protest songs by artists such as Bob Dylan and John Lennon, in changing public opinion of their governments action. Was it then any surprise that musicians have been some of the most vocal opponents against the war in Iraq, and also the most vocal encourager’s of getting people to vote – both in Australia and the USA?
When I started thinking about this, I started wondering if this was limited to folk music, or whether classical music was a part of this as well. In history classes, we are often taught the opposite – that music follows – it follows literature, follows art, follows society. There are obviously reasons for this, but I think investigation into the opposite is warranted. I also got thinking about what is “classical” music.
Could classical music be defined? Is it based on the instruments? Unlikely, as we now have many instruments that play both pop and classical. Then how about music making a point? You then run into the deeply meaningful songs of someone like Bob Dylan or Simon and Garfunkle. And couldn’t today’s pop love songs be compared to the love songs of Schubert and Schumann, or the meaningless songs such as Tubthumping or the Macarena compared to the often meaningless yet bawdy rounds of Purcell? Form is also not a consideration, neither is the commercial aspect (how many arrangements of his own music did Mozart himself make to earn more money?)
The more I think about it, the less I can distinguish between Pop/Commercial and Classical. Should I therefore refer to myself not as a classical musician, but as a musician?

Ben: I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, please comment! I’ll post more tomorrow.

Violin Dreams

I’m in the middle of reading Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt, the First violinist with the Guarneri String Quartet. It’s a really interesting book, and is looking like a great source of inspiration for me. But there are some really great quotes in here that I want to share.

G.B. Doni, talking about the instrument’s power, from 1640

In the hand of a skillful player, the violin represents the sweetness of the lute, the suavity of the viol, the majesty of the harp, the force of the trumpet, the vivacity of the fife, the sadness of the flute, the pathetic quality of the cornet; as if every variety, as in the great edifice of the organ, is heard with marvelous artifice.

A verse supposedly found in one of Gaspard Tieffenbrucker’s instruments (one of the possible first makers of the violin)

I lived in the woods, until I was slain by the relentless axe. Whilst I was alive I was silent, but in death my melody is exquisite.

Myra Jagendorf, in a school yearbook message to Arnold Steinhardt.

In a way, it will be your duty to mankind to contribute your music to as many people as possible and to enrich their lives as well as your own.

I really like that last one, I think it sums up a lot of my goals. Music is something that is to be shared, what we do is deep and often rather odd to many people. It is our goal to invite them into our world and share our life and our music with them. It is the arts that will save humanity and keep it going.


How to walk through Steel-Reinforced Walls

From the Avanoo founders, and thanks to StumbleUpon, I discovered How to Walk Through Steel-Reinforced Walls. While sitting in a coffee shop, this guy decided that instead of teaching a little boy who was trying to walk through walls like Harry Potter that it couldn’t be done, he thought to foster his imagination. He took him through the steps listed, as instructions on how to walk through walls – without actually telling him that it could or couldn’t be done. As fantastic a story as it is, obviously some people just don’t get it – including the mother of the little child, who said that his advice was very irresponsible and that he shouldn’t have kids for a very long time.

Shame on her I say! We should do everything to foster people’s imagination in this day and age. As this blogger pointed out – while something might not be possible now, it may be possible in the future. Who would’ve thought in 1920 that we would have a computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s the imagination that drives these things – for someone to say “why can’t it be possible! Why can’t I do that?”
Continue reading “How to walk through Steel-Reinforced Walls”

The Importance of Something Different

In my bible study last night, we had a bit of a chat about those who were “lost” – and football players came up immediately. It came after West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins was Suspended Indefinitely. We talked about how often football players, and others as well, turn to drugs to fill a void in their lives. Continue reading “The Importance of Something Different”