Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rapidan Orchestra Rehearsal Photos

We had a husband and wife team of photographers come to the last rehearsal before our fall concerts to take some informal pictures, without using flashes, as that would probably have been too distracting.

Here's our new conductor Benjamin, who is just terrific. His knowledge of the music is so phenomenal he can sing anyone's part instantly, and his verbal and gestural suggestions convey the gestalt he's after, as well as the details.

Charles W., our concertmaster, like many of our members, plays in a number of other groups, one of which specializes in Russian music.

Michael, besides his musical activities, restores WWII aviation radio equipment for the Smithsonian.

Brian is recently retired from the U.S.Navy.

Carol and her husband Roger (cello) have been with us from the beginning.

Jenny recently retired from teaching and is enjoying spending more time with violin.

Kelly on viola is a Montessori teacher over in Charlottesville and her husband John plays trumpet with us.

Here's Roger (husband of Carol/violin) on cello.

Joe B. grew up over in Barboursville and recently returned when he retired and just joined us this semester.

The other Joe B. on string bass wasn't with us at this rehearsal as he had a performance with another group, so I dug out this pic from several years ago of him with a Dixieland Jazz group - he played great that day, even when given the wrong chart for a piece and just played by ear.

Karen is one of those many M.D.s that somehow finds time to make music - and has college age sons majoring in music.

Don on flute is a retired accountant, professional photographer and holds a music degree in flute performance.

Lynne, when not playing flute, is a veterinarian working on emerging infectious diseases for the CDC.

Charles T. is the volunteer director of the Orange Community Band (and the longest serving one) and an assistant conductor and first oboe in the Charlottesville Municipal Band. His playing of the oboe in orchestra rehearsals and concerts has taught me more about "musicality" in classical music than any other single thing - especially his full, rich tone and his ever alive phrasing. (His wife Theresa wasn't present when these photos were taken - she plays piano/keyboard for us, and percussion in the Orange and C'ville bands.)

Heather, a homeschool mom and former band director, was a founder of the orchestra and does more work than anyone else keeping us going - and has gorgeous tone on the clarinet.

Don plays clarinet in a number of groups, as well as recorders in my Fun Band. His duet with Heather in the Bizet was a highlight of these concerts.

John retired to this area after a star studded pro career in both the classical and jazz genres.

Pete has been a mainstay of the Orange Community Band, and I'll always be grateful to him for being such a gentleman 12 years ago when I sat next to him and was a rank beginner on the horn - he handled the sounds I was making with great aplomb.

Grace is from Charlottesville, a college student, and will be off to New Zealand soon for a year abroad.

Here's me.

Nick is the music director over in Greene County High School and plays trombone, trumpet and horn for us.

Charles H. is a local dairy farmer who finds time to play with us, as well as being in the Orange Community Band and the Charlottesville Municipal Band - his touch in the timpani rolls is wonderful.

And here's Karla, who helped found the Orange Music Society over 25 years ago, organizing house concerts of classical music, and was good enough to join our board when we were getting started. She organizes the ads in the local papers and sends out by mail something like a 100 flyers for our concerts to people she knows, as well as putting them up all around Orange and Madison.

And here's a group shot from the choir loft.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Small Town Classical Response

A year and a half ago, the Rapidan Orchestra came together here in Orange, and this past weekend we just had our third pair of concerts, one in the neighboring county of Madison and one here in Orange. Since I grew up here, I know a lot of people coming to the concerts, and besides speaking with some there, also see people around town in the days after and have more conversations.

I have been amazed by the response we're getting. I came very late to classical music and can't sight read at all well, but after many years being a psychiatric attendant, group therapist, and music therapist, reading the facial expressions and body language of people is second nature to me. In nearly all the conversations I've had about the Rapidan performances, people's eyes are wider than usual, and their body language is more fluid and expressive of positive emotions than usual - to a degree I find surprising and exceptional.

Two things come to mind to explain this effect we're having. One is the music itself - Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet, Fauré, Haydn, Sibelius - with a few newer (tonal) works in the mix. For some aficionados, the pieces we're doing are passé warhorses, but for a lot of our audience, it may well be the first time they've heard these pieces live, which is a totally different experience from recordings, which in this day and age are the norm. And there's a reason these pieces have stood the test of time. In a Jungian sense they must somehow express archetypes floating around in the collective unconscious. My read is that we're not just entertaining people, but that the music is touching them deeply.

The other thing is the intimate settings - usually churches - one of which has superb acoustics and very comfortable pews. We rarely have more than 100 people at the concerts, so everything is up close and personal. A lot of us musicians go out and say hello to people we know during intermission and after the performances, giving things a personalized feeling. My sense is that these small venues help the audience really feel they are a vital part of the triangle Britten talked so much about - the composer - the performer(s) - the audience; that all three are vital parts of the musical experience.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Great Neuroscience Article

This article in Nautilus pulls together things in the neuroscience of music and takes us another conceptual step toward more fully understanding the ways music affects us. 

The main idea is that music can be, and usually is, a social activity, even when you're listening alone - which is a great way to think about mirror neurons and how important they are. This is the first time I've seen someone say just listening to music, without seeing it performed, can trigger mirror neurons. Given my idea that music is in part physical gesture made audible, it's great validation.

Something else that I think is helpful is the use of "pre-cognitive" in the explanation, which may be a better term than "non-conscious", a term I've used to say the same thing.

There's also a wonderful working definition of what music is. 

Here is a long snip from the article:

Music is as much a part of human evolution as language, tool-making, and cognitive development, Schulkin and Raglan tell us. It’s a bridge. “Music is typically something shared, something social; we may sing in the shower or on a solitary walk, but music is most of the time social, communicative, expressive, and oriented toward others,” Schulkin and Raglan write.

Molnar-Szakacs explains the brain’s mirror-neuron system provides the neural basis of music’s social powers. The properties of the human mirror-neuron system are based on research showing that the same regions in our brain are active when we perform, see, or hear an action. The “mirror” regions of our brains fire whether we’re playing the guitar or listening to Pete Townshend play it.

The mirror-neuron system, Molnar-Szakacs says, “allows someone to identify with another by providing an automatic, pre-cognitive mechanism by which to understand their actions by mapping them onto our own neural representations of those actions. In addition, it represents the intention behind those actions.”

The moment you hear a sequence of hierarchically organized abstract sounds we call music, a multitude of associations are activated in your brain. These can include memories, emotions, and even motor programs for playing music. Together they can imply a sense of human agency. That sensation is what sets music apart from other types of sounds. “The brain interprets the structure of the music as intentionality that is coming from a human agent,” Molnar-Szakacs says. “This, combined with all the associations evoked by the music, is what makes the experience social.”

There's more to the article, it's all interesting, and it's all worth reading. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Audio Note

The photo below is from a little Mardi Gras performance in a local French restaurant. Because of space considerations, we had just four players, along with a couple of guest vocalists. On the left you can see one of the speakers, and just a bit of the other can be seen near the bottom of the wine rack on the right. The mixer is right behind me, where I could easily turn around a tweak the settings, and the mics for the guest vocalists are on top of the speaker on the left. The mic for my occasional vocals is attached to my music stand and the foam cover is just barely visible above my music books.

The main thing I want to point out is how the speakers are set up so they work at least as much as monitors for us as they do to put sound out to the audience. Since I started performing publicly about ten years ago, I've discovered a lot of people have been traumatized by overly loud sound systems, which sometimes are so loud one can't carry on a conversation, and sometimes actually hurt one's ears they're so loud.

The way they're set up here, if they're too loud, we the players will be the first to know. The sweet spot for the sound was right in front of us and a bit to the right. People siting at tables in that area said the mix was very good. I recorded the gig with the recorder up near the tin ceiling in the corner of the room back above the left shoulder of the person taking this picture. From there the vocals, the only thing amplified, are not as present in the mix. The catch is, had I turned up the sound enough for the mix to be good there, people would have had to yell to converse. So there's never a perfect solution. 

Monday, February 8, 2016


Thanks to Kyle Gann friending me on FaceBook, a lot of new music has come my way. I particularly like this one for two reasons. 

First, there's the marvelous slowness of it. I've always thought there was room for a lot more very slow music, and I even made a CD trying to fill that gap, but this piece is way slower than anything I can remember encountering, while not becoming boring. It has the effect on me of recalibrating my sense of time, getting me to realize I'm not as calm and relaxed as I'd like to be. While it's almost ambient, there's always the sense of meant structure (at least to me).

The other thing is that this piece recalibrates my ears. By the end of it, I feel my ears are hearing much more delicately than usual - that there's greater depth to the soft sounds than when the piece starts. It's as if my ears are relaxing along with my time sense.

Terry Jennings's 1960 piece for solo piano 'For Christine Jennings', played by John Tilbury. From the CD 'Lost Daylight', which features music for piano and electronics by Terry Jennings and John Cage. www.anothertimbre.com

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shamanic American Music

Since I think that music can have beneficial effects, I also have to accept it can have negative ones, and that there are probably cases where whether the effect is positive or negative depends upon one's perspective.

It's also the case that music has had its shamanic uses down through the millennia, and my feeling is it probably depends on the shaman as to its effects.

This video popped up a few days ago, and to me, it's an obvious shamanic use of music. I'd known about this event, but had no idea Jean Luc Goddard had filmed it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bernstein's Young People' Concerts

Terry Teachout's newest post talks about Leonard Bernstein's television shows back in the late 50's through the early 70's that were called "Young People's Concerts". I only saw a few of them, but had the LP of the one he did on the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which I listened to over and over. He went through the sketch books and found earlier versions of what we now hear, orchestrated them and had the orchestra play them, one after the other, and then the final version.

Ever after that, I heard classical music differently, having had a window into the creative process - and never forgot his saying that what Beethoven finally came up with sounds "inevitable", especially after you've heard the ways he tried of doing things that didn't sound "inevitable". In my own occasional compositions I still use that way of listening - does every measure sound as though it were the inevitable outcome of the previous measure.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Modern Architecture / Modern Music

I've been reading Witold Rybczynski's writing on architecture for well over 20 years. He's had a blog starting a while back, and this most recent post makes me realize part of my interest in what he has to say is that he thinks about architecture sort of like I think about music. Here's a big snip from this newest post:

The report is titled “Explanation of Drawings,” and a large part is devoted to a discussion of architectural style, specifically of Classical and Gothic. The authors argue for the latter (the firm more or less invented Collegiate Gothic), on the basis of cost, adaptability, scale, and appropriateness to an educational institution. They also point out the sentimental connection that exists between Gothic and institutions of higher learning, which evolved side by side in the Middle Ages. “If we ignore true sentiment in architecture we shall have little left,” they add. I realized when I read this that this is precisely what disturbs me about the current fashion in architectural design. Buildings have eliminated all sentiment. They may be ingenious and complex, but they are so in a way that is hermetic and self-contained. Instead of “looking like” buildings, that is, establishing a sentimental tie with the long arc of history, they merely look forward into an unknown future. Perhaps that’s why they remind me of giant appliances.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Eckhart Ensemble

H. H. the Dalai Lama

Some years back I attended a teaching given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and this photo was taken. Putting it here on the blog as backup to the hard copy.

Lama Tashi News

Back in November Lama Tashi was in Palermo, Sicily performing the music from Kundun with an orchestra. 

Here are some pics:

And here is a photo he gave me years ago from, I think, the premiere of the music in New York, with him standing next to Philip Glass:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Performance Diary

Courtesy of my cousin-in-law Eduardo who volunteers at the Art Center in Orange, here are some pics of our Christmas sing along yesterday.

Here's the whole group:

Here's our interpretive dancer taking a break:

Here are Stephen on cello and Crawford on Eb tuba:

Don on recorders:

Karla and Maryvonne, the international contingent:

Here, to the right of Maryvonne, are Judy, Joanna and Sydney:

Performance Diary

Courtesy of Jeff Poole at the Orange Review, here are some pics of the Rapidan Orchestra's performance at the Orange Presbyterian Church 11/20/15.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Performance Diary

Here's a snapshot from last Friday night's Art Center Gala. Some of us Kenwood Players did some Dixieland and big band tunes during the silent auction.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Audio Note

Here's a post by Bob Shingleton on the value of the bass sound in the enjoyment of music, and I've added a comment on my experience.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A New Venture

This flyer is for the inaugural performances of a small community orchestra recently formed here in Orange, Madison, and Greene counties (though which the Rapidan river runs) to give locals a chance to play and perform pieces from the standard repertoire for their friends and neighbors. 

For me this is a twofer. I'm getting to play this kind of music on horn for the first time in my life and find it exhilarating. And as a music therapist, bringing this music to small community venues so as to make it accessible to people who may never have experienced it live is a great opportunity. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Little Dixieland Jazz

Last night I got to sit in with some fine players doing some Dixieland over in Charlottesville. A member of the audience took this video and posted it to FaceBook. The tune is called "Fidgety Feet".

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ingolf Wunder

This past Sunday afternoon I had the great good fortune to hear Ingolf Wunder perform over at Montpelier. The concert was arranged by Chopin in Barboursville.

Here is the program:

   Sonata in B-flat Major - KV 333

   Nocturne Op. 55/2
   Nocturne Op. 9/3
   Ballade No. 1
   Nocturne Op. 62/1
   Allegro de concert Op. 46


It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of listening to music I've ever had. Mr. Wunder has the uncanny ability of bringing music to life in such a way that at every moment you feel the totality of the piece, while at the same time each detail is lovingly created. 

Over and over I had the sense he was feeling every note of the music within himself. Not once did I have the sensation, that I often get from classical musicians, that he was just getting through some notes played a thousand times to get to the bits he liked. Every note and every phrase was played in such a way as to convey to the audience his deep sense of what the music expresses.

It was a gestalt experience, and pulling out details does something of a disservice, but I have to mention his astonishing dynamic palette. He used everything from ppp to fff and all manner of shades between them. Most amazing to me was how his crescendi and decrescendi sometimes seemed to go on for measures at a time to wonderful effect. 

Another part of how his playing brings such life to music is his always letting the music breathe, so even when fast it never once sounded rushed. 

Listening to music rarely brings me to tears, but at this performance it happened several times. It was always during the gorgeous pianissimos with the amazingly subtle dynamic shifts followed by just the slightest of breaths. The palpable tenderness catalyzed emotional releases that were analogous to a skilled masseur finding and working on knots of muscle tension and the release feeling so good tears come.

Really good music making is magic, as it casts a spell and takes you for a while to a different plane. After each piece there was a bit of silence as the audience needed to come out of the reveries induced by the music before being able to applaud.  

Thanks to the Chopin in Barbourville group, Montpelier, and especially Ingolf Wunder for this transcendent experience.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Eckhart Ensemble 2015

The Eckhart Ensemble returned to Orange this year and gave a wonderful performance, as they did last year. Many thanks to the Orange Music Society for making this gift to the community. Here is the capsule review I put on their Facebook page the morning after:

The concert in Orange tonight was splendid - there were all the technical things you could hope for - intonation, phrasing, dynamics, ensemble unity - but it's the enthusiasm and love of music making coming through at every moment that make this group really special. And the Italian Renaissance music bowled over both experienced listeners and people previously unfamiliar with it. Bravo!

Nicolas Duchamp on flute, the guest soloist, was terrific. In particular, I've never heard such strength of tone in the low and mid register. Everyone else was excellent as well, but I want to mention Fred Dole on bass. He was also a standout last year. His sound fills the room and gives a solid foundation to the music I can feel as well as hear.

Someone else to mention, who wasn't with them last year, is Giustino Riccio the percussionist for the Renaissance tunes. Besides wearing a feathered cap straight from a Renaissance painting, his percussion on various instruments was superb. I've never seen one performer watch other performers with such intensity so as to better support them with his playing.

With all the hubbub about the death of classical music and what can be done to get audiences more interested, these people have some answers:

1) Except for the cellos and harpsichordist - they all stood while playing and moved with their music making. As regular readers of the blog know, I think l lot of the power of music is that it is, in part, physical gesture made audible. Seeing players moving their entire body while making music emphasizes that aspect - and I think it helps communicate more of the music to the audience than sitting and moving as little as possible, giving the impression of robots.

2) They dressed individually and comfortably, which besides letting them look like people instead of penguins, gave a hint of the personalities behind the instruments, giving more context to the music making.

3) They were obviously having fun! As I've said about my group, when you're having fun making music, that transmits to the audience as well as the music. There's something contagious about people having fun that adds a whole dimension to music making.

3) They're mostly (from my perspective, anyway) young people and have the enthusiasm of the young and that also comes through in the music.

4) The programming of the Renaissance tunes was a master stroke. The immediacy of the music spoke both to experienced and novice listeners of classical music. One of the most experienced listeners was visibly swept away by "Belicha". And a family member I'd encouraged to go, who is not a regular listener to classical music, was one of the initiators of the standing ovation.

5) One minor point that may be more important than it seems at first - lots of alto range instruments in the Renaissance music - English horns (including a trio of them at one point!), violas and alto flute. I have a number of friends, all women as it happens, that simply do not like high treble sounds. My guess is that these same tunes played up a fifth or an octave would not have been as appealing to a number of folks.

To close, a phrase from perhaps the most experienced listener of classical music at the concert:

They played with heart from the heart.

ADDED LATER: After writing this post have thought of at least a dozen things I didn't mention. I could have gone around the entire group of players and talked about instances of their great individual and ensemble music making - every single one of them. 

And to amend my comment on some people not liking high treble sounds. During one of the Renaissance dances there was a piccolo duet. I've never heard one piccolo played so well in tune, much less two together. It was an astonishing moment. If all treble sounds were played that well, I don't think they'd be so associated with shrillness. Anecdotal proof of that being one of the people I know to dislike high treble sounds later commented on how amazing that duet was.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Performance Diary

Yesterday the Art Center in Orange had an open house and I did some Christmas music from 10:00 a.m. until noon. In this photo a couple of friends are singing along. 

Since it was just me without any other instruments, was able to use the old nylon acoustic guitar and go back and forth between fingerpicking and strumming with my thumb instead of a flat pick to get a nice warm sound.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Full Brain Workout

This TED talk gets at something that's seemed implicit in a lot of the new brain studies, which is that making music involves more areas of the brain simultaneously than any other human activity. Towards the end of the talk there's mention that there's been some research into this question, and so far, music making does seem to be the winner when it comes to a full brain workout.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Performance Diary

Here we are Saturday a week ago playing the Gordonsville Street Festival. We've done this event for a number of years now. It's put on by all volunteers to support the volunteer fire department of the town. I always feel we're giving a tip of the hat to Benjamin Franklin by helping continue an institution he thought up.

One of the most fun things about this event is the number of small children who come by and are absolutely fascinated by seeing real musicians playing real instruments. The look of wonder in their faces is terrific.

Over the years I've used this event to test out various ways of doing sound reinforcement. This year we had the best sound ever due to some new equipment and better ideas on how to use it.

The new equipment is the Mackie mixer on the little table in front of me - and the Rockit speakers just barely in the frame on the far right. The mixer has plenty of inputs with phantom power for condenser microphones which I use for the tuba, clarinet, my vocals and Dick's announcements between songs and his vocals. For my banjo, which has a very directional sound, there's a small dynamic mic on my music stand right at banjo height.

This mixer has onboard compression and reverb for each channel - and just a touch of compression really helps the clarinet and vocals by making the softs louder and the louds softer. And a touch of reverb on everything makes for a warmer sound outdoors.

The real difference, though, was the speakers. They're meant for mastering audio in studios, not for outdoor work, but I was careful with them and their sound makes it very much worth it. Compared to the Peavey keyboard speakers I've used in the past, their sound is much warmer and more full. The visual analogy would be going to a much higher resolution computer screen and seeing so much more detail while it's even easier on the eye. 

I had the speakers on a little cart, angled so that they worked half as monitors for the players  and half as sound reinforcement for the audience. When I wanted to have them be a bit more monitors for us, all I had to do was change the angle by moving the cart a little bit.

One of the speakers is a subwoofer and it really helped the tuba have a fuller sound down in the low range.

Overall, there's lots of room for improvement in doing the audio, but this setup gets us well into the ballpark of good sound.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Music You Like

One of my longterm feelings about the nature of music therapy is that whatever music works for an individual is what's "best" for that individual. I cringe whenever someone flatly states one kind of music, or a particular performer, or a particular song, is better than another. 

This article supports that idea:

. . . When we hear our favorite music, our thoughts tend to shift inward, activating the default mode network (DMN) a network of brain regions that's active when a person is awake but at rest. . . .

. . . .In an experiment they likened to “real-world music listening,” the researchers scanned the brains of 21 volunteers listening to three pieces of music: one from a preferred genre, one from a disliked genre and their favorite song. By peeling back the brain patterns affected by rhythm and lyrics, the researchers discovered that the DMN was activated when the volunteers listened to their preferred tunes -- and disengaged while listening to music from a disliked genre. Favorite music ranged from classical to country, with lyrics and without . . .

 . . .“These findings may explain why comparable emotional and mental states can be experienced by people listening to music that differs as widely as Beethoven and Eminem,” the authors write. . . 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the ear of the listener.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Performance Diary

Yesterday afternoon some of us played at the 12th annual Hospice of the Rapidan's Butterfly Celebration at the Prince Michel vineyard over in Madison County. We've been providing music for this event for something like eight or nine years and it's always special. There are children's activities, a quilt raffle and a social time leading up to a program with a speaker talking about losing a loved one and what that means for those living with the loss. People have made donations for the names of those who have passed on to be read aloud, and then butterflies are released.

Because of the threat of rain, everything but the butterfly release itself was held indoors, and then the butterfly release was outside, and minutes later the rain started.

Since just about everyone at this event has recently lost a loved one or is a hospice volunteer, it's a very special audience. In the lead up to the program itself, we played some of the Dixieland we can do without the trombone and tenor sax, along with some big band tunes. During the program itself we played "Over the Rainbow" just before the reading of the names, and then I fingerpicked guitar during the reading of the names and then the butterflies were released.

It could have been my imagination, but with the opening bars of "Over the Rainbow" I felt an outpouring of emotion in the room from the crowd. Afterwards we had a number of people come up, some with tears in their eyes, to tell us how much the music meant. For the music therapist in me, this event is a wonderful blend of performance and therapy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Performance Diary

Back on Saturday morning 5/17 we played for a fundraiser put on by Doris W in the parking lot of the local nursing home. I've been doing this event for years, originally just by myself, and in the past few years some of the Kenwood Players have been joining me. That's Dick and Maggie on trumpet and clarinet. Crawford is the tuba player with his instrument at rest so he can smile for the camera, with Bill next to him taking up the slack on the bass line. 

The fellow in the background with the children's train shows up at most community events to give the kids a ride and they love it. One of the tunes we played was "Take The A Train". 

One thing to notice is how bundled up everyone but me is. After a long cold winter we've had a chilly spring and it was just in the upper 40's. My hands and fingers didn't go numb, but fretting even easy chords took a little extra mental effort. I've also decided to go with just banjo a lot of the time, as the guitar is just one more thing to lug around, and the banjo has a more focussed sound that projects better. What that meant was playing some familiar songs in unfamiliar (without the capo) keys.
In this shot above you can see Judy playing the drums. You can also make out my current sound system which gives enough support to be helpful, without overkill - or heavier stuff to lug around. My sense in that 20 feet away from us you'd be hearing half what we're doing ourselves and half the reinforced sound.

The tubas have one large condenser mic between and above them. Maggie has a small condenser on her stand for the clarinet. I have a small condenser on my stand for vocals, and a small dynamic mic at banjo hight, because the banjo is very directional and without amplification to spread the sound around, people I'm not facing will say they can't hear it.

The little mixer on the folding table is a Mackie that has four inputs for condenser mics. For amps I'm using one large and one small Peavy keyboard amp - sort of a woofer and a tweeter. We need at least one large amp for the tubas, but just one seems enough. The smaller one is to point is a slightly different direction to fill out the sound of the clarinet, vocals, and banjo.

Thanks to Jeff Poole of the Orange County Review for these great shots.