Monthly Archives: April 2008

Rzewski on Improvising in Beethoven

This time of year is SO busy that I often forgo the Sunday New York Times, since there’s not time to read it. But this week I did get it, to read the magazine article on young gay married couples in Massachusetts in the comfort of my own bed (perhaps because it would be nice to have a husband in there with me).

Had I not bought the paper, I likely would have skipped the story on pianist/composer Frederic Rzewski, and would have missed this wonderful portion of the article, which I’ll comment on in another post. First question that comes to my mind is what his reaction would be if other pianists inserted cadenzas into his music?

No question, Mr. Rzewski likes to keep listeners guessing. When he plays other people’s music, he can raise hackles by improvising cadenzas in the middle of such untouchable masterworks as Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” and “Appassionata” Sonatas.

“I do it because I think it’s authentic,” he said. “It’s what I think Beethoven would have done. A few years ago, after a concert at Bard College, a musicologist came up to me and told me very sternly that you could do that at parties but not at a concert. Usually people don’t hire you at all if they think you’re going to go in for such shenanigans.

“And maybe they’re right. My Japanese friend Yuji Takahashi, the pianist and composer, says: ‘It’s redundant. All the irrational stuff is already there, in Beethoven’s writing.’ I do whatever I think is right at the moment. One thing is for sure: You shouldn’t prepare it. Improvisations have to pop into your head then and there, or there’s no reason for them.”

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Bouland’s Vist with Scarlatti

Read it here. It’s the occasional posts like this (and the one below from University Diaries) that make the time I spend slogging through eveything in my Google Reader worthwhile.

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Suing Students

Margaret Soltan, at University Diaries, has posted an amusing forwarded Gawker account (with a few succinct comments of her own) of a (former?) Dartmouth instructor suing (or at least threatening to sue–it’s all very confusing, as the instructor seems to be confused herself) both the college and former students for discrimination. The Gawker story points out:

The details of the discrimination and harassment? Students didn’t pay attention to her, complained about her to her boss, and accused her of not “accepting opinions contrary to her own” and said she would “lower the grades of students her disagreed with her.” In other words, the exact smarmy complaints all entitled college students level against inexperienced teachers.

University administrators live constantly with the fear of having to spend time and money defending the institution from lawsuits, many of them silly. I’ve leaned from my dad, one of those honest lawyers, that while genuinely ethical attorneys won’t file unmerited lawsuits, there are plenty of opportunists who will. An upset client is easy to take advantage of; get her or him even more worked up, then start filing litigation. The client ends up with rapidly mounting legal bills. And there’s always the hope that the university will just pay some money to make the whole thing go away. As far as I can tell, DePauw, my employer, will take everything to court. It’s an institutional strategy that discourages frivolous litigation.

So I wonder if the issue here is more with the instructor or her lawyer(s), assuming that the case is indeed as sily as it appears from a quick scan of Margaret’s post.

It’s not just miffed instructors who get taken advantage of. I have a friend going through a difficult divorce. Her husband has an income close to $300,000 a year; it seems obvious to me, anyway, that his lawyer will do just about anything to run up his bill. The legal fees grow astronomically, yet have done nothing to better his position in the custody issues.

My ex-wife and I were lucky. Since neither of us had any money, there was non to waste on acting out the psychodrama of our relationship in court. We read up on our rights, sat down, decided what was fair and how we wanted to co-parent the kids, and had a lawyer draw up the papers.

I have to admit that sometimes I wish I could sue some of my cello students. Not for disagreeing with me; that’s part of the fun of teaching. I’d like to sue some of them for not practicing! That’s cello-teacher hell–giving lessons to kids who haven’t practiced.

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So much for retiring to Manhattan

My fantasy of one day being able to retire from DePauw, move to Manhattan (the real one, in New York), and attend concerts and theatre at night while visiting museums in the day is rapidly fading. $801,000 for a basement storage room?

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Art-class models? Or a message to practice more?

I woke up a bit after 4:30 AM because the bed was shaking. “What the hell is the cat doing?” I asked myself. Then I realized the cat was outside. Were they blasting at the quarry south of town this early in the morning? Did something explode? Could it actually be an earthquake?” But this is Indiana. We don’t get earthquakes.

I fell back to sleep. Around 7:00 AM I spoke to my daughter. “Did you feel the earthquake last night?” she asked. Turns out it really was an earthquake. How exciting. Centered in southern Illinois, the 5.4 rumble was felt as far as northern Indiana, Chicago, and even Wisconsin.

And here I was trying to blame the cat.

Someone will be trying to blame someone else, I’m sure. When I was doing doctoral studies at Florida State, we experienced a horrible summer drought. A letter to the Tallahassee paper expressed alarm, outrage, and certainty regarding the cause. The writer had just heard that there were nude models (gasp!) used in art classes at FSU. The drought was obviously God’s punishment on the region for this shocking immorality. The legislature must take action at once!

Given the little-if-any damage that occurred from this morning’s quake, it was obviously just a warning sign. What was the message?

Why, get up and practice, of course!

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Practicing: The Cure for Everything?

[5/13/08 editing note: I corrected the spelling in the title; I'm sure "pracricing" (as I had mistyped) is great, but I don't know what it is!]

The supportive comments responding to my last post are much appreciated.

During the brief period I had the privilege of studying with Leonard Rose, I discovered that his advice regarding almost any challenge in life was more practice. When I transferred to Juilliard from the North Carolina School of the Arts, I experienced the big-fish-in-little-pond becomes little-fish-big-pond syndrome, and was depressed. “Practice like hell and get good,” Mr. Rose told me. He had escaped “that hell hole of Miami” and got himself to the Curtis Institute that way. “And now,” he explained, pointing out the obvious in his endearingly and amusingly (to his students) self-praising manner, “I am a very big fish.”

And that seemed to be his answer for everything. Couldn’t get a date? Practice, get good, and girls will want to go out with you (I didn’t have the nerve to tell him it was guys I wanted to go out with). Not enough money? Practice like hell, get good, and you’ll get hired for more gigs.

Fast forward thirty-plus years to my first session with my new therapist. After listening to my list of sandwich-generation care taking responsibilities, she asked what I was doing to take care of myself.

I was stumped.

Reminding me that at the start of a flight we are told to put our own air masks first, before assisting others, because passed out we’d be of no use to anyone, she assigned me homework, to come up with something to do for me.

So I decided to start practicing regularly. Including scales and bow exercises and vibrato exercises as well as music my students are working on and, of course, works I’m preparing to perform. It’s required some discipline and boundary setting. And it has done wonders.

I went into music because I feel the most alive, the most myself, when I am playing. When I am playing well, I feel fundamentally good about myself, no matter whatever else is going on in my life.

It turns out Mr. Rose was right. Depressed? Practice like hell and get good. (Or better.) It works.

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On not posting often . . .

I realize I have no current goal for this blog; at various times I’ve had various ambitions for it–build up a big readership with frequent posts, etc. For a while, it was heading in the direction of commentary on cello, musical, and political issues, with occasional personal vignettes.

But I just haven’t had the energy for that. Since last summer, I’ve had bouts of depression and insomnia, some quite intense. Some diet-related (i.e., first way too much sugar, then once I went low-carb, perhaps too few carbs), some writers-block related, and some from being overwhelmed with responsibilities. And it’s been difficult to get things accurately diagnosed and get really appropriate treatment/assistance.

There’s paying for my son’s college-which is actually a joy, but money has been tight. I have too much debt, because I bought some cellos with the intention of reselling them for a profit to help pay for the restoration of my 1790 Pallotta cello, but it turned out I’m not really that much of a salesman! So I have too many cellos now. And not much time or energy to try and sell them (and perhaps some internal blocks, too).

A top DePauw administrator comments frequently that a typical faculty member is expected to work about 50-70 hours a week during the academic year, including professional research or artistic projects, and countless meetings. While his comments are meant more as a description of what actually happens than as a prescription of what each of us “must” do, the workload, and the stress of worrying about challenges one’s academic unit faces, really takes a toll. One colleague once said to me, “It’s not the time so much,but all the worry.”

And my parents moved to Greencastle in late September. We thought it would be great; but my dad has chronic congestive heart failure as well as problems with his blood pressure suddenly dropping (the treatments for which cancel each other out, so it’s very tricky to manage), and my mom has some health and memory issues of her own. So while we all thought that they’d move here, start getting to know people in the community, connect with a church, etc., it’s turned out that they are pretty much house bound. So I’ve been their main, and pretty much only, “psycho-social support system.”

I love taking care of them, but at other times I resent it, because how do you work 50-70 hours a week and provide a social life and good energy to your aging parents in declining health? I am a care-taker type person; part of me wishes I had the financial resources to take a year or two off or just greatly reduce my teaching load. And at the same time I love teaching, and I love, more than anything, making music.

What’s the point of this post? To vent a little, to explain a little to those who follow the blog and used to enjoy regular posts why I’m posting only rarely. And I know there are many other people in what’s often called the “sandwich generation” who are finding it a challenge to manage caring for parents, maintaining a career, putting kids through college, and more-or-less failing at having much of a personal/romantic life!

Meanwhile, my weight is down to 209, so I have lost at least 55 pounds since I started keeping track last fall. Over 60, according to my doctor’s records. Increasing the amount of carbs I eat to about 15/meal, 60 or more a day (from the 20-30 total I had been eating), seems to have helped my moods and ability to sleep, as has a new anti-depressant. (And yes, there’s less libido, but I feel so much better overall that it doesn’t bother me!) People are constantly complimenting me on how much better I look, and that’s nice.

And today someone sent an email complementing me on how organized I am. I think I’ll frame it, because I am chronically, even comically, disorganized in most areas of my life!

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